When the World Feels Icky

It’s particularly bad where I am right now.

We are experiencing a heat wave that will drive temps up over 110° F today, and even higher tomorrow. In addition, smoke from the wildfires in the northern part of the state has been blown down here, casting a pall over everything and bringing a sharp, unpleasant taste to the air. The sunlight itself is a nauseous yellow, pounding down heat in a creepily still, hotbox environment of smoke.

We even had a little earthquake yesterday morning.

All in all, it feels like disaster is everywhere.

Of course, that’s kind of how it’s been ever since November 8, 2016, when the worst and most unsuited person ever to rise to the American Presidency seized office through a combination of voter ignorance, vote suppression and foreign interference. The daily news is ugly. We have Nazis in our streets, and white “supremacy” is now actually under debate. Decades of progress are under siege. And while the corrupt and incompetent appointees of the demogogue-in-chief deny global warming, catastrophic weather continues to hammer humanity across the globe.

Yep. The world feels icky right now. Step outside, or turn on the news: yuck.

What do we do, in times like these? When it’s bad, and it just looks like it’s going to get worse, at least for awhile? As Atheopagans, how do we negotiate a landscape that appears so hostile?

First, I would say, we have to take care of ourselves. Need a news diet? Ratchet down that political-junkie flow of information. Take a break from Facebook if it depresses you, as it often does me (is there anything else in the world but Twitler and street Nazis? You wouldn’t think so from looking at my feed!) Eat well. Take a walk (when it doesn’t threaten heat stroke or an asthma attack). Get out into nature, especially near some running or tidal water. Go to a museum. Read a book. Watch a guilty-pleasure movie. Cry when you have to, but find opportunities to laugh.

Secondly, express. Don’t just bottle up the horror and exasperation and fear and sorrow that are so easily found these days. Talk with friends, or write in a journal, or write a song, or a poem, or paint a canvas. Get your creativity going. Creation is a powerfully self-supporting activity which can make a real difference when traversing hostile waters.

Next, get some perspective. The Fascist rise of the 1930s was followed by steadily growing progressivism that brought much-needed change to the world. This phase, too, shall pass. And while global warming does, indeed, threaten much of humanity and the biosphere, Life is tenacious as hell. Mother Earth isn’t done yet, by a long shot. And there will be plenty of time for new biodiversity to rise after humans are long gone, whether that is in 500 years or a million. Because all things pass, and that includes us.

But we are living here, now, and that means the fourth step:  pick your battles, and get active. When everything is on fire, it’s hard to narrow your focus enough to be effective, but narrow it we must. If your issue is LGBTQ rights, do that. Speak out on it. Educate others. Help to build the cultural shift that is inevitably coming as the Boomers and their predecessors die off. If it’s climate change, find out how you can reduce/offset your carbon footprint. Enlist your friends to join you. Advocate for alternative energy and voice your support for those states and municipalities that are defying the Twitler administration to persist in their pursuit of carbon reduction goals.

Finally, don’t forget to do your religion. Our Atheopagan practices and rituals and Sabbaths can sustain and replenish us, help us connect more deeply with friends. Talking and thinking about it isn’t enough. Explore the symbols of those Tarot cards. Dust off that Focus and get started again with an actively maintained practice. Harvest is coming up: plan a feast with friends and neighbors, and don’t forget to start with a food blessing and expressions of gratitude. Enjoy the taste of the Harvest, of the sips of wine. Remember that you are alive, and this is a great gift.

Planet Earth keeps turning, folks. We have to get through this, and together, we will. Know that I deeply value each and every one of you who reads this blog, comments on the Facebook group and considers the thoughts and ideas we bandy about here.

YOU MATTER. You matter to me and you matter to the world. So be very good to yourself, and find your niche for helping history along to a better place.

Stay strong. You are loved.

Live.

 

 

 

 

 

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On Freedom

In the United States, we lionize “freedom”. We make much of how “free” we are, boast of it. Our national narrative is filled with reinforcing stories about liberty and the struggle for freedom.

But what is it?

If freedom means anything, it must be the freedom not just to believe as one wishes, to think as one will, but also to act as one will. To be treated as an equal. And that freedom is in danger in this country at this time.

We are, in reality, one of the most authoritarian states of the developed world. We have a higher rate of incarceration even than China or Saudi Arabia or Russia. Offenses that might warrant a police warning in other nations routinely result in prosecution of Americans; particularly, Americans of color. Police here are militarized. And as we have seen, they get away with murder.

A lot.

Currently, freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion are all under attack by the right wing in this country. Radical conservatives want us to be a nation where we are “free” only to express what they believe, what they want others to think. The abominable person currently occupying the White House does his best to freeze out legitimate journalism, castigating it as “fake news”. And so-called “Christian” conservatives press calls for “religious freedom” measures to authorize discrimination against religious minorities and LGBTQ people under color of law, and to oppress women through control of their medical choices.

We have a very long way to go before this nation is “the land of the free” by comparison with other developed nations. And we appear to be moving in the opposite direction at the moment.

Let’s not even get started on the checkered history of this country’s support for tyrants elsewhere, nor its military belligerence.

Here, on “Independence Day”, we have a bloody flag to contemplate, and a country becoming more rigorously repressive by the day.

Still, there are bright spots. Throughout the country, for example, decriminalization of marijuana—bans on which have been used particularly to oppress people of color and the poor for nearly a century—is becoming widespread. And the culture is changing such that within a generation, LGBTQ people are going to be widely accepted no matter what the “Christian” right has to say about it.

Finally, our judiciary appears—for the moment—to be defending principles that the neofascists of the American right hope to destroy.

The right would have us believe that “freedom” is a flag-waving, chest-beating boast, and a license to be as cruel and terrible to others as one wishes. The right does not believe in the common good so much as the individual whim.

We, I hope, Atheopagans, are a countervailing voice to those for whom bigotry, oppression and destruction of the common good at the behest of personal greed constitute “freedom”.

Ours is a vision of an expansive world, where difference is celebrated. Where the Great Commons—the Sacred Earth itself—is treasured and stewarded as the birthright, progenitor and carekeeper of our species, now and into the future.

Where “freedom” means the freedom to be individual, to believe and practice as we like without the structures of government telling us otherwise, and a general principle of kindness to one another as we each explore our individual paths.

Freedom is something we hold in our hearts, regardless of what happens out in the world. It colors our behavior, and is a beacon we aspire to in our personal struggles: to be free of the internal oppression of our wounds, as well as to be free of the external constraints of injustice.

We are Atheopagans. We will not be what those who boast and brag about “freedom” while they try to take it away from others want us to be. We believe what we do, we practice as we do. We sing and ritualize and observe our Sabbaths and strike a new path into the future without fear. And we stand for the freedoms of those who are oppressed.

We are free.

Happy Independence Day.

Visions of the Future

As I’ve written before, Atheopaganism is inherently political. It isn’t possible to revere the Earth as Sacred, to hope for a world where love and kindness and justice are far more widespread without having a political agenda to match.

Many Pagans are political, in varying ways. While most lean to the left, some do not. And a significant number identify as anarchists, viewing the root cause of human suffering and strife as being institutions such as governments.

I am not one of them.

I simply do not see examples of anarchism having worked successfully in groups larger than a hundred or two. With the world’s population well over seven billion now, I do not see how basic functions such as provision of health care, food distribution, environmental, health and safety protections could possibly be achieved on the basis of collaborative voluntary agreements.

Anarchism operates on the assumption that humans are fundamentally of good will and intention. Many are; it’s true.

But some are not. Some are psychopaths, some are deeply damaged by poor upbringing or experience of discrimination and injustice. No magical invocation of universal equality can prevent such people from acting out their issues: be they in the form of greed, violence, or lust for power.

And let’s not forget: this world is completely awash in guns. Mostly in the hands of those who would use them to conquer and oppress, not to defend.

Most people are primarily focused on making do for themselves and their families. They go along to get along. Such folk are the natural prey of predatorial people. And once you have predator and prey, you need something to rebalance the scales: an intermediary.

The liberal democracy is that intermediary, in its ideal form.

Now, do I support the Empire?

No, I don’t. Among other things, I think human affairs work better when political units are small, so that their governance can be accountable to their members. I certainly do not endorse the militarized, world-spanning resource-grab and labor-exploitation that constitutes today’s neoliberal global capitalism.

The problem is that capitalism (greed) and population pressures, driving excessive consumption and exploitation of the Earth,  are killing us. Not the Earth—she’ll be fine in any case. Us. In the end, there are only three things that will save us: consuming considerably less, reproducing considerably less, and shifting to carbon-minimal energy production.

Is the regulatory state a perfect solution to the issues I have mentioned? No, it is not. And there is a legitimate argument to be made that current systems are too slow and too compromised to be able to save us.

But I’m willing to venture that there are no perfect solutions. There is no utopia when it comes to human beings. We are born selfish, and though this (usually) moderates, it doesn’t disappear. While government is also not a perfect solution, it has a higher likelihood of leading to desirable outcomes than does its elimination.

I have chosen not to have children due to these very issues. I didn’t drive until my mid-20s and didn’t own a car until I was 31, at the point when I needed one in order to work. I do what I can (as an American, which is challenging) to keep my footprint small.

Just because government is broken now doesn’t mean it always was, nor that it must be. What advances we have seen in civil liberties and rights for people of color, for women, for LGBTQ people, for workers have been achieved through the intercession of state institutions in the social contract following political organizing efforts. Likewise what advances we have seen in environmental protection. The results have been far from perfect, but they have been much closer to perfect than were conditions prior to implementation of those laws and jurisprudential rulings. Where the state imposes on individual liberty for stupid and senseless reasons (as in the “Drug War”), it is in the wrong, and must be fought. But that doesn’t mean that government itself is wrong.

Without institutions to stand between the selfish man with a gun (and it will, generally, be a man) and the person who has none, humanity descends rather quickly into the chaos of places like Somalia and South Sudan. Kindness and generosity do not bloom in such places. War, enslavement and cruelty do.

Yes, humanity has a better nature, but it is not our only nature. Not by a far sight. A collectively, democratically chosen interlocutor in the form of a liberal democracy is the best system yet devised for refereeing the conflicts that inevitably arise between self-interested humans.

So I believe.

Your mileage may vary, and to some degree it probably does. That’s fine. So long as we are acting to bring about our visions of a better world, the details of the ideal matter far less than that the fact that we are working towards greater ecological responsibility, greater equality, greater kindness.

We have so far to go that arguing about the ideal outcome is rather pointless, in my opinion. We have certain tools at our disposal—our voices, our votes, our strategic sense—and we can apply them as we see best. We don’t all have to be in lockstep, nor do we have to agree on “perfect” political systems that are highly unlikely ever to develop. Debate over such utopian visions is often more rooted in how people want to view themselves than it is in actual movement forward, and I’m a pragmatist: when it comes to politics, all I care about is outcomes.

Nothing humanity does is perfect. All we can do is seek improvement, and we have seen that improvement is possible.

Perhaps there isn’t enough time to avoid a crash. That’s very possible.

But we can try. And while we are trying, we can create a culture of science-rooted, Earth-revering spirituality as a new value frame for the future, to inspire and sustain us as we advocate for a better world.

Let’s focus on that.