Thursday, October 6, 2011

Here's to First Amendment Rights

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I’ll start by explaining that I’m not a pagan myself, but I am an American and a fan of the U.S. Constitution, so I’ll defend to the end your right to be a pagan, along with all other First Amendment freedoms.
In these contentious (and these days, seemingly endless) election season sieges, I always welcome the opportunity to refresh us all on the basis of one of my fave amendments.
The mnemonic devise that helps me remember the basic concepts is “GRASP” your First Amendment freedoms.” (Capitalization of the five key freedoms is mine): “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of Grievances.”
A full disclosure note, in the spirit of freedom of speech, press and religion: I’m a Christian myself.
But when I looked up some of the definitions of “pagan,” I found a lot that I, and I suspect many of us, whatever our current professed religions, could sympathize with in our spiritual journeys through life.
“A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions,” is a definition I can identify with, as a Christian who works hard to adhere to the original Biblical teachings of Christ, which are often distressingly distant from the behaviors and practices of many professed practitioners of Christianity.
Paganism in its early history has always seemed more innocent than demonic to me. There is a sensuality and admiration for nature and all of creation that can — and usually has, in the evolution of most of our religions today —veered into hedonism.
And yes, there are historical incidents of bloodlust, human sacrifice and other manifestations of violence in many of the “pagan” cultures from which most of us trace our roots today, from Mayan and Aztec and numerous tribes in the Americas to the ancient beliefs of indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, Australian, the Middle East, Polynesia, and my own mostly European heritage of Norsemen and Celts.
I wish I could say that we’ve outgrown all that in the “enlightened” world of our major world religions today, but, alas, no way.
And religious misunderstandings and closed-mindedness persist, though most Las Crucens seem more inclined toward gentle discussions than do the entrenched souls in other places I’ve lived.
Still, I’ve heard diatribes against out-of-the-ordinary spiritual beliefs, even those of fictional characters like Harry Potter (almost always from those who have never read the books and experienced their epic tales of courage in monumental good vs. evil conflicts).
I’ve overheard impassioned debates about the dangers of Halloween, the “heathen” practices of Dia de los Muertos and even charges that any interest in saints amounts to pagan polytheism. Some sourpusses are even irked by the Tooth Fairy.
American Indians dedicated to preservation of their traditions and conservation of their lands for future generations and environmentalists fighting the pollution of land, air and water have been condemned as “wanton pagans” and “godless tree-huggers.” (All too often, in my experience, by those seeking to exploit the very resources that conscientious souls are working to protect.)
I’m not sure what their official religious affiliations are, but I feel blessed to have so many people in my life who have strengthened my own faith and fortified my hopes by sharing the wisdom of their lives and cultures.
I’ll always appreciate Hector Telles, a poet with Apache heritage who shared the ecological, Golden rule philosophy that “We all live downstream.”
Dia de los Muertos celebrations have helped many of us come to terms with untimely and agonizing deaths, and to find a measure of peace with the “celebration of lives well-lived” and a gentle, sometimes humorous and matter-of-fact faith in the afterlife that is the cornerstone of most major religions.
As a God-fearing tree-hugger myself, and a big fan of Dia de los Muertos and the Pueblo Indian traditions I’ve been privileged to share, I am grateful to live in New Mexico, where a spirit of open-mindedess, tolerance and a genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for diversity and new experience results in a rich multicultural environment that makes life more creative, interesting and fulfilling for us all.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

1 comment:

Tru Dillon said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post on Halloween. It is really just a community event. In a time of so little community spirit it is nice to still have neighbors knock on your door!