Feb 112010

In thinking about how much my religious views influence my political views, I’ve found that its impact is limited, yet profound. My views on abortion, which political Party I support, campaign finance reform, or just about any other issue that you could name are not dictated by any teachings within Hellenion or Hellenismos. What has been influenced, and to a high degree, is how I approach political discourse.

Hellenion is a religious organization dedicated to the revival and practice of Hellenic polytheism, using a reconstructionist perspective, which includes both an emphasis on historical precedent and respect for personal spiritual inspiration. We are orthopraxic. Our common bond is through the forms of our worship which allows a wide range of theological and philosophical beliefs.

If you are or know someone who is part of a reconstructed or revived religion, I’m sure you have noticed the tendency we have to debate endlessly about matters large and small. Our obsession with separating historical facts and data from personal opinion or experience. At times it can be maddening, this endless stream of words on even the most trivial of matters. Why meditate when you can talk? And talk. And talk.

All that talk and debate and citing of sources can have a significant upside. The insistence on clearly separating data from opinion encourages you to view data dispassionately and be more open to taking in new information. Citing sources pushes you to research carefully and to grant less weight to purely emotional arguments. Yet opinions, personal experience, and Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) are given respectful consideration even when they stand in contrast to your own. Disagree as passionately as you want, but keep it civil. Even though I’m almost 40, I am just a young Padawan in this.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a different and more common way of framing opposing views. The line of reasoning goes something like this: I am an ethical, sane, and rational person. I have thought deeply about this topic. If others are also ethical, sane, and rational and take the time to think deeply about this issue, soon they will agree with me. There may be some small divisions, but not many. If the divisions are large or numerous, it is a sign that the other side is unethical, self-interested, and illogical or they have not given this matter proper consideration. After all, if both sides are motivated by the greater good, have researched the issue carefully, and have thought it through – how much divergence can there possibly be?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. That’s ok. In fact, it’s good. Ethical, sane, rational people can look at the exact same information and come to different conclusions. When there’s a difference of opinion within Hellenion, I’m always amazed how receptive they are. They treat it as a strength. It isn’t seen as a threat to the group’s unity or harmony because the group is not bound by belief, but shared practice. So why get pissy if we don’t agree on every little belief as long as we mostly agree on the practice? Just as I was writing this blog entry, this message was sent as a reply from one Hellenion member to another, “I always enjoy discussing these topics with you. You always make me think deeper, so I hope you always disagree with me!” We have our share of blow ups like any group of humans, but that kind of exchange is typical.

Carrying that over to politics, I think that most people and political Parties want the same outcome; a happy, healthy, open and caring populace. Just because we disagree on how to accomplish that outcome, why should we denounce one another as evil and hateful? Our unity and harmony should derive from the goal, not the method. Many paths can lead to the same destination.

My political path is usually termed “Conservative” and that makes me a minority within a minority. Sometimes an unwelcome minority. Well meaning friends have asked me, “I know you are a kind person, so help me to understand how you could be one of them?” Others, after finding out a person is politically Conservative, react with dismayed surprise, fear, or contempt. This experience is by no means universal, but it’s not unique, either. While most are enjoying that wonderfully freeing feeling of “coming home” at Pagan festivals, many Conservative Pagans rarely have that feeling. They have fewer people they can be truly “out” around. Which is disappointing since Pagans are widely and justly known for their cheerful and tolerant acceptance of diversity.

I am so pleased that Jason Pitzl-Waters created this blog project and took care to include voices from all over the political spectrum. The most important of those voices, though, are yours and I wish for you to feel welcome here. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, if we happen to disagree, we can to say to one another, “I always enjoy discussing these topics with you. You always make me think deeper, so I hope you always disagree with me!”

 Posted by at 1:05 pm

  18 Responses to “Orthopraxic Politics”

  1. i agree with this, and also love this about hellenion.
    :) khairete

  2. Outstanding article. I pride myself on being a registered Independent. I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal and urge more efficiency in government.
    Blessed Be~

    • Same here – and I think that we need to focus more on, “Ok, so we disagree on this particular issue – what do we agree on? And let’s work from there.” After all, E Pluribus Unum…

      Sadly, there are fewer and fewer Senators or Congresspeople willing to do this sort of compromise without pork barrel amendments and other associated nonsense.

      And I know what you mean, I have gotten quite a few dirty looks for daring to hold a conservative opinion – sad, for groups who are generally known to be open and tolerant.

  3. Outstanding article! Made me sad to think that there were pagans who might not feel comfortable in a big group of other pagans. I think I can disagree without being disagreeable, my mother taught us being respectful was good manners.

    • I’m a person who is very far from feeling comfortable in any big group of other pagans, and I’m not a conservative. Actually, I dislike crowds of any kind, gathered for any purpose. There are few feelings worse than being surrounded by people supposedly of like mind to oneself, and finding that you are still totally alone.

  4. Excellent post! :)

    I often get those who think that because I’m a Recon, I “must” also be a Conservative. (I consider myself an Independent Liberal because politicians from both parties annoy me about equally. LOL) Or outside of Pagan circles, those who think that just because I am “religious,” that my religion “must” have a firm stance one way or the other on political issues. But that’s the beauty of it: we’re united in our gods and the ways we honor them, but we are free to reason out our own particular beliefs for ourselves.

    I hate the stereotypes that are so freely thrown around when it comes to politics. “All Liberals are (insert something you don’t like here)!” or “All Conservatives are (insert something you don’t like here)!” You can’t have a conversation or any kind of meaningful dialogue that way! If you start out assuming you’re right and everyone else is already wrong, there where is the room for debate, or compromise, or even just co-existence?

    I think more people need to realize that it’s a big country (or even a big world, as the case may be), and that everyone’s rights need to be respected. In the US, we don’t actually have a “pure” democracy, or mob rule. The majority is only supposed to get it’s way so long as the rights of the minority are protected. In politics as in life, one size does not fit all. If we don’t work together and find some sort of common, nothing gets done. Or at least nothing that will respect the rights and freedoms of all.

    • “we’re united in our gods and the ways we honor them, but we are free to reason out our own particular beliefs for ourselves.”

      I could have edited my entire post down to that one sentence.

  5. I appreciate this post representing a reconstructionist tradition and all that practicing such a tradition entails. I agree that ‘orthopraxy’ is a term which ought to enter into our identities and discourses more, for it is our practices which truly identify us and define our ethics and values and worldviews, and in turn, our practices stem from these things. And I absolutely love this quote: “I always enjoy discussing these topics with you. You always make me think deeper, so I hope you always disagree with me!” I very much agree with the spirit of this!

  6. I’ve known other conservative Pagans so I’m not entirely surprised when I run across them these days. I think Paganism supports a wide variety of perspectives, both religious and political, and like you, I’m glad Jason included conservative voices.in this project. We all need to be represented and I look forward to our discussions.

  7. I’m right of center, but I enjoy hearing all sides. As long as they aren’t making unfounded comments on someone’s intellect or using mean stereotypes.

    I can watch Jon Stewart and Bill Oreilly. Fair criticism helps us reflect on our own assumptions of truth.

    The ecclectic collection of this blog is a real draw for me.

  8. Thanks for sharing. We mustn’t be hanging out in the same places because I know tons of conservative pagans (especially Hellenists). It’s been a good thing because Hellenism has forced me to have lots of conservative friends I probably wouldn’t have otherwise met.

    • Like I said, the experience is by no means universal, but also not unique. I think that when you hang out with most recons of some type (like Hellenists) you are going to meet more moderate and conservative Pagans. They are still usually in the minority, just not such a minority. When you go out into the wider Pagan community, conservatives seem to be a lesser percentage. I hang out on-line with Hellenics (mostly) and IRL with Wiccans and Wicca-influenced Contemporary Pagans.

      Which makes me wonder – (generalization to follow) are Recons more open to various political views and therefor they are a bit more diverse that way? Or do the paths that use reconstructism attract more conservative leaning persons which then makes the atmosphere more open to that sort of view? Or are those two questions framed wrong?

      • Ah, OK, I can see why you are in liberal company, then. If I were hanging out literally with local pagans, it would be a liberal fest (I live in San Francisco and I am liberal myself). But since I only “hang out” figuratively on line and almost exclusively with Hellenists and Nova Romans, then I tend to “meet” lots of conservatives and libertarians. Which again, is a good thing. I am off today to Panteacon in San Jose, that will more likely be a liberal crowd (though I don’t foresee talking politics with anyone!)

  9. Isn’t one of the biggest problems with the whole “conservative/liberal” thing that the definitions of those terms have stretched or skewed so much in the last several years? I hear people using either term to load up rhetoric and manipulative propaganda as much as I hear them use them in an attempt to honestly and accurately define a position. People who describe themselves as one or the other are looking at others who assign themselves the same label, and saying “you’re too far this way or that; you ain’t one of us”. My use of the term “uberconservative” and equivalents are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I feel it’s necessary to call attention to the reality of a distinction.

  10. “I think that most people and political Parties want the same outcome; a happy, healthy, open and caring populace.”

    Unfortunately, I have to disagree. This mayhaps had been the desire at one point, but at this point it seems to me that both parties want to convert the US into their vision of the proper state (a Religious Right and a Socialist Left, respectively), and then automagically the populace will, of course, become ‘happy, healthy and caring.’ They have turned their ideas and party planks into shibboleths instead of guidelines and become more entrenched in defending them against attacks from the opposite extreme instead of debating what is best for the people.

    In short, I believe both the Democratic and Republican parties (and their politicians) have inverted their (ordered) list of priorities to consider from “(1) country, (2) constituents, (3) party” to “(1) party, (2) constituents, (3) country”.

  11. I am an ethical, sane, and rational person. I have thought deeply about this topic. If others are also ethical, sane, and rational and take the time to think deeply about this issue, soon they will agree with me.

    I struggle with this in many arenas, thank you for putting it so concisely! I’m very happy that Pagan+Politics has been created and that there is a pagan conservative voice in the charter members. My religious, political, and ethical beliefs inform one another—something which I presume is common—but it is often hard to understand someone who is [one of the things that I self-identify as] but not [another of the things that I self-identify as]. I look forward to your perspective on paganism and politics!