As a non-believer of high or low religious holidays, I am, at the same time, very interested in their pagan roots. That word, pagan, carries darker freight than is warranted. It simply means peasant, country-dweller or rustic.. I look to them as the source. These occasions grew organically out of their attunement to the climate in the Northern Hemisphere. Organized religions grafted their myths onto these folk tales born of wonder, fear and ignorance.
I don’t see myself rejecting the feasts and fasts so much as embracing the deeper roots. The prayers, incantations and fables reenacted with great piety feel to me not only an irrelevant vestige of pre-history but a usurpation of the spirituality which has to do with people and the land. My religion is all about the communion between people and transcendent moments that may occur through this open-hearted meeting as well as the transport that Art can offer. What is sacred is right in front of us.
Most Judeo-Christian celebrations correspond to seasonal changes associated with planting and harvest time. The Jewish New Year marks the end of summer and the beginning anew, with the Day of Atonement ten days later. Why atone? Is that original sin I am to be washing away? Guilt? Repentance?....and by day’s end Absolution … providing one abstains from food, sex, leather shoes, washing/bathing and deodorant.
Why would I want to park my brains outside before taking my seat (through Ticketron), bow before a scolding and vengeful God, kiss the withered text, mumble praise and beat myself for accumulated transgressions? Did I fail to come to a full stop, not contribute enough to NPR, eat that strawberry-rhubarb crumble, forget to send a get well card, blurt some inanity or think ill thoughts about the far Right? What can be said about a religion that asks for obeisance to a list of archaic rules and rituals? There is nothing holy about living out prescribed behavior. It seems to me a negation of the spirit. God is a gross and simplistic answer to a complex world. At the core of religions is the axiom: Do not think.
The word, atonement, is worth looking at. It has layers of meaning aside from confession. It can mean awe and even a sense of reconciliation which comes close to At One Ness. Now they are talking my language. I’m all for that.
Twenty years ago Peggy and I celebrated our fifth anniversary, which fell on Yom Kippur, with a weekend at Mammoth Lakes in the Sierras. While hiking we came across a wedding in the woods. The bride was Jewish, the groom Buddhist; another joining across a great divide.
In secular-humanist fashion we atoned for nothing, being at-one with each other and Nature. We celebrated the sin that brought us together, to this moonscape, to our salt. We were a minion of two, kneeling and devout.