Discontents

If you haven't figured it out already, this blog is not intended to be a project where I'm afraid to say something simply because someone else may have said it better elsewhere. I think that mindset, which I've operated in too often, is a huge barrier to actually thinking creatively. That is, if you never fall into ruts someone else has dug, then you will never find your way out of any either.

With that out of the way, today I'm on a topic which has been discussed in one capacity or another since the beginning of recorded human history - religion and what it means to me.

I was raised Latter-Day Saint. Plenty can and probably will be written on that experience on its own, but the long and short of it is that I believed very strongly from a very young age that, whatever happened, the world would fundamentally be okay eventually, that people would get what they deserved in the next life if not this one, that miracles existed and could be exercised with authorization through the Church and seen in everyday life, that families were the perfect divine unit and would last forever. This shaped my early political development as well - as a conservative, then a libertarian, I believed in a divine destiny for the United States and the world systems it sustains, and in a uniquely American view of freedom and personal responsibility, implemented neatly and uniformly across the various spheres of life.

As you might imagine from my use of the past tense, at some point life became more complicated. The contradictions between my friendships with LGBT people and my beliefs, in particular, placed a strain on my convictions and eventually served as spiderweb cracks thaat developed into gaping rifts between my actions and feelings, and the identity I'd built for myself. Even well after the whole thing came tumbling down, it took me a long time to realize I'd been raised in one of the most profitable and successful cults in the world.

And yet.

The trouble with being raised to see signs of the times and miracles in the day-to-day is that it doesn't stop when your beliefs change. I'm still reaching for something close to the community I was part of before, of the unity and integrity (not in the sense of truth, but in the sense of having a self-consistent self) that came from absolute acceptance of a divine force in my life. I'm still searching for something that never really existed, which is frustrating to say the least.

In my search for meaning I've come across various paths to religious fulfillment, but none seem to offer anything that 'clicks' for me for sure. I've found many bits and pieces of what I'm looking for in Christian monastic tradition, liberation theology, pagan traditions of all kinds. Wicca and chaos magic, drastically different as they are, both appeal to me for their syncretic, 'hacky' natures, but include points of incompatibility for me as well. For example, both emphasize the importance of sex magic to a degree I would consider suspicious for group practice - the more a religion tends to ritualize and decouple the sex act from individual choice and mutual respect, the higher risk of overt sex cultism and abuse. Both also tend to emphasize duality of aspects over multiplicity of aspects - ultimately simplifying down to god/goddess, light/dark, life/death, as opposed to the gradients, multiple manifestations and spectra of these experiences.

I don't think I'm unique in this frustrated search - in fact, I'm confident some of my peers go through the same struggles as the grip of the established churches over public life weakens. We need to assert structure in our lives outside (and against!) the gray rhythm of the workday, but in a manner we can choose and change as needed. We need tradition, but something we can pass on to our children and know they will use, not merely what few shreds from our parents are able to survive the neoliberal capitalism that our churches still cling to even as it eats their congregations out from under them.

What to do, then? My dream, at this point, is not simply to develop a personal practice, but to develop a kind of open standard outlining a style of modern religion - not an organization, but a template around which future organizations might structure their ideological content. Like any template or spec, it would aim to define a particular type or style while leaving the specifics up to the people who implement it. My priorities here would be:

  1. On the individual scale, outlining some core principles around which one might find a basis for solidarity with others, subject to individual circumstances.
  2. On a larger scale, creation of an internally participatory-democratic structure and prevention from domination by individual charismatic elements and cliques.
  3. Building an infrastructure base for non-electoral left movements.
  4. Forming, summoning, and worshipping new deities and god-forms, and securing their patronage in the struggle for collective freedom.

Ambitious? Yes. Bizarre? Absolutely. Am I sick in the brain? Not as much as one might imagine, I think. Religion, politics, and personal fulfillment have always existed in an anxious mixture, feeding on each other but afraid to touch too closely for fear of exploding the confines of limited organizational models. By explicit combination, I think one could productively channel the explosion that was, maybe, always already going to happen.

It's a work in progress, and I don't know where this leads for me or others, but I'm happy to receive feedback or any help I can get with developing and refining this concept. If nothing else, having a framework on which to strap my own struggling identity will help me find some kind of peace in the turmoil.