Ritual, Symbolism, and Belief

This is a topic I’ve spoken on before but a slightly different tack this time.

I am not a “believer” in the religious sense. That said, I recognize that a need for ritual and symbolism, a need to find “greater meaning” in things–or impose a meaning if one can’t find it–on the world. I resolve these two by following a religious “tradition” wehre the core is not belief, but actions which doesn’t care about “belief” so much as ones actions–Asatru, Germanic/Norse paganism.  I like the delightful term a friend of mine coined “agnostipagan.”

Actually it’s not really a tradition, or perhaps it is simply a very young tradition.  Very little record of the ancient belief and practice (commonly referred to as The Lore) has survived to the modern day, and much of that filtered through a very few authors who were not above altering the tales to fit their own views.  So those who seek to follow it are left with the task of creating a religion largely from whole cloth with only a few “bones” of the old beliefs to use as a guide.  But the important point for me is that the surviving records do suggest that the gods, if they exist don’t care what one believes but rather what one does.  To use a common oversimplification, die courageously in battle and go to Valhalla (or Folkvangr–Freyja gets half the warriors); don’t die courageously in battle and end up in Helheim.  (I have seen considerable dissent–some justified by the surviving Lore–as to just how hard and fast that rule is; and some discussion that there are quite a few other places one may end up and that the “heaven or hell” dichotomy may have been a creation of Christian recorders of the Lore.)

The upshot is that I can use it as a place to satisfy the innate human need for ritual and symbolism without the need to believe.  It has an ethos I find congenial with the “Nine Noble Virtues” (discussed elsewhere on this blog–not found in the Lore, but many modern Asatru use as a distillation of traits the gods are seen to value in that Lore).  If I were instead to try to fill that need via Christianity, I’d run afoul of the fact that the central tenet of Christianity is belief, is faith.  It’s summed up in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

As a non-believer, the hypocrisy of pretending would trip me up and, well, it just wouldn’t work.

So, I chose a path which fills a hard-wired need of the human psyche for ritual, symbolism, and to put the experience of the world into a larger context.  I do so with the full knowledge that the meaning may exist only in my mind, but in a path where that’s okay.

A lot of problems come, I think, when people try to deny this hard-wired need as part of their disbelief in traditional religion.  They reject, justly or otherwise (I leave that to each individual to decide) “religion” (in specific or in general) and in so doing attempt to reject, at least consciously, the need for ritual and symbolism.

That need, however, will out, one way or another. And a common way it comes out is the deification of the State (with Marx as its prophet). And, since they are denying the religious nature of the need, why their new source of ritual, symbolism and meaning must be “rational” and “scientific” and everyone who disagrees is thus a benighted fool–an uneducated hick at best or more likely an actual worker of evil.

And, with “reason” and “science” on their side (It Says HereTM) why anything they do, no matter how heinous, is justified to bring “enlightenment” to the rest of us.

This may explain much of the political violence of the last few years.

One thought on “Ritual, Symbolism, and Belief”

  1. It depends what you mean by “faith”. I believe that Christianity is the theory that best fits the facts as I understand them. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a Christian. I have no place in my life for anything that isn’t based on evidence and reason.


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