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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 2

February 18th, 2014 No comments
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Missed Part One?  Read it here.

Translating the Nature-Connectedness Hypothesis into Theoretical Frameworks

The groundwork of any psychological research involves the study of various facets of human nature and behaviour. There are numerous branches of psychology that focus on specific frames of reference to focus investigations, such as social, physiological, forensic, personality, etc. The emerging sub-discipline of ecopsychology (also related to environmental psychology and conservation psychology), “[…] proceeds from the assumption that at its deepest level the psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth that mothered us into existence” (Roszak, 1995, p. 5). Clearly, this focus of empirical research sounds remarkably similar to the aforementioned hypothetical musings of Wilson, Naess, Louv and Jung. Although these ideas are not new, scientific inquiry is a refreshing course of action that may provide stronger evidence for the validity of these philosophical claims.

It is important to point out that while psychological inquiry does make use of scientific empirical techniques that the essence of this study is inherently speculative (p. 14). The mysterious nature of the mind makes even the soundest theory difficult to prove conclusively. Additionally, no two people are exactly alike; therefore, psychology can most often speak in terms of generalities and correlations. Despite the seemingly inconclusive quality of this research, it is still extremely valuable in assisting to understand the motivations and behaviours of people. This can be a powerful tool in influencing policies and actions of social institutions.

 

Toward Environmental Well-Being

Some research inquiries assist to further understand human motivation toward positive environmental action. P. Wesley Schultz (2000) conducted research on the role of empathy with nature on concern for the environment. Drawing on previous research that suggested that an individual’s value system could determine the extent of environmental concern, Schultz constructed a research design to measure three factors of value-based environmental concern.

The first, egoistic concerns, suggested that people will have greater concern for environmental issues that affect them personally. Altruistic concerns proposed that concern is derived from the degree to which environmental crises affects others, including individuals, communities, nations, and/or humankind. The last concern, biospheric, assumed that interest in the environment is propelled by a deep value for all living organisms (p. 392).

Schulz did not believe that these concerns worked independently; however, he suggested that the degree to which an individual felt interdependency with self, others or all living organisms could propose motivating foundations with regard to environmental concern (p. 393-394). Further, he posited that individuals could have differing motivations for their concern about the same issue (p. 392). For instance, individuals protesting the destruction of a local forest may be engaged in the environmental cause because the forest represents a personal place of leisure (egoistic). It could also provide important community recreational and aesthetic attributes (altruistic), and it may also be a place of great bio-diversity worthy of protecting for its own sake (biospheric). Egoistic and altruistic concerns may be easier to activate as they appear to direct concern toward more localized and personal areas of interest, while biospheric concerns could propel wider reaching implications of global concern, such as issues surrounding carbon emissions.

Drawing on past research on inducing empathy to increase helping behaviour, Schultz assigned two groups of participants into either an objective condition or perspective-taking condition. Participants were shown a series of images depicting people engaged in outdoor recreational activities, animals in nature, and animals being harmed in the natural environment. Following, participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure environmental attitudes and the three proposed value-based factors (p. 398-399). The results indicated that when shown images of animals being harmed, biospheric concerns were activated in the perspective-taking condition significantly higher than those in the objective condition (p. 400), suggesting that empathy toward nature seems to increase concern for it, thus potentially highlighting an important element in which to engage individuals in environmental issues. The link between connecting to nature and pro-environmental behaviour will be discussed further in subsequent sections.

In his discussion, Schultz pointed out that more psychological research is needed to understand motivations and behaviours with regard to people and the environment, especially in light of the growing ecological crisis facing the world. He acknowledged that much of the research is disjointed – drawing from models within the field of social psychology – and that there has yet to be a comprehensive and organized theory to understand ecological behaviours (p. 401). He suggested, “[…] that any activity that reduces an individual’s perceived separation between self and nature will lead to an increase in that individual’s biospheric concern” (p. 403).

As Schultz aptly demonstrates, psychology is making strides toward narrowing the gap between philosophical ideas concerning nature-relatedness and the scientific understanding of this phenomenon.

A 2004 paper documented investigative research, influenced by the work of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold. Using the Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), the research sought to test Leopold’s assumptions that people need to feel a kinship with nature in order to respond to environmental crises as if their own welfare was at stake (Mayer & Frantz, p. 504-505). In addition, parts of this study were designed to test Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis using established measures of previously conducted social psychological inquiry derived from theories of the need to belong to groups (p. 509). The results of this work demonstrated that the CNS is a reliable and valid measure that supports Leopold’s postulations.

Overall, the researchers concluded that people do need to feel connected to nature in order to protect it; however, the researchers also noted that a cause-effect relationship cannot be cited because of issues of bi-directionality (p. 512). In essence, does a deep affiliation with nature lead to environmental behaviour or does environmental behaviour lead to a deeper affiliation with nature? These are important elements for future research to investigate in order to provide even more robust theories that can be adopted by social institutions seeking to integrate methodological frameworks into responsible environmental directives.

The authors also noted that some people can and do engage in self-destructive behaviour, either consciously or subconsciously, and therefore increasing connection to nature may have little impact on positive environmental behaviour (p. 512). For example, this insight demonstrates that knowledge, such as the negative environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, may be difficult to manifest into positive change, particularly due to cognitive processes that override the integration of this logic. Immediate gratification and short-term benefits may supersede the long-term gains derived from an ecologically superior course of action. For instance using public transit may be more environmentally friendly; however, using one’s own vehicle may provide greater comfort and decreased travel time. Clearly, individuals’ actions toward the environment are mitigated by numerous factors, suggesting further research is warranted.

Research published in 2011 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology examined how commitment could impact environmental behaviours. The authors postulated that dedication to nature could lead to pro-environmental behaviour (Davis, Le & Coy, p. 257). Drawing from work on interdependency theory and other such commitment models, the research sought to draw conclusions on the relation of an individual’s dedication to the environment and one’s willingness to sacrifice to sustain it.

Overall, the study demonstrated that commitment to the environment does lead to positive environmental behaviour, especially when instances of experience in nature are fulfilling. Additionally, individuals’ sense of purposefulness in their actions toward the environment also tended to increase commitment and positive ecological behaviour. The authors cautioned that results are correlational only; suggesting that one cannot ascertain whether commitment affects behaviour or behaviour affects commitment (p. 263). Of positive note in this study, is the attempt to bring together fragmented frameworks of inquiry into a combined analysis.

 

Toward Individual Well-Being

The aforementioned studies demonstrate just a small sample of the robust investigations being conducted into the motivations of human behaviour toward ecological well-being. If, as has been put forth, there is an interdependent relationship between people and nature, what can this research reveal about the influences on individual well-being when engaged in ecologically positive practices?

Paul Stevens (2010), in an article published in Perspectives in Public Health, presented a comprehensive overview of research in the area of individual well-being resulting from interaction with the natural environment. He documented research that demonstrated most individuals display a preference for natural environments, which are posited to produce relaxation, focus, and emotional engagement. Additionally, ecotherapy models have advocated that feeling disconnected from the environment could result in various maladaptive psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which is mitigated through increased contact with the natural world (p. 267). This appears intuitive when considering that people often recharge their bodies and minds through breaks from the hectic technological world by getting back to nature through hiking, camping, or exotic vacations on tropical beaches. People seem to instinctively know that nature has a restorative quality that nourishes the body and soul.

Perhaps more intriguing is research indicating a decrease in biological ageing with subsequent increases in the availability of green space in areas where people live (p. 268). Clearly, there is a causal connection; however, it’s difficult to ascertain the cause-effect relationship. Perhaps, individuals who have more natural settings nearby are likely to get out and enjoy those spaces more frequently – resulting in increased exercise, a healthier body and a healthier mind.

Stevens concluded his overview by stating, “[e]nvironmentalism has never just been about the loss of habitats and other species becoming extinct – it is fundamentally linked to all aspects of who we are, individually and collectively. Well-being requires a healthy environment, local and global, to ‘be well’ in” (p. 268).

Shifting ecological arguments from focusing solely on other species and future generations, to the present state of human well-being, may induce social institutions to radically alter paradigms. Acknowledging the importance of a healthy environment for a healthy individual may increase environmental protection regulations, similar to other health regulations surrounding tobacco and alcohol control or food safety. There’s legislation designed to mitigate psychological and emotional harm to an individual in the form of various anti-discrimination laws and guarantees of certain rights and freedoms; therefore it’s not difficult to imagine legislation that lessens harm to individuals resulting from lack of access to a clean and healthy environment. It appears that as a collective the global community sees the various facets of well-being as important to foster and protect; therefore, protecting the environment which provides so many benefits for humans appears intrinsic to these pursuits.

Specific research undertaken at Carleton University has focused on the correlation between happiness and nature-relatedness. This research utilized the Nature-Relatedness Scale (NR) to measure identification with nature, as coined by Arne Naess and discussed previously in this paper. Thought to be an enduring and stable aspect of an individual, NR reflects differences in the degree of connectedness to the natural environment (Nisbet, Zelenski & Murphy, 2011, p. 304).

The results of three studies conducted demonstrated a positive association between NR and various facets of well-being (including positive affect, purposefulness, and personal growth). Additionally, the research suggested that NR could help mitigate negative emotions and mood or affective conditions. Further, it was shown that students enrolled in environmental courses tended to show higher states of well-being versus students not enrolled in these courses, even when highly stressful academic demands were included (p. 316). This investigation showed that these results were similar regardless of age or occupation of the participants (p. 317), suggesting that they could be generalized to the larger population.

Similar to previous research discussed, there are notable limitations that should be highlighted. This study showed a correlational link between NR and well-being. Additionally, concerns of the complexity of what role NR may play in not only well-being, but pro-environmental engagement were cited (p. 318). Despite these limitations, this research provides strong support for the psychological benefits of humans relating to the natural environment.

The aforementioned ecopsychological pursuits demonstrate that there is an important link between people and nature that certainly requires continued investigation. A failure to advance this inquiry would seemingly result in the loss of opportunity to increase the well-being of not only the earth, but also its various inhabitants – including humankind. It appears intuitive that this research should and must continue, and that influential social institutions must support and even adapt these ideas into a framework that assuredly can only benefit their communities.

One of these institutions, particularly influential in the Western hemisphere, should take interest in this research as a means in which to engage in dialogue and effect a new environmental age of awareness. Religious institutions heralding a Christian perspective will find these insights not only offer adaptive methods to shepherd an age of environmental integrity, but will also offer devotees a path to greater well-being. In addition, a greater spiritual fulfillment may be sought through penance of historical actions that have been suggested as the root cause of the alienation of humankind from nature which may have led to the present day ecological crisis.

***Read Nature-Connectedness, Part 3***

M. xo

References

Davis, J. L., Le, B., & Coy, A. E. (2011). Building a model of commitment to the natural environment to predict ecological behaviour and willingness to sacrifice. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 257-265.

Mayer, F. S. & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: a measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M. & Murphy, S. A. (2011). Happiness is in our nature: Exploring nature relatedness as a contributor to subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 303-322.

Roszak, T. (1995). Where psyche meets gaia.  In T. Roszak, M.E. Gomes & A.D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 1-17). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Schultz, P.W. (2000). Empathizing with nature: the effects of perspective taking on concern for environmental issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 391-406.

Stevens, P. (2010). Embedment in the environment: a new paradigm for well-being? Perspectives in Public Health, 130 (6), 265-269.

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 1

February 17th, 2014 No comments
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A subset of psychology called ecopsychology is developing intriguing research based on theories concerning nature-connectedness and how this affects overall well-being and environmental behaviours. Inspired from the philosophical work of enlightened ecological thinkers, the coalescing of these powerful ideas with empirical investigative techniques has introduced new theories in which to shift conventional knowledge about the interdependent relationship between humankind and nature. As research continues and more empirical data is gathered, social and political institutions will find this growing body of work calls for a fundamental shift in policies and patterns of belief in order to respond to the growing discontent of peoples with the destruction of the natural environment.

As concerns grow about humanity’s impact on the natural environment it will be imperative for institutions, such as religious traditions, to seek out ways in which to change the destructive behaviours of those they guide and to usher in a new era of environmental sustainability that reflects mutual well-being for people and the biosphere.

As a key institution in the Western world that influences public policies and opinions, it is necessary for the Christian tradition to integrate this dynamic body of research into a more robust worldview. Two arguments that appear repeatedly throughout ecospirituality literature demonstrate the ideological tensions inherent in the discourse of both historical and present day response from the Christian perspective.

The first follows the argument originally put forth by Lynn White, Jr., suggesting that Western Christian traditions bear the brunt of the responsibility for the devastation to the environment resulting from the subservient role of nature to man as recounted in the Creation story (White, 1967). Ironically, other arguments point to the same Creation story for divine mandates on humankind’s responsibility toward ecological sustainability, whereby man is called upon as shepherd or steward of the earth (Hathaway, 2000).

Regardless of whether White’s arguments hold merit, this should not dissuade the tradition from seeking ways in which to address the environmental crisis. In fact, if White’s thesis is to be believed, it would suggest that Christians can embark on a new era of atonement for the wrongs inflicted upon one of God’s most sacred creations – the earth. The validity of their response will be bolstered by turning toward empirical research, such as that emerging from the field of ecopsychology, for modern tools in which to engage their congregants. Faith-goers may find that reconnecting with nature not only increases their well-being and positive environmental behaviour, but may also fulfill a higher spiritual mandate.

The Historical Development of the Nature-Connectedness Inquiry

Famed biologist Edward O. Wilson coined the term biophilia to describe the, “[…] innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms” (1996, p. 165). Wilson pointed to a variety of curious human behaviours, in addition to our shared evolutionary history, as support for the biophilia hypothesis. He suggested that the proliferation of both dreams and symbols involving a decidedly nature-oriented quality could demonstrate a connection between human beings and the natural environment. Through examining the representation of animals and natural phenomenon in various myths, rituals, and symbols, Wilson conceived of an embedded genetic code of biocultural origin to further validate the biophilic proposition. He also pointed to the preference of children and adults for activities that involved contact with natural elements, such as trips to the zoo, and an inclination for people to desire living near water or park-like settings (p. 165-177).

Wilson is one of many scholars who hold strong convictions regarding a human-nature bond. Others have conceived ideas on how the strength or weakness of this bond could impact environmental attitudes and behaviours.

In a 1973 paper, Arne Naess introduced the notion of deep ecology which he differentiated from shallow ecology, where the former expressed nature as being intrinsically valuable rather than the latter as valuable as a resource for human beings (p. 83). He suggested that identification with the natural environment and other species could spur a deep ecological attitude that would manifest itself as internalizing the interests of the environment as one’s own interests (p. 86). He further postulated that this identification process did not require the ability of the subject of interest to reciprocate, suggesting that humans could identify with mountains, trees, and oceans (p. 87).

Additionally, Naess did not overlook the possibility of tensions arising from conflicts of interest embedded within the identification process, such as a traditional hunting tribe having deep affinities for the animals being hunted. He suggested alienation could be remedied through the process of ritualization and ceremony, thus re-establishing identification (pg. 87). Other ecological thinkers have postulated, in somewhat bleak detail, how the modern technological landscape is rapidly disconnecting us from this potentially innate identification with nature.

In his best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv (2005) coined the term nature-deficit disorder to describe the phenomenon of children growing up in the technological age as being disengaged with the natural environment. He suggested that the resulting disconnect from nature was inhibiting human vitality through stunting the physical, psychological and spiritual health of children. In his follow-up book entitled, The Nature Principle, Louv (2011) expanded his nature-deficit hypothesis to discuss the diminished overall well-being of adults navigating a hard-wired world.

Louv argued that the future of environmentalism must include reconnecting with nature in addition to sustainable practices and policies. Without re-establishing this nature bond, humans are subjugating themselves to a future of decreased well-being and a failure to realize the full human potential (2011, p. 4-6). Through a series of interviews, summaries of research and personal accounts, Louv makes a strong case for the nature-deficit hypothesis – suggesting that researchers should consider investigating the validity of the phenomenon.

Louv, a writer, demonstrates how artists and other creative thinkers facilitate bringing these ideas to the attention of scientists and researchers. Additionally, innovative hypotheses are consumed more readily by the masses through artistic endeavours that can connect with the emotionality inherent in the human spirit; while science tends to alienate the lay person with its hard facts, figures and constraining methods. This shouldn’t imply that some great scientific minds haven’t popularized some of these concepts, such as Wilson mentioned previously, and C.G. Jung to follow.

Renowned psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung had much to say about the effects of modern technology and Western religious ideology on the connection between nature and the human psyche. He lamented Western technological and consumer-driven societies, pointing to the growing lack of focus, purpose and meaning in the lives of children and adults alike – particularly directed to what he called city-dwellers. Jung decried the paradoxical quality of modern technological time-saving devices that filled time such that one was left without any (2002, p. 138-139), resulting in a detachment from the self and the world.

In a collection of published letters, Jung recounts a story that succinctly sums up some of his ideas on the effects of technology on the soul:

“I would mention the story of a native [African] who had been invited to be driven in a car. After half an hour he asked the people to stop. He stepped out and stretched himself on the ground. They asked him whether he was sick, and he said, “no,” he felt alright, but he had just to wait for his soul that had remained behind, as they went too fast for it” (p. 140).

Many of Jung’s writings clearly display a deep belief in a transcendental quality in nature. He reflected on how the natural environment seemed to personify God better than humankind (p. 28) and pointedly called “[n]atural life the nourishing soil of the soul” (p. 67).
Despite being a well-known psychiatrist, the field of psychology has only recently begun to delve into robust empirical work on the effects of nature-connectedness on the human psyche.

***Read Nature-Connectedness, Part 2 here***

M. xo

References

Hathaway, M. (2000).  Overcoming paralysis, healing the earth: ecospirituality and empowerment. In J. Mihevc (Ed.), Sacred earth, sacred community:  jubilee, ecology & aboriginal peoples (163-171).  Toronto: Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative.

Jung, C.G. (2002). The earth has a soul: C.G. Jung on nature, technology & modern life. M. Sabini, (Ed.). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Louv, R. (2011).  The nature principle: Human restoration and the end of nature-deficit disorder.  Chapell Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Naess, A. (1997). Identification as a source of deep ecological attitudes. In E. Soifer (Ed.), Ethical issues: perspectives for Canadians, 2ed (83-93). Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd.

White Jr., L. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science, 155 (3767), 1203-1207.

Wilson, E.O. (1996).  In search of nature.  Washington, DC: Island Press.

 

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Meet Canada’s First Elected Wiccan Member of Parliament?!?

February 13th, 2014 No comments
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Religion & PoliticsNope, it hasn’t happened – not that I know of anyway.  You see that’s how it is in Canada.  I couldn’t tell you which member of parliament is a Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or Pastafarian – that is assuming that they have forgone wearing any religious garbs.  Canadians seem rather unassuming when it comes to religion.

Hop on over the border and we see a far louder and prouder religious presence.  Perhaps for this reason, our American friends are often viewed as more religious than we see ourselves.  Is this an accurate assessment though?  If census data is to be considered, it appears that both countries have a similar religious makeup and are shaped by similar trends/movements (such as the religious, but not spiritual groups).

Unlike the United States, Canada’s politicians are relatively shy about publicly proclaiming religious affiliation.  During election time, the subject of a candidate’s religion is rarely addressed. I even had a casual look at MPs’ websites to see if I could gauge their religious affiliation.  Nope.  The matter was entirely different, however, when looking at various websites for members of the United States Congress.  In almost all instances, the member’s religious affiliation was clearly identified.

So, what gives?  Why don’t Canadians care to know the religious affiliation of politicians?  Does it matter?  Does apathy to religious disclosure make it easier or harder for religion to influence politics?

And the big question – would knowing the religious affiliation of a candidate influence your voting decision?   What if you discovered that your candidate was an Atheist, a Wiccan, or even a member of the Order of the Jedi?  

I’d love to hear what my readers have to say.  And don’t forget you can do so completely anonymous.  As always, please keep it respectful.

M. xo

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It’s Time We Take Back The Internet.

January 28th, 2014 No comments
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I was reminded again this week that the Internet can be a truly vile and hateful place.  In fact, if there’s some Internet scale of justice, I’m fairly certain it’s tipping in the direction of hate.

Now, I’m no stranger to the barrage of hateful comments on social media sites.  You see it’s easy for people to hide behind a screen and hurl hateful remarks into the Webosphere.  It’s also fairly easy for people to get caught up in a mob mentality.  Even seemingly peaceful people have been known to get caught up in the hysteria.  So, what got my feathers in a ruffle?

I began to search the web for videos of interfaith harmony for an upcoming blog post I intended to write.  I soon discovered that this was not an easy task in a virtual realm seemingly coated in the paranoid delusions and illogical rants of my fellow human beings.

You see, every search parameter I entered returned videos showing me something very different than a harmonious picture of people of different faiths coming together.  Instead, I was subjected to devilishly crafted videos clearly designed to spread hateful propaganda.

Now, it wasn’t just the videos that caused me such concern.  We all know there’s some heinous stuff out there.  No, I was much more concerned that those videos had millions of views.  Oh, and my interfaith harmony videos?  They rarely showed up in first page results and had significantly fewer views than those other videos.

Clearly, we have a problem, folks.  Somehow we’ve let hate dominate the Internet.  I simply refuse to believe that this is acceptable to the vast majority of Internet users.  After all, this is a tool that teaches our children, informs us of the world around us, and connects us to people we may never have met otherwise.  Do we really want to allow it to be shaped by hate?

A professor once told me that it’s pointless to respond to hate and fundamentalism online.  In theory, I agree with said professor.  The real problem isn’t responding directly to haters online, but rather that good, reasonable people tend to not say anything at all.  That’s certainly the impression I get when reading some comment threads.  For every positive statement, you can bet there are at least ten negative statements.

So is silence the best way to combat hate on the Internet?  I don’t think it is, but neither is spending one’s energy on trying to change the rigidity of hate that already has a firm grasp on a person.  Okay, so we don’t have to engage in dialogue with a hateful person, but what else can we do?  We can take the opportunity to share as many good news stories as possible; post videos that are inspiring and show people doing good works; and pictures that exude joy.  We can communicate positive feedback in comment threads, so that we gradually dilute all the hateful words.  With each page view and click of the mouse, we can consciously choose goodness and inspiration – instead of letting the haters choose for us.

Friends, it’s time we take back the Internet.

M. xo

Musical Interlude – Good People (Jack Johnson):

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The Gods Told Me to Do It

January 10th, 2014 No comments
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The Assembly of Gods - Jacopo Zucchi

The Assembly of Gods – Jacopo Zucchi

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me this long to peck out this gem of a site on the Interweb.  Lord <insert deity of choice> knows that this resource would have come in handy during my tenure as a university student enrolled in a religion program.

I was always coming across the most interesting cast of characters in the various mythologies I was studying.   During my introduction to Hinduism – one of the world’s largest religions – I was simultaneously delighted and bewildered by the ripe pantheon of deities woven into rich mythologies.  Of course Hinduism is just one of many religions over the course of human history to host a cornucopia of characters and beguiling lore.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an encyclopedia of deities? You know, something that you could quickly refer to when some obscure deity happened to make an appearance in some ancient parable? Some God (or more likely Goddess) must have heard my call because lo and behold Godchecker appeared!  A chorus of Sirens sang as my browser loaded a glorious page that proclaimed:  “Our Mythology Encyclopedia features over 3,700 weird and wonderful Supreme Beings, Demons, Spirits and Fabulous Beasts from all over the world. Explore ancient legends and folklore, and discover Gods of everything from Fertility to Fluff with Godchecker…”

It’s a fun and informative site that provides cleverly written mythologies of practically any deity you can (or can’t) think of.  So, if you’re like me and enjoy stories and myths from some of the world’s oldest religions, soar on over to Godchecker to start communing with the Gods.

M. xo

Website Source: www.godchecker.com

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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New Year; New Nest

January 7th, 2014 No comments
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Happy New Year!  I had hoped to return to the nest sooner, but I spent the better part of the last two weeks cursing myself for not getting a flu shot. Yeah, it was unpleasant.  The only thing that made this holiday bearable was the fact that hubby and I were finally home.  It was a long and stressful six months to get here, but we did it and we couldn’t be happier.

Admittedly, I was (and am) a bit nervous about this transition.  I mean it’s been almost two decades since I called this small city home.  A lot has changed.  I have changed.  Despite any doubts, it just feels right.  Once we made the decision to move, it was as if the path was laid out for us.  Sure there were bumps along the way, but they were few and far between.  In fact, it seemed that when something emerged to cause chaos and stress, that it was immediately counter-balanced with good fortune and ‘that was easy’ moments.   I’m sure some of you will get it when I say that it just felt like the universe was working to move us forward.  Of course, the universe does seemingly work that way when you really want something badly.

We left our old home with very little fanfare.  There were no dramatic good-byes, or celebratory bon voyage gatherings.  Instead, we said hurried adieus over the phone and via social-networking channels.  My guess is that most of our friends didn’t really think that we’d be gone that quickly either.  We certainly hadn’t.  The universe had other plans for us though.

The first couple weeks here were spent in a strange state of limbo.  Both hubby and I experienced a sensation as if we were merely visiting my hometown.  It took us a bit to feel settled with the idea that we weren’t returning to our old home.  It wasn’t that either of us desired to go back, but the feeling that we had to return just couldn’t be stopped.  After all, we had spent the last twelve years travelling back and forth regularly.  It was only natural that our minds still lingered in this state.  It seemed as if our consciousness hadn’t quite caught up to our physical reality.

After our minds and bodies recalibrated to more symbiotic states, we found ourselves in full holiday mode – and saddled by an early onset of a particularly virulent flu virus.  Despite feeling terrible for most of the important events during the holidays, I was overjoyed that we didn’t have to travel any great distance to be with the family.  My Dad hosted his first Christmas dinner in his new place, and thus did most of the heavy prepping and cooking.  Overall, we had a lovely Christmas.

Since I was so sick, I had ample time to reflect on this move.  When I abandoned this sleepy city almost 20 years ago, it was because I thought there was nothing left here for me.  Returning now, I realize that it isn’t places that bring you bliss, but rather what people bring to those places that make them truly blissful.  I went out there in search of my bliss, only to find it back here.

I’m looking forward to rediscovering this city that raised me.  I hope to share some of my more interesting excursions with you here.  Of course, I’ll also be bringing back to the coop my trademark hen-pecking and squawking.  Until then, keep chirp-chirp-chirpin’ away.

M. xo

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Returning to the Nest…

November 4th, 2013 No comments
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Whew!  It’s been a whirlwind couple months.  In July, hubby and I made a monumental decision.  We decided to relocate to my hometown (approximately 2.5 hours from our current city).  Needless to say, I’ve been preoccupied with the big move.  By the New Year, we should be settled into our new home.  That said, I’ll be taking a hiatus from the coop for a bit.  I’ll return in a couple months with my usual hen-pecking and feather-ruffling.   In the meantime, consider checking out some of my older posts.  Including the post that started it all in February of 2011.

M. xo

 

 

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How My Religious Views Almost Prevented My Wedding from Happening

September 27th, 2013 7 comments
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In my blogging and social media activity, I often explore topics of religious intolerance.  Why do I care so much whether Christians and Atheists get along (or any other group in the religion spectrum for that matter)?  It’s simple.  I believe the world is a much more beautiful place when we open our minds and hearts.  I’ve also been on both sides of the religious fence, and have experienced some form of discrimination based on my religious and non-religious views.  Heck, I’ve even been called out for being too moderate in my views.  You can’t please everyone.

Like many people, I spent my formative years struggling with what I believed about the nature of existence (which incidentally is the title of a fun documentary – go watch it).  I remember when I was quite young, I asked my Mom if I could be baptized.  I grew up in a non-religious household.  It wasn’t that my folks were anti-religious, they just didn’t have any use for institutional religion.  I did, however, have many friends who were raised Christian (and one friend who was Jewish).  Yes, my hometown was very Christian-centered – and it still is to this day, as you’ll read about shortly.  So, when I asked my Mom about being baptized, she looked at me like a deer caught in headlights.  Clearly, my young ego merely wanted to fit in with my peers.  My Mom told me that when I was older I could make that decision, but she compromised and permitted me to attend Sunday school with one of my friends.  It was during this time that I started to learn stories about Jesus Christ – aside from the well-known Christmas stories that invaded the television airwaves every holiday season.

Of course, it was also during this time that I started asking my Mom about what she thought about Jesus and the afterlife.  She told me that she thought Jesus was probably a really nice man who did lots of good things for people, a long time ago.  On the subject of the afterlife, she said that when she died that she’d be buried, and eventually become part of the soil and the grass.  Then one day she’d be part of a bird that plucked up a worm that lived in the soil.  So, when she died she’d get to fly like birds and butterflies.  Yeah, my Mom was a lot wiser than she’s ever given herself credit for.

During one Sunday school activity, we were asked to choose a picture from a story of Jesus’ teachings and memorize the Bible verse associated with it.  We then had to create a Popsicle stick frame for the picture.  I don’t recall the exact verse, but I do remember the story.  It was about the poorest woman in the village donating her last bit of money to feed the poor.  It was a story about the virtues of charity, self-reflection, and perspective.  It taught me that no matter how bad you thought you had it, there was always someone else who had it worse; and that giving, rather than receiving, was one of the highest virtues.  That story shaped the way I treated people from then on.  I also carried that Popsicle stick frame around with me for the next two decades.

Despite my efforts at trying to blend in as a Christian, it never fully materialized.  I think those efforts were derailed when I tried to read the New Testament.  The version I was reading started with the verses about some person begetting another person who begat another person, and on and on about people begetting people (clearly, I am not a Biblical scholar).  It was boring, and I had no interest in continuing to read it.  It’s too bad that someone didn’t tell me then that the Old Testament makes for a much more interesting read.

Shortly after my brief exploration of Christianity, I experienced a trauma that I would never wish upon a child – and one that had me questioning the existence of a good and almighty God.  At the age of twelve, I lost one of my closest friends in a car accident.  As time passed, I began to get angry – very angry.  How could a good God allow such horrible things to happen?  Why would God take someone who was a good person, yet still allow evil people to exist?  I was unaware at that age that these are questions that theologians endlessly ponder.  As the next few years passed, I simply became dismissive of God and uninterested in the teachings of a religion that worshipped a God that would allow such injustice to occur.

Now my Mom not only raised her children to never let anyone tell them what they should believe, she also raised a young woman to be fiercely independent and to aspire to be anything she wanted to be in a male-dominated world.  I’m not sure at the time that she intended to instill such feministic values in me, but she did.  So, it was no surprise when I flat-out refused to believe that God was male.  I also adamantly rejected patriarchal monotheism as a viable faith system, particularly for women.  So, I did what so many young women like me have done – sought out a more welcoming belief system.  This was when I was introduced to Wicca.  It was a religion that valued women, and indeed, worshipped women.  It was also a religion that was highly misunderstood.  This led to my very first encounter of religious discrimination.

I made it no secret that I was a practitioner of the Craft.  I proudly wore a pentacle around my neck and carried Tarot cards in my purse.  I also held full moon rites and various other rituals, much to my Mom’s amusement.  In fact, my immersion into Wicca became a bit of an inside joke in our household.  On windy days, my Mom would chirp at me as I was leaving the house: don’t forget your broom.  It was all light-hearted humour – to her, I was her little white witch.  She even helped me gather essentials for full moon rites so long as I promised that I wasn’t drinking anyone’s blood.  I’d simply roll my eyes and say: grape juice, Mom… grape juice.  She’d give me a wink and send me off with my friends to sit in a park and draw down the moon.

While my Mom was quite accepting of my new found path, others were not.  Gossip around school was that I, and some of my friends, were witches.  It was obvious, wasn’t it?  We all wore black clothing, so we must all be witches.  It also may have had something to do with my request to school officials to read the Charge of the Goddess following the reading of the Lord’s Prayer during morning school-wide announcements (I didn’t actually recall this incident until recently.  One of my good friends from high school relayed the story to me and recounted that the Lord’s Prayer was never read during morning school announcements thereafter).

It was clear that people misunderstood my beliefs, as further evidenced by the students who moved their lockers away from mine or who whispered about supposed hexes I had cast on other students.  It’s not surprising that teenagers can be so cruel. That’s just a fact of life.  What was surprising was how adults treated me.  One especially brazen incident was when I was having coffee with friends.  I was reading my Tarot cards and the waitress serving us approached the table and told me that I was playing the Devil’s game. I had to put the cards away immediately or she’d ask me to leave.  Did I mention how Christian-centric my hometown was?  It was clear to me that if I was going to practice the Craft that I’d have to do it privately.  This became more evident when a woman approached me in a bank and whispered: you are very brave for wearing the symbol in public.  Honestly, at first I had no idea what she was talking about, then I realized she was looking directly at the shiny pentacle hanging around my neck.

Eventually, I left the Wiccan path as a devoted practitioner.  I still held many of the tenets close to my heart, but began to question my motives for being drawn to such a faith.  Primarily, I was put off by the strong radical feminism from some Wiccans I encountered.  I didn’t want to be held in higher regard than men, I just wanted to be given the same regard.  While it is true that most Wiccans I met sought to attune to the balance of female and male forces, there were far too many other Wiccans who were simply jumping on the bandwagon of what seemed like a woman’s religion.  I also began to feel silly anthropomorphizing the sun, the moon, the trees, the water, etc, etc.  It no longer felt right for me.  So, I dismantled my altar and stopped engaging in ritual.

This led me into a long period of searching, questioning, and almost always coming back with the answer: I don’t know.  For a long time, I felt like I simply had to find something to call myself.  I couldn’t just live the rest of my life without an answer, could I?  Turns out – I could.

Many years later, as I went about my life in the unknowable bliss of Agnosticism, I experienced one of the worst incidents of discrimination that I ever had, and hope I ever will.  In truth, I never thought that my lack of religious belief would be the target of discrimination, but as I quickly learned the nonreligious are walking targets for some believers.

When hubby and I decided to get married, we were surprised to see a section on the marriage license application that asked us to indicate our religious affiliation.  I was perplexed and wasn’t sure how to answer the question.  Hubby simply filled his in as Atheist.  I opted for n/a (not applicable).  Since we were getting married back in my hometown, I decided to do all the prep work for the wedding there – including filing the marriage license application.

I presented my application to the city clerk.  She looked it over and frowned.  Handing it back to me she angrily pointed at the word Atheist and said: That’s not very nice, and then pointed at n/a and said: Neither is that.  She then refused to process my application until I changed it.  I was dumbfounded.  I inquired as to what I should put in those sections and she replied to change both to Unknown.  Honestly, I wanted to shrink into a hole and never come out.  I knew what was happening was wrong – and that it was violating my rights, but I felt like this woman was holding my ability to get married hostage to serve her own religious agenda.  So, I concede and changed it.  It didn’t really matter to me what was on that piece of paper.  I just wanted to get married.

Later, I told my Dad about the incident and he was furious.  He wanted to go down to City Hall and speak to the <insert colourful curse words>.  I pleaded with him not too, because I was still fearful that she wouldn’t process the application.  He agreed, but he wasn’t happy about it.  In hindsight, I should have let him go down there and raise some hell (no pun intended), but at that moment all that mattered was my wedding.  The gravity of what had occurred didn’t really hit me until much later.

Shortly after that incident, I began to invest more time into studying religion, particularly from a psychological perspective.  I wanted to understand how religion influenced people, how it shaped their behaviour, and how people came to hold religious biases.

Now, there are many fine religion programs offered at many different post-secondary schools around the world.  Some have a more theological focus than others.  Indeed, within any given institution, some classes have a more theological rather than secular method to the study of religion.  In some of the classes that I took that were more theologically focused, I began to engage in dialogue with people of faith – many different faiths.  Some were much more accepting than others.  Some were inquisitive about my lack of faith, and some were accusatory.  In one such online discussion I mentioned that I was married to an Atheist and the chat room lit up with questions such as: How does your husband know how to live a good and righteous life? Doesn’t he worry about going to Hell? You’re an Agnostic and he’s an Atheist, but aren’t they the same thing? Or comments such as: Really?!  I’ve never met a real, live Atheist before!  If I didn’t know better I’d have thought that Atheists were some extinct species recently resurrected as harbingers of the Apocalypse.

More interesting was that it wasn’t just believers that were making ridiculous and callous comments, but I began to notice vast numbers of angry Atheists that were just as cruel, if not crueler than some of the radical faith-goers I had encountered.  It made my stomach turn.  I decided that I wasn’t ever going to be like any of those people.  I made a commitment to myself to put all of my education, and my skills at writing to good use for the purpose of promoting tolerance.

You see, I have religious – and nonreligious – friends and family.  I want them to feel safe and free to believe (or not) in whatever helps them get through life.  Sure, it’s not an easy line to toe.  There are a lot of misconceptions that are hurled from both sides of the fence.  It also doesn’t make you very popular online to be somewhat of a moderate.  People tend to seek out drama, especially in the online world.  A moderate viewpoint does little to entertain those seeking a bit of controversy.

It’s also been difficult because I do have friends and family that have some rather uneducated viewpoints about (non)religions other than their own.  It saddens me to witness some of the things my friends/family say about different religious groups.  It’s also hard for me to not say anything, because I do believe it’s their right to say what’s on their mind – no matter how stupid those things may be.

I have many Christian friends, some of who are shining examples of what it is to live in Christ’s light.  Yet, others are more reminiscent of the fundamentalists that capture news headlines south of the border.  The same is true of the many friends/family I have who are Atheists.  Some claim to be nothing like the radical religious folks that they abhor, yet in the same instance they are calling for the annihilation of all persons of faith.  Some have even suggested that banning religion would solve all the world’s problems – because clearly their brand of ideology is going to save the world.  Then there are the Atheists who want no association with those kinds of Atheists.  I’ll keep my beliefs to myself, so long as you keep yours to yourself, is typically how their thought-process goes.

Like I said, it’s not an easy line to walk, particularly when you have so many people in your life that have different beliefs and backgrounds.  I walk this line though because I truly believe that we can all learn amazing things from one another, if we’d just give the other a chance.  I know it’s a bit unnerving to have your beliefs challenged – and sometimes shattered – but trust me, the rewards outweigh the unease.  There are so many interesting people in this world – all of which have a unique perspective on our purpose in this life.  All I know is that I am much richer for embracing people of many different beliefs.

I would never have heard the unadulterated splendour of the Adhan had I refused to listen.  I would never have beheld the allegorical triumphs of the Pali Canon had I refused to see.  I would never have treasured the complex history of the Torah had I refused to study. I would never have respected the warmth of Christ’s light had a refused to look.  And yes, I would never have valued the magnitude of reason and doubt had I refused to question.

The world really is a more beautiful place when we open our minds and hearts.

M. xo

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Miss America Pageant 2013: America, You Still Have Work To Do

September 17th, 2013 No comments
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Normally, I’d pay no more than a passing glance at news of the crowning of Miss America.  Truthfully, I find the whole notion of beauty pageants nauseating.  This year, however, the Miss American pageant became more than just a vapid competition.  It became a national, and indeed international, discussion on ignorance and bigotry.  It also accomplished another feat.  While hateful messages were circulating social media, scores of people emerged to show us that not all hope is lost.

Shortly after being crowned Miss American 2014, Nina Davuluri, became the target of a campaign of hate unleased on the Twitterverse.  Why?  Miss Davuluri is of Indian descent and this didn’t sit well with some Americans, despite the fact that she was born in the good old U.S. of A.  Not only was Twitter filled with hateful and racist remarks, it also highlighted the sheer ignorance of people who clearly have never stepped outside their comfortable, albeit highly misguided, FAUX news bubbles.  Not only was she called some viciously racist names, she was also repeatedly attacked for being Arab, Muslim, and associated with Al Qaeda.

Wait – really?

*Sigh*

Just to be clear, none of those can be said to be true of Davuluri.

If you happen to be one of those people who doesn’t understand why these are erroneous and highly bigoted sentiments, well, I feel sorry for you.  You clearly have no idea of the wonderful diversity among the people of this world, which is your loss.  I shouldn’t have to explain that an Arab and a Muslim are not mutually exclusive.  Nor should I have to tell you that India is home to Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and yes, Muslims.  I’d even wager you’d find some (gasp) Atheists among its citizens.

So, what if she happens to be a Muslim, or an Arab, or any other religious/cultural identification?  The only thing that matters is that she is an American.  Every American should have stood up and cheered when she was crowned.  Assuredly, after you elected a black President the world thought you’d moved past the racism that has blemished your country’s history.  It seems, though, that a new target of racism has taken a foothold.  History may yet be doomed to repeat itself.

Thankfully, many Americans have taken to social media to condemn their fellow citizens for their unwarranted and misinformed attacks.  The world thanks you for reminding us that not all Americans are bigoted white men (those sweeping generalizations hurt, don’t they?)

It’s unfortunate that a bunch of under-educated, haters have tarnished the incredible strides America has made in forging an identity of diversity and equality.  This means only one thing – America, you still have work to do.

M. xo

 

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Quebec Proposes Religious Symbols Ban… with a Few Exceptions

September 11th, 2013 No comments
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On the left are examples of religious symbols deemed acceptable for public sector employees; On the right examples of religious symbols deemed unacceptable for public sector employees

What gives Quebec?  Seriously, you’re acting very – dare I say it – “un-Canadian” these days.  The recent news reports about a proposed ban on religious symbols in the public sector has me deeply concerned, and rather embarrassed that such blatant discrimination is making headlines around the world, effectively tarnishing the image of my nation.

I’m not going to sugar-coat my opinion.  This policy is blatant discrimination and I have no doubt that it will be challenged and defeated at the highest levels.  What’s more, the list of exceptions is laughable.  For example the ban would not apply to any historical religious symbols in public spaces – which are for the most part Catholic symbols.  It also would not apply to elected officials.  Yes, you read that right.  The politicians trying to push this ban through, wouldn’t actually be effected by the ban.

What this policy WILL do is marginalize large segments of the immigrant population.  It will force people to make a choice between working for their community and honouring their faith.  It also will do very little to actually enshrine secularism into the charter because secularism isn’t about symbols.  It’s about ensuring that public policies aren’t influenced by religious ideology.  Asking someone to forgo wearing a religious headdress isn’t going to change the fact that they are religious.  If the government really wants to ensure secularity, then they need to ensure that policies aren’t being strong-armed by ideologies.

Wait, that sounds familiar too – doesn’t it?  Pot meet kettle.

Many of us would do well to remember that Canada was founded by European settlers seeking religious freedom.  That is our legacy.  That is what makes this nation so great.  Freedom to choose, practice, and express our religious or non-religious proclivities.  What’s more, Canada is known for its multi-cultural mosaic.  Any attempt to homogenize the public should be regarded as an attack on the values of our nation.

Now I know that there are many who won’t agree with my sentiments.  That’s fine.  It’s your right in a free and open society.  I hope though, that those who disagree see the irony in policies such as this that limit personal freedoms.  It’s a slippery slope.

M. xo

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