• There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do. Terry Pratchett
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  • Opet article is up
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    The problem with extrapolation from history is that nothing is testable. The evolution of a religion over time is not a predictable and easily comprehensible thing, where we can look at a point in time and say, "It was like this then, so it would be like that now." The process of deciding what needs […]


Constructing a religious system leads to borrowing, pretty much inevitably. If it does not happen through conscious and deliberate choice, it will happen by accident, with thoughtless recapitulation of religious assumptions that are tagging along from one’s birth religion, picked up from one’s absorption of mainstream cultural portrayals of religion, or adopted from other things one has encountered on the way that stuck, whether or not the sticky bits are useful or meaningful.

Borrowing happens because we have to start somewhere, with some understanding of the world, and answer the questions about “what is religion for?” in order to actually start building. And some of that borrowing will lead to scaffolding that goes away, and some of it will wind up built in.

Borrowing thoughtlessly leads to things getting baked in that don’t need to be there – that might be harmful to the goals of the construction. Tangled notions about the nature of divinity change theologies, change the effectiveness of rituals, change how people relate to their spiritual stuff overall. There are possible knots about the roles and nature of priesthood, what rituals are essential, what social positions are necessary, and so on, and all of these things can wind up changing the results.

Deliberate borrowing is better. It does, however, require figuring out how to integrate what’s being used into the system, and, of course, to respect the source material.

When I look at the various structural interpretations of polytheism found within the Hindu religions, I am not, myself, being Hindu, and it does not make my practices Hindu; it means that I am looking at something that works for its people and adapting it as something that works for me.

Which is not the same thing as honoring Ganesha, say, within the structural tendencies of my own religion.

Which is not the same thing as honoring Ganesha within the structural tendencies of Hindu practice.

There are more and more layers of potential to be found. The goal is not some sort of purity of thought and practice that shows no signs of contact with the rest of the world; that is not only impossible, but ahistorical. The goal is to find things that work, that function meaningfully. Not because they are not ‘borrowed’, but because they are part of a whole once the scaffolding comes down.

This does not justify theft; I could not, for example, claim puja as my own, or present it to others as mine. But the knowledge that there are people who perform rituals honoring the gods? That it may include certain things? That, I can use, and adapt, and build from. It will not be puja. But it may well be a borrowing.