Another friend asked the question What have your religions taught you about balance, limits, or limitlessness, in terms of expenditure of resources, and support of one another and the systems that we live in?
My first religion was Christianity, in the particularly literal form taught by the Anabaptists. My baby sitter was a Mennonite and I spent 9 hours a day at her house, as well as attending her church on Sundays and Tuesday evenings. She was my surrogate mother from 6 months old up until 4th grade when I became a typical latchkey child. The Anabaptists are big on limits and structure. I knew the rules for behavior because when I crossed them, I got spanked. With a wooden spoon. In contrast, my (single) mom was all about reasoning with me. She was not good at setting clear boundaries, so I hedged when possible.
Now I’m Pagan, and find myself tripping over concepts of structure, hierarchy, and limits. The Anabaptists – and many other Christianities – have a Dominionist view of the planet. It is put here for human use, so anything we do must be just fine. To be fair, the Mennonites I knew were often farmers, and none of them that attended the little church in my babysitter’s basement were captains of industry with the power to affect thousands of live. Like the Amish, the Mennonites are pretty much humble people, just going about their business and trying to stay right with their god. They set limits on their own behavior because it was the moral choice, the one that kept their community intact. The separation of the god and the Earthly realm was not a license to mess up the neighbor’s property for personal gain.
Pagans believe not in the ownership, but in the sacredness of Nature. What a joy it was to find that there was a whole group of people who talked to trees and animals, and unseen beings of all kinds. Like many Pagans who fled Christianity, the limitlessness was heady. I was the arbiter of my experiences, and my experiences were a valid way of interacting with deity. Being in this space has been incredibly valuable. I’ve found my way from damaged to well-being, from pain to joy, and I could only have done that by feeling completely in control of my choices. I was also completely responsible for them. The Law of three-fold return gave me cause to consider my actions in light of how they would affect others in my life.
The concept of “harm none, do as thou wilt” was a license to explore and experiment with all manner of relationships, exploding all the boundaries of conventional life. And in college I had learned how to deconstruct ideas, taking them down to the bare elements from which they had arisen. All this was fun, and it allowed me to tear loose the hangups that had kept me from pursuing healthy relationships. Ritual was an effective tool for transformation. What it did not give me was the tools of creation.
Limits constrict, driving into contact those things that would not otherwise connect. And from this caldron emerges creativity. Limits can force growth if there is a place in which to grow. If the Mennonites had too many limits to allow growth and change, Paganism seemed to lack any such limits, and nothing got done. So my question became, how much limitation and how much freedom?
It was studying marital arts that allowed me to step out of my deconstructionist ethic and decide that there was indeed “right” and “wrong.” The fighting arts are all about setting boundaries. My failure to do so before was not only a function of my desire to explore, it was also a function of my inability to set boundaries on the behavior of the people around me. And in determining those boundaries I came back to Paganism. At Cherry Hill Seminary I took Boundaries and Ethics, and as a class we examined how our behaviors affected others both human and non-human.
What I learned is that in order for me to make a choice about right and wrong behavior, it is to my benefit to get as much information on a given subject as I can in the time frame available. This does not always lead me to the same conclusions as those held by the most vocal members of my Pagan community, but this can be said of any religious group. But what is a Truth for me is that if I have studied my subject matter, then I have the peace of mind that comes from knowing I have done the best I can to make a good decision.