Q of the Week: Cliches, Catch-Phrases and Slogans

A very merry and magical Midsummer to all of you!
Yesterday was drizzly and miserable here in Elora (so I feel less bad about missing WiccanFest) but today is gloriously shiny and clear and warm and wonderful. I really ought to be outside, beating the bounds in my forest instead of sitting inside, blogging. But here’s a Q of the Week, for your consideration, after you return from beating the bounds in your own landscapes, of course.

Well June was Pagan Values Blogging Month, and as mentioned before I found myself a little disappointed by a lot of what I read. In her own contribution to the Pagan Values Blogging Month, Canadian Hedge Witch summed up exactly what I found so unsatisfying about so much of it:

The first thing I noticed reading all these blog posts, is a plethora of catch phrases and key words. Pagan values as pop culture?

Read the whole blog post here.

It seemed to me too that a lot of people’s blog posts about values was little more than a repetition of various cliches.

Good readers, please don’t get me wrong: I know and understand the value and the power of proverbs. I published 120 pagan wisdom-teachings in my fourth book, the result of an international folklore survey I conducted, along with philosophical commentary for most of them. Someone who offers advice using a traditional proverb brings to bear the whole power of his or her culture. And sometimes a cliche has its origins in an important insight. But that isn’t true all the time. In fact it can often be counter-productive, or even patronising and demeaning, to offer a cliche to someone who has experienced a serious upheval in his or her life.

For example: an article in last week’s Glob and Mule discusses the problems that can arise when offering a pop-culture cliche to someone who has just lost his job. It reads, in part:

Clichés – as frowned upon as they are – have become such fixtures in our everyday chatter that we fire them off without thinking. And that’s a problem when it comes to serious matters such as unemployment, career experts say. Something else may indeed “come down the pipe,” as job hunters hear from well-meaning friends and family, but such stock reassurances are often unhelpful and misguided, and, frankly, seem like a snub.

Read the whole article here.

Might this be explained by a desire to avoid facing real problems? If someone has a serious dilemma, or a serious emotional and spiritual conflict, might the cliche reply be a way for people to protect themselves from addressing the seriousness of the problem? Might it even be the case that the use of superficial catch-phrases is a sign of a superficial spirituality? As I pose these questions, let it be understood that I’m not speaking of any particular path or tradition. In fact I started thinking about this question after reading a passage from D. J. Hall, “Confessing the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context“, which I read on much-ado‘s LJ. Here’s a quote:

We are trying to answer all of our problems without exposing ourselves to them as real problems. There is not one crisis on our horizon — whether this means vast social problems such as poverty, unemployment, and racism or intensely personal problems such as the search for meaning, vocation, or personal integrity — that can be resolved unless we are prepared to go much further into the depths of the question than we are apparently able or willing to do… In other words, our optimism is defensive, and what it seeks to defend us from is truth.

A longer quote can be found here.

Well, friends, what do you think? Has religion and spirituality grown too superficial? Do we prefer to take an easy, sunny, uncontentious path, in order to avoid having to think seriously and deeply about things, and avoid facing serious and deep problems? I know there can be something profound in the thought that “we are children of the Goddess” (an idea which also appears in the Bible: see Romans 8:16 for instance) But I’m tired of hearing people tell me that when I describe certain problems in my life.

Or, are there any pop-culture cliches and catch-phrases which you think really are philosophically powerful, and are not given their proper due? Which ones? And can you explain what they really mean, without falling back on more cliches?

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