This morning brought a nice bit of news from the BBC on the religion front:
Druidry is to become the first pagan practice to be given official recognition as a religion.
The Charity Commission has accepted that druids' worship of natural spirits could be seen as religious activity.
The Druid Network's charitable status entitles it to tax breaks, but the organisation says it does not earn enough to benefit from this.
The commission says the network's work in promoting druidry as a religion is in the public interest.
As I see it, the only sad thing about this story is that the Druids apparently do not have enough revenue to warrant a tax break; but perhaps that will change with their new “official recognition.”
Ironically, the Druids were less interested in having their faith legitimized than they were in staying on the right side of the law:
Phil Ryder, chairman of the trustees of the Druid Network told the BBC: "It's nice to have that official recognition. It's not why we applied originally.
"We applied because we were legally obliged to do so."
He said the organisation represented around 350 people who had paid £10 each for membership but referred to a BBC Inside Out investigation from 2003 which suggested that up to 10,000 people described themselves as druids.
He added: "You have to apply [for charitable status] if you're an organisation that is taking money off people because the Inland Revenue want to know what you're doing with it."
This makes for rather refreshing reading in contrast to any number of evangelical sects (many of which engage “rich media” unto an extreme, not only in communication but also in architecture), whose mission has less to do with separating the sheep from the goats than with fleecing the flock.
There is also a certain amount of irony in my own interest in this story, writing as an atheist for whom “natural spirits” are no more appealing than the embodied deities of other faiths. However, this happens to be a week when I was writing about Charles Ives over on Examiner.com and, more specifically, one of those Ives compositions that cannot really be appreciated without a good hymnal (if not several of them) by your side. I may not take the words of these hymns particularly seriously (“There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins”? That one shows up in the third symphony, among other places.); but the music never fails to touch at least one sentimental nerve, perhaps because there is a certain genuineness in its naïveté. I see the same sort of genuineness in the photograph accompanying the BBC story, showing a bunch of these Druids in full regalia standing within the Stonehenge enclosure. There is no reason to assume any authenticity in their outfits, but these are people who do no harm and are not committed to raising massive amounts of money to build the next mega-church. As far as I am concerned, they are more worthy of legal recognition than any prevailing “church militant!”