What Passes for Normal

“We look just like you.”

I’ve probably read this phrase a thousand times over the years.  I’ve seen it used by my fellow Pagans in on-line forums and blogs, chat-rooms and letters to the editor.  To my regret, I have even used it a few times myself.

It’s one of the things we typically say to mollify the more apprehensive Christians we come into contact with.  The notion here is to dissuade them of the stereotypes most often attached to Paganism by its less informed critics.

I usually see these points grouped as follows:

“We don’t worship the devil.”
“We don’t sacrifice babies.”
“We dress and act just like you do.”

Well folks, I think it’s high time we gave it a rest.  While repeating them often enough may convince a scant few that we mean them no harm, these arguments almost certainly do more harm than they do good.

Considering the first two points (devil worship and baby killings): if we actually have to explain that we do not do these things, we are unlikely to make any headway in our appeals.  Looking at it from the opposing perspective, it’s not as if anyone guilty of ritual infanticide would be incapable of lying about it.

“Excuse me, are you drenched in the blood of the innocent?”
“Golly, I was hoping you wouldn’t notice, but now that you mention it…,”

If someone really thinks we are capable of this sort of thing, paltry facts and logic are unlikely to convince them otherwise.  The only cure for that level of zealous delusion is time and exposure.  We should move on to more productive conversations and let them figure it out for themselves.

While the first two points are just silly and serve as little more than distractions from productive discourse, the third point is another matter entirely.  The third point is dangerous, both to ourselves and to others.

In its long form it sounds something like this, “You shouldn’t think of us as strange or scary, after all we look just like you.”

And while this may seem like a fine argument on the surface, it is vital that we carefully consider what it is that we are actually saying when we repeat this mantra.

“Those who look different are weird and frightening but you shouldn’t worry about us because we look like you.”

When we use this line of reasoning to justify our existence to the religious majority we buy into their belief that they alone are the meter against which others must be judged.  Follow that line of reasoning to its natural conclusion and it leads us here…,

August 5th, 2012 – Sikh Temple Shooting

…and here.

October 2nd, 2006 – Amish Schoolhouse Shooting

These are the seeds we sow when we throw everyone who doesn’t belong to the Jeans & T-Shirt crowd under the bus, claiming that we’re okay because we are largely indistinguishable from Christians in a crowd.

The Sikhs, Amish, Rastafarians and many other minority faiths don’t have a “broom closet” to hide in.  They are out there in the public view suffering more discrimination and violence than most of us in the Pagan community would care to think about.  And while we give lip service to fighting the good fight for all minority faiths against an intolerant society, we leave them hanging out there every time we make the “we look like you” argument.

It needs to stop.

We need to stop defining ourselves by the criteria of the majority faith.  How we look on the surface has little to do with who we are and what we stand for.  We need to start defining ourselves to the outside world by explaining how we are different instead of trying to push some superficial commonality.

We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t expect to win rights and freedoms for those who think and act differently while trying to convince the religious bullies of the world that we are enough like them to be left alone.

Passing for “normal” does not make us safe or secure.

It keeps us weak and vulnerable and alone.


Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Religion

7 responses to “What Passes for Normal

  1. Good post. I’m getting tired of not only the “We’re just like you!” arguments made to people who don’t like us, but also the arguments made within paganism — that we should try to normalize ourselves for the sake of people in majority faiths.

    It’s basically a “let’s throw others under the bus to save our own skins” attitude, which I can never get behind.

  2. Wow, I have never thought of it that way. Very good post and you hit the head in the nail with the sikh and amish.

  3. The Black Rose

    Well said!

    I have long feared the same thing for the gay community. When all the couples who want the lavender picket fence have married and assimilated, what happens to the rest of us?

  4. thalassa

    I don’t really see the “we are like you” argument that way…I see it more as a reminder that we are all just people. We don’t need to “normalize” ourselves–we are already “normal” (whatever the heck that means), But I do think that there is a valid purpose in reminding people that we are like them (and reminding those same people that persons of other minority faiths are like them)–we are mothers and fathers and teachers and veterans and doctors and students, we love, we laugh, we cry, we hurt. We aren’t some “Other”, we are just people with different spiritual and religious beliefs.

    I do think the Satanism-denial business is sort of silly–it makes it look like too much protest. There are some good posts from HecateDemeter on framing discussions about Paganism that talk about this.

    • “…we are mothers and fathers and teachers and veterans and doctors and students, we love, we laugh, we cry, we hurt…”

      Of course we are and certainly we can make those arguments, but I do think we need to be careful that the don’t make them at the expense of others. I also think we shouldn’t be so quick to ignore the “other” that we represent. I’ve been reading a lot of folks lately saying that “spells are like prayers.” Well, no they are not. Prayers are like prayers (we supplicate the divine just as they do, if only with more respondents). Spells are workings of OUR will. Anyone blurring the line between the two is either ignorant on the topic or being deceptive in hopes of better fitting in with the cool kids. Sacrificing what we are for the sake of not being singled out by the majority wins us nothing.

  5. Pingback: Pagan Blog Project: “Queering Paganism,” or Let Your Freak Flag Fly | Innocence and Immanence

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