Monday, February 16, 2009

A Cathedral Re-discovers Mystical Religion

My laugh-out-loud moment Sunday came when reading an article in the Denver Post titled "Finding Faith in the Wilderness." (The full name of the Episcopal cathedral in Denver is St. John's in the Wilderness.)

Below, dozens of candles flicker near icons in the dark nave. Incense hangs in the air. Congregants can choose to sit in a pew or on thick cushions at the foot of a simple altar. A stringed Moroccan oud gives even traditional songs of praise an exotic twist, but there is also world music, chant and jazz.

"We're using the cathedral in new ways, making it more inviting and even sensual," said the Rev. Peter Eaton. "It's meant to celebrate and bring alive all the human senses. We think that, in metro Denver, there is nothing else like us."

In other words, a "a more mystical and meditative feeling than what big-box churches or traditional Protestant services provide." In other words, liturgy, sacred theatre -- what they used to be good at before the Episcopalians developed a bad case of Vatican II-envy back in the 1960s and started trying to be "relevant."

I have quoted anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse's distinction between "episodic" and "doctrinal" religion before. Sacred theatre is episodic. Having processions with torches and banners is episodic. (Clifton's Third Law of Religion: All real religions have torchlight processions.)

The point of this post is not to make fun of Episcopalians, however. I merely want to emphasize the point that vivid experiences count for more than doctrine or theologizing. We Pagans should not forget that fact.

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Blogger faoladh said...

I would go so far as to say that, in pagan/polytheist religion, the experience is more important than any theology or doctrine by definition. This has been argued by many, notably Jordan Paper in his The Deities Are Many.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Yewtree said...

vivid experiences count for more than doctrine or theologizing

Ye-e-es, but the theologising should be informed by the vivid experiences.

If the reasoning mind is not permitted to theorise about / make sense of the vivid experiences, how can they be integrated into everyday experience?

Also, there's a huge difference between theology and dogma. Theology is just trying to explain your own experiences; dogma is trying to tell everyone else that they should interpret them the same way you do.

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Faoladh, yes, that's a good book.

Yewtree, I have been known to suggest that so-called Pagan theologians be executed as counter-revolutionary wreckers and class enemies, but I will make an exception for you. This time.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Hecate said...

vivid experiences count for more than doctrine or theologizing

I said something similar recently, based on a v good post by Gus.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Tor Hershman said...

Here's a lill' something Pagans ain't gonna forget - most will not forget 'cause most ain't heard the story.....but, here it 'tis.....

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Yeah, Amenhotep IV. That worked out really well, didn't it.

1:07 PM  
OpenID dmiley said...

I really like the all real religions have torchlight processions idea. Are the rest of Laws extant or are you waiting for Divine inspiration:-)

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

The Laws (to date):

1. Nothing ever goes away completely. (In terms of belief or practice.)

2. The disciple is more obnoxious than the teacher.

3. Torchlight processions...

8:58 AM  
Blogger Jordan Stratford+ said...

Clifton's Third Law of Religion: All real religions have torchlight processions.

Can I get a "Amen!"? ;-)

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Chas, what are your other laws of religion?

Clifton's Third Law of Religion: All real religions have torchlight processions.

this sounds like a good one!


7:15 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


Read my earlier comment-response.

9:21 PM  

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