Monday, October 11, 2010

PBS- God in America

The Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Building

Parts One and Two

PBS's first segment of a three part/six segment series God in America, aired last night. For those who missed it, or may wish to watch all six segments on their own time, you can watch it on their website as the new segments are released over the next 3 days.

I went into the first segment highly interested in seeing how PBS would bring this greatly debated topic to the public. Now, I understand the religious mentality and background that the colonists, settlers, and eventually the founding fathers came from in coming to America (and which is the main focus of the first segment), but I was sadly disappointed by the lack of discussion and depiction of pre-colonial inhabitants. That the series debuted on Columbus Day, I was slightly put off to the few minutes of reference devoted one tribe among the millions of Native Americans that inhabited the land before it was taken from them.

The series suddenly jumps from Columbus, not to the first American colonies, their failures, successes, struggles, and the lack of prominence of faith in making it big like other foreign ventures had been in the midst of, but skips about 40 years after Roanoke to Plymouth. To me, this gap is very important in depicting that the "first colonies" were not simply leaving Britain to escape from religious persecution directly, but they were venturing across the ocean because of the promise of gold and riches that they had witnessed other countries coming back with. That the show skipped this grab-for-gold mentality gives the impression of a somewhat Christian-based agenda rather than a tell-all tale.

From this hasty and spotted beginning, the segment does begin to flush out to be more seamless and give the sense of progression and building of ideas. Giving about 5 to 10 minutes of discussion and background of different Christian individuals that made eye-raising statements or broke from tradition. Focusing in the beginning on the Puritans and Anne Hutchinson and trailing from there to different traveling preachers who attempted to change the way Christians were thinking.

The biggest disappointment came when the second segment began encroaching on the founding fathers. Absolutely NOTHING was mentioned about Deism, Freemasonry, the Enlightenment, Transcendentalism, and the usage of the term "God" as a generic statement for a divine creator and not specifically the God of Abraham even though many of the men that shaped our country were members and believers of these events and groups.

The second segment was still spotty, though it was nice break to hear interesting and relevant information to the title and idea of the show--though it was fairly brief-- on Jefferson and the idea of a competitive marketplace for religion. To me, that was the highlight of what I assumed the entire series would be more about. The birthing of the idea that we as (newly emerging) Americans are capable of offering an even field to all religions without favoritism, was why I was setting an alarm to remind me the show was about to start.

I certainly enjoyed the second half of the segment much more than the beginning, but felt highly disappointed. The dynamics within the Anglican Church and the emerging Baptists, Jefferson and the guaranteeing of religious liberty, the revivals in the woods, and the immigrating Catholics into Protestant communities was quick which left me feeling a little confused at the rapid pace of not that much information on a broad scale. Unfortunately still, nothing of the Native American beliefs ever are mentioned apart from the beginning minutes or how they were forced to adapt to these changes of religious imposition. I do look forward to watching the third and fourth segments tonight as the aboriginal tribes and faiths of the slaves are never mentioned at all in the first segment and the second holds that it may be discussed-- indeed, I can't recall even slaves being mentioned in the first segment but once about slaves enjoying revivals with their masters like equals. I doubt the Treaty of Tripoli shows up or the discussion of the original versions of the Pledge of Allegiance (the addition of "under God" being a 1954 addition)

Parts Three and Four

Well, it seems my high hopes for the second segment (parts three and four) of the three part series was not going to come close to my expectations. The series is certainly shaped to be a covering of Christianity in America rather than of God in America. Nothing is mentioned of African tribal faiths coming into connection with varieties of Christianity (and Native faiths) in the Caribbean and Americas as slaves were imported from the Dutch and British to our colonies. The series almost becomes preachy by the halfway point with the decisions and mental and moral debates Mr. Lincoln goes through only rouse me after a painting is shown of Lincoln in classic "Christian depiction of Jesus' garbs" being taken to Heaven by what appear to be archangels. (If anyone knows the painting's name or painter, please let me know!).

Part four enters into Judaism in America and the conflicts both Jews and Christians had with Judaism and it's modernization which was enlightening to me because I am admittingly unfamiliar with Judaism and it's modern/non-traditional developments, but with the way the series has been, I feel I have missed so much. Still, we are solely sticking to the God of Abraham.

The big event of science vs. religion focuses on one case in particular, the Scopes Trial, which is an important point, but when discussing the developments of Darwin's idea, this was a development in the making for a very long time. American botanist, Asa Gray is never mentioned in his close work with Darwin (and he is the man that arranged the first US edition of the book), nor the web of minds Darwin linked through his work in the history of a different idea of the origins of the species of the planet.

For the last segment, which airs tonight, I really have no hopes in the show attempting to wholly encompass the idea of a variety of beliefs in America and the struggle of those who are not mainstream Christians. But I'll watch it none the less.

Parts Five and Six
The third segment (parts five and six) was interesting in that, I feel it definitely began to show the falseness of those who placed faith in the political arena and the show focused right upon Billy Graham and his slithering into political mainstream as a "guide" to those making their way along the presidential path. On a bit of an opposite side of the fence, the segment swings into the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s use of faith in his work that I thought was a very interesting. You have a man like Graham who uses his faith (and the majority faith of the US) to make political contacts and helps to make Christianity a selling point in votes. A man who tried to prevent JFK from winning the election by bringing up the "Catholic question" and then goes slithering up to JFK after he wins. Then you have MLKJ who is a pastor that feels injustice is being done by Christians and to Christians and that this action is just not of the brotherly love Jesus speaks about. But rather than using his faith to perpetrate his own personal gains, he uses it to inspire himself and followers in his cause to create equality NO MATTER WHAT the faith of those he helps may be.

In the end that seems to be the message that the show was trying to create. That even if you are Christian (or one of the hundreds of other faiths not mentioned in the show), you should recognize that there are other faiths, spiritualities, and religions in the US and the rest of the world and that our beginnings and what the Constitution stands for are to give that freedom of and from religion to everyone. That the show never really discusses the Native American faiths, the prominent variety of faiths the founding fathers had, or really anything outside of the Abrahamic God was terribly disappointing for the scope the show seemed that it would encompass. If you are going to tackle the idea of God in America, why not go all the way?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Azura, video games, and Paganism

Fear not, for I am watchful

I have long held that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is my absolute favorite video game since the day I picked it up. Yes, I know that there are a great many number of older games from older platforms (including The Elder Scrolls series), but this game left such an impression on my video game mind that it made a connection to my spiritual mind as well. Bear with me on this... even if you don't play video games.

Quick summery: One begins this immense game waking up on a prison boat that has brought you from the Imperial capital to a distant, and exceptionally large island that has long resisted imperialistic rule and which also boasts a volcano at its center. You are originally tasked with essentially being the "eyes and ears" for the emperor in finding out who, what, where, when, and why the province has fallen on strange times. Eventually the truth spills: the emperor thinks you may possibly be the reincarnation of the Nerevarine (a man who united the tribal people of the land and was killed during a battle on the volcano--Red Mountain--in disputed and unsure circumstances). Without further going into too much detail, you do become the Nerevarine. But along the way you are helped by the Goddess Azura, and here is where my Pagan strings were plucked within this game.

The Shrine of Azura

Her beginning words are a comfort in the difficult times that you know lie ahead: I am Azura, Queen of the Night Sky and Mother of the Rose. I am your protector. Fear not, for I am watchful. You have been chosen. These lines always gave me such a thrilling chill every time I saw them. If you choose to, you can learn a very deep and well developed history and theology of the entire world the game(s) revolve around. Being a natural bibliophile, I read all of the books I could find in the game (and I kept a few special ones in my houses for some re-reading when I got tired of quests).

Borrowed from my absolutely favorite Morrowind site The Imperial Library, Azura is described throughout the game's books as:
"Azura, whose sphere is dusk and dawn, the magic inbetween realms of twilight; known by the names The Daedric Prince of Moonshadow, Mother of the Rose, and Queen of the Night Sky.
Azura maintains the domain of Moonshadow, a twilight country of shades and half-thoughts. Visitors to this isle have historically come mainly from the Dunmer of eastern Morrowind (as Azura is one of the Dunmeri three Good Daedra) and the catfolk of Elsweyr, whose people both hold a great affection for the mother of immanence, though by separate roads.
According "The Doors of Oblivion", Moonshadow is a very beautiful place. Flowers, waterfalls, majestic trees, and a city of silver decorate the realm, but it is all a blur. The colors run like water. It's damp from the rainy weather while the wind smells like perfume.
The summoning date of Azura is 21st of First Seed (also known as Hogithum). Azura can also be summoned in her shrine, if the summoner offered glow dust, while the time was at dawn or dusk.
According to "Darkest Darkness", the Winged Twilight is a messenger of Azura, Goddess of Dusk and Dawn. Winged twilights resemble the feral harpies of the West, though the feminine aspects of the winged twilights are more ravishing, and their long, sharp, hooked tails are immeasurably more deadly."
How could I, a stumblingly new, young (at the time) Pagan, not see these words and descriptions as beautiful and inspiring? How could I not see vague resemblances to Nyx and Aurora (and in Azura's more valiant ways, Athena)--Goddesses that I would come to know better now in my life because of their inspiration within a video game Goddess? Everything about Azura seemed to appeal to my soul. Her dream-like realm, the times of her greatest power, that she requires her worshipers to be of good mind, body, soul, and love (as described in the game's book Invocation of Azura), and the way she made me feel almost primitive and primal, yet capable of great wisdom and love was an extraordinary feeling that I can only link to the way I feel to the Goddess.

When I visualize and feel my Great Goddess, I can't help but to sometimes see and hear Azura. I don't worship Azura. But her image resonated within me similarly to the way the Goddess does and it unintentionally appealed to my Pagan path. That I adore her is quite different from worshiping her; I want to make that clear. I was drawn to her attributes though and that is what I began seeking in my spiritual path: To be of good mind, body, soul, and love. Attributes that can be found in a variety of religious and unorthodox places.

(image from Arwen's Morrowind journal)
The Cavern of the Incarnate
Azura's statue sits with the Moon and Star. A ring symbolizing her power and your destiny.

EDIT: Just to be clear, the game never inspired me to become a Pagan. There are already enough people out there that think video games are "corrupting the youth" and all that re-hashed anti-technology mumbo jumbo. I was already delving into learning and feeling out my path before Morrowind came along. It just flared my passion for the Goddess even more at times.

EDIT #2: For those that keep searching my page for where and how to obtain Azura's Star, The Elder Scroll's Wiki has a link to each of the games versions and how to get them. Hope that helps :)