First of all, I wish I had a digital camera, because L’Ailee has made me the coolest little summer skirt! It’s knee-length, flippy and consists of two layers of lightweight material (probably rayon or something). What makes it brilliant is the colors of the material. The outer layer is an emerald green with lighter green stripes. The inside, which peeks out about an inch or so, is…a bright, almost red, pink with small black polka dots. Now what does that combination make you think of? Mmm-hmm…everyone in my office has joked about craving watermelon today. I'm pretty sure I also heard a few comments about the importance of checking melons for ripeness. Which is exactly why she referred to it as “the watermelon skirt.” She called it a "design exercise," meaning something she made just for the fun of it to see if her idea works, but it's in my size because I love green. She saw the fabrics and was simply inspired by them. I don’t even like watermelon all that much, but I love this with an emerald green blouse. “You can tell that little girl of yours her design school taught her something,” BossLady said, but I think L’Ailee was actually born with it and living in NYC nurtures it.
But even on this casual Friday (I wouldn’t wear the watermelon skirt any other weekday, as much as I love it), I got to thinking seriously about theology. I shared this thought with L’Ailee as we got around, and her eyes just sparkled. “I’m going to think about this all day,” she said happily.
Last night she saw me at my itty-bitty, NYC-residence-sized altar. (She is agnostic, although she likes to tell people that I am “a good Witch.”) Afterwards, she said something like, “What you do looks so ancient, but it’s very modern. I know it isn’t how the ancient people worshipped, but it is to their Gods.” Well, yeah, I said, and brushed it off. But the statement rolled around in my head like socks in the dryer.
“Thought about what you said last night,” I told her this morning. And the ideas just tumbled out.
To our modern eyes, the ancients got a lot of things really wrong. I’m glad we don’t have to live in the ways prescribed by the ancient Hebrews anymore. But anyone who thinks Paleo-Paganism (what the ancients practiced) offered nothing but peace and progress until those damned Christians came along is really living in a fool’s paradise. I’ve encountered those historically ignorant people, and they drive me nuts. The ancient Greeks segregated their women almost as badly as the Taliban, although a few (like Sappho and her acolytes) could avoid marriage and having to stay indoors. Men had sex with boys and thought nothing of it, and then the boys grew up and thought having sex with the next generation was their right. It was not, as Gore Vidal stupidly contended, a great environment in which to be gay or bi, at least not in the modern American sense. The ancient Egyptians were expected to literally worship their rulers as Gods, and these rulers accomplished what they did through slave labor and the idea that there is such a thing as “expendable” people. The ancient Celts were always fighting. And so on, and so on.
If I am sounding biased towards my time and place, it’s because I have to live here and I am a product of it. Bear with me.
The religions of all of those cultures “justified” the injustices and cruelties of their times and places, in some form or fashion. The powers-that-be literally enshrined their worst vices. But does that make a religion wrong, whether in and of itself or for our time and place?
I would say not, because I also believe that the Old Ones got a lot of things very right. I believe that in humanity in general (though certainly not in all humans), there is a desire to learn where stars and flowers and babies and all the other wonders our world has to offer came from. And then among those people, a majority of them have a suspicion that a kitten was designed to be that cute, and didn’t accidentally become that way.
L’Ailee cut in at that point: “Yes, but there are clear evolutionary advantages for humans who love little creatures with big eyes. The tribes of people who did probably had better survival rates because the babies got attention. They would also have a better supply of meat, because they would let baby animals grow up and make more babies. Therefore, they could pass on that tendency, and the ones who did not love babies didn’t last, except for a few sociopaths.” That may be so, but I still think Someone designed that into us. It works really well, whether babies were designed to be that cute or we were designed to find them cute or both. Anyway, my L’Ailee certainly benefits from humans’ tendency to love little creatures with big eyes!
Obviously, the Old Ones wanted to get to know the Ones who created the flowers and the stars and baby cuteness. They explained the mysteries. And that is how our various Gods came to be named and described.
The Old Ones wanted to do other things, too. They wanted to compute things, so math was invented. Devices like the abacus were created for higher math. They learned that fire makes food tasty and easy to digest, but also hurts human flesh. They tried to contain fire to get its benefits while reducing its risks. They wanted to be able to get water without having to clump everybody next to the river and risk crowding and devastation from flooding. They invented things like the well to get that. And so on, and so on.
We, today, benefit from their knowledge. We have built on it. They gave us a foundation. We have our computers and cars and such, but we needed abacuses and wheels first. We can be forever grateful for that, and extend our ancestors our respect for all they have given to us. We can hope that our descendants may do the same.
Now let’s go back to religion. Why is it that we can build on ancient knowledge in other areas, and nobody bats an eyelash (except maybe the Amish, who shouldn’t be here anyhow if they’re observant), but some people have an absolute fit whenever anyone tries to bring that innovative spirit to religion? I’m not just talking about fundamentalists in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I’ve met Pagans who get upset when you speak of Pagan concepts in clear modern English and wear glasses and a watch into circle and Buddhists who get upset because some Hollywood actors converted to their religion.
I cannot understand, for the life of me, why a book written two thousand years or six hundred years ago must be treated as the literal last word on the Divine. I mean, we’re still *here*. We’re still *thinking*. I can’t believe that the Divine doesn’t continue to speak to us. I can’t believe that the Divine is at all upset that we’re still creating—after all, the Divine creates…or that we’re thinking—after all, we were made to think by some process or other…or that we’re exploring—after all, we were given stuff to explore. I think we can include current scientific knowledge into our religion. (“The ancients believed that stuff about the Sun God dying, but I think He actually moves to His summer home in Australia…we know the Sun moves now.”) I think that learning how the natural world works is a way to get closer to the Divine, because we are learning about Her or His or Their design and thought processes, even if that is not our stated goal. And I think that creativity and innovation are what makes us most like any God that is out there. I therefore think that it’s a great thing when we use them in the service of the Divine.