I couldn't resist including the above picture for this post, just because it is a good question and I see this meme done a lot. It's a good example of pop culture magic actually, but that's a different topic altogether. To answer his question however, I'd say I'm not cherry picking the parts of religion I like, but rather creating my own spiritual identity and practice which doesn't necessarily involve a conventional approach, which is what I think of when I think about religion. The actual impetus for this post came from this post on the Wild Hunt Blog where Jason Pitzl-Waters discusses how he thinks that "more and more people are finding Paganism not as discrete religions, but as a part of an open-sourced kit to build an individualized belief system or practice." On the other hand, Star Foster explains why she's dropped the label Pagan, and I see her reason for dropping the label as being similar to what Jason writes about in his blog. This response from Jason Mankey argues that as long as gods are in the occasion you can't run from the label Pagan. I don't agree with his take on that as I'll explain further below.
I think of myself as a spiritual, but not religious person. I also think of myself as a magician as opposed to a Pagan. I also recognize that in one sense the word pagan is a meta term that is applied to a variety of people who have similar interests, which can include polytheism, Heathenism, Occultism, as well as Paganism. However, much like Star I don't necessarily feel that the label Pagan applies to what I do. And yes I work with more than one deity, but even that as a criteria for being a pagan is suspect. And I don't feel that the practice of magic makes a person automatically a pagan either, especially given that many Pagans have argued that magic isn't an essential part of pagan beliefs. To my mind when that distinction was made, that told me I wasn't a pagan, because to me magic isn't optional and never will be.
If, according to Jason Pitzl-Waters, Paganism is an open source kit to develop personalized belief systems and practices I do wonder why certain segments of Paganism seem to be so intolerant toward the development of such systems and practices. And I have witnessed that intolerance first hand, having been told that what I'm doing is fluffy and not really paganism (which suits me fine). I get why Jason wants to fold all that under the umbrella of Pagan, but I suspect many Pagans would disagree with his assessment and would argue that there is a distinct difference between what is a Pagan belief system and what is an individualized system of spiritual practice and belief.
And aside from that point, there are spiritual paths that might be identified as Pagan, except for the fact that the people who practice those spiritual practices don't think of themselves as Pagans. Heathenism comes to mind, for example. Heathens, as I understand it, don't typically identify themselves as Pagans and don't want to be identified as Pagans. They do worship and work with deities, but that doesn't make them Pagan. I'd argue that what makes anyone Pagan or not is the person's choice to identify as such. If I choose to call myself pagan, then I might be considered pagan, especially if I practice a religious path that is considered Pagan.
I'd argue that Paganism is more of a religious movement than a spiritual movement. There are many Pagan religions, but I don't think that because someone is spiritual it automatically makes them pagan. Certainly the quote from Pink that Jason cites doesn't support that she views herself as Pagan, so much as she found Paganism to be a source of inspiration for her own spiritual work.
As I mentioned above the word pagan is a meta label. It's applied to anyone who practices non-monotheistic religious practices and spirituality as a way of describing those practices. And in that sense, I do embrace the word pagan, because it is a meta label that encompasses what I practice. But as a label of religious practices, I don't see myself as a Pagan. And many other people don't as well. The meta label is convenient, but also creates an illusion about Paganism that isn't accurate in the way that some people might like it to be. Just because my spirituality happens to include practices that could be perceived as Pagan doesn't necessarily mean the label fits. What determines if the label fits is the person's choice to identify as such.
At this point a person might say, "Fine and well Taylor, but then why do people like you use the word Pagan at all?" And the answer is that Pagan, as a meta-label, has become so embedded in our culture and in how many people describe their spiritual practices that choosing to come up with something else is not easy. And lets be honest here...while the word Pagan has stigma attached to it, the word occult or magic has a lot more stigma attached to it. And speaking as a writer, when I write books I am writing for an audience that includes people who identify their spiritual working and practice as Paganism. They aren't my sole audience, but they are a significant audience and what I'm writing about can be applied to their spiritual practices, if they choose to do so. There's also something to be said for encountering people that you can share a spiritual practice with. Where do you find those people? How do you determine if those people possibly share similar values or beliefs? The meta label of Pagan is how people answer those questions. That's why I use the word Pagan. I don't perceive my spiritual practice as being that of a Pagan, but I do recognize that elements of it can be attributed to Paganism, and that I can find kindred spirits using that same meta label because it fits, however loosely, to what they practice.
On a Different Note...
I thought I'd share a link to Justin Moore's blog. He's doing some interesting work with the elemental balancing ritual. What I like the best about it is that he's making it his own.
Book Review: Cupid's Poisoned Arrow by Marnia Robinson
This book is an intriguing read that explores the physiology behind sex and orgasms, and makes the argument for having sex without orgasm as a way of creating stability in a relationship. The author does a good job of exploring the physiology and cites some interesting research to show how orgasm impacts the behavior of people. She also does a good job of introducing Karezza as an alternate sex technique that people can use to avoid having orgasm. Perhaps what I liked best about this book is the exploration of bonding behaviors and how those bonding behaviors can be used to create stronger relationships. The suggestions she makes demonstrates that bonding behavior can offset dysfunctional behavior and actually help people communicate better.
However, there's also some flaws in this book. Some of the anecdotes that she uses are a bit extreme, and I question whether sex via orgasm was the sole problem. At times the author comes off as a closet homophobe and also views activities such as BDSM as being unnatural. And while the author does cite some interesting research about the effect of orgasms, she doesn't explore how bonding behaviors could impact the downside of orgasm, nor does she explore the cultural issues around bonding behavior, and why those cultural issues might contribute to some of the dysfunctions.
It's an intriguing book and it makes thought provoking arguments about the effect of orgasm on the physiology of the brain, but there's also a lot she doesn't explore, and without that exploration it makes it hard to determine just how accurate her information is.