I attended the fall meeting of the MPCA today. One of the things we talked about was the need for the leaders of groups and rituals to be responsible for the well being of all the participants. The discussion was sparked by the events at a sweat lodge in Arizona last month, where two participants died and several others were injured. We wondered how to help raise awareness of the responsibilities of clergy. I volunteered to write an article for the MPCA website; it will include a list of questions for Pagan clergy to reflect upon as they plan an event or start a new group. We’ll also, thanks to another member of the community, provide links to other useful resources.
As part of our conversation, we talked about the differences between Pagan religion and New Age spirituality. As it happens, I’ve written an article about the similarities between the two, which I’ve posted here. To me, the most obvious similarity is the impulse to explore a personal, individualized spirituality, rather than adhere to religious dogma.
In exploring the differences, though, Pagan scholar and author Michael York was cited at the meeting. He apparently (I’ve yet to read his work) divides religions into four groups: Abrahamic (Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.), dharmic (Buddhists, Hindus, etc.), secular (which would include New Age philosophies), and Pagan. The difference between Pagans and those in the other categories, according to York, is that we don’t believe in the idea of original sin, or that there’s anything inherently wrong with creation.
That gave me some food for thought, and explains in part why I’ve long considered myself a Pagan who studies Buddhism and New Age practices (among other things). I believe that everything is as it should be. We are, of course, capable of self-improvement and aspiring to create more positive experiences for ourselves and others. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with being ourselves and living our lives on this planet/plane of existence. We don’t need to be saved from ourselves or from evil forces.
I don’t buy into the concept of “sin.” The challenges that we face and the actions we may take that we later view as “mistakes” will help us learn new lessons and become more complex beings. We humans have a natural impulse to learn and grow. We are, at the deepest levels, full of hope and joy and love. Yes, it may be buried under despair and rage and hatred. Yet even the darkest lessons, I feel, can inspire us to change, to reach out, to open ourselves to the beautiful Universe that surrounds and suffuses us. Instead of original sin, how about original bliss?