Religious Justice, Dreams, Fiction Writing… Help!

“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.

28 comments:

  1. That's a tough question, and I'm really not sure what to say other than that I think the gods definitely want you to pursue religious justice in one form or another.

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  2. Firstly, I do think that you would be excellent in the field of religious justice. Someone, like yourself, who is very down to Earth and has a good head on their shoulders is just what this world needs in that area. I think the Gods are definitely leading you in that direction, but that is an opinion, of course.

    I can not tell you what to do, or not to do, with regards to your schooling choices, all I can do is put myself in your shoes and say what I "might" do. And I would pursue the religious justice full time in a school setting. I would find it logical in my own mind that I could always write anytime, and perhaps continue schooling for it at a later time.

    And, as for the state, I do not think they have ANY business determining what is, or is not, religious. That's where I'll leave that.

    LJ

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  3. Sarita, the question is hard indeed, it has been killing my poor brain for some time. I think I know what I need to do, to be honest, I'm sure I've known for quite some time. I just don't know why I'm so reluctant. Maybe because I know the road ahead is going to be a tough one... Maybe I'm waiting for the right person to walk the path with. I feel that deciding the rest of my life should get some input from the one I spend the rest of my life with--now, where is that White guy again lol.

    LJ, I love and admire your straight-and-to-the-perspective. I also believe I'll do well in the field and, yes, there is a lot of need. I remember volunteering at local courthouses and there were never enough hours in one day. I guess I have my answer, huh? Now about that first step lol. We are on the same boat when it comes to the state and spirituality, I just wish the rest of the world--especially those writing the policies--would join the common sense ride.

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  4. I have to agree with LJ I think you would be fantastic in the field of religious justice,you are so very down to earth and fight for what you believe in and I think the gods are nudging you in that direction.
    As for you creative writing, damn thats a tough call to make I mean it seems like its something you've wanted to do forever and whilst it may be a shame to place it to the side for a while what you need to ask yourslef is if you did that, would you pic it backup again? would you have enough time to do it part time with everything else you have going on in your life as well? I would not want to tell you what to do, but I think if you earch te answers already in your heart my darling.
    As for the state determining what is and what is not religious, I don't think any one has that right, the state or not!!!!!!!

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  5. My dear Pixie, I guess I can be intellectually greedy--the gods know I'm quite selfish when it comes to everything else lol. I think I can do both. It might be a little challenging at times and one of the two will not get my all--probably the fiction writing, for the other affects people in a VERY personal level, but I know how to work hard.

    Thanks for believing so much in me *sniff, sniff*

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  6. Then you know already what you have to do!!!! I wish you massive amounts of luck for your journey will not be an easy one but it sure will challenge you but you can handle it.
    Follow your heart hunni, that's where you'll be lead to happiness xx
    Of course I believe in you x

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  7. Hey, I nominated you for a blog award. You'll see what it's about the next time you look at my blog.

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  8. Hey Magalay!

    I don't think you need our advice. I think you already know what you want and need to do, but you're asking permission from yourself (through us) to begin and accept the not-easy process of making a life-altering decision.

    But as for whether or not the State has any business deciding what is and is not a religion, I think that yes, to a certain extent the State must be interested, especially when public funds are involved. If an organization that is not truly a religion attempts to claim itself so for exemptions, it'd defrauding the public. However, I also think the litmus test for a religion should be pretty liberal notwithstanding a possible requirement that there be an established practice for some time and a considerable number of adherents who truly believe in said religion.

    Otherwise, we'll have Flying Spaghetti Monster churches popping up in everyone's house and business.

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  9. Pixie, thanks so much, like I've said many times "you are an angel darling".

    Sarita, gracias!!! lol I'll stop by soon and claim my prize :)

    Weaben "Flying Spaghetti Monster" lol. I understand your point, but the thing is that it is so difficult to set fair standards. It seems that must of the time only the majority gets the full benefit, which leaves marginalized religions without a foot to stand on. I was member of a faith based project at a prison in the Midwest and I saw how most Pagans got their civil rights violated. Actually, not only Pagans, but also anyone who was not in the majority.

    Thanks very much for your comment on my decision; you are very wise ;)

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  10. Magalay!

    I definitely can't disagree that many non-mainstream religions get the short-end of the stick when trying to prove validity, but I think going to the polar opposite end of the spectrum would hold just as many problems. To go to the other end would allow anyone to claim anything as being a protected religious right when it's really just an excuse to circumvent the law.

    I think it's a thin, fine line that has to be tenuously walked and the State some times fails at its attempts to walk it, but it's better than not having one at all, I think.

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  11. You are absolutely right "a thin, fine line..." indeed. I've seen some horrible things go both ways. One time I sat in a lecture where someone was trying to proof the 'irrationality' of religion. He said that if he wanted, he could make a large enough group of people believe that his son's toy truck was a god. A very scary concept, if one thinks about it. So yes, we do need our checks and balances. Hm, I think I just answered my own question again. Yikes!

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  12. There are two questions, and I will try to give my two cent on both of them...

    1. If there is no decision on what is religion and what isn't, how is one going to make sure that religion and politics are separated? (I am from Germany, which defines itself as a Christianity-based Democraca, so things may be a bit different here, I am not sure...) You need a definition at first - which is probably a thing best worked out by jurists, theologists and philosophers - and after that you need someone to enforce this definition and the laws concerning the separation of religion and politics. And that would be a government body. I don't think there is a problem there, as long as the rules and definitions are applied correctly.

    2. Why don't you pursue both ways? Maybe there are ways of combining both? And of course you don't have to choose a path and follow it till the end of all times, you can still do one thing for 2 or 5 or 15 years and do something alltogether else after that. (I would try to combine them in some way, but I am a very strange person.)

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  13. I don't think you are strange at all. I believe you are very much like me. Just a few months ago, I found peace in the decision of pursuing both paths. I had decided on pursuing both by studying how Paganism is influencing modern literature. I just continue to feel that is not good enough. I, guess, I'm a very strange person too. I just want to give back as much as I've been given, and I feel that assisting others finding religious understanding and peace is more valuable. I think I just have to compromise with myself and sometimes that's the hardest thing, I'm kind of hard on me.

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  14. I read your post and the comments and like most I agree that you do know what you wish to do but just need that extra confirmation :) I guess doing both even if challenging is what you would liek to opt for :) go for it girl!

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  15. And I think you are right!

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  16. Listen to yourself, especially on Pen and Pagan!! You need to write!! You have so much passion there!! It sounds as if you are trying to convince yourself that you should do something more because of all these signs. I need to think on this some more and read your stuff again..will get back with you again later...

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  17. Greetings!
    I've been struggling with a similar conundrum. Does one part of my life have to suffer to see that another one is nurtured? I'm still working on that answer.
    As far as writing vs religious justice. You're right, you can still write part time. Creativity comes from within, it's a gift, and if you've got it, you don't need someone else to give you a diploma to tell the world you can do it.
    This is my first time visiting your blog, and I haven't made it past this post. But it appears to me, that you want to help people, you're a nurturing person. Religious Justice is not an easy undertaking, and the rewards will probably be fewer than the struggles, but it sounds like it, just like your creativity may be a part of who you are.
    I believe your dreams are giving you a little push towards walking down that path. I'm not a professional dream interpreter by any stretch, LOL. But that's an awful lot of signs in a short time.
    Your writing doesn't have to suffer, granted with studies, it might not always be the first thing you can do. However, there are very successful lawyers who have become authors using experiences as they subject matter.
    You say you like writing dark, sexy, bloody and paranormal. I'm sure cases would come to you with some of those elements. The world is full of things like that.

    Hope this helps...

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  18. continuing...since you have three years of schooling to enjoy, you should take a variety of courses. I'm sure both areas of study are available. Very few people pursue careers in the actual area of their Major. Working in Religious Justice will give you food for your stories. When you get rich writing stories, you will have time and money to help people with their difficulties in Religious Justice. What a life course you are plotting...

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  19. Judy, you are the best. I've been researching liberal arts Master programs. I think I found one where I can study the effect of Paganism on modern fiction, what do you think?

    Jake, I might not be good enough to write about the horrors on the legal system lol. But I appreciate the vote of confidence. I'm thinking about writing and teaching--I don't know if I can really deal with the law and stay objective; I know my limits.

    Judy you are back lol. Like I said, I can always do research and volunteer as an expert witness ('expert' lol).

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  20. Very briefly, becuase I could wax eloquent on this for hours and have to get ready for work, I don't think the seperation of church and state goes quite far enough.
    As for your dreams my expert psychic advice, and this is coming from the dredges of my tea cup, rose lemon super yummy, is that you can do both can't you?
    many of the worlds most acclaimed authors were not ONLY authors. In fact they drew the inspiration for some of their most inspirational works from the passions that they pursued either personally or professionally.
    Writing was a necessary adjunct for them to completely realize the dreams they were living.
    If anyone can do both it'd be you sweets.

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  21. *Sniff, sniff* That was just to sweet or I'm a bit hormonal, but I think I feel some tears coming lol. Thanks so much for believing in me, you rock! Now go and make some mula!

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  22. Nice post. Very very intresting to read.

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  23. Nice post. Very very intresting to read.

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  24. *Sniff, sniff* That was just to sweet or I'm a bit hormonal, but I think I feel some tears coming lol. Thanks so much for believing in me, you rock! Now go and make some mula!

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  25. continuing...since you have three years of schooling to enjoy, you should take a variety of courses. I'm sure both areas of study are available. Very few people pursue careers in the actual area of their Major. Working in Religious Justice will give you food for your stories. When you get rich writing stories, you will have time and money to help people with their difficulties in Religious Justice. What a life course you are plotting...

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  26. I don't think you are strange at all. I believe you are very much like me. Just a few months ago, I found peace in the decision of pursuing both paths. I had decided on pursuing both by studying how Paganism is influencing modern literature. I just continue to feel that is not good enough. I, guess, I'm a very strange person too. I just want to give back as much as I've been given, and I feel that assisting others finding religious understanding and peace is more valuable. I think I just have to compromise with myself and sometimes that's the hardest thing, I'm kind of hard on me.

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  27. You are absolutely right "a thin, fine line..." indeed. I've seen some horrible things go both ways. One time I sat in a lecture where someone was trying to proof the 'irrationality' of religion. He said that if he wanted, he could make a large enough group of people believe that his son's toy truck was a god. A very scary concept, if one thinks about it. So yes, we do need our checks and balances. Hm, I think I just answered my own question again. Yikes!

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  28. Hey, I nominated you for a blog award. You'll see what it's about the next time you look at my blog.

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