Understanding word use and how science relates to myth and religion, by Rua Lupa
This week we have a new “challenge” piece. Rua Lupa engages the issue of appropriate terminology.
As always with challenge posts, this is an opportunity to listen, question oneself, and develop thoughtful responses.
Remember, this is offered in the spirit of dialogue, so let’s make the most of this chance for a meaningful exchange of opinions!
- B. T. Newberg, editor
I’ll start with a quote I believe to be a strong example of Humanistic Paganism: a naturalistic marriage of science and mythology:
“The ancient myth makers knew, we are equally children of the earth and the sky.”
Carl Sagan lived a life that could make him a poster child for combining myth and science. As a public figure who worked on building a bridge of understanding between the public and science, he often used myth to provide an understanding and the feeling of deep connection with the cosmos. Yet he never associated with Paganism to express myth with science. Is Paganism even required to have a relationship with science and myth? I understand incorporating it, but is it Required?
Paganism itself struggles with its own label regularly. What is meant by Paganism? Is it really a useful label? I’ve come across pagan elders of various traditions who casually state that this sort of debate comes up every year or two throughout the pagan community. It appears that through this routine questioning there is a growing stance where once-considered Pagan groups are now using alternative labels to convey a better understanding of who they are and what they stand for. This was even mentioned here on HP (Humanistic Paganism) in an interview with Drew Jacob, where he found a change of name was more effective for public relations and made it easier for others to find them for the right reasons.
Could there be other words that are not needed for a Path that melds science and myth?
“Spirit” and “Spiritual” are words that I have mentioned before and for the same reasons that Drew Jacob had mentioned for the use of the word Pagan. HP and a few other very new Paths have taken the label of spiritual to describe themselves who do not associate with the incorporeal. They are the first, and few who have done so as a Path. Most other incidences are still relatively recent and are attuned as individual searches and pursuits without the group dynamic of “A Path”. Even so, the majority associate with the supernatural, evidence of this are the references to living gods, soul, fairies etc. while it remains difficult to filter through these supernatural-associated spiritualities to get to non-supernatural spiritualities. Which leaves the question, ‘do these few mean something different when saying ‘spirituality’?’ Many have voiced that ‘spirituality’ can mean many different things, which comes back around to the example of Paganism being difficult to pin down, its meaning adding to the confusion. Perhaps there will be a similar response in going by more specific labels for those who had once considered themselves spiritual to convey a better understanding of who they are and what they stand for.
An interesting relation to this is when you Wikipedia “Spiritual Humanism” it redirects to “Religious Humanism”. This is because the term “spiritual” is now frequently used in contexts in which the term “religious” was formally employed because of a growing distaste with the negative associations of ‘religion’. Some may argue that ‘religion’ necessitates a belief in the supernatural. Yet this need not be the case. What religion essentially is is a philosophy with a community, which in living according to that philosophy creates a culture with traditions and customs. Religion is also interchangeable with ‘Path’ which is common to see among many Pagan Paths also calling their Path a Religion, i.e. Wicca, ADF, Asatru etc. HP also calls itself a Path, “The Fourfold Path” to be exact. It’s a community that follows the philosophy that myth and science is a valid way of enriching quality of life, yielding psychological benefits. The culture and tradition is what is currently being developed.
Carl Sagan wrote frequently about religion and the relationship between religion and science, believing that the two were meant to be together and were very complimentary in the absence of deity. The absence of deity would allow for this amalgamation because they are inherently conflicting, even if used metaphorically, as the lines tend to blur, giving way to prayers directed to a god, or having the portrayal of that god being something to emulate. The very essence of what makes a god a god is that it is super, beyond that of reality. Relating to a god would then be removing self from reality, the lines blur. It is also mentioned on HP’s post “What is Humanistic Paganism?” that “not only must we invoke no deity to solve our problems, but also we must actively acknowledge our responsibility to solve these problems.” Would it then be more successful with deities being absent altogether? As a way to actively acknowledge our responsibility to solve our problems, should our own image then be used instead in psychological activities? This criticism only applies to supernatural-related deities, such as anthropomorphic beings with superpowers, etc., that have the potential for idolatry (especially if it can be depicted as a statue) which are given traits. Other versions of deity, like that in some views of pantheism or Forces of Nature for example, would not apply to this criticism.
With HP revolving around science and myth, what then is mythology? Mythology is the stories of a culture, a tradition. The most common story in mythology is the explanation of how the world and humankind came to be in their present form. Science teaches this already, but is missing that tradition, that religion/path to make it complete. Both myth and religion function to derive morality, ethics, and lifestyle. Science can serve the same purpose as well. Thus, these are not conflicting, being quite complimentary.
It has been stated that “We are endeavoring to work out how [myth married to science] might manifest in the 21st century. That’s the whole reason why we’re here.” Much of what is referenced are the wonderful myths of old. Yet these myths speak specifically of a culture in a time not of the 21st century, where slavery, sexism, racism, displaying body parts, and more are justified which are not agreed with today. To truly make this marriage of myth to science manifest in the 21st century, there must be a culture of science where these myths may spring from within that century. In this time and age, our culture is different and these myths need to reflect that. What myths could be made to reflect the views of our culture like that of the ancient myths of Greece reflecting the views of their classical time?
A few ground rules for comments
It’s always useful to keep in mind what makes for a great debate:
- Use “I” language, not “you” language. Talk about what you think or feel, rather than making accusations against others.
- Keep it civil. Comments that stray toward rants or flames will be deleted.
- Speak your truth.
Rua Lupa is a Canadian Metis of Celtic and Anishinabek (Native peoples of the Great Lakes region) descent. By studying what is being rediscovered about the Celts, and getting involved in the spiritual practices of the Anishnabek, she hopes to find out more about herself, bring to light valuable insights from these cultures, and maybe bring about a new way of being. Rua’s strong love of Nature has led to a passion for photography and Wildlife Technician degree. She dedicates her life to conserving what is left of our unaltered wilderness, and helping humanity regain balance within Nature through Ehoah, a naturalistic path. Rua founded the Sault Community Drum Circle, the Gore Bay Drum Circle on Manitoulin Island, and has been a board member of Bike Share Algoma. She also has a background in tandem canoe tripping, winter camping, lifeguarding, advanced wilderness first aid, and a myriad of other outdoor activities.
Check out Rua’s other articles: