The sun has not yet breached the mist shrouded horizon when, in the distance, the trumpets blare. As the echoes fade, there is a last moment of silence before the steady throb of marching feet rises, trembling from the Earth below.
The troops are massing beneath their tattered flags; the stink of war is in the air, and with the light of dawn, the battlefield is revealed before us.
So the Culture-Wars are before us.
Or perhaps we are already fighting them.
Some people certainly seem to think we are.
Bill Nye “The Science Guy” debates Ken “Young Earth Creation” Ham, and the media explodes with commentary about who won in the desperate struggle of Science against Religion.
The Kansas House of Representatives decides to dust off some old Jim Crow laws and use them against the homosexual population while a Texas Judge presides over the unions of two transgendered couples (did Rick Perry’s head explode, I wonder).
And every day it seems like the opinions on social media become more and more extreme and polarized.
Maybe we really are at war.
If it is a war, I find myself wondering, like many soldiers before me, “is it the right one?”
I am no fan of those who would encode Christian dogma into the law of the land. Any attempt to so corrupt the ‘separation of church and state’ must, I believe, be opposed on every available front: Judicial, Political, and Educational.
As a devotee of a minority religious belief, it would be suicidal for me to act otherwise.
Yet, I must confess, that I am unsure of our traditional allies in this supposed conflict.
With only a few soldiers willing to muster beneath our own tattered flags, we Pagans have, for many long years now, thrown in our lot with the atheists and the secular humanists (is there a difference, I’ve been told there was but have never observed it). We have done so because these groups are able to field the troops and secure the resources necessary for a protracted battle against the religious majority.
And while we have managed to advance our cause, the reality is that this relationship has been a marriage of convenience at best, and at it’s worst, just another case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’
But are they our friends?
Do they act like it?
Over the years I have joined more debates between Monotheists and Atheists than I could safely count. The pattern of these conversations has almost always been the same. I begin by supporting the viewpoints of my humanists friends against the unyielding dogma of their Christian opponents. Eventually, as the debate proceeds, I attempt to open the discussion somewhat, to introduce the very basic idea that religion and spirituality are not defined by the Abrahamic faiths and that there is room for blended, less hard and fast, viewpoints. And just that quickly, I have joined the ranks of the ignorant and the deluded, suffering the ridicule of the superior humanists.
The first few times it happened I was surprised and disappointed.
Now, I’ve come to expect it.
And coming at these discussions, from a perspective outside both groups, I have come to a particular realization: there are no sides in this war.
In the beginning, I thought of these discussions, as their participants do, as existing on a single axis. Imagine a grand tug-of-war between two opposing viewpoints, each trying to pull the rope of opinion further and further in their preferred direction.
But the reality is something far different.
These days, when I happen upon a debate between atheists and monotheists, what I see when I close my eyes, is a single person arguing with their own image in a mirror.
They are the same. They are exactly the same.
They use the same arguments, exhibit the same blind arrogance and disdain for their rivals, and get equally pissed when you point this out to them.
The simple truth is, both groups have chosen a filter through which they prefer to observe the universe.
For the Christian, that filter is the Bible.
For the Atheist, it is the Scientific Method.
They are both filters, just sets of specially treated lenses that provide a false color image of the world around us.
The Monotheist sees a world that shows her only that which supports her particular view of the universe. She may be aware that there are other things there, hidden in the artificially induced shadows, but her faith compels her to keep her filters firmly in place.
The Atheist, on the other hand, sees only that which is testable or may be modeled and extrapolated through the analysis of various data. Anything that falls outside that particular spectra of experience, is eliminated as unworthy of consideration.
Both filters have their usefulness, I suppose, but neither represents truth.
Truth, I believe, may only be observed by eyes open and unfiltered. When you strip away all the artificial filters, the full spectrum of reality, the colors of faith, science, intuition, emotion, imagination, spirit and many more besides, become visible in all their glory. If you want to understand the universe you have to look at not only the primary colors, but at the subtle shades which are created where they blend.
No, my friends, I grow tired of your Culture-War and your endless, one-sided arguments.
I shall continue to fight for my own rights and beliefs, and for all those who find themselves in the spiritual and social minority, but I will not call another man blind while shading my own eyes to the world around me. I will ally myself with those who I feel I can trust, those who will have no cause to turn on me when I express a belief that differs from their own.
I suspect it will be a lonely fight, and yet I believe that we few polytheists have a distinct advantage. Polytheism, at its very core, is a belief-system rooted in our understanding of ‘truth’ as expressed in a dynamic multiplicity of forms.
In a world where the primary options (if they can even be called such) appear to be either stolid reasoning or intractable dogma, I can only believe that our numbers will continue to grow. I envision a world where both ‘sides’ of the Culture-War lose through attrition as the disillusioned cast off their blinders in favor of a shared reality.
One can hope, yes?