Tuesday, May 6, 2014

QUESTIONS about Religion, Faith, and Spirituality (Interview with Tony Brown)

Here is Gandalf the Grey, because I do not have a picture of Mr. Brown.


I have some friends who are specifically, refreshingly, not Christian but who are still religious believers, have faith, and are highly spiritual.

Needless to say, when I was a Christian, like with most Christians, I was brainwashed into thinking anyone who wasn't a card-carrying member of Christianity was somehow playing for the wrong team. I was taught to distrust, even despise, otherwise good and loving people for the simple crime of not being Christian. This is the type of xenophobic thee vs. though mind-set that mainstream religions often instill in the minds of its believers.

But to be frank, it is a total crock of BULLSHIT.

Other people are more, not less, beautiful for their quirks, eccentricities, and this includes religious beliefs as well. In this series, I will be interviewing my friends who practice what you might call alternative faiths. I think you'll find the interviews both entertaining and extremely informative. At the least, it will make us less judgmental of others, because after seeing how wonderfully unique and fascinating these people and their beliefs are, it is extremely hard not to warm up to them. Only those brainwashed by the unforgiving dogma of a polarizing belief system would think otherwise.


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In this first interview, I interview my friend Tony Brown. He is a sagely gentleman with a manly beard, warm eyes couched behind round spectacles, and an intellectual whit and humor which rivals that of Gandalf the Grey, with the one caveat that Tony, unlike Gandalf, is very much real.


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QUESTIONS about Religion, Faith, and Spirituality.


Q1.    Let me begin at the rightful place, at the beginning. Do you consider yourself more of a religious or spiritual person of faith?

  • A: I'm both. Religion is a tool that I use to express and explore my spirituality.


Q2.    As a person who I greatly respect and admire, even though some of our beliefs are polar opposites, what exactly would you classify as your brand of religious faith? Are you a theist, a deist, a polytheist, and more specifically what kind? A pagan? A wicaan? A new age positive attraction sort of thing?

  • A: It's complicated. I'm a sort of holistic polytheist with a foundation of bifurcated pantheism operating within an Eclectic Wiccan framework. I also have a special affinity for Dionysos. I wrote about it on my blog a few years ago :)

  • Basically, I believe that various Gods and Goddesses are metaphorical gateways through which we can relate to an ineffable Divine. Each is an aspect of the deeper wonder and mystery of the universe. Building relationships with these Divine aspects can bring us to greater intuitive understanding of our own identity, and recognize our connections with the universe at large, and with each other.


Q3.    Do you actively practice your faith and what are some of the important customs or rituals you may have? Do you pray? Do you have a holy book or doctrine? Do you have to wear a specifi kind of dress or are you pretty much free to dance naked under the moonlight on a warm summer night?

  • A: I'm reasonably observant as a Wiccan. I can count on one hand how many Sabbats I've missed in the last 15 years.

  • I do pray, after my own fashion, but I don't really have any sort of  rote format for prayer like you might find in some other faiths.

  • Wiccans don't have anything that could really be called a "holy book" in the same way that the Bible or the Koran are. Wiccans do often keep special books (called a "Book of Shadows") that contain notes and rituals and other bits of lore. A BoS is somewhere between a collection of process notes and a personal journal.

  • As I practice it, Wicca doesn't really have a dress code, but there are other forms that do, sort of.


Q4.    If there is naked dancing are you doing it alone or are others doing it with you? And if the latter, is it the more the merrier or do you have strict initiation practices to get into your religion? If so, what are they?

  • A: We're all over the spectrum on naked dancing. Depending on the specific group of Wiccans, it might be situationally restricted, generally discouraged, openly encouraged, or even flat-out mandatory. Some traditional Wiccan covens require their members to be nude (called "skyclad") in pretty much every ritual. Usually, if a coven regularly practices ritual nudity then they will be somewhat restrictive in their attendance policies.

  • Initiation is an important concept in Wicca, and disagreements over it form the largest rift between factions in our faith. Traditionalists adhere to strict requirements regarding proper initiatory lineage, while many progressives are open to a wider variety of paths into the faith.


Q5.    What’s the most important thing you get out of your religion/faith and why do you think it helps you.

  • A: Of all the benefits my religious practice provides, I think the most fundamental and far-reaching one is the expansion (and deepening) of my vocabulary of esoteric symbolism. Most humans, I think, are pattern matching fanatics. Having a large set of complex and interrelated symbols in which I am personally emotionally invested has provided my mind with avenues of thought and experience that it would otherwise lack.


Q6.    Have you ever tried or considered other religions / religious perspectives? If so, what were they?

  • A: I grew up as Wesleyan, and I spent a few years as an agnostic/atheist.


Q7.    Do you think other people would benefit from learning about your religion, even if they didn’t ultimately convert? What would you want them to take away from the experience?

  • A: Yes! Wicca is a fascinating study, just from a historian’s perspective. It's a movement filled with colorful characters and enticing mysteries. I recommend Prof. Ronald Hutton's wonderful micro-study, "Triumph of the Moon."


Q8.    What would you say the worst aspect of your religious faith is?

  • A: Well, I don't want to play the victim card or anything, but honestly the worst part of being Wiccan is that it can really affect how others treat you. There are a ton of negative stereotypes and misconceptions about Wicca, and that can cost us relationships or jobs or custody of children. I even know of some folks who have been the targets of violent and criminal acts because of being Wiccan. Frankly put, it sucks.


Q9.    Do you believe in spreading your religion and have you ever actively tried to convert someone?

  • A: We don't really do the evangelism thing. I've never actively tried to recruit anyone, but I'm always happy to talk about my faith and answer questions. On a few occasions, that seems to have led to a conversion later. But I didn't mean to do it, I promise!


Q10. What religion do you think Snoopy (yes, the beagle) practices?

  • A: I gave this a lot of thought, and I went back and re-read some the early Peanuts strips, and I think I know the answer. Snoopy lives in a world where dogs write novels and birds join scout troops. His reality is inhabited by thinking schoolhouses and kite-eating trees.

  • Snoopy has had, on multiple occasions, direct contact with objective evidence that animals and even inanimate objects have thoughts and feelings. He is, himself, a sapient dog. In my opinion, the only religious sentiment that a rational being like Snoopy could sincerely subscribe to is Animism.


Q11. Does your family and or partner share the same religious beliefs? If not, is there any tension between you, how do they take your beliefs? Do they respect your beliefs?

  • A: My wife is also Wiccan, though she wasn't when we met. She's one of those accidental conversions I mentioned.


Q12. Who is your favorite comic book superhero and why?

  • A: When I was growing up, it was Spiderman. I liked the webshooters, and I identified with the trials and troubles of Peter Parker.

  • Now, my favorite is Promethea, who is a heroine created by Alan Moore. The Promethea comics are jam-packed with esoteric symbolism and philosophy in addition to containing some mind bending visual artistry. It's a top-notch graphic fiction experience, and I recommend it to everyone!


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Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist