I spend a lot of time in search of understanding. As thoughtful, empathetic humans, I imagine we all do. It's part of what makes the ideological chasm between the Mainstream Believers and the Non-Mainstream Believers so infuriating. I never understood the Mainstream Believers. What they do, and how they think, was so contrary to my own inclinations and beliefs that I found myself regarding them askew, as some sort of bizarro-human class of beings.
And I knew they thought of me the same way.
So I've been trying to rationalize the actions of people I don't understand. Not excuse them, or justify them, or anything like that. I just want to have an explanation that goes beyond name-calling or insulting postulations as to their cognitive wherewithal. Here's what I've come up with.
Christians pray for miracles. They believe in miracles, and when miracles are perceived to have been performed, they see it as reaffirmation of their beliefs.
Witches perform spells. They believe in spells, and when their spells appear to have worked, they see it as reaffirmation of their beliefs.
People who believe in the Universe, or Nature, thank it for its abundance. They believe that by opening themselves to positive energy, they will receive what they desire; when that happens, they see it as a reaffirmation of their beliefs.
There are two common elements in the three examples given: people and focus.
We know that the human mind is an amazing thing. It is also our only gate to the outside world. Anything that comes to us from without, or originates within, must first pass through the filter of the mind. This is where things get messy, for there is no ultimate filter. There is no answer key, and so we as individuals must pilot ourselves in accordance with how we perceive reality.
For some, there is comfort in imagining a Father above us, caring for our every thought, prayer, wish, obscure family member, and sports team. Remember being a child, carefree, and aware in some vague sense that your parents ruled the world and could take care of everything? That is what makes the monotheistic mainstream so attractive to some. Father knows best, but will also issue a smackdown to those who defy him.
For others, who have seen no evidence of a man in the sky watching over us, comfort comes from natural law. There is solace in nature, in all its beautiful chaotic order, and we as natural beings are inextricably bound up in its potential energy. People who tend towards this spiritual path believe in the exact same thing as the people in the previous paragraph, except that they don't assign it a familial rank or a vengeful demeanor.
And pagans and Wiccans and every other person who believes in anything bigger than the self all tap into the same well. The difference is how you choose to focus.
For example: A friend of mine, who describes himself as a witch, was relating a story about a hideous ex-boyfriend of his, upon whom he regularly cast spells. When I asked him if the spells worked, he explained it this way: "The spells don't do anything themselves. All they are is a way for me to focus my energy. My energy is what does the work."
What a revelation that was. Suddenly it dawned on me that spells, prayers, meditations, and positive thinking are all branches of the same tree. That no matter what you called your beliefs, they indubitably included a way to focus your mind and alter your perception, and that's all it is. All the persecution, all the Crusades, the suicide bombings, the warring factions, the hatred between sects who used to believe the same thing but now don't for whatever reason... it's all simply because we use different words to explain the same things, and some people like these words while others prefer those.
To use another example, I am a songwriter. When my muse comes to me, I filter the inspiration through a folk lens, because that's just what feels right. If I were to draw an analogy between songwriting and religious interpretation, I should therefore want to vanquish anyone who writes pop music (and sometimes I do, but I digress). Since folk music is supreme in my mind, anyone who writes any other kind of music is wrong, even though it's all music.
The trouble is that the closer you get to that Fatherly figure, the less likely his followers are to believe what I'm saying. They don't want to be wrong; indeed, they are some of the most vociferously devout people I know, and I've spent hours talking to a lot of them. But they're not wrong, exactly. They just call the unknown something else.
As soon as we can acknowledge that we're giving different names to the same things, there can be an end to the absurdity that is religious war. You may turn to the Bible for your allegories and moral compass. I turn to how my interactions with others make me feel. It doesn't matter. It's the same thing. And the idea that your way of thinking is the only way, or the best way, or the chosen way, keeps us in the spiritual equivalent of the Middle Ages. The rest of humankind has evolved extensively since then, and we owe it to our fantastic minds to treat spiritual beliefs as what they are: different interpretations of the same story.