Thursday, July 15, 2004

Interlude: Why I Favor Old Religions

I wanted to pull this up out of the comment thread and elaborate on it. Susurra wrote:

I'm sort of surprised to find you saying that you believe a religion has to be old to be validly transformative. Is that what you are saying? To me, that's sort of like saying seniority in a job matters more than talent. Or that it matters more how long the religion has existed than how well it works for me individually?

I was glad to get the question. (For one thing, it helped me see that my protest against Wicca's claims to being an old tradition could easily appear to be just idle witch-baiting.) I answered:

Well, two things, Susurra. All paths were new once, of course. But an old path 1) has encountered and coped with a number of cultures -- so it's less subject to the culture-blindness of assuming that one's cultural presuppositions are simply universal. And 2) it has acquired an enormous amount of experience and lore and accomplished practitioners. It's likely to know what to do with a broad range of personality types. Most modern paths, I think, appeal mostly to just one or two personality types in one or two cultural contexts, and are fairly helpless to deal with others.

But more than that, and maybe most importantly -- we always tend (appropriately enough) to focus on the next necessary transformation. It's our dearest hope that it will actually succeed, that we will grow into a significantly different person. Any one such transformation is incredibly precious. I'm sorry that I dissed Wicca even as much as I did, because the only spiritual path I would really want to diss is no path at all. Contempt for transformation and indifference to its possibility -- that's a path that leads, I think, straight to hell, and you don't have to wait for death to get there, either.

But we tend -- anyway, I know I tend -- to think of the next transformation as the last one we'll need. It's almost certain not to be. There are doors after doors, thresholds after thresholds to be crossed. (This is only a discouraging thought, by the way, if you're not really paying attention to what it means.) I think that most new paths are likely to be one-trick ponies. There may be one transformation they know how to work, and maybe even to stabilize, but I think if you take to a new-ish path, or a self-devised one, even if it really takes you through a metamorphosis you're pretty likely to need to go find another path after that or devise another one, without having much useful guidance about where to go next.

Now maybe the only sensible response to that argument is, "Jesus, I should have such problems!" But that, anyway, is my pitch for old established religious traditions.

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