Rite and Ritual, The seen and the unseen

I recently joined the Samhain celebrations at the Hill of Ward and, as such things often do, it provided insight and examples and brought my thinking on a lot of matters religious into perspective.  Inn this post I’m going to be discussing comparative religion dispassionately – I don’t know what’s true (I can say things that aren’t true and things I really hope aren’t but don’t know what is).

I’d also known I’d wanted to write this post as a companion to the previous one since Samhain, but it wasn’t until Fred Clark linked something about white and black churches in America that I really knew what I wanted to say.

Christianity, at least in Britain, is slowly dying.  Between 1964 and 2005, self-reported church attendance plummeted from 74% to 31%.  The numbers are worse (or perhaps better) if you look at snapshot church attendance, with the only churches making headway between 1995 being the Orthodoxen and the Pentecostals.  Clearly if there is a need the Churches can meet they are failing.  (Yes, I am getting on to the Paganism part).

The link about black churches in America suggested that the Black Churches have the following traits that the white ones don’t:

♣    Experiential – Black Protestant faith is active and experiential; it is less concerned with precise doctrinal contours than is white mainline or evangelical Christianity.

♣    Survival – Their faith is critical to survival and helps individuals cope with suffering associated with everyday trials and tribulations.

♣    Mystery – Black Protestant faith is mystical and expresses an appreciation for the mystery in life; it includes folklore and cultural components driving from the African diaspora, the consequences of racial inequality in America, and non-Christian religions.

♣    Miraculous – Black Protestant faith is confident and comprehensive; the miraculous is ordinary and the ordinary is miraculous.

♣    Justice – Their faith is committed to social justice and equality for all individuals and groups in society.

In my fairly wide ranging experience most of those five are true for mainstream British Christianity – the groups who have glossolalia and events like the Toronto Blessing (something of which I have first hand experience) managing still to fail on three.  (The Quakers, which pass most of these tests, are decidedly non-mainstream and only questionably Christian these days).

Justice needs a paragraph of its own here as an aside. Mainstream British Christianity would claim it normally tries to follow is justice even if St Paul’s Cathedral had an internal fight over Occupy London. On the other hand, the Church is, for instance, the last acceptable bastion of homophobia – it is even getting driven off the football terraces.  The most prominent positions of the major British churches are where they stand against justice. Against so many forms of equal rights.  And the mainstream elements that stand for justice normally stand more against the rest of their churches than against society.

I also thought that the first four points definitely hit home the appeal for a lot of pagans and Wiccans – especially the Mystery part (Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca being flat out mystery cults with degrees of initiation).  As for justice?  Depends on the group and a lot (especially the Dianic Wiccans) are strongly in favour of it.  So I’m not sure whether this is a post pitched at Christians to say “Sort yourselves out – here’s what’s behind you” or one to various Pagans saying “Here’s a huge opportunity and there’s no time like the present”.  And, to be honest, whether and where I should lend a hand or whether I should just put on the popcorn if people follow my advice.


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