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Pagan Faith 1: Science v Religion?
I've been helping my oldest kid with her homework lately. Her grades are slipping a bit in science, which is normally her best subject. It's not a mystery why this is happening: she's in middle school and the work is getting harder, the concepts more complex. Her class is working on geology and evolution at the moment, so she's learning about continental drift, natural selection, DNA, fossils and mutation. She's working hard on it, and I'm glad. She has to work hard because there's a lot of material and it requires her to put real effort into understanding and applying it. It's hard because she's learning science, real science, and that's something you cant take for granted anymore.
We live in a very conservative congressional district. Our house is literally surrounded by churches of various kinds. My congressman is rabidly anti-immigrant and has sponsored fetal person-hood legislation; he obviously does not represent me or my values. While I do not hide my faith, I do not feel empowered to speak about it to my neighbors or the parents of my kids' friends. I accept all of that with more or less good grace. While I hate to use the phrase 'culture war' and give energy to that narrative, I feel the annoyance and discomfort that comes with being a member of a minority religion, when the majority culture is resentful of sharing space. So I put up with the clueless chirping about “having a blessed day” and puzzled inquiries into whether I'm Jewish, when replying “none” to inquiries about which church my family attends. And I fully admit, I still fall back on traditions I grew up with, putting up a Christmas tree and saying, “Merry Christmas” without discomfort, and let other people make whatever assumption they want. I have no desire to do a mini-interfaith negotiation with random neighbors and co-workers by wishing them “Happy Solstice, and have a blessed Yule.”
But given the demographics of where I live, and what feels like the constant push to include and privilege a Christianist thread in all public discourse, I was very relieved to see what my kid was struggling to learn. The science curriculum for her class listed the age of the Earth in millions of years, not thousands. It presented fossil and DNA evidence of human origins, and made no mention of ”teaching the controversy” or presenting “both sides” of an evolutionary “debate.” The teacher is not framing this in any way as “science versus religion”. There was no allusion that this might even be an issue: this is the curriculum, this is what my kids are learning. No mention was made of religion at all. This is how it should be. And I am so grateful this is so, knowing what other school districts are going through on the issue of how and even if this branch of science should be taught. I am grateful that I don't have to ring in on this issue with her school, or provide my own corrective lessons at home.
I have become wary and suspicious of how frequently “culture war” skirmishes are being reported. A school district battles over teaching evolution; politicians declare that the United States is a Christian nation. These battles are often framed as “ religion vs. science” but that doesn't ring true for me. My religion is not anti-science, or opposed to science, and I do not view my spirituality as somehow in opposition to science. I am grateful because science does not diminish my faith: it reveals and strengthens it. The more I learn about the world, the more I deepen in my intimacy with the earth and the forces that created it, the more my faith is restored, the more I feel connected to deep mystery and peace.
When I need answers, when I'm troubled by my own limitations and mortality, when I'm unsure of which way to turn, I turn to the natural world. I return to the lessons of the seasons and the wisdom traditions of the past, I look to the lives of wild creatures and take counsel in silence with trees. The more I learn about the world I inhabit, the more I understand about myself, and the purpose of my individual life in a larger tapestry of connection. This is how the creative face of the Universe reveals itself to me. There is no more reverent attitude than sheer curiosity. Control and repression of that natural human tendency towards curiosity and experimentation always goes hand in hand with the most violent religious movements. So an anti-scientific and anti-intellectual bias often accompanies seeming “reasonable” pushes on the part of school districts, textbook companies and parents to include faux science based on Christian scripture into the science curriculum.
As my daughter struggles with her homework, I'm sure she would welcome the relief of some easy answers and rote memorizing. But I am prouder of her hard-won “C” on her science test, than the “A” she'd get from answering “Because God says so” in another school.
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