Validity and Religious Pluralism

Spiritual/religious validity are topics that never go out of style within the Pagan community.  We can talk about them until the blue-faced cows come home.  And no matter how often or how many times we go over the same topic, it never fails to end in ruffled feathers and out-of-joint noses.

Our national and international news sources tell us of the great strides being made at various interfaith conferences.  Pagans are being taken more and more seriously as a player on the world religion scene.  Our rights to publicly display our faiths on equal footing with The Big Three™ are being recognized with more frequency by various governmental agencies.

These are all very encouraging steps forward into a new age of religious pluralism.  And yet, one only needs to look as far as a few Pagan blogs or discussion forums to get the feeling that the last dozen years or so have been an exercise in futility.

I was tempted to use this article as a soapbox to rant about how stupid it is to spend so much time in judgement of other Pagans, or letting others decide for you if your faith and practise is truly valid, but I don’t like to preach.  Don’t get me wrong, I can rant away with the best of them.

And while this blog is for my opinion and point of view, it isn’t a pulpit.  I’m not here to tell the community what they should and shouldn’t do, say, or argue about.  Instead, I’m going to talk about what I think it is that makes a religion/faith/spiritual belief valid and how that relates to a pluralistic society.

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain.”

… as a good friend of mine is fond of saying.  This seems to illustrate the crux of the issue of religious validity.

Not everyone believes that we are all climbing the same mountain.  Further, the central belief of many religions is that those who aren’t following their path aren’t going up the mountain at all.  This view has long stood in the way of interfaith community efforts.

My view is that the “top of the mountain” isn’t something that we can ever fully understand.  I don’t believe that the nature of the Afterlife (if you believe in such a thing) changes based on what you think or believe in this life.

I tend to liken it to the belief that the nature of the Abrahamic god is unknowable. What lies beyond the veil is too far outside of our experience to be fully understood until we get there.  We can see and experience bits and pieces,  but the whole is too mind-bendy.

When concern for the health and safety of your neighbour’s immortal soul removed from the picture, the judgement of what makes a valid religion/belief system/etc becomes much smaller and simpler.  One thing that I’ve heard often claimed that has never made a lot of sense to me is:

“Religion is not about making you feel better about yourself.”

Well, if that is the case, then why aren’t we all atheists?  I would argue that making your life better and making you feel better about yourself and your place in this world is exactly what religion is about.  And it should be.  What use is there for it otherwise?

Gee, my life has been pretty good lately.  I have plenty of food, water and shelter.  Clearly, what I need now is something to make me feel inadequate, petty and small.

Come on, now.

The most powerful expressions of faith come in times of crisis.  When people of different faiths hold hands and pray together for strength and safety – even (maybe especially) when they are praying to different gods.

We come to spirituality when we feel a lacking.  When we come to the realization that we can’t make it all on our own, we begin searching for more.

Whatever expression of the divine that speaks to your soul is the one you were meant to follow.  And sometimes that changes.  Life is a journey, after all, twists and turns and changing scenery is all part of the experience.

What makes a religion valid in my eyes?  Easy.  Does it challenge you to be a better you?  Can its basic tenants be summed up in the ideal of “Don’t be a douche”? Does it make you feel happy and fulfilled?

If the answer is yes, then you win.

And if you ask me, this is what religious plurality should look like.  The details of your faith really aren’t my business.  We can all work together and respect the faiths of each other without worrying about who said who was a false deity, or who should be excluded from our lives for what reason.

DBAD, people.  It’s a way of life, and it works.

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