“The United States Constitution established that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….’ This statement seems to be very conflicting in a society where the government, or those given authority by it, are the ones to create the laws that determine if a group qualifies for benefits that are only given to religious institutions—a group must be recognized as a religion before it can be entitled to certain privileges (Zaretsky & Leone, 1974).
The existence of this conflict is of extreme importance, especially in a country where the majority of its citizens belong to a religion or follow a particular set of beliefs (Central Intelligence Agency, 2008; Miller, 2006). The gravity of this conflict has been wisely illustrated by the words of John Richard Burkholder, who cited Zaretsky & Leone (1974, p, 47) to say that ‘[i]n an increasingly pluralists society, marked by a burgeoning variety of cults, a growing privatization of religious experience, and widespread abandonment of traditional theistic formulations, the task of how to define religion and remain theologically neutral is extremely delicate.’” (Guerrero, 2008).
You probably noticed that this doesn’t look like the beginning of one of my usual posts, for in the past I’ve tried to stay away from technical/academic writing in Pagan Culture. I wanted this blog to be very lighthearted; about everyday happenings. Well, it just happened that today I checked my inbox and found, not one, but seven emails from individuals asking for help trying to integrate their work and their religious beliefs. I found it very odd. I wouldn’t have done so a few years ago; heck, a few months ago! But I haven’t worked on religious justice issues for some time, so it caught me off guard and I wanted to share it.
One of the questions had to do with religious beliefs and social grooming. The person wanted to know if he could get any help explaining to his job that his beard is an important part of his spirituality. I don’t have the particulars in the case yet, but I hope to hear from him soon and get details. His question made me think of the research I did for the case of a police officer in the Midwest (the quote above is part of it) who was a Sunni Muslim. He was suspended by his police department for refusing to shave his beard on religious grounds. The police officer won the case and he and his beard still work with the same department.
The seven emails did something else for me. I’ve been struggling with an issue the last few months: I keep on going back and forth on what I want to do for rest of my professional life. I know I want to be a writer, but I also have a need to pursue religious justice. I’ve spent many hours meditating these last few months. I asked the gods to nudge me on the right direction. I had a few dreams about it the last few days: me working on expert testimony research, also in Washington, DC, attending a religious justice conference and at a book signing (grin), and then I got the emails.
I feel like the gods are being more than straightforward, don’t you think? I feel that the next thing is going to be a direct message from Fate saying “Um… I know you are a bit blind my dear Witch, but you are certainly not stupid, or are you?”
I have a few questions for you my Wicked Darlings: If there is a clear division between church and state (try not grinning too hard, you’ll hurt your face) do you think that it is fair for the state to say what is religious and what is not?
Now, my dilemma, what do you make of my dreams and the timeframe of the emails I received? Is my path right in front of me and I just don’t see it clearly yet? Should I forget about a Masters and PhD in Creative Writing and pursue religious justice? As it is, I can always write fiction part time. Should I think of myself, for once, and follow my artistic dreams? Will I be able to live with myself knowing that I could have done so much more? I know the decision is mine to make, but I really want your advice.