Monday Meditation: The Ugly Side of Otherness

One of the things I loved when I first entered the world of Paganism was the unabashed acceptance of "otherness". By that, I mean that there seemed to be a true love for all, as "we are all one, and all spiritual paths are valid".  This mindset was prevalent whenever I encountered those whose beliefs fall under that large Pagan umbrella. I really thought that I'd found people of spiritual maturity and enlightenment, and I was thrilled. Just as all relationships do, the honeymoon wore off. Like the rest of the spiritual paths I've explored, I discovered that the humans have ruined it, with gossip, back-biting, arguing over ridiculous ideologies, and a sense of superiority. Mostly, they redefined "otherness" to something ugly and unpalatable.

One of my biggest complaints about the "Big 3" religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) is their exclusivity clause. It's the either/or, you're with us or against us, you go with us or die (serve some kind of eternal punishment), etc... all of them stating in one way or another that if you aren't "them", then you're inferior/damaged/unworthy.

The effects of a belief system are seen in the behaviors of their adherents. I'll also throw in the lack of belief as well. I've seen atheists who worship at the altar of their own ego and intellectualism to the disparagement of anyone who believes in anything that can't be scientifically proven by repeatable, measurable experimentation.

In the Pagan community, we see those who disparage Wicca, "fluff bunnies", solitary witches, Heathenry, Asatru, Celtic Reconstructionism, Christo-Wicca, Polytheism, Pantheism, Dianic Wicca, etc.. and of course, each of these has adherents who disparage the rest.

What I find most interesting about this strange behavior is that those who cling to these beliefs and rituals are simply following in the footsteps of a human or humans somewhere in the past who determined that this was the way to connect with spirituality/mystery and/or explain the world around him/her/them. Rituals were put into place, as we were tribal back then. Someone determined that "this will be the way our tribe will honor the spirits of the land/gods/god/goddess/etc..", and even the first scientists (philosophers) attributed the origins of things to gods.

Why can't someone design his/her own belief system and follow it? Unless they are causing harm to others (and I include animals, the environment, and the destruction of indigenous cultures in the idea of causing harm), what makes their belief/practice/non-practice any better or worse than that of someone else, who lived in a different time and in a different culture than what we experience today?

The ugly side of otherness is this idea of superiority, separation, being better than someone else, and it permeates all of humanity. Whether it's a caste system, a class system, or a religious/non-religious identification, human beings have been infected with this disease, and we're killing ourselves, our fellow inhabitants on this planet, and our habitation as a result.

In the book, Anam Cara: A Celtic Book of Wisdom, John O'Donahue writes:
“The Celtic mind was neither discursive nor systematic. Yet, in their lyrical speculation, the Celts brought the sublime unity of life and experience to expression. The Celtic mind was not burdened by dualism. It did not separate what belongs together. The Celtic imagination articulates the inner friendship that embraces Nature, divinity, underworld, and human world as one. The dualism that separates the visible from the invisible, time from eternity, the human from the divine, was totally alien to them. Their sense of ontological friendship yielded a world of experience imbued with a rich texture of otherness, ambivalence, symbolism, and imagination. For our sore and tormented separation, the possibility of this imaginative and unifying friendship is the Celtic gift.”

Rather than seek to find ways to feel superior, couldn't we discover ways in which we are all connected? What amazing feats could be accomplished if we understood the concepts of unity and relationship? Otherness has a beautiful side- the unique expression of each individual's creativity and love; all of which contributes to the peace and healing of the whole.

It's something to think about.

1 comment:

  1. I feel this. This is the main reason why I had my tantrum several years ago and just shouted at the world that I am *not* Pagan, I was so tired of being told that I wasn't doing it correctly.


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