Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Importance of Knowing the Difference between Doctrine and Personal Belief

This article was submitted and published in ADF's OakLeaves. Though it focuses mainly on ADF it can very easily fit any religious path. I do hope you enjoy and find it very useful.

Doctrine... Church Doctrine... ADF Doctrine… O.K. so how many of you had your skin start to crawl at the mention these words together… ADF DOCTRINE? Seriously though, there is a point to this silliness. Doctrine within a religious practice plays an important role as long as it is tempered with moderation and wisdom (I think I see a few Druid virtues there). Without this tempering, chaos would ensue,  leading to the slow erosion of any beloved religion; our faith is no exception. 

It is important to first understand what doctrine is and what it is not. Doctrine as  defined by the OXFORD AMERICAN DICTIONARY, Heald Colleges Edition; is ”a principle or set of principles and beliefs held by a religious or political or other group.” This definition would make our cosmology and our Nine Virtues a part of our doctrine. The majority of the Dedicant’s Program is our introduction into ADF doctrine. This is what makes the study of the Dedicant Program so important as the basis of moving further into our studies in ADF. It is the foundation of our beliefs and practices. However doctrine is not the laws or bylaws that make up the organizational portion of a group or church. These are constructed in many cases for legal matters to facilitate the operations of churches and non-profit organizations. Not to mention the fact that with a large religion such as ADF, bylaws help regulate the running of the everyday processes within the church throughout its many groves and proto-groves. Doctrine also is not the PERSONAL beliefs of single individual within a religious, political, or other group.

Once the doctrine is established for a given faith, it is the responsibility of each individual who follows that faith to see that it is upheld and maintained with integrity to its original form (see…another virtue hiding in there). Yet too often people have the tendency to ”add” rules or beliefs to the established doctrine in their own minds and hearts that they feel should be there. This pollutes the principle ideas and teachings that were originally set forth by the founders of these faiths. The result can be devastating for a religious group when they have been misrepresented by a member of their own faith that is seen as being a representative of the belief as a whole.

I was not sure that there was need for such an article within the ranks of our scholarly Druidry until recently when I realized that sometimes people need to be reminded that there is a difference between personal beliefs and the doctrine of any faith, even our own.

During a recent event, I helped give a beginner’s class on the cosmology of ADF along with our do’s and don’ts for public rituals. The class was being given to help people in the area correct some misguided beliefs they had developed about what we practiced and believed within our religion. Carefully, the other instructors and I went over the doctrine of ADF, laying out the structure of our beliefs so that the people gathered could see there was room for personal freedom and growth within the borders of our practice. To my great shock in a side conversation to some of the other students gathered one of the ADF members attending began to talk about how it was O.K. in ADF to use mind altering substances during ritual. We quickly corrected the member by informing the class that ADF doctrine did not speak of such behavior. And that interestingly enough is in THE ADF MEMBERSHIP GUIDE, pge. 14 under Laws of ADF, there is a paragraph specific to this subject, ‘Illegal drugs may not be used in official ADF ceremonies.’

This is an example of personal beliefs being added to the perceived established doctrine by a single individual who is then presenting that altered version as the true beliefs. Sadly even with the correction being made there was damage done. Several of the individuals attending the class came with reservations about ADF being no different than other Pagans they had encountered in the past. With the comments of ADF approving drug use in ritual they decided at that very moment we were just the same as all the rest and excused themselves from the event.

Back in April of 2007 on the Seers Guild a discussion about bleeding a new set of Runes had been brought up by a member.  I found people’s reactions to this to be rather shocking. There were some that had a knee jerk reaction to the subject that brought forth what appeared on the surface to doctrine issues, which was actually personal beliefs shinning brightly through. Again this was a case where our ADF Laws and Policies actually cover the issues nicely. There were members claiming that ADF did not condone the use of blood letting for magical uses. The topic went round and round for quite some time. I wanted to speak up about the subject but really was not sure what the stance on blood outside of ritual offerings was, so I remained silent. But by the time the need for this article came up, I had gained that knowledge which I will share with you now. According to THE ADF MEMBERSHIP GUIDE, pge 14 under Policies of ADF paragraph four, ”Individuals and special interest groups may do self-bleeding rites for healing purposes, establishing blood-siblinghood, etc., provided that only symbolic drops are spilled,  but may not do these as a part of an official ADF ceremony.” This does not preclude any member of the Seers guild from blooding their Runes or any other member within the Seers guild even encouraging said members to follow tradition Norse methods of connection with Runes. What this means is simple, it states that it cannot be done as an official ADF ceremony.

In a world where Pagans are a minority, and we Druids are an even more secluded minority, we should take the time to think about the things we say. As a religion that prides itself on the motto ”Why not excellence?”, I challenge each of you to take the time before you pick up that Druid staff, wand, or gabble to proclaim the beliefs of ADF to stop…to think about the things you are about to say when it comes to our religion. I challenge you to take the time to make sure it is what we as a religion truly BELIEVE, make sure it is part of our doctrine. Ask yourself is it our law? Is it our policy? Or is this just my own personal belief that I am trying to impress upon this person? Love yourself, your fellow ADF Druids, and your religion enough to have the piety and wisdom to keep the integrity of our faith.
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