Thursday, August 21, 2014


When I say I’m an a-theist, I do not mean it as a rejection of theists or pantheists or non-theists or un-theists or anti-theists (which is what people generally think a-theist means).  I mean it as a rejection of ALL such categories altogether.  There are and always have been times and places where the distinction doesn’t exist.  To insist that religion be defined only by the term "Theos," “God,” is not different from insisting that white, male, prosperous Euros are the STANDARD for humans.  Theists only constitute a part of the planet’s variety of religious positions.  They exclude all the non-theists, but the non-theists do not necessarily exclude theists.  They just see them as a locally dominant group that arose from the Middle East a few millennia ago and spread across Europe, then America.  (What is it with those guys?)
In short, “atheist” has become an epithet for the “other,” like “commie.”  I suppose "a-us" is a silly word, but a-theist where theist is the mainstream is the same thing.  Anti-theist becomes "anti-us."

I include theists in my understanding of religion along with people who seem to have no 
“religion” at all.  There’s just “our way.”  “What we do.”  No one writes anything down, no one runs a fund-drive for construction -- there might be a shaman but he doesn’t perform weddings.  In that primal sort of situation there is no government either.  People know each other and do not need paper proof of status as one does for strangers and travelers.

So I’m an ordained but retired Unitarian Universalist minister. (Certified and on the list.)  Boring category.  Some say UU is contentless, a way-station between Methodism and the golf course.  Most of the clergy have a lot more money and live nice civilized lives. Likely to be married, maybe to the same gender.  At least pretend to have a little acquaintance with sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.  Have an incomplete novel stashed somewhere to reassure themselves that they're sensitive and atypical.  Not me.  I don’t drink.  I don’t smoke.  I have diabetes so I have to watch what I eat.  I don’t dance.  I don’t play cards.  I “publish” (make public) here daily.  WTF.  

Even myself I’ve had a little trouble figuring out what I am now but I think I’ve found a phrase that might explain me:  a secular nun, celibate.  Don’t need a long black habit these days.  Jeans will do.  A phrase going around is “badass nun,” an oxymoron intended to be funny, which I suppose means mostly nuns who might use force, who keep bad company, and color outside the lines.  Often social activists.  Some of them are a little too “bad” for me.  So maybe I’m only a “kickass” secular nun.  That is, I cuss, I think about forbidden topics, and -- most of all -- I question authority.  I don’t respect leaders unless they make sense.  Otherwise, I fight bullies.  

The military has been trying to figure out a way to test spiritual fitness.  J.H. Hammer, R. T. Cragun, and K. Hwang (note those NAMES!!)  discussed “measuring spiritual fitness” among Atheists in a journal called “Military Psychology.”  The idea is that if the questionnaire they used were phrased in Christian or theist terms, valuable people had bad scores.  In fact, some would just cross out all Christian terms or terminology about “spirituality.”  They were hard headed, sharp edged, absolutely dependable and highly moral.  They even practiced something rather like prayer, but they did not put up with religious dogma.  So what paper-and-pencil instrument would identify them?  (Why must paper and pencil be relevant in the first place?)

Obviously, a soldier is not necessarily like all the other soldiers any more than one nun is like all the other nuns.  I would like to see a comparison between the so-called “religious” fitness scores of different categories of soldiers:  standard army, Marines, Special Forces, and free lance private armies.  A whole lot of potential for exciting movies in there.

Just now we have a color-coded culture clash in Ferguson, Missouri.  The governor sent in “Sidney Poitier,” but now SP turns out to be an Oreo, claiming Christian righteousness for the police and soldiers who are busy suppressing protest witnessed by Amnesty International -- a kind of universal morality -- while both black and white clergy are out there getting gassed and shot with rubber bullets.  The worst thing about this black/white schism is that the color coding is so obvious that the human values get confused and lost.

Earlier the same day, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson asked the police department chaplain to pray before giving the late night report. One line was particularly stunning: “Again we come here having used all the energy and all the resources that you have given to our residents, their families, and our peacekeeping force, to bring peace—your peace.”  Earlier that day they had closed down a church.

Returning to the nun trope, here’s a “golden” nun for you who is not Christian:

Ani Pachen, warrior nun

“Ani Pachen was born in 1933 in Tibet. When she was 17 her parents decided to marry her off – but she had other plans! She ran away and moved in to a Buddhist Monastery (3 weeks journey away) and became a Buddhist nun. In 1958 when her father died, she became the leader of her family clan. She took up arms and became a warrior nun – fighting to keep the commies from China out of her homeland. She led her people in guerrilla warfare for a year. The Chinese caught her and threw her in jail because she refused to renounce the Dalai Lama. She was beaten and hung by her wrists for a week, spent a year in leg irons and was flung for nine months into solitary confinement in an unlit cell. The last 11 years of her sentence were spent in the infamous Drapchi prison in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

“As soon as she was released from Prison 21 years later, she went right back to her warrior ways, leading protests and demonstrations. She found out she was going to be put in jail again so she ran away to the border of Tibet. She walked for 25 days in the deep snow to escape to Nepal. She died in 2002.”

What makes her a nun?  It is a combination of independent thinking and real-world action, both supported by discipline and devotion.  It is NOT Procrustean compliance to an institution like the Catholic church which would press her into teaching or nursing, nor is it obedience to any superior, whether mother or father, except the forgiving and inclusive Dalai Lama.

Pope Francis is in the same dilemma as President Obama: that is, his beliefs are far more liberal and sympathetic than his constituency will tolerate.   He is not directly suppressing nuns, but he is not reining in the zealous lesser authorities who are determined to put them back into habits that quite resemble burkhas.  If people are so angry and suspicious that they won’t let their proper leaders use their consciences, what will change them?  Only a dialectic opposing with force? 

What’s wrong with the picture?  Nothing, but there’s a hole in the canvas:  where are the  Native Americans?  Where are the OTHER indigenous people? (Maori? Inuit?)  Is the price too high for them to pay?  Or do they just not get any press?   I think the latter.  But it is true that living on a reservation makes a person cautious and part of that caution is not showing oneself even to the other tribal people.  Where are the tribal people of Missouri?  St. Louis was once a capital of the fur trade, which brought in Hawaiians on sailing ships.

The other dimension of living on a reservation -- or next to one -- is that spiritual discipline and devotion comes from the land itself.  Step out into the cold wind, watch wine colors blush the east, and your bones will know what is worth risking death.  My church is the horizon.  It cannot be closed down.

Dawn by Smattila  (Deviant Art)

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