View from the Pew
Many roads exist on way to spirituality
Stories and pictures of people attempting to revive that old-time religion made the news this week.
About two dozen believers serious about their roots, proud of their culture, tried to relive their history. They draped themselves in togas and congregated at a formerly sacred site in a formerly holy season to sing and dance and chant homage to old gods.
Makahiki season, 21st century style? Nope. But the self-proclaimed Greek pagans who honored Zeus at an Athens temple do have some things in common with Hawaiians who have revived the practice of giving reverence to the god Lono at Makua Valley and elsewhere.
Some of it is just the liberating fun -- oops, make that the serious religious ritual -- of dressing up in retro robes. For those Greeks to bare their knees and shoulders was no doubt a bigger deal than Hawaiians donning kikepa and pa'u, which are standard gear for activist demonstrations and Hawaiian society processions.
A step back to the past is also a way to define yourself as different and special in the midst of the globalized, homogenized population. The little band of Greeks cherish the glorious time when Greece was the center of philosophy and learning, its scholars and authors quoted to this day, its language still in use in science and medicine. Hawaiian culture did not have that timeless global impact, but there is the same longing to be "the way we were" before outside influences tainted the purity.
Defiance in the face of perceived oppression is another common thread. Nothing imposes the mantle of sacredness on a crumbling ruin or an expanse of land so definitely as having authority forbid you access. Nothing turns an imagined song and dance into divine liturgy so fast as having orthodoxy police ban it.
It was only 187 years ago that Hawaiian pagans began converting in droves to the new religion of Christian missionaries. According to history, they had already turned from old forms such as kapu bans and were choosing Western models of law and commerce. It wasn't forbidden to gather at a heiau, but there was the pressure of civilized society to conform.
Christianity also put an end to the pagan religion of Greece, although its stories were nevertheless immortalized in literature and art for centuries. It was done in the totalitarian way of conquerors. Soon after the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the empire banned pagan practices, and that included the Olympic games.
The modern Greeks face similar intolerance 1,800 years later. There is one true church in Greece, and its influence is intertwined in the government and laws. Ninety-five percent of the people are at least nominal members of the Greek Orthodox Church. The church frowns on unorthodox versions of religion.
The quaint little expression of religion in another country is grounds to appreciate what freedom of religion means in the United States. It has not always been true, but for now, in the 21th century, there is no orthodoxy police with power. Believers of an incredible array can do their drumming, dancing, hallelujah shouting or "aum" chanting without interference. They can wait in the desert for harmonic convergence or climb a mountaintop for enlightenment or travel abroad for whatever pilgrimage experience rings their spiritual bells.
Oh, our society has its bigots who condemn believers who wear drapery or beanies or veils, who call God by different names, who make an unholy noise in their bell-ringing street ministry, whose church has a funny-looking steeple. The intolerance of the majority must not be allowed to prevail. Challenge the bigots on their podiums and pulpits.
As for those who believe that theirs is the one, true God, who wants all souls in the same fold, it would be helpful to read the subtext in their scriptures. He didn't say force the flock into pens; he said teach, lead and love them.
Jesus told his followers that "my Father's house has many mansions." Does anyone else wonder if one of those mansions might not be on Mount Olympus?