We’ve seen it all before, those of us who have been around long enough. Yet another controversy rocks the Pagan Community, yet more outcry from those who feel oppressed and slighted, and yet more exhortations to divorce ourselves into separate and unrelated enclaves and be done with the misguided idea of a “community” entirely.
Yep, been there – done that – own the t-shirt.
I think I’ve got an entire closet of ‘em stashed away by now.
If the Pagan Community is good at anything it’s building mountains out of mole hills.
And arguing. Sometimes it seems we do nothing but.
We try to present a united front to the outside world, but I think we do so more for our own conceit, rather than any illusion we may have that those around us are fooled. We are like an old married couple, circling each other eternally, picking at the same emotional wounds for years on end, just waiting for the next round of shouting to begin.
Today we bicker about “Pop-Culture Paganism” and tomorrow we will undoubtedly find a new source for our drama and infighting. It makes little difference, because it’s all just window dressing for the same damn arguments we’ve been having for years.
What is the nature of deity?
What is the nature of our relationship to deity?
Tradition vs. Inspiration.
Religion vs. Spirituality.
Usually, I try to stay out of these debates, knowing as I do, from wrenching experience, that they seldom lead anywhere productive. Sometimes however, the temptation is too great to ignore. “Superheroes as objects of worship you say?” Yeah, I’m a hard-polytheist and a comic-book nerd, like I could help but weigh in on THAT topic!
I knew that what I wrote would not be popular with many people because I dared to say outright that I think certain beliefs are “wrong”. I didn’t couch it in the tired old, “while that may be right for you, it’s not right for me,” which while polite is also meaningless.
Plain speaking can get you in trouble pretty quickly in this community, but I’ve never been one for equivocation. So I was not in the least surprised to find my opinion being mocked (however gently) by a fellow blogger on a Pagan forum.
Which brings me to another of the things we like to do: we talk around each other. He talks to people that think like he does and she talks to people who think like she does and be both get the friendly nodding and clapping that tells us that ours was the winning argument. Congratulations: We have a failure to communicate. Well done!
So, having come this far, let’s break it down, just one more time.
Help! Help! I’m being Repressed!
One side of the argument goes like this: All beliefs are valid and beautiful except for the belief that not all beliefs are valid and beautiful.
Take a second if you need to, and read it through again.
As logical arguments go, it’s right up there with: There is only one God because the Bible says so and the Bible is infallible because it is the word of God. It’s 95% pure refined hypocrisy cut with just a dash sanctimony, and it’s the go-to drug of those who choose to cast themselves both as “rebel against orthodoxy” and “victim of oppression”.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of, “What gives ‘X’ the right to say my beliefs are wrong?”.
The question I’m asking in response is “Why do you need ‘X’ to validate your beliefs?”.
Why this need for a community where everyone agrees, or at least says that they agree while giving you the big fake-smile?
We can’t all agree. Indeed, to believe in anything at all, you must do so at the expense of literally millions (perhaps billions) who have, do and will believe differently. If you don’t believe in anything strongly enough for someone else to be wrong…,
…I can’t even imagine how you function in the day-to-day world.
And then there are the Surrenderists.
On the other side of the argument are those who expend great amounts of energy and time explaining to anyone who will listen how these arguments prove that we shouldn’t be part of the Pagan Community at all. Mind you, they have been explaining this for no less than twenty years (by my personal count). One would think, in that amount of time, with that much determination, the divorce would be final by now. Instead, I don’t think we have even filed the preliminary paperwork.
But still we make all the angry noises. We stomp around the house in a fury and shout about how we’ve stopped calling ourselves “Pagans” and will call ourselves “Polytheists” until someone decides that word means something that we don’t like.
It seems strange to me that it is those who, like me, yearn to see temples and communities of worshippers honoring the gods, are the first ones to give up and retire to their isolated little enclaves. We come from warrior cultures but we do nothing but capitulate and give up ground.
Perhaps what we need is fewer people grousing about what we call ourselves and more who are willing push back against the tide.
“We’ve made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here!”
— Jean-Luc Picard (future Pop-Culture hero figure)
For years I have watched the Pagan Community twist itself into knots through pointless arguing and sloppy communication. I have often wondered if there was any point to the whole exercise, if maybe it wouldn’t really be better to just be done with it and go our separate ways.
And then I think about the people who live across the street from me…,
I call them the “snooty neighbors”. They live in the big nice house across the street and I think they have spoken maybe ten words to me in as many years. I see them occasionally, standing on their porch, surveying the weekly efforts of their hired yard service. I lift my hand in greeting, but only a cursory wave comes in return. They don’t really care for me, I can tell. Maybe they think that I let my grass grow a little too high before I mow it. Or perhaps it’s that my house could use a new coat of paint.
Then there is the older woman who lives in the next house down from me. She is a very pleasant sort and we chat from time to time about the little things that neighbors do to pass the time. She works at a church and believes that God chose this country to lead the world by Christian values and that President Obama is determined to steal all of our freedoms from us.
Sometimes we talk about the neighbors a few houses down. They are very friendly folks who always wave at me as I drive by. We have even exchanged pleasantries on a few occasions and I’ll sometimes see them out in their yard, watching their children peddle around the street on their bicycles. Beyond that, I don’t really know much about them, except that every so often (and I have not precisely worked out the schedule yet), they have loud parties with live Tejano music that persist into the wee hours of the morning.
I can only wonder what the “snooty neighbors” think about accordion music after midnight.
The guy at the end of the block is concerned about the welfare of the various stray cats which roam the neighborhood. He walks the street twice a day, morning and evening, leaving little piles of kibble on the curb in front of each house. Unfortunately, this means that some of the feistier neighborhood strays are more likely to come into my yard, troubling my own cat. It’s something I’ve been meaning to talk with him about.
We are all very different people, with our own likes and dislikes, our own beliefs, political ideologies and cultural backgrounds. We live in the same general area but we spend only a fraction of our time together, if any at all. And yet, despite all those differences, we have some shared experiences and commonalities as well. What’s more, after watching the events of the last few weeks in Moore, Oklahoma, I am absolutely certain that, should some disaster strike, I could count on every one of them to help dig through the rubble.
We are a community, not a tribe. We do not need to think, believe, and act as a unit for this to be true. As upset as I may become over late night parties, or trash blowing onto my lawn, I’m not about to shut my doors like some kind of recluse and pretend that the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t exist.
We all just need to do a better job of talking to each other.
We’re pretty dysfunctional as a community, but we are still neighbors.