Sep 012010

There are a few things I’ve been wondering about.  Either because they make no sense to me or because I’m pondering a connection between two seemingly unrelated things.  I won’t load them all on you at once, I’ll do them one at a time.

Glenn Beck Rally and Modern Heathens:  The Glenn Beck rally, presented in the media as a political event, was nothing of the sort and was never billed that way.  In fact, it was promoted as apolitical and people were told to keep the signs and t-shirts at home, thankyouverymuch.  What it was was a patriotic tent revival fundraiser.  Respect was shown to our nation’s warriors and 5 million dollars were raised to help the families of the fallen.  They were lauded, thanked, and the warrior path was talked about as an honorable one.  The entire audience was there to recommit themselves to a concept of “personal honor” (acting with honor and integrity) and to do so by recommitting yourself to your faith and your God.  To “hasten to retrace our steps” back to the Great American Experiment.

“These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.”  Thomas Jefferson

The rally was a huge success.  Not only was attendance larger than I think anyone expected, the crowd was extremely receptive to the concepts of personal (and community) honor, turning back to God, showing respect for our military and their families, and pride in your community and our country.  This is hitting such a chord and I think it is a mistake to ignore it, as some of our political leaders are doing.

Which brings me to American Heathens.  You may not have noticed it, since Heathens don’t interact as much with other contemporary Pagans, but their numbers are growing.  I don’t have hard figures, heck we don’t have hard figures on anything to do with Paganism, but I’m observing the Heathen community gaining in numbers.  I’m seeing more festivals with higher attendance.  Heathens are getting married to other Heathens and raising their children in the faith.  They join and they seem to stay.  Wicca is no longer the gateway drug on the path to hardcore Asatru, seekers are starting and staying with Odin and Thor.  How soon until Heathens are the majority portion of Pagans?

Part of that, I believe, has to do with the religion itself and shares much with the reasons for success of Glenn Beck’s rally.

More than any other form of Paganism, the warrior path is respected and honored in Heathenry.  Police and military members are not called crypto-fascists and told that their career is incompatible with their religion.  Family members aren’t shamed by co-religionists.  You can be a pacifistic or a Navy Seal and you are welcomed into the Heathen community.

Honor, both your own and how your actions reflect on and impact your community, are important in Heathenry.  Acting with integrity, especially when it is hard and offers you no tangible benefit, is highly regarded.  Taking pride in yourself, your abilities, and your community is not seen as a danger, but reinforces spending your time, money and energy on things that positively benefit all three.

And turning back to the Gods.  Honoring them, praying to them.  Living your life as an offering to them.  Finding value in religious traditions and comfort in knowing that others have tread this path for thousands of years.  Feeling connection to those in the past and those around you through shared rituals.

Looking to the past for community values that you believe in and bringing those back into your life.  A combination of self-reliance and independence while understanding that bonds of family and friendship have to be maintained and nurtured for mutual survival.

All of that is also striking a chord, a very similar chord, amongst those who are or become American Heathens.  Like the persons who attended the Glenn Beck rally, they do so in face of cries of racism, bigotry, and misrepresentations by the Press.  And like the rally, this message is resonating within people’s souls and it is a mistake for contemporary Pagans to ignore this.

I am neither a Glenn Beck listener nor am I a Heathen.  These are just my thoughts from the outside looking in.  From talking to those who went to the rally and those who are Heathen (although not both, I haven’t yet found a Heathen who also went to the Beck rally).  I just see some parallels between the two and I find neither one, as long as they are focused internally, frightening, hateful, or worthy of my scorn.

  19 Responses to “Just wondering….”

  1. Being asked to keep t-shirts and signs at home does not an apolitical event make. Patriotism is inherently political, and when concepts like “honor” come up, it’s all too often unexamined as to which framework of honor one is really talking about. This is to say that, to hold up a vision of “honor” is to hold up a vision of how members of a society ought to behave, and this most definitely has a political dimension to it. Furthermore, while I do absolutely respect those who stand on the wall for me, the strong emotions which surround our perceptions of their work and their sacrifices is, essentially, the raw cloth used to tailor a political message.

    Beck’s rally was political. It may have not endorsed a specific candidate or party and it may have not addressed current political hot topics, but it absolutely was political.

    • Buying food is a political act. All acts are, at some level, political. So you could make that arguement about every single thing anyone ever does, individually or collectively.

      However that does not make this rally a political rally.

      • I’m sorry that you cannot distinguish between a group of people coming together to stimulate a shared sense of societal ideology and buying food. There’s really nothing more to be said if that’s the case.

        • I’m involved in the Local Foods movement and your every food purchase is a political act. You may not intend it to be such, but it most assuredly is.

          My preference for purchasing sustainable foods direct from the farmer *is* an intentionally political act. It’s food democracy and I’m voting with my dollars for something different from our current food supply model, our current (insane) farm subsidies, and food related legislation (there’s a whole lot of anti-small scale food producer/farmer legislation rolling down the pipe).

          Another person’s decision to buy primarily from a grocery store ensures that farmers get a far smaller portion of each dollar spent, supports destructive monoculture, strengthens the influence that large seed and fertilizer corporations enjoy over Congress, and tells our elected officials and corporations that you don’t care about the pollution, chemicals, and inhumane practices that go on in factory farming.

          Tell me that isn’t a political act?

          • I’m not questioning the maxim of “The Personal is Political.” I never have been. What I have said, pure and simple, is that you can have a political event that does not endorse a specific political entity nor that uses the stereotypical trappings of what one might call a “political rally” (e.g. signs and t-shirts). Events can have decidedly political ends to them simply by existing to stimulate in their audience reverence and adherence for the principles which surround a political philosophy. You can see such events at play in the core of a number of vastly successful political movements over time.

            Because of this, I have no trouble calling Beck’s rally political. There were some political values at it which were celebrated, others which were treated as undesirable. The result was not the transmission of a specific political platform but to help galvanize and ensure receptivity in an audience when specific political actions become useful later.

            I’m very glad that you are such a conscious shopper, but anyone who has looked at the history of patriotism would plainly see that a “patriotic tent revival” is inherently political and should be called such.

  2. I really should know this, but for some reason it has slipped my mind completely. Could someone please remind me which branch of the armed services Beck was in?

    • Probably the same branch that my mother, husband, and sister are in – family of service members. Which is what the money raised was to go to – the family left behind (specifically the children, to help them go to college) ;)

  3. Interesting thoughts, Cara… and the parallels you point out are intriguing.

    My only response right now is to re-complicate this notion of “religious = apolitical.” The Glenn Beck rally, to my understanding, was explicitly religious. But in promoting a certain kind of Christianity (which imagines the “Black Robed Regiment” as key figures in the American revolution and thus re-envisions U.S. history as one of theocratic revolution), his religious message is also inherently a political one. Further, I would say that it is difficult today to talk about “warriorship” in the abstract without evoking a certain amount of militarism. And of course militarism and the military itself as an institution of state-sponsored, organized violence is, of course, a political issue.

    So to say that Glenn Beck’s rally was religious and therefore not political is misstating the situation. There are very definite political implications to his version of religion, whether it’s the supremacy of Christianity, or the role of the military as representing a certain kind of spiritual warriorship. “Honor” as a catch-phrase and concept is certainly something that should be supported and valued, definitely. (The question of turning back to God/the Gods depends largely on what this “turning” actually looks like in practice, and if it involves – as I suspect in Beck’s case – a lot more of watching FOX News and believing their version of what it is God wants and expects.)

    But I continue to find it worrying that “honor” has so universally come to be couched in terms of tribalism, militarism and the superiority of one religion, country or God (or group of Gods) over all others. If this is a message that appeals to more and more of the population – then I think we have good reason to worry.

  4. I think I will split the difference on the political/apolitical issue. Yes, it was a religious even. Yes, it had political implications (I honestly think he would have been more successful at avoiding the politicizing by not having Palin there. Not because I do or don’t like her, but she’s a very political person and is recorded as having said the most political things during her speech, something everyone else managed to avoid to my knowledge.) That said, I think the politics of the rally were mostly incidental as it would affect people’s take on politics, but politics weren’t the focus.

    I do watch Glenn Beck when possible. I don’t agree with everything he says, but as a Heathen myself, I admire scrappy individuals and, love, hate, or meh him, one must admit that GB is scrappy. I will also agree with the above article that the Rally did evoke many feelings found in Heathen paths like Asatru (which is what I consider myself). That said, my greatest disappointment in this Restoring honor is that for all its “Interfaith” nature (I still don’t know what faiths were involved beyond Christianity and Judaism) is that he did not invite leaders of the Heathen or Pagan paths. I would have liked to have seen Steve McNallen up there speaking, or any other prominent Heathen. I feel it was a missed opportunity, both for Beck and for the Heathen Community. I feel we could have reached a great number of people there.

    I don’t see “Honor” being couched in terms of tribalism and militarism all that worrying. That has always been the nature of Honor, as well as how it was measured. Now, as for Honor being tied to the Superiority of any God/Gods, I can’t say that I’ve seen that. Even with what I’ve seen of the Rally, it wasn’t advocating the supremacy of the Abrahamic god through the use of Honor, but rather that it was good to be honorable in the eyes of that God. I could be wrong though. The only people I really see the whole Honor/Supremacy of God issue in is the Islamic world/community (which does worry me).

    In all, I have to say I like this article. There is a good grasp of Heathenism, and it’s nice not to see Beck constantly bashed. Even He deserves some respect. I think he’s trying to do the right thing, but I’ll admit he isn’t always doing it how I feel is right. He’s a polarizing figure, but there are somethings we can learn from him, both good and ill.

    • Actually, it is the extremists in every religion (or any other belief system, for that matter0 that hold that honor goes hand in hand with their supremacy. “Upholding the honor of the party” was certainly a primary concern in Communist Russia during the Cold War, right?

      It is being able to step back and not have a “with us or against us” attitude that makes Honor as a concept plausible. Unfortunately, Abrahamic faiths tend to create a very “us or them” attitude in general.

    • “I don’t see “Honor” being couched in terms of tribalism and militarism all that worrying. That has always been the nature of Honor, as well as how it was measured.”

      Now that is absolutely the most horrifying and twisted statement I’ve heard all day.

  5. To my mind “turning back to the Gods[or "God"]” in one’s own life, and trying to steer one’s *entire country and it’s laws* to the particular god of your choice, are two totally separate things. :) The first is perfectly acceptable, the latter is un-Constitutional and infringes on the rights of anyone who doesn’t follow the particular deity in question. And the latter is exactly what this rally was about… one has only to listen to some interviews taken of it’s participants.

    They blame all the ills of the country on a handful of “wedge issues” and hot button topics meant to strike those very chords you mention and keep/put a select group of people in power (aka: people who agree with them or appear to), regardless of how “anti-establishment” some of them claim to be. They oppose the very separation of church and state that ensures everyone’s right to worship or not as they see fit, including their own. But for many of them, it’s only their religion’s rights that matter. For many of them, they are the “True Americans(TM)” and everyone who is different from them – foreigners (especially immigrants, legal OR illegal), people of other religions, homosexuals – is an enemy that must be suppressed or defeated. The message Beck gives them is that this is THEIR country, and that they must “save” (however one chooses to use that word) it from the rest of us.

    While I can see the parallels you make with Heathenry, most Heathens I know have a lot more honor than to assume their ways are the best for everyone and campaign to make everyone else live under them. :)

    I’m not sure if the Jefferson quote you used was a part of the rally or not, but if so, it probably went over the heads of the typical Glenn Beck fan. Jefferson was very opposed to combining church and state, considering the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to be one of his highest accomplishments. Why no rallies championing his slogan of “…it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”? Now *there’s* an American value I’d like to see us live up to! :)

    • You point is interesting, but faces one problem, that Beck (at least to me) isn’t advocating removing the barriers between church and state, but divine and individual. I could be completely wrong, but when I hear him talk about “guiding the laws of the land with god” I’m getting it more as those who are making the laws listen to their divine spirits (I know he would prefer Christians, but I think he’d take close to anything at this point), rather than say a “State Church” guiding the lawmaking of the nation. But I can’t say that I’ve heard everything he says and I could have missed it.

      Just as freedom of religion is a right, so too is letting that religion influence your politics. When it comes to my personal politics, I have more akin to a 9th viking than a republican or a democrat. Have I violated the injunctions against religion and state? My politics are influenced by my ancestors and gods, and most certainly are not a “secular” decision. That said, I don’t let my religion overwhelm my politics, because that’s when the problems start. (As entertaining as it would be to see an Asatru Theocracy, somehow I don’t see that working all that well. We’d meet once every three months and it would be just this side of anarchy. You Mileage May Vary)

      So, no, I don’t think Beck is calling for a Christian Theocracy. Not yet anyways. Things get much worse and we’ll see what he does. But that isn’t to say there aren’t people out there who are advocating a Theocracy. They are monotheists, but they aren’t Christians or Jews.

      • I see what you’re saying but to me it ends up being little more than a “secret handshake” for “elect good Christians who will do our God’s work in the government.” Because surely if they are guided by God, they will “preserve the sanctity of marriage” (:P), or outlaw abortion, or put prayer back into schools, or 10 Commandments monuments at courthouses, etc., etc.

        “That said, I don’t let my religion overwhelm my politics, because that’s when the problems start.”
        Exactly. :) It would be ridiculous for anyone to expect that someone’s religion won’t influence their decision making. But when it comes to those serving in our government, part of the job requires accepting that you are serving your constituents in particular and your nation as a whole as well. Those who hold different beliefs, values, etc. still have equal rights that need to be protected in any law that gets passed, as well as the right to expect no favoritism shown by their government.

        The issue for me is not that he’s encouraging the *creation* of a theocracy, but that he and his most ardent followers believe that we already *have* one to some degree: the typical belief among certain quarters that religious freedom means freedom to practice whatever denomination of Christianity you wish. Or if they’re the really generous type, freedom to practice any religion whatsoever, so long as it doesn’t conflict with Christian beliefs, morals, rules, etc.

        • I agree you have valid points. The idea that we’ve always had a “Christian Theocracy” I think can be traced back through history, where people trying to Revive Christianity sought to prove America was founded on Christian Ideals by Christian Men. That said, I as a Heathen (and I’m sure there are others with me) feel that America was founded on Heathen/Pagan Ideals that can be traced back to pre-Christian times, and that the Founding Fathers, were a mixture of Christians, Deists, Atheists, and other, that were practicing Enlightenment Ideals, which were based on old Pagan philosophies of Rome and Greece, as well as Heathen cultural practices of the Germanic and Celtic peoples.

          I just say that while we shouldn’t trust Beck with open arms, we shouldn’t make an enemy of him any sooner than we have to, if we even have to at all. Perhaps all that really needs to happen is for some good Pagans and Heathens to reach out to him, show we are not a threat, and gain him as an ally.

          We’ve got enough enemies, we don’t need to go making more before they’re even really formed.

  6. The rally was a religious event. It began with prayer, it ended with prayer. Everyone sang “Amazing Grace” together. Glenn Beck gave the keynote speech and called on America to “turn back to God.”

    “Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck declared. “America today begins to turn back to God. For too long, this country has wandered in darkness.”

    Was America closer to “God” before the advances in human equality that resulted from the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and the gay rights movement? Personally, I do believe that America was, indeed, closer to the Christian “God” back then.

  7. Glenn Beck is The Enemy. Not because he is a Republican, or because he has conservative political views or because he says mean things about Obama.

    Glenn Beck is a direct ideological and spiritual descendant of the Inquisitors and Witch Hunters of old. He is a modern day Savonarola.

    Wake the heck up, people.

  8. “Glenn Beck is a direct ideological and spiritual descendant of the Inquisitors and Witch Hunters of old. He is a modern day Savonarola.”

    I’m gonna disagree on this one. I don’t see Beck calling for religious purges or anything like that. If he did, I suspect it would be pretty easy to give him a Heroic Blue Screen of Death (or Villain Realization to put it another way), and make him realize he fell from his “Path.”

    That said, he is certainly laying the ground soil for such a thing. Christians were not terribly violent in the origins of their conversions, up until about the 7th Century, when they encountered Islam. After that, Christianity seemed to have picked up Violent Forced Conversion. They had Encouraged Forced Conversion before, but it never achieved epic levels of violence until it’s Post Islamic Encounter.

    Glenn Beck is not the enemy. Not yet. I think we should keep a close eye on him, but not a hostile one. To be honest, if anyone out of that circle is gonna start a Witch Hunt, I suspect Palin. The thing we need to watch is if this “Return to God” movement goes from peaceful as it is now, to militant, primarily due to the incursions of Islam here in the US and how threatened the Christians feel by it.

    But those are just my thoughts.

    • NorseAlchemist: “Christians were not terribly violent in the origins of their conversions, up until about the 7th Century, when they encountered Islam. After that, Christianity seemed to have picked up Violent Forced Conversion.”

      The noted historian Ramsay MacMullen wrote a book on the process of Christianization in the Roman world from the 4th through the 8th century. The first chapter of that book is titled “Persecution”, and MacMullen provides the following brief, but chilling, summary of that chapters contents:

      “describing the determination of the Christian leadership to extirpate all religious alternatives, expressed in the silencing of pagan sources and, beyond that, in the suppression of pagan acts and practices, with increasing harshness and machinery of enforcement.”

      From: “Christianity and paganism in the fourth to eighth centuries.”

      One of the reasons why someone like Beck really should be taken seriously is because the violent tendencies in Christianity are deep and systemic. Prior to becoming the favored religion of the Roman state under Constantine (starting in 312), Christianity was just one cult among a great many — and a socially marginal and widely despised cult at that. All of Christianity’s real “success” has been due to use of coercion, always backed by violence, to force people to convert and to keep them in line generation after generation after such conversion has taken place.