Any of my readers who have been reading my blog since the beginning, or who have read my page What I Believe will probably know that I originally started this blog at the beginning of 2010 after telling my mother about my conversion and then writing her an essay about my new faith, which to this day, she has never read. The only thing she knows about, or cares to know about, my religion is that it doesn’t involve believing in Jesus as my personal savior.
For the past three years, we’ve pretty much just avoided the subject with one another. Every once in a while she’ll make a comment about how I’m not allowed to die before she does because she just won’t be able to live with herself knowing I’m in Hell.
She was here visiting recently, and we actually argued about it some. She called me “screwed up” and continued to tell me I’m going to Hell, and that the only thing that matters to get into Heaven is believing in Jesus and following the ten commandments. And I tried to explain to her some of the reasons I converted or give her any details about my faith, and she just wasn’t having it.
The point of this post is not to complain about my mother or wallow in self-pity about my relationship with her, though. I got to thinking about her comments, and her understanding of what religion is, and what it means to be religious, and I had a thought about the nature of divinity. My mother views religion as being primarily about Jesus. Jesus, of course, is the face of Christianity, but for her, religion doesn’t go farther than that.
Jesus had so very little to do with my conversion, and I really feel like I parted on good terms with him. But I don’t see the face of a religion as its whole. I think of Jesus more like I do the Philly Phanatic–an intriguing mystery dancing around in the middle of a game he is not really central to. If you put his picture on your car, everyone knows which team you’re rooting for. But for my mother, it’s almost as if the mascot is the whole game. As if the whole point of baseball in Philadelphia is that everyone has to love that silly dancing green dude.
But while Jesus is the mascot of Christianity, the real game is salvation. There is so much else playing behind the mascot of a team, and so much beyond a deity in religion–there are the hours of practice honing your skills (meditation, prayer, etc.), there is the excitement of the big event, the agony of loss, the comfort in solidarity with your peers. These are the things that really matter in religion. In a religion, there are shared values, shared views on what the important parts of history are, what is the shape of time, what is the point of death, how important information about the afterlife is, what the meaning of life is.
The gods a person chooses to worship will tell you a lot about them–hearing that someone believes in Jesus tells you more about them than just that they believe in Jesus. Knowing that my mom or my husband believes in Jesus will also tell you that they value the Bible, they believe in salvation, they believe God has a plan for their life, they believe in sin and redemption, they believe that there is such a thing as being “born again” in faith. I’m sure there is as much to learn about me in the information that my mascots are Freyja, Holda, Sif, and Thor as there is that my mother worships Jesus. You can learn from these things that I value being a part of the mainstream less than my mother does. You can learn that I value the body, cycles, nature, healthy sexuality. And a relationship with one or more gods is usually central to a religion, but not everyone needs a mascot, and a mascot is not everything about a religion.
While my relationships with Freyja, Holda, Sif and Thor are very important to the expression of my faith, there are in no way the whole of it. I am a pagan because of the way I feel looking at the sunset, the ambivalence I feel about the fact that the afterlife is unknowable, the meaning in the rainfall and the knowledge that we depend on the Earth and its cycles, that we do not have dominion over the earth because we depend so heavily on it. I am a pagan because of my belief that the purpose of life is to live a good one in harmony with the land. Because I believe we should honor our ancestors and the trees and fields that shape our experience of place. I believe that embodiment and sexuality are central and important parts of experiencing humanity, not sins. Freyja, Holda, Sif, and Thor are all faces of these experiences and values. They are important to the experience of my faith, just as Jesus is important to the experience of Christianity but not the whole of the faith, and just as the Philly Phanatic makes baseball games more fun, but isn’t really the point of the game.
My high school did not have a mascot. And yet we had school spirit. My mother says (incorrectly) that my soul does not have a mascot because I don’t believe in Jesus. And yet I have religious spirit.