Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hark! The heretical angels sing (Part 1)

Friday afternoon found me on the phone, trying to fend off a guy from my bank who was determined to get me to apply for a home equity loan or a line of credit. One of the odd ripple effects of the financial meltdown is that if you actually have a good credit score, some desperate lenders are all over you. Dave and I are both self-employed with no guaranteed income, and hence very conservative about debt; so we look--deceptively--like the last cupcake on the tray. I actually find the whole thing entertaining in a grim way, but the bank guy was beginning to try my patience when somebody knocked on my front door--“Oops, gotta go, sorry.”

I opened the door and saw a pretty little girl, maybe 6 years old, in a brown velvet dress that made her look like one of those creepy Victorian porcelain dolls. Before I could ask “Lost dog, or school fundraiser?” a smarmy-looking guy stepped into my line of sight with—you guessed it—a Bible and a copy of The Watchtower in his hand.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. How are you?”

“I’m just fine, and we’re Wiccans, so you probably don’t want to talk to us.”

I spoke in a pleasant tone, and smiled. He had that little moment of startled hesitation they always have when I say that; then he smiled and said, “Well, thank you very much. Have a nice day,” and fled.

They don’t usually retreat quite so readily unless they have a child in tow, in which case the mere mention of Wicca seems to inspire something close to panic. I am never happy about having religious fanatics on my front porch, but I was slightly grateful to them for rescuing me from banker guy. I almost felt bad about scaring them off.

Of course, I was stretching the truth a little bit, as those of you who are pals and/or longtime readers know. “We” are not Wiccans. Dave is a rock-solid mainline Presbyterian, thank you. I use the word Wiccan to describe myself to the world, but it would be more accurate to say I’m a solitary eclectic witch. Sometimes I just think of myself as a freethinking, freewheeling neo-pagan.

My Oxford Concise dictionary defines atheism as, “the theory or belief that God does not exist.” If “God” means the god of Abraham, the Jehovah my visitors were witnessing for, the deity my husband’s church regards as the Supreme Being—well, then I am an atheist as well as a witch. In fact, I don’t believe in any god, when that loaded 3-letter word refers to a divine entity with a discrete existence.

I do sometimes speak of the Goddess, but for me that is just poetic shorthand, a multi-purpose metaphor to convey a state of mind and a set of values. I don’t believe in a literal Great Mother any more than I believe in our heavenly father. What I do believe in is the experience of god, where “god” means the immediate, intuitive perception of the inseparability of all things. When I stand under a sky full of stars and have no sense of myself standing there—that is god.

Why am I telling you all this? The visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses was just one of many recent reminders of the omnipresence of religion in my life, which in turn have reminded me of how frustrated I am by much of the public discourse about faith and its fallout. So, in honor of this chock-full-o’-Jesus season, and because I’m (temporarily) bored with blogging about poetry and perfume, I’m going to do a series of posts about religion. I just wanted to start off by making sure everybody is aware of my spiritual sympathies. If you want to get a better idea of what might lie ahead, you can read some old posts of mine here, here and here. (For my favorite bit of wisdom from John Donne on the subject, try this.)

Death of the Heretic on the Bonfire, Sassetta, 1423.


Julie H. Rose said...

You wrote ". . .“god” means the immediate, intuitive perception of the inseparability of all things. When I stand under a sky full of stars and have no sense of myself standing there—that is god."

You sure you're not a Zen Buddhist? Sounds exactly the same to me (but I'm biased, of course).

Mary said...

No doubt I'll be reading your religion posts with my head bobbing in agreement like a bobble-head.

BitterGrace said...

There's definitely a Zen quality to my idea of the experience of god, Julie. I've got the wrong aesthetic programming for a Buddhist, though. Too attached to the flesh, I'm afraid, and I could never take all that sitting meditation.

Mary, I'll be pleased if you agree with me, but I have a lot of trouble picturing you as a bobble-head. Maybe an elegant, nodding sphinx?

ScentScelf said...

Free-wheeling, free-thinking neo-pagan is sure a catchy phrase...but you are right; not as likely to fend off the porch comers. ;)

It's blustery around here; you've inspired a sort of Stephen King like motif in my mind, of folks trying to reach into one's life through the phone or through the front door. Yikes--finances and religion; not polite to raise among strangers, yet here they come.

BitterGrace said...

They seem to be the 2 things that are guaranteed to come these days, ScentScelf--I guess I'm not helping, am I? ;-)

I promise I'll get back to gentler topics like sex, death and perfume as soon as I get this religion thing out of my system.

Margaret said...

Oh, this is going to be fun! Last night at the Harry Connick, Jr., concert at the Ryman-- to which I took my mother; tickets were her Christmas present-- even the great holiday crooner himself pronounced Christmas carols "nauseating" in large doses. If I had his email address, I'd send him a link to your post.

ScentScelf said...

Hey, I thought perfume WAS sex and death... ;)

BitterGrace said...

It would have been fun to be at that show, Margaret, just to see your mom. I bet she loved it. And hardly noticed that Scrooge-ish remark.

BitterGrace said...

You're right, SS--at least it is when it's done properly ;-)

David Maddox said...

Was Harry Connick doing some mother-daughter special? I was at brunch Sunday with a mother and daughter who were going and taking a friend and her mother.