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 I went through my Facebook feed and cleaned out some of the pages I followed. This included cleaning out the pages of some old acquaintances I only followed to support them.  One of these pages bore the title of Success Ninjas.  The clever name belied a problem I've had with corporate culture and people wanting to climb the corporate ladder. They have confused the positive, pseudo-occult, pseudo-spiritual messages found in books like the Secret as real spirituality. They've also assumed to think that spiritual people are always positive, and that this is the key to success.

I am not sure where this message came from, although I place the blame on Stephen R. Covey. It's probably not that simple. However, I would be hard pressed to name one spiritual leader who said that gaining material wealth is the key to living. The most prominent leader in the West even commanded his disciple to give up almost all of their material possessions to follow them. (Lao Tzu does not say this, although he *does* call people who have too much 'shameless thieves' and says that there way isn't The Way.)

No spiritual person I've ever met is positive all the time.  Most will have topics that invoke anger readily, and they are not afraid to show it if it becomes too much. Even the people who go on about how their spirituality has increased their material wealth and how being positive has helped them cannot deny one famous story in the New Testament. Jesus, the spiritual leader many of them claim to emulate, flipped over the tables of the money changers in the temple. He chased the money lenders out of the temple using whips.

Spirituality may be partly about understanding people, but it is also about trying to live a more moral life.  People trying to use it as a tool for success in business seem to think that they are not being spiritual if they use harsh language or unkind words to describe a situation. Not speaking out against this kind of behavior has let corporate America become the cesspool that it is.  The sociopaths at the top don't want to be criticized for their behavior, so they push this garbage onto Middle Management.

It's entirely possible because I saw part of my job as a journalist as pointing out things that were wrong.  It led to a certain focus. Criticizing politicians or others for bad behavior did not make me any less spiritual.  In some cases, I was just complaining. In other cases, these harsh criticisms were something leaders needed to hear.  Sadly, there are a few cases where my own prejudices and beliefs at the time made me say something that I rightly should have been criticized for saying.

I felt a little guilty about unfollowing these success pages, but these are largely acquaintances from my past.  My life has gone in a different direction, and I don't think their definition of success is what I want for myself. 

Note: The confusion with spirituality did lead me to get an A in a human relations course I once took. It surprised me because I do not deal well with people. However, I think being spiritual is about *understanding* where different people are coming from, and politics is the art of getting along with others and manipulating them.


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 I’ve never openly committed to a religion since officially leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s partly because I know there isn’t much of a point. Some faithful Mormon will add my name to the membership rolls again after I am dead, whether I want them to do so or not. The second part is I’ve not found an exact match. I appreciate the spiritual teaching of the Dao De Jing, but I will not call myself a Daoist.  I don’t think I know enough about the philosophy, and I know the religion is even more complicated.  I’ve dabbled with Neo-Paganism and Roman Reconstructionist religions. I like the simple theology of Judaism, but I don’t feel the need to convert.  (My feeble attempts at repairing the world [tikam olam?] are difficult enough without having 603 additional rules to live by.)  My understanding of Buddhism depresses me, although it’s possible I’ve misinterpreted the religion’s teachings. The closest I’ve come to anything is Asatru, but I have some problems with the label as well as some of the religion’s participants.  I’ve not found good ways to address the racism and Antisemitism that runs through the related offshoots.  The warrior culture that tends to run through the music and adherents misses the point as most of the people who worshiped these gods weren’t warriors.  Perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve encountered is the lack of spirituality I’ve found in many people who claim to be adherents.

The charges of racism and Antisemitism are not new, nor entirely unfounded. Many members of the white religious population claim to be followers of Odin, Woden or Wotan and believe he is the true god of the white race, whatever that mean.  Germany’s Nationalist Socialist Party used this imagery to bolster the image of a mythic Germany that never existed. (Yes, the German tribes, including the Angles and the Saxons, worshiped the Norse pantheon before their conversion to Christianity.  Check the English weekday names if you don’t believe me.)  Even though I know it’s not the case for most people who claim to be Asatru, I could never entirely overcome this connection. Odinism, as it is called, is distinct from Asatru, because most followers are hard polytheists and not overt racists.  There have been attempts to combat this notion, including a story called “Asatru and the KKK.”  I suffer from racial prejudices. All humans do. It doesn’t make me unique or special.  It just makes me ashamed of myself and my species.

Racism and Antisemitism are good reasons to not want to be associated with any group, but the warrior culture is also problematic. It is hard not to get the impression that some of these people are simply finding a way to do a live-action version of Dungeons and Dragons that comes complete with carrying ceremonial weapons. (I am not talking about the Mjolinir pendants many adherents wear. I have no problem with an innocuous symbol.)  However, only one of the warrior gods was worshiped heavily by most of the people, and he also happened to be the god of thunder, and in charge of various other types of weather. It seems that focusing on one tiny part of a pantheon in a religion that is attempting to reconstruct the original worship of these gods should focus on all aspects of their worship. Even the most militant religions are not dedicated to fighting all the time

Focusing on war also misses the point of the mythologies. If you see life as a struggle against a series of elements, the conflict of the Aesir and the Vanir against the giants serves as a metaphor for constantly having to fight against the forces of nature for survival. Ultimately, this battle, like the struggle of the gods, ends. The gods losing at Ragnarok, the ultimate battle, is a metaphor for death.

As annoying as the other two aspects are, they are not what bothers me the most. The lack of spirituality is disturbing.  Like many of their counterparts in other religion, the adherents confuse spirituality for religion.  Most Asatru do not suffer from a lack of religiosity. They offer mead, milk and other beverages or foods to the gods on a regular basis. They pray and go through the appropriate rituals.  Rituals may be important, but they do not give a person the subtle power that Lao Tzu talks about in the Dao De Jing. I do not have a good definition of spirituality, but I know it when I feel it. Spirituality runs through the original Star Wars trilogy. It can be found in parts of the Matrix. Elektra, considered to be one of the worst Marvel movies since Howard the Duck, was very spiritual.  Movies like Noah, Left Behind, and Fireproof are great examples of fantasy and sci-fi movies with religiosity that do not contain an ounce of spirituality.  If I follow a religion, I want to be a better person because I follow its tenets. I also want the feeling of subtle, mysterious power that makes everyday life easier.

Practicing Heathens are able to counter every one of my objections easily.   A reader needs to understand that these are only my objections to adopting a specific religious label. I may find out that something else is more appropriate for me, but I've also decided it isn't that important right now.

 

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 If there’s one thing left over from my Mormon background that I wish I could fully overcome, it’s succumbing to elitist attitudes. As much as I hate this behavior, I still engage in it. Perhaps I hate it because I know I’m prone to it. The reasons for this behavior do not matter.  No one is better than anyone else because of their religion, because they are better at sports, because they are more intelligent, because God loves their religion more, because their country is exceptional, because they are stronger, or because they have more money. An infinite number of items make up this list.  Someone may be better than someone else in a given area. We all have different talents or abilities.  Realizing the truth of this situation does not change attitudes that were ingrained during hours of religious instruction carefully given to me each Sunday morning.  It is not an easy attitude to overcome even when you know better.

Sometimes I think I’m not as hard on myself about this as I should be, but I realize as a human that I am going to make mistakes.  Because this behavior represents some of my earliest training, it is much hard to divest a person of these attitudes than someone would expect.  It takes time to evaluate statements of others to figure out if there statements perpetuating  elitism or not. It’s easy to accept that American Exceptionalism, for example, is a bad idea, but thinking that the people who believe in it are in some way inferior to those who do not only perpetuates an elitist attitude.

If I were to think about my problem in terms of elitism I don’t really use, I would describe it as othering. It separates people into us versus them categories.  Naturally, I, like everyone else, want to be one of us.  Most of my life people placed me in the them category whether I wanted them to or not. I know what it’s like to be one of them. It’s not a fun experience.  Because I know what it feels like,  I do not want to do it to others.  No one should have to go through the experience of being told daily that they are worthless or that their lives are somehow less valuable.

Despite my often displayed attitude, I do not know everything.  If someone were to ask me about the value of someone’s life, my answer would have to be “I don’t know.” Perhaps priceless might be a better answer. Plenty of people already make this determination.  If I were a manager or a supervisor I might be forced into this position.  Those higher on up the chain of command make these decisions in mass.  Politicians who enforce workfare requirements are seeing only numbers. The same is true for downsizing CEOs. These people are isolated from the very real human costs of their decisions. As long as they are doing well, it does not matter how many other people are suffering.  It is the them who suffer.  They have learned to see people as things that are capable of increasing their bottom line.

And as one of my favorite authors said in one of the Discworld books, evil begins when you start seeing people as things. The fact that this line is delivered by Granny Weatherwax, who I happen to identify with, makes it even better. (As a side note, I also identified with the faith-doubting priest character in this book.) And it’s the tendency to see other people as things that makes me despise elitist attitudes the most.  Now, if I could just purge these attitudes from my own mind...

As a completely unrelated side note: Screw Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

sinisterporpoise: (Default)
 The past year has presented its own challenges.  Becoming sick, dealing with chronic pain, and having to deal with all of the fallout that’s come from that. It’s not over yet.  However, it’s also caused to re-evaluate some of my long-held beliefs. Unlike my religious beliefs, they are not deeply held beliefs. They are simply assumptions that I had made about which political party had the right idea to fix some of the problems in this country, particularly for people who are working class and otherwise poor. I have also re-examined some of my spiritual beliefs as part of the process.

Although I do not claim to be an expert on Daoism, I do appreciate the spiritual philosophy of the Dao De Jing.  The Dao, supposedly, shows us the way. Like water, it goes to the low and loathsome places – according to Ursula K. LeGuin’s version – and it nourishes all.  It does this for every thing, and it asks nothing in return.  We are all caught in its current, and each of our lives takes place within its streams. Going against that path makes things tougher for us, although it is not impossible to change direction, but the current makes it extremely difficult for each of us to drastically change our directions.

I thought about this for a while and how it sits with how I have lived my life, which is essentially in conflict from the direction it seems to be taking.  Now, this also conflicts somewhat with how I see things.  I believe that life is a struggle that we face from the day we are born until the day we die.  

Finding a way to avoid the cognitive dissonance caused by these two conflicting beliefs is not easy.  However, I think there is a way.  I don’t know if there’s something I’m supposed to learn in this life or not. If there is, I think it’s about learning which battles I should fight and which battles I should not.  I don’t want to let go of the path my life has been taking. I’ve had fairly steady employment.  I’ve finally kept a job for more than two years, even if it does not pay particularly well. The signals I’m getting now are telling me I should let go of this and accept that the elements of my Wyrd that are beyond my control. Those elements are suggesting that my life needs to take a new direction.

Whether I like it to or not, my Wyrd has been joined to the Wyrds of others who suffer from chronic illnesses. Maybe it’s time I used my meager talents to help them. I’ve even got a good idea of how to do it.

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The Brodie Awards are given to ex-mormon bloggers. Even though I thought I was being faceitious and absurd, I was nominated for one. It falls into the best religion and gender discussion category. You can vote on the awards here.

If you want to read the post, it's here.  I'd encourage you to vote for my post early and often, but I'll probably have to be content to be nominated.

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