In this next post in the series of reflections I have entered into, I turn my attention to the concept of the individual. Recent threads on the social dot members section of the Druid Network have raised the issue about what constitutes spiritual and religious practices and in particular, whether religious practices are more reliant upon communal actions to warrant the descriptor of religious.
It was stated by some members that their definition of a religion was tied to the idea of communal interactions and if they weren’t involved in this as such, then they considered themselves to be more spiritual than religious. It is useful therefore, to consider what constitues a religion in the eyes of the law and the statute makers.
As far as druidry is concerned, the criteria was based upon the information as follows ( with thanks to Phil Ryder for this information)
- Do we have an understanding that Nature is sacred and worthy of reverence?
- Do we seek connection with the sacred through nature?
- Do we through our practice find ourselves duty bound to act in a way that honours the sacred?
- Is our practice identifiable as Druid?
- Is it a serious practice?
The answers to this are contained in this information which is freely available on the Druid Network website. So as far as I can see, the criteria was met for legal recognition, as indeed the granting of charitable status confirmed.
Therefore, we have a legal basis for considering druidry to be religious in practice. However, as was stated earlier, some individuals identification with a religion went beyond the legal definition and through personal preference, needed to involve communal interactions. Without these interactions, their activity was considered to constitute a more spiritual aspect as opposed to a religious one.
This appears to me to be a perfectly reasonable stand point. However, for me, this idea doesn’t really apply, even though the majority of my earlier experiences were whilst solitary. The most important change for me in the last few years was that I met and then fell in love with my partner who shares a mostly shared spiritual and religious framework as myself.
Finding others who, if not exactly mirroring your own experiences but being close enough to share enough commonality to develop them, by definition move your own practice from solitary to communal, even if that be that a community of two.
I have wriiten about the paradox of the individual earlier, my emphasis being upon a cultural aspect as opposed to a spiritual aspect. As far as spiritual and religious practice is concerned, some people have expressed their contention that because they have yet to find enough commonality with others, they don’t consider themselves to following a religious practice. Again, another reasonable viewpoint in my opinion.
However, for me, I could not really adopt this position. That position, IMO, is based upon the assumption that the individual is not engaging in communal interactions. And the flaw in that statement for me, is the “individual”.
Society has, especially here in the relatively affluent west, over the last 30 odd years, promoted the notion of the individual. Science based a lot of its evidence upon the notion of individual identities that were distinct in their interactions with the wider environment. After all, you couldn’t experience what I do because we are all unique. My conception of the colour red, for example, may not be the same as yours. It is probably unique, distinct and individual to the biology of the individual person. It’s common sense. Or is it?
Work done in the natural and medical worlds have now provided us with ample evidence as to the truth of how the “I” is arrived at and most of it is confirming what some of the ancient spiritualities asserted but could not evidence beyond the experiential. Our biological bodies are communal in both operation and outcome. The environment is made up of interconnected ecosystems that would appear superficially to be individual in identity and yet, through a result of their activity, comprise a part of the wider environment. The identity of the wider environment is comprised of superficially individualized communal identities.
If we change one part of that, we change the identity of that environment. Some changes can result in minimal impact, others are more profound in their impact. The same can be done with the human body. Changes in the operation or structure in the brain can, and usually do, result in a change of the identity of that individual. Changes in the biology of that person, maybe in the form of limb loss or disease also can result in a change in behaviour through neccessity, and sometimes changes in personality. The “I” is changed.
That “I” therefore, is dependant upon communal activity. There is a whole theological discussion as to whether this “I” is merely a result of communal activity or whether this “I” is a part and guided by communal activity. That is one discussion I am not really either qualified or knowledgable enough to to map out in a satisfactory way at this time. All I can do is to explain how this impacts upon my own religious and spiritual activity at this time.
My acceptance that my identity is not really distinct as such, but is guided by communal activity, is reinforced by both the method and the results of my spiritual and religious practices. These interactions and the resultant practices adopted, are results of interactions with communitees present in the environment. I have never experienced a spiritual interaction that eminated from a single source. So I may experience a spiritual interaction whilst out alone in the environment but that experience is not an experience between the individual “I” and the individual environment, it is an interaction between certain communities within me and certain communities within the environment.
And now for the contentious part. As a result of accepting this understanding, I have now started to ponder how my own physical and mental “urges” for want of a better word, have been shaped by the resultant changes initiated by these interactions. There is both potential and dangers in this trail of thought.
Danger, because this could lead one to consider that any behaviour patterns demonstrated as a result of these interactions that are unacceptable to present day cultures are born from “without” of oneself, therefore negating personal responsibilty.
Potential because if one accepts personal responsibility within todays cultural norms, then that development may be guided from “without” if one has enough confidence that the motives of the external communities that are interacting with you, and are in keeping with the individuals own aspirations.