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morris jastrow, monotheistic religions, word religion, philosophy of religion

Aspects of Religion: A Wiccan Viewpoint

Author: Robin Woodsong
Connections Journal

Among early Pagans, religion was a fact taken
for granted, "requiring no explanation." There was no
need to define religion because religion was a part of each
persons being. "We have not yet encountered in Egyptian and
Babylonian literature a word which corresponds to our word
'religion.' The ancient Hebrews certainly did not possess one,
and when, in post-Biblical times, it became necessary to devise
one for philosophical and theological nomenclature, the one
chosen was a word which simply indicated ''faith' " (The
Study of Religion, by Prof.Morris Jastrow, p. 130).

When the Monotheistic religions split the soul
and the body into two distinct halves, the idea of religion,
which focused on the soul and rejected the body, was created.
Modern Pagans (or neo-Pagans) believe that religion is a
re-linking back to nature and Her processes, to re-link the soul
and the body into a unified whole and to re-link the natural and
the spiritual. Pagans don't look towards transcendence of the
physical. Our physical body and the physical universe in which we
live are sacred in every sense of the word. We also believe in
the inherent divinity of each person, believing that our physical
and mental selves are a seamless whole, which is an expression of
the divine, and thus each person is inherently deserving of honor
and respect.

The word religion is derived from the Latin
words relegere, and religare. "As used by Cicero, relegere
meant 'having a care' for the gods" (Professor Jastrow); and
religare as used by Lactantius, meant to "bind fast" or
to "bind back" to God or the Gods (Century Dictionary).
Lactantius defined religion as "the link which unites man to
God" (Sabatier's Outlines of a Philosophy of Religion, p.
5). This last conception of religion "through the influence
of Augustine, who adopted it, dominated the theology of the
Middle Ages" (Jastrow's Study of Religion, p. 131).

In the last 1600 years the western world has
viewed religion through the filter of Augustinian influenced
Christian beliefs. To Luther and other Protestant reformers
religion meant an escape from sin and justification before God.
"How to find God, and how to adjust one's relationship to

Religion was defined by the courts "as an
organized body of believers employing religious ceremony and
having a faith in and commitment to a supernatural Supreme
Being." Davis V. Beason (1890)

Wicca does not fall within this definition. We
are barely organized, and although we do have commitment to our
path, a person's professed faith is less of an issue than a
person's actions which illustrate their true beliefs. Many Wiccan
do not believe in a "Supernatural Supreme Being".

font size="4"> Later the Supreme court
muddied the waters further by ruling that "[t]he term
`religion' has reference to one's view of his relations to his
Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his
being and character, and of obedience to his will."

Again this view has little in common with

But by the 1960's the courts began to broaden
their definition as to what constitutes a religion. In United
States v. Seeger (1965), the Supreme Court ruled that a belief is
religious if it is "sincere and meaningful [and] occupies a
place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the
orthodox belief in God."

Paul Tillich wrote from the Christian point of
view when he claimed that most, if not all human beings,
including atheists, have an ultimate commitment of one sort or
another, something that serves as a unifying center for their
personality and consciousness: a transcendent object.

Although this is closer to the Wiccan point of
view it still relies on a "transcendent object".

John Dewey, a Humanist philosopher expanded the
definition of religion by saying that religion is: "Any
activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and
in spite of threats of personal loss because of convictions of
its general and enduring value is religious in quality."

Deweys view is overly broad. This definition
would encompass almost any human activity, but certainly Wicca
falls within it bounds.

Prof. William James lists "psychological
characteristics" of a religious life: ( I) "A new zest,
which adds itself like a gift to life and takes the form either
of lyrical enchantment or of an appeal to earnestness and
heroism." (2) "An assurance of safety and a temper of
peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of

The Supreme Court finally defined religion as a
belief "based upon a power or being or upon a faith, to
which all else is subordinate or upon which all else is
ultimately dependent."

Being Pantheists of one type or another,
Wiccan's have little use for faith, which is belief in things
unseen. Non-Pagan religions includes axioms that are not based on
any observable phenomena. A Witch sees the world, touches it and
enfolds it in metaphors which allow for personalization and
involvement in its processes. We don't need faith to see that we
are indeed dependent on the Earth for food, water, oxygen and
everything that supports our physical lives. But we also see
ourselves as part of all. The early stars of our universe, which
finally went nova and died provided the physical matter of which
our bodies are made.

Although in another sense you can say that we
have great faith, since we believe in the goodness of humankind,
that the world is a fine and wonderful place full of potential,
and nature has inherent rational and logical expression in our

"For thousands of years man's approach to
religion has been a conflict between two concepts:

The Celebrants: the individual who
personally tried to understand the meaning of life by loving and
living it to the hilt, who watched the infinity of the star
studded skies, rejoiced about the daily return of the sun,
celebrated the excitement of the hunt, the ecstasy of sex, and the
miracle of birth, all the while feeling that he himself was part
of the life force, which would joyfully reclaim him at the end of
his days.

The Worshiper:
One whose faith was based on fear and awe of a force of an
infinite power and authority, a jealous god who had to be
flattered, worshiped, appeased, and bargained with in the same
manner that one had to deal with the old chief of the clan.
Hence, one made deals with him to obtain favors, to be
"saved" or to be forgiven for one's feelings of guilt
for cultural or ritual trespasses (sin). But how could one make
such deals? Well, as with the chief, by dealing with those who
let it be known that only they knew the word of god and how to
get through to him (often at a price)." (When Santa was a
Shaman, Tony Van Renterghem, p15)

These two positions illustrate some of the
basic differences in religious world views. Even within the
Christian sects there are world views of such broad variance as
to have created different cultures with the same city. Religions
which believe that man is inherently sinful, and must be
vigilantly monitored to prevent their slipping into degradation
and sin, do not understand the attitudes of those who believe
that man is put on the planet to worship the Glory of God. The
two see us as quite different, one sees people as on the way to
hell every second of every day, the other sees people as
basically decent, with occasional flaws, but generally joyful and
praising of God. Which group would you rather work with?

Paganism goes that a step further. We see man -
and woman - as an expression of the divine, and the divine as a
mirror of us. So each of us must be considered as honorable and
worthy of respect, unless we prove ourselves unworthy. And even
if we prove ourselves not to be in concert with the goals and
standards of a particular community, we are not automatically
considered to be "wicked and beyond redemption". It is
assumed that there are reasons for the behavior of those
non-conformists, even if it is not evident to us. And that
although that person must assume full and personal responsibility
for their actions, they may be atoning for past lessons
unlearned, balancing energy for past behaviors, or experiencing
this for some purpose of their own, which may include biological
or physical limitations of their particular body or incarnation.
They are not BAD people, but their behavior marks them as
unwelcome, and they will not stay in the community other than by
the will of the community which decides to sustain them through
this aberrant stage. Or not. Then they must leave and go
elsewhere. Paganism is celebratory and joyful, but they are not

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