Humanistic Paganism

Encounters in nature, part 1: Sharing of Paths

Left to right: B. T. Newberg, Urban Haas, and Drew Jacob

Left to right: B. T. Newberg, Urban Haas, and Drew Jacob

Encounters in Nature: An Open-air Dialogue in the North Woods

with Celtic polytheist Drew Jacob, Vodou priest Urban Haas, and Humanistic Pagan B. T. Newberg

Part 1: Sharing of Paths

Recorded with a Blue Yeti microphone on a Macbook

The first step in a dialogue is getting to know each other.  In today’s segment, the first in a 5-part series, we share our very different spiritual paths.

B. T. explains what Humanistic Paganism is, Drew is challenged to answer why he’s not a Pagan, and Urban comments on whether Vodou is a Pagan path.

All this and a crackling fire today on Encounters in Nature.

And now a question for you:

What does “Pagan” mean to you?  Are you a Pagan?

Note: Should you experience troubles with the Flash player, you can also get the show free on iTunes Store.
Vertebrae found in the woods during a hike

Vertebrae found in the woods during a hike

photo by B. T. Newberg

The mystery of being, by Thomas Schenk

Sunlight on a stream on Yakushima Island

“Matter has turned out to be so much more mysterious than the early materialists imagined.”

photo by B. T. Newberg

This week we dive into the matter of spirit and the spirit of matter in this reflection by Thomas Schenk.

In his book, “The Mystery of Being,” Gabriel Marcel writes:

“For in speculation and reflection we soar above every possible kind of mechanical operation; we are…in the realm of spirit.”

From a naturalistic perspective, this statement must be rejected. From this perspective, the ability to speculate and reflect must arise from some kind of “mechanical” operation, some operation of the brain.

But what can it mean that the ability to reflect is a mechanical operation? The ingredients of reflection include awareness, thought,
imagination, and judgment. It is also a purposeful and creative activity; its purpose is to come to a new truth (in some sense of that
hard to define word), and if successful it leads to a novel way of seeing some aspect of the world (novel, at least for the being doing
the reflection). In the standard dualistic thinking of the Western world, awareness, thought, imagination, judgment, truth, creativity, are all parts of the spirit; Marcel’s statement reflects the traditional Western view. The naturalistic view requires here a
rejection of the traditional view; and though itself a product of reflection, it offers a rather attenuated notion of reflection.

I wish to suggest that at least part of the problem here comes from a misunderstanding about what words mean and how they come to have meaning. To say that the so-called realm of spirit actually can be reduced to the realm of mechanism (the realm of matter and force and the regularities that operate in their interactions) is also to say that the realm of matter and force contain within them the potential to give rise to this realm of spirit, with its awareness, thought, imagination, judgment, truth, creativity, and such.

The ideas of science evolved in a dualistic cultural context, where the material and the spiritual were separate domains. To say that
the material contains the spiritual is to radically redefine these terms. It seems we are trying to use the words “mechanistic” and
“material” in their old sense which excluded spirit, and trying to push a new view of the world into these old containers. We are
perhaps caught in the Aristotelian idea that words have an eternal essence; when in fact words themselves change what they mean with new perspectives. And the naturalistic view that the inner world of our experience has a material base, is certainly a new perspective.

Put more concretely, if the first thing we think about when we hear the word “matter” is a rock, then it is hard for us to think of matter as something that can come to awareness and thought. If the first thing is an amino acid, we are a little closer. If the first thing is a photon, we are closer still, for the photon is the particle of light, and “light” is the most pervasive metaphor of the world of spirit. If the first thing we think of is the wave/particle duality of quantum mechanics, we may not have such a hard time at all
imagining how matter — which in the quantum view appears already as much an abstraction as a reality, already as ambiguous as any metaphor, already intertwined with the intention of the person studying it – can give rise to a reflective spirit. Indeed,
wave/particle duality is a good metaphor for the apparent dualism of spirit/matter. If we reflect on this, it should come as no surprise that matter has turned out to be so much more mysterious than the early materialists imagined. After all, it is this matter that is reflecting on these matters.

From the naturalistic perspective, we know for certain that matter/energy can evolve into a thing that can reflect upon matter/energy and its evolution into a being capable of reflection. From where we currently stand, we cannot eliminate – nor affirm – the possibility that matter/energy is the way it is precisely so that it can evolve into a being that can reflect upon the world. It is
questionable whether any words or schema, any model, any theory or paradigm can capture the deep mystery of this fact. But where a religious inspired writer like Marcel and the naturalist can come together, is in recognition that yes indeed, there is “the mystery of being.”

The author

Thomas Schenk

Thomas Schenk

Thomas Schenk: “If asked, I’d call myself a Space-age Taoist, Black Sheep Catholic, Perennial Philosophy Pantheist, Dharma Bum.   In other words I am a kind of spiritual and philosophical mutt.  I’m not out to change the world, for I believe the world has a much better sense of what it is supposed to be than I ever could. But I do try to promote the value of the contemplative life in these most un-contemplative of times.  I don’t know if the piece presented here has any value, but I feel blessed that I can spend my time thinking about such things.  My version of the American dream is that here, as the child of a line of farmers and peasants going back through the ages, I have the privilege to live with my head in such clouds.”

Upcoming work

This Sunday

Thomas SchenkThis Sunday Thomas Schenk dives into the matter of spirit and the spirit of matter in a reflection entitled “The Mystery of Being.”

Appearing August 7th on Humanistic Paganism.

 

 

 

 

All This Week

Me, Urban, and Drew in front of fire at Ely

B. T. Newberg, Urban Haas, and Drew Jacob

Remember how I said a Celtic polytheist, a Voodoo priest, and a Humanist were heading into the woods?  Well, we’ve got something very special for you planned this week.  Drew Jacob, Urban Haas, and I recorded a fireside chat under the stars in the North Woods.  It’s an interfaith dialogue of sorts on the theme of encounters in nature.  We’re bringing it to you in daily 15-minute segments – the perfect way to start your day!

But for those of you who are truly hardcore, who want it all in one big gulp, don’t worry! – next Sunday we’ll release the full-length, unedited, director’s cut version!  It’ll be complete with transcripts, photos, and more.

Watch for it all this week:

Encounters in nature: An interfaith dialogue in the North Woods.

Recent Work

The indifference of nature, by Rua Lupa

How Persephone killed the gods for me, by B. T. Newberg

Being human when surrounded by Greek gods, by M. J. Lee

The indifference of nature, by Rua Lupa

Gummy tree trunk in Loring Park

“Nature doesn’t care about our personal decisions, if we live one moment and die the next. And I like that.”

photo by B. T. Newberg (gazing up the gummy trunk of a tree)

Is Nature a loving mother?  This week Rua Lupa comes forward with an environmental message of freedom and responsibility.

Pentamera Ardea 23 / 10 B.E. (Friday August 13th / 2010 C.E.)

Nature seems to be perceived as a loving mother who takes care of our every need. Who is waiting and watching to catch us when we fall. Well, I beg to differ. What makes Nature its most wonderful is its indifference. Nature doesn’t care about our personal decisions, if we live one moment and die the next. And I like that. Why? Because it means I don’t have someone constantly watching me and grading me on my every decision or thought. It means that I am free to do what I please within the boundaries of the Laws of Nature i.e gravity, within the Laws of the society that surrounds you (which can change and has changed through the hard works of dedicated people), and of course the moral compass that is all your own. It means that you are solely responsible for everything that you do, with no one to blame but yourself. You are who you make yourself to be, no one or thing can do that for you, that is the beauty of Nature’s indifference.

Being alone in Nature for an extended period of time is one of the best ways to learn this from Nature, as it really does put things in perspective. It makes you realize how vast the world and universe is and how truly utterly small and insignificant you actually are. You begin to feel all the life that surrounds you and know that you are a part of it, not separate or better than it like what civil society teaches, but a part. It makes me feel energized and strong to know that through eras of evolution I am somehow here and a part of this complex network of life. I know that when I sit with Nature, I am where I am supposed to be, involved and a part of the big picture.

In our civilized world we like to think that humanity owns and possesses everything, nothing is unknown to us, nothing is outside humanity’s reach, that the wild spaces are just things to conquer – which you hear all the time when it comes to climbing mountains. The fact is, you can never truly own anything. Possession just means control, and control is just something homo sapiens are utterly good at believing they have. When you really analyze everything you ‘own’, it is only because you and your society believes that you own it. What makes that mouse in the cupboard less of an owner of that house than you? It may not have bought the thing, but no homo sapiens consulted it about trading with it to have it move out of its residence for you to possess it. We bargain and trade for things between our species all the time. But we never consider bargaining or trading with other creatures, because we think we are superior to them, separate from the ecological system. “How can you bargain with other creatures?” You might ask. I am not really saying that you should bargain the way our society perceives bargaining. I am saying that you should consider the life forms that surround you and are connected to you. And I don’t strictly mean spiritual, I mean literal. Where do you get your food? How was your home made? Your clothes? It is all through Nature. There is no denying it, we rely on Nature for all our needs. The problem I am trying to emphasize is that we homo sapiens as a whole, tend to ignore that fact. So no, we shouldn’t ‘bargain’, but we should live in a mutualistic manner with the species we depend upon, and cooperate with the species we naturally compete with. We should relearn how to live with our immediate environment and not just take and take and take until nothing is left for the next generation.  That is speciescide – for lack of a better word, and it is because we hold no responsibility for our individual consumption.

Nature also seems to be perceived as something that needs to be taken care of or ‘saved’, especially with this ‘Green Movement’ that was seeded in the late 60’s. Even if the entire earth were to be nuked, Nature would persist. So really, when we talk about ‘saving the planet’, we are just talking about our species. And as much as I like to think we are compassionate toward all living things, we are realizing that what affects one species affects every other species connected to it and eventually it connects to us; and that is the root of it. We care because it catches up to us eventually, at least that is how it is now due to the colossal size of our population. Overall, we should take a real look at ourselves and our society and see it for what it really is. Continual consumption and not giving back so that what we consumed returns. Our populations have become too immense to get away with it any more without receiving consequences. Yes, we should change the way we consume and I am very much behind the ‘green movement’ as an environmentalist/conservationist; we just need to realize that we are, in reality, in it for the species. Because Nature doesn’t give a damn.

The author

Rua Lupa

Rua Lupa

Rua Lupa is the creator of the naturalistic path called Ehoah. She also 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 loves the outdoors and enjoys sharing experiences with others of the same passion. She is a strong advocate of wild spaces with native species instead of traditional gardens because of a growing problem with invasive species and lack of space and sustenance for our native wildlife. She strives to learn and retain as much as possible about the natural world and how one can live in balance with the immediate natural environment. She endeavors to one day live comfortably with all basic needs met within the natural environment.

Upcoming work

This Sunday

Rua Lupa, creator of the Ehoah naturalistic path, joins us tomorrow with a message of environmental freedom and responsibility entitled “The Indifference of Nature.”

Rua Lupa

Rua Lupa

The indifference of nature, by Rua Lupa

Appearing July 31st on Humanistic Paganism.

Recent Work

How Persephone killed the gods for me, by B. T. Newberg

Being human when surrounded by Greek gods, by M. J. Lee

Spirituality without religion: An interview with Drew Jacob

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