Tag Archives: politics

Is Shinto Truly a Religion for All?

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In Japan’s Mie prefecture, there exists an enigmatic shrine. It is visited by 8.5 million pilgrims and sightseers every year, but its central building is hidden from the public. It was established over 2,000 years ago, yet its main structures are never any older than 20 years. It is perhaps the most sacred Shinto site of all, yet is currently surrounded by controversy. Welcome to Ise Jingu, also known as Ise Grand Shrine, where the G7 summit is currently taking place. [Read more]

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The Path of the Free

bacchus04

We must not forget that the reason why Paganism flourishes in the Western world today is because of liberty. Without exception, the only countries where Paganism, and especially witchcraft, can be practised openly are those that embrace civil liberties. [Read more…]

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The Need for Human-Friendly Environmentalism

Diana

Diana, Goddess of hunting and guardian of wild animals.

I’ve recently been watching BBC’s “The Hunt,”  a David Attenborough documentary about nature’s predators and how they live. While for the most part it’s an excellent series, I found the final episode disturbing. [Read more…]

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Yes, Environmentalism is Humanist

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By Lauren raine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard some arguments that environmentalism is inherently misanthropic. In other words, environmentalism limits progress, oppresses the masses, and is rooted on the pessimistic assumption that humans are bad, destructive creatures undeserving of nature’s bounty. I’ve encountered some (but by no means all) Humanists  who hold this view, because they believe ultimately in the goodness of mankind, and that the needs of our species should always come first.

But I believe this is precisely why arguments for environmentalism are Humanist ones…[Read more]

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Why should Pagans support people of other faiths?

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Green Man at St Peter’s Church, Barton-Upon Humber – a Pagan figure guarding a Christian place of worship. Richard Croft [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 The recent horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Mali and parts of Nigeria have emphasised one thing in particular for me. That all of us who believe in the values that Daesh (a.k.a. “Islamic State”) hate – freedom, equality, education, justice, love – need to stay united in order to fight terrorism and extremism. For despite the differences we may have in nationality, race, political views and, yes, religion, it is these values that stand out above all others and what set us apart from the monsters that have slaughtered so many innocent people.

As a follower of a religion, I also believe that now, more than ever, it is vital that members of different religions come together, to share in each other’s views and to work together to fight against terrorism and radicalisation however we can. And this means that I believe members of the Pagan community have an important part to play – to not just tolerate members of other religions, but actively support them in any challenges they may be facing during this difficult times.

Here are a few reasons why I believe Pagans should support people of other religions:

  1. Pagans can easily empathise 
    Pagans are no strangers to intolerance and discrimination. Pagans represent the traditions practised by those who were systematically persecuted by the state, and even today, Pagans still face prejudice and hatred from others (only recently, a fundamentalist Christian group in Scotland attacked Pagans as one of “the biggest threats to Western civilisation.”). We therefore know and understand the frustration, hurt and fear  that arises from being victims of religious discrimination, and we should help defend and stick up for members of other religions who are suffering from prejudice and misinformation.
  2. Paganism is an inclusive religion
    Most Pagans pride themselves on the fact that their faith is a great big mish-mash of other traditions. In addition to adopting deities and traditions from the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Vikings, modern Paganism also borrows from religions not usually considered Pagan. Much of Paganism’s rituals and philosophies come from Christianity, as well as Asian religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Some magical practises in Paganism originate from Middle Eastern mysticism. In addition to this, many Pagans are happy to accept that all deities are manifestations of one underlying entity, meaning that all religions are “true.” Because of this, Pagans should respect and support those of other religions, especially as modern Pagans owe other religions such a debt in terms of how much they have borrowed from them!
  3. Protecting others is protecting ourselves
    When we allow members of other faiths to be bullied, misrepresented or discriminated against without taking action, we set a dangerous precedent for ourselves. The basic rights and freedoms afforded to religions should apply to ALL religions, and so if one religion faces a breach of those rights, it is inevitable that others will also fall victim to the same oppressors. Conversely, by speaking out for other members of the faith community, we are also speaking out for our own rights and freedoms. We are all much stronger if we stand shoulder to shoulder.
  4. It will change other religions’ attitudes towards Paganism
    Some members of other religions think that, because Pagans can be rather secretive and because they use “occult” imagery associated with all things “unholy” in horror films and other media, Pagans are inherently opposed to Christianity and other monotheistic religions. While this may be true for some Pagans, it certainly isn’t for all of us, and this perception that people become Pagans in order to rebel against other religions is damaging to the Pagan faith. By standing together with members of other faiths and showing your support form them, we can demonstrate to the world that Paganism is not some kind of anti-Christian cult or anti-religious movement, but rather is an important and valuable asset to society that plays an important role in people’s lives.
  5. It will expand your mind.
    Just as Pagans can influence those of other beliefs, so too can those of other beliefs influence Pagans. By making sure you’re not residing purely in a Pagan “bubble” by actively mixing with those of other religions, you will be exposed to many different viewpoints, attitudes and ways of life. And this is very good for intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual development. What’s more, by understanding the religions of others, you’ll also gain a greater understanding of what it really means to be Pagan.
  6. We can work together to solve issues related directly to religion
    There are inevitably things that you, as a Pagan, will disagree with within different religions, such as attitudes to gender, sex and sexuality, treatment of animals and so forth. But what is important to realise is that there are members of those particular religions who also disagree with those aspects of that religion and are working to change them – and they need your help. For example, there are many Catholics who believe women should be afforded better status within the Catholic church, and Catholics who believe the Catholic church should change its views on contraception. By working together with like-minded Catholics, rather than solely against the Catholic church, Pagans can have a much greater impact in bringing about changes that will benefit everyone.

So as a Pagan, how can you show your support for people of other faiths? There’s plenty you can do!

1. Take an active interest in other religions. Read about them and their sacred texts, watch documentaries about them, and, of course, speak to members of those religions who are comfortable talking about their beliefs. This is the first step to understanding and appreciating other faiths.
2. Visit places of worship – even if you do not participate in prayers or a service, simply being there will show your support. Most churches are generally open to the public when mass is not in session, and many synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras and other places of worship hold open days specifically for those not of the faith to learn more about them. Check out the calendars of your local places of worship and see what they are up to.
3. Take part in local religious festivals. Where I live we have a large Sikh community, and so we are blessed with a variety of colourful and vibrant Sikh festivals in our town throughout the year. Coming along to festivals, even if you’re not sure what they’re all about, is a fantastic and highly enjoyable way to get to know others in your community, especially those of different faiths.
3.  Join in with interfaith activities. Interfaith is all about creating positive dialogue with members of other faiths, so if you join a local interfaith group you are bound to meet like-minded individuals with an open and welcoming attitude to all religions! UK residents can find local interfaith groups via the Inter Faith Network UK.
4. Invite members of other faiths to observe or take part in Pagan ritual or gatherings. This could be as simple as having a friend of another religion over for a feast to commemorate a sabbat, or by inviting members of another faith-based organisation to come along to your moot. It should be an enjoyable and eye-opening experience for both parties!

5. Watch the words and attitudes of other Pagans in your community. How do other Pagans feel about those of different religions? Is there any kind of irrational animosity felt towards particular non-Pagan religions being expressed? If so, make sure you get your views heard too, and speak up for other religions. As you friends, other Pagans are likely to listen to you and, gradually, you may find their attitudes change.

6. Pray and make magic! Of course, Pagans shouldn’t forget to seek the help of the deities and forces of nature! Ask the deities, or if you are more witchcraft-inclined perform a spell or ritual, to help spread peace and tolerance in your community and throughout the world, and ask them to grant wisdom and clarity to people of all faiths so we can all understand and support each other better.

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Why should religious people support secularism?

Dove_of_the_Holy_Spirit

The dove is a symbol of both spirituality and freedom

As you may have guessed from my recent article about faith schools in the UK, I am a secularist. As one who considers myself a spiritual person, I believe that all of us, both religious and non-religious alike, would be much better off in a secular UK. Why is this?

Firstly, I believe there are some misconceptions surrounding the word “secularism,” which may be why you hear so many people call themselves “atheists,” “agnostics” and “humanists” but rarely “secularists.” In fact, I think the majority of people in the UK share the founding beliefs of secularism without realising it. So what exactly is secularism?

What secularism is NOT

Firstly, secularism is not the same as atheism, agnosticism or humanism. The latter three represent people who do not follow any religion, do not believe in any gods, or at least do not live their lives according to any religious doctrines. In contrast, secularists are not necessarily non-religious – there are those, like me, who enthusiastically follow religion – but they believe deeply in the individual’s right to follow whatever religion they wish – and the right to not follow any religion at all. Secularism is attractive to atheists and humanists, but it is certainly not limited to those who do not follow a religion.

Secondly, secularists do not believe in the abolition or prohibition of religion. On the contrary, secularism promotes freedom of expression of the individual – and that includes freedom of religion. And secularists certainly don’t want to abolish our beloved British festivals and traditions that are rooted in religion, such as Easter and Christmas!

What secularism IS

As defined by the National Secular Society (NSS), secularists believe in “the strict separation of the state from religious institutions”  and that  “people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.” These are the two founding principles of secularism. The goal of secularism is therefore to promote equality between people of different religions and no religions, and to defend the freedom to believe, or disbelieve, whatever religious teachings you wish. As the NSS explains, “Secularism is simply a framework for ensuring equality throughout society – in politics, education, the law and elsewhere, for believers and non-believers alike.”

Some of the ways in which the NSS works to make the UK a secular society include campaigning against religious affiliations within state schools, religious practises engaged or promoted by the state, and censorship of expression due to religious concerns. You can read their full charter here.

Why do religious people need secularism?

Just as secularism grants freedom from religion, it also grants freedom of religion. It gives everyone the right to worship freely – and ensures that no religion is given a more privileged status in society than another.

I invite all Pagans reading this to imagine what a secular Britain would look like. Our children would no longer be indoctrinated by their school into a different religion to the one we practise at home, because Church of England schools and other state faith schools would no longer exist. And the advantages that children attending faith schools might gain in doing so, due to the inequality of funding, would also no longer exist. Pagan handfastings would have equal status to church weddings. With the Church of England no longer exerting its currently considerable power over the government, we would no longer need to fear that the political decisions might be made in the best interest of Christians but to the detriment of Pagans. And by having equal status in the eyes of the law and state to Christianity and other major religions in the UK, some of the discrimination and prejudice that Pagans face would start to disappear.

I also invite all Christians reading this to think of the benefits they would gain from a secular Britain. It would shift the balance of power away from the very highest elite in the Church, back into the hands of the people. It would force the Church to become more democratic, as its followers would have a much larger stake in the Church’s future. It would also force the Church to become more transparent, helping to eliminate some of the terrible scandals that have happened within the Church over the years due to the secrecy surrounding its processes. It would lead to a society filled with greater tolerance and more brotherly love between one another, a central Christian principle. And it would bring the focus of the Church back where it should be – on individuals working to live a moral life within their society according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

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Grief is a private matter

PriestessOfferingPoppies

“Priestess Offering Poppies,” Simeon Solomon

The poppy is a very powerful symbol for people in Britain, and like Remembrance Sunday itself it seems to mean many different things to different people. But like all powerful symbols, the poppy is not without controversy. [Read more]

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Thoughts for the VJ Day 70th Anniversary

ObonOffering

Obon offering to departed spirits. By Flickr.com user “Blue Lotus” (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluelotus/220805096/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Japan in the Second World War. It also happened to be O-bon, the Japanese Buddhist festival of remembering the dead.

As a British person who works with a Japanese organisation, I see VJ Day as very much a positive day. Far from being a day in which I think bitterly on the brutal ways in which soldiers and civilians died on both sides, I see it as a reminder of just how far we’ve all come. Within living memory, Japan and the UK have come from being outright enemies to close allies. Thanks to the efforts towards reconciliation and reconstruction after VJ Day, I now work side-by-side with Japanese colleagues to try and further strengthen Japan-UK relations. 70 years ago, this would surely have been unthinkable.

I also celebrate the fact that the image of Japan held by British people has greatly changed. When you say the word “Japan” to young people in the UK, rather than thinking of images of kamikaze pilots or torture of PoWs, they’ll probably be thinking of anime, manga, geisha, giant robots – the culture that they can experience easily now due to the friendship between Japan and the West.

Gradually, the same thing will happen to Shinto as well. I am very much aware that to many people, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, “Shinto” means “State Shinto,” the oppressive form of Emperor-worship that Japan used to justify its wartime atrocities. But today, I think more and more people (again, young people) see Shinto as a nature-based folk religion, which conjures in their minds images of peaceful shrines or strange and wonderful worlds as seen in Miyazaki movies.

The fact that the West’s view of Japan can change so much in such a short period of time fills me with such hope. Not only for the relationship between Japan and the West, but also for Japan’s relationship with China and Korea. Things are very tense between China and other East Asian countries right now, with China and Korea demonising Japan in order to deflect criticism of their own governments, while Japan continues to refuse to acknowledge certain war crimes or make a full apology, as a show of strength against its critics. There are clearly faults at both sides, and if things go too far, it could make for a very dangerous situation for the rest of the world. But what encourages me is that in the UK, a large percentage of young people studying Japanese, or taking part in Japan-related events such as cultural expos, are of Chinese, Korean or other East Asian heritage. Despite what their governments are saying, there are clearly young people in China and Korea who are fascinated by Japan and see it in a positive light.

And then there are the current issues that the West is dealing with regarding our relationship with the Middle East. At current time, we could hardly be regarded as allied with many Middle Eastern countries. But if Japan tells us anything, it is that peace between any nation is possible. I really hope that the people who come after me will be able to travel just as freely to some of the Middle East’s most war-torn states as I did as a young university student in Japan. It may seem unthinkable now – but surely a young British student travelling to Japan to study Japanese would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.

It is certainly important to remember those who have died in the war, both on the Japanese and Allied sides. But I think that we should focus equally on the future – on the young people who bring the hope of peace.

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Let’s keep our “minority language” GCSEs and A-Levels (inc. Japanese)

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Another call to action! Your help is needed to preserve the continuation of qualifications in Japanese (and other languages) in the UK…

The exam boards AQA, OCR and Edexcel have stated that they will not re-develop, and in effect will withdraw, GCSEs and A-Levels in 13 languages – including A-Level Japanese.

(For those not in the UK, the A-Level is a major qualification taken around the age of 18 that can determine both whether or not you go to university and your future job prospects)

As a Shintoist, and as a life-long learner of Japanese language for whom the ability to speak Japanese has proved essential to my career, I believe this decision is utterly wrong and that the government needs to do all in its power to overturn it. It should be noted that many of the other languages planned to be axed, such as Arabic, Modern Hebrew, and several South Asian dialects, are strongly connected with members of particular religious groups in the UK, meaning that practitioners of these faiths will no doubt feel in some ways de-valued by these plans.

There is a ray of hope – the government has pledged its commitment to (some of) our “minority languages,” and that it will work to preserve their qualifications. But this is no guarantee set in stone, and we may find ourselves losing qualifications in some of these languages if we do not make our voices heard.

If you wish to help, please see the campaign page on the Speak To The Future website here, which includes further information, links to petitions, and other suggestions on how you can assist such as writing to your MP. You don’t have to be living in the UK to help – anyone in the world can voice their opinion!

Finally, if you need any further persuasion as to the importance of Japanese language to the UK as a whole, please see (and share!) this infographic produced by the Japan Foundation:

JapaneseInfoGraphic(rubi)

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A Pagan Blessing for St George’s Day 2015

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My altar with my newly-made Green Man mask

On this St. George’s Day, I honour the land that has nourished me, the ancestors whose blood runs through my veins, and the Genii Locii who protect this land – Ancasta, Herne, the Green Man, the May King and May Queen, Sulis.

I thank the Gods and Goddesses for their protection and blessings upon my country, and ask especially for their guidance and protection as we approach the General Election.

Please let us all see that it is our responsibility to play a part in shaping this country’s destiny.

Please give our leaders the wisdom to care for the natural environment of this country, and the compassion to care for our most vulnerable.

Please continue your blessings and protection as we face uncertain times within our government.

So Mote It Be!

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