Oct 032010

Over at the Wild Hunt, Jason Pitzl-Waters writes about the recent violence and bullying directed towards young people in the GLBT community, and the culture of suicide and self-hate tolerated and perpetuated by many mainstream faiths often in subtle, unnoticed or unacknowledged ways.

In the end, it comes down to theology. Not, as Sanders points out, the easily defeated cartoon hatred of Westboro, but the more subtle belief systems that make even “accepted” GLBTQ individuals the “other”. A theology that, even if unspoken, privileges a certain kind of person over another. [...] While defenders of these theologies talk of tradition and incremental change, more die, and are harassed, every day. It is for this reason, among many others, that I think we not only have to reassure kids that “it gets better”, but we also have to reject theologies that empower hatreds of this kind and replace them with something else.

His point is well-taken, as is his observation that the Pagan movement is just one of many alternatives striving to offer that “something else,” engaged in the difficult work of challenging and dismantling traditions of systemic intolerance. The modern spiritual traditions that make up modern Paganism have drawn for many decades from the political and philosophical streams of feminism, environmentalism, civil rights, pacifism and social activism. All these movements seek, in different ways, to expand the conversation and complicate our understanding of “other” and “self,” demanding that we bring our attention and our care not only to those “like us” but to those we might otherwise overlook, dismiss or ignore.

However, I think it is a mistake to view this work as solely concerned with social hierarchy and the mechanisms of domination within the mainstream. As feminist philosophy notes, “The personal is political.” While we quite rightly find sympathy and solidarity with those who are marginalized or oppressed by the mainstream culture of today, I find myself disturbed by the frequency of arguments that declare: “We as Pagans should care about this cause because we, like the GLBT community [or other minority group], are also a minority and so what happens to them could happen to us.” Such an argument recognizes, sure enough, the themes of intolerance and hatred in the mainstream that unite us as a religious minority with other marginalized communities (whether they be racial, ethnic or sexual-preference minorities, women, the lower class and impoverished, or the other animals, plants and ecosystems who share this planet with us). Yet such reasoning encourages us to continue to care for and sympathize only with others “like us” — even if they are like us primarily in their socially-defined otherness. It implies that our responsibility to concern ourselves with the problems of the marginalized lasts only as long as we ourselves feel the threat of that marginalization. The ethic of privilege remains unchallenged; we’ve merely succeeded in exchanging one privileged group (the mainstream or majority, conceived as the Western (Christian) white male) for another.

The real challenge, I believe, is to continue to engage in social movements that reject and dismantle the hierarchical, patriarchal and hegemonic systems that give rise to intolerance and hatred towards “the Other,” while at the same time bringing this challenge home to ourselves in a very personal way. It is not enough to identify and care for those groups whom society has ignored, dismissed or overlooked. As individuals, we also have a responsibility to examine our own social and interpersonal relationships, in order to discover those communities and individuals that we ourselves are inclined to dismiss or marginalize.

This may be a difficult task for some Pagans to embrace. In more than a few modern Pagan traditions, an emphasis on local community and a reverence for the kindred and ancestors can too easily give way to a kind of tribalism that defines concepts such as honor and courage in terms of defense against the threat of “outsiders,” or asserts that care for “my” family and “my” in-group takes precedence over more universal social concerns. The joyful celebration of diversity can too quickly devolve into a rejection of anything that connects us or seems to obligate us to our fellow human beings — especially if those fellow human beings come from the “Judeo-Christian” mainstream.

Still, the traditions of modern Paganism also offer a unique opportunity to contribute meaningfully to this continuing conversation about acceptance and otherness. Unlike many social movements of today, the Pagan movement — precisely because it is a spiritual movement — speaks to deeply personal and intimate aspects of our relationships with the world and with each other. From a Pagan perspective, we can take this commitment to healthy community and thriving diversity not only as a socio-political philosophy but as a personal, spiritual imperative, enshrined in the heart of our earth-centered and/or polytheistic religious traditions.

Already we see this attitude at work in many aspects of various Pagan traditions. Our appreciation for history and heritage in a society of shrinking attention spans and an ever-growing obsession with the new-and-shiny not only informs our views on how communities can be organized and nurtured, but connects us with our ancestors and the dead in personal ways through rituals of honor, commemoration and conversation. Similarly, the common Pagan reverence for the natural world and the ecosystems of the earth shape our social and political lives, influencing everything from who we vote for to where we shop, to what we eat and wear; yet our personal relationship to nature is also fostered through meditative and ritual practices that put us in touch with the “spiritual side” of our animal, physical selves and challenge us to discover our own ways of relating to and living with(in) the natural world. While some of us engage in social activism and political protest in support of civil and gay rights, many also worship gods and goddesses who transcend, defy or redefine gender boundaries, who celebrate sexual intimacy as a sacred act, or who have their roots deep in the cultures of non-white, non-Western religious traditions of the past. By entering into relationship with these deities, we transform the cause of equality, diversity and mutual respect from a political platform into a intimately powerful expression of our being. In these ways, and in many others, modern Pagan traditions often bridge the gap between the personal and the political, the spiritual and the social.

I hope that one day Pagans will be just one more diverse and complex community in a manifold, thriving global society. But when that day comes, we will need to have a better ethical standard in place than “we should care about oppressed people because we are oppressed.” While I agree that silence in the face of bullying and violence is unacceptable, neither is it enough to stop with a critique of social trends and larger political patterns in the mainstream, venting frustration that “others” have done nothing to stem the tide of hatred and abuse. Pagan spirituality opens up for us the potential to bring our commitment to social justice, peace and diversity all the way home to the heart of our spiritual practice and our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps one day we can move from an ethic that privileges those who are “other-like-us” to an ethic that embraces and upholds the sacredness of relationship and connection in all its myriad forms. An ethic that says not “we should care because we, too, are different” but one that proclaims, “We should care because we are all, after all, in this together.”

  38 Responses to “The Ethic of Privilege: Other Like Us”

  1. Thank you so much for this. This is the Pagan movement I want to be part of.

  2. I don’t see a whole lot of difference between “We should care because we are all, after all, in this together.” and an ethic that suggests “We should care because we, too could be next.” Self Interest rules all human behaviour. Yes, it is better when this Self Interest in of the ‘Enlightened’ variety and we the Self Interested choose our actions based on knowing that ‘we are all in this together’ (indeed from my Panentheist Pagan point of view “we are all OF this together”), BUT the good old fashioned ‘Golden Rule’ of Empathy works just as well if it leads to the same results. No?

  3. Neo-Pagans tend to be more enlightened than most of North American society, but there is still lots of unconscious intolerance expressed in many Neo-Pagan groups.

    Ultimately, combating intolerance should be a important not because “We should care because we are all, after all, in this together.” or “We should care because we, too could be next.”, but simply because it is the right thing to do. And there *is* intolerance in the Neo-Pagan community, although some of it is due to ignorance rather than malice.

    For example, a large pagan festival in Canada had a comedy skit performed at it that was an attempt at something in a Jeff Foxworthy/Redneck vein…and part of it included parading around a Confederate Flag. Needless to say, this made a number of people uncomfortable, and on a community mailing list, the one person who was willing to complain about it got hounded out of the community.

  4. My only real issue with this is the following statement: “The real challenge, I believe, is to continue to engage in social movements that reject and dismantle the hierarchical, patriarchal and hegemonic systems that give rise to intolerance and hatred towards “the Other,”…”

    Are you saying that we should engage in dismantling and rejecting all hierarchical, patriarchal, and hegemonic systems, or only those that give rise to ‘Other’ing?

    • All such systems… which I believe inherently give rise to and rely on “Other-ing.”

      (Perhaps, grammatically, it would have been clearer as: “…social movements that reject and dismantle the hierarchical, patriarchal and hegemonic systems, which give rise to intolerance and hatred towards ‘the Other’”? Hope that helps to clarify.)

      • So you are saying that, for example, Theodism should be dismantled and rejected, as it is inherently a hierarchical and patriarchal system?

        • As one of the Theodish people present in this conversation, I am interested in Ali’s answer on that question, myself.

          Also, while we are certainly hierarchical, I’ve never heard us described as “patriarchal” before. Which definition of “partiarchal” are we using, if I may ask?

          • Sorry for the misspelling.

          • In cases of definition, I generally defer to Misters Mirriam and Webster:

            pa·tri·ar·chy noun \-?är-k?\
            : social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power

            From my own personal experience (YMMV) with Theodism, the gothi was unquestionably in charge – and in all honesty the sense of hierarchy that I got while there was very similar to the one I get from Mormon friends of mine – and I’ve never seen a gythia lead either blot or sumbel – though again, this may be solely the groups that I know.

            • In response to the Mirriam-Webster definition, then:

              “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, ”

              We don’t really get into how the families that constitute Theodish groups organize themselves; people are free to do as they see fit within their own households, and the overall structure of the theod (tribe) doesn’t interfere. However, being both Theodish and married (and knowing other people in both situations), I don’t see a lot of “supremacy of the father” going on.

              “the legal dependence of wives and children”

              Children certainly, but not wives.

              “and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line”

              We reckon descent through both, as was common in early Germanic culture.

              “broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power”

              I suppose this might vary from group to group. I can say, though, that the theod I belong to is run by a husband and wife, and that the wife is no less regarded or respected than the husband, nor is her power less, I think. I can certainly say that an offense against her would be considered just as grave as an offense against him. I can also say that I’ve never had experience with a Theodish group wherein it was accepted as right and proper that men be domineering over women.

              Overall, I don’t think Theodism fits that particular definition of “patriarchal” too well.

              Concerning your particular experience, I must say that I have never heard a Theodish group using the terms “gothi” and “gythia”; were those the terms used by the group in question?

              Also, although I don’t know the particular “gothi & gythia” you mention, I think it’s quite possible that the difference in hierarchy might have had to do with the difference in training or experience. Theodism has generally taken the training of people with religious functions very seriously, and I don’t know of many women who have been through the training. Theodism has been somewhat fragmented over the last decade, though, so it’s difficult for me to say who has trained when, under whom, and to what extent; it was just a thought.

              • I was in the process of looking into Theodism (which, admittedly, I know very little about) and typing up a long and complex reply to Eran’s question… but it seems that in the meantime, it’s been fairly well established that Theodism is not actually patriarchal (at least from how you describe it, Nick). So I’m not sure how relevant my response would be at this point.

                However, if I have the time, I might get a chance to address the issue more broadly a bit later, since Eran’s question is a fair one and does deserve a thoughtful answer.

        • Is it inherently patriarchal, then? I was unaware of that.

          And I hope there will always be room for acknowledgment of hierarchies of skill and commitment–though not of privilege.

          • “Is it inherently patriarchal, then? I was unaware of that.”

            Again, I’d like to know what definition of “patriarchal” we’re using before I address whether we are or not.

            “And I hope there will always be room for acknowledgment of hierarchies of skill and commitment–though not of privilege.”

            Our system is one wherein greater demonstrated merit obtains one a social position with greater influence and greater responsibility. One’s higher social position comes with a narrower margin for error.

            • Thanks, Nick. Your responses are in line with what I had previously believed (always a pleasant experience! *grin*).

              Of course, this leaves open the question of how, as humans acculturated in a patriarchal overculture, any of us may bring patriarchal practices and assumptions into our religious life with us unconsciously. But I don’t think we can lay that at the door of Theodism specifically, at least, more than other Pagan traditions.

              In some ways, a more interesting question is how we can challenge disempowering forms of hierarchy within organizations, while acknowledging and encouraging the cultivation of merit where we find it. I don’t think a movement without leadership can last long… but leadership (I hope) does not have to entail creating classes of people who are assumed to be better or worse than one another. Mind you, it’s easier to say than to do…

              I can’t help but think of the terrific Granny Weatherwax quote from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books: “Witches are not by nature gregarious, at least with other witches, and they certainly don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.”

  5. I was raised to take care of Me and Mine, and all others be damned. “That’s not my problem” is another way to put it, which as an adult, I come to loathe the similar “that’s not my job” mantra spoken at every workplace I’ve ever been employed. So no, I don’t believe in the Me and Mine attitude I was raised in.

    HOWEVER, I have tweaked that mantra to be Me and Mine /First/, which can be translated into “I’ll get to it *after* my job is finished/my needs have been met”. I don’t believe in sending a ton of aid to third world countries when people in our own country, much less my own community, need help. To me, that’s like mailing a check when I could be handing half of my sandwich to a guy asking for food. Sure, I sent my texted $10 to Haiti, because I felt bad to see so many people get kicked when they were already down. But the bulk of my charity is here at home – where it should be.

    • Lori, It sounds like you and I agree about the benefit of engagement on a local level.

      However, I would go on to say that active engagement on the local level needs to be supplemented with a larger and well-informed perspective about how the local fits into the global.

      Certainly concentrating our efforts and energies on the local can have sweeping effects that will benefit others far more than over-reaching ourselves like a fly buzzing at a windowpane… On the other hand, I think there is a danger in focusing on the local in a way that is decontextualized or ignorant of larger world patterns. To use an ecological example: while each local bioregion has its own needs and patterns of balance, it would be foolish to think that we can influence one bioregion in complete isolation from another without there being ripple-effects spreading across the world. The boundaries of these communities – whether ecological or social – are not strict but incredibly porous, woven together and interconnected by things that we all share in common, whether they are the waters of the ocean, the currents of the air and atmosphere, or the flow of ideas and values from one culture to another.

      With this in mind, I think it is important to work on a local level in ways that seek a ripple-effect that will benefit rather than harm others. Perhaps you do not want to concentrate your relief efforts on an impoverished Third World when there are those in your own backyard starving or homeless… but you can choose, for instance, to avoid purchasing products that are manufactured in such a way that they exacerbate the poverty and exploitation of the Third World. It would be unethical, in my opinion, to declare that the desire for my fiancé’s son for an expensive, all-plastic toy car takes precedence over the pollution and human rights violations in China that result from the production and shipping of that toy car. In this way, though my focus and my activity is local in nature, my perspective is global and my values universal.

      This is not to say that balancing local engagement with global perspective is always easy. But it is certainly necessary to strive for such balance if we want to work effectively on the local level without being at the mercy of larger global patterns that we have failed to understand (or giving rise to such patterns of harm or violence for others).

      • And I agree with you too, with the caveat I do the best I can with what I have, and that’s all I ever expect out of anyone else. if Wally World is all someone can afford, then Wally World it is, and shame on the finger wagger who tsk-tsk’s that person. And yeah, many of my necessities come from Target – partly because they’re two block away, partly because they have exactly what I need, and partly too because I can’t afford *everything* to be green/fair trade/what have you. Yeah, my bath towels were probably made by some six year old in Bangladesh, but I won’t apologize for not buying Union made, organic cotton towels at $50 a pop via mail order.

        Quite frankly, I could care less what someone believes, or who somebody loves, or where somebody lives. But I will not extend the same degree of charity, admiration or assistance to someone outside of my social and familial circle, except in extreme circumstances. Does that mean I do not care? of course not. And while I regard a bum on the street the same as I do as the President as a human being who is deserving of dignity and love of my fellow man, neither Smokey nor Obama are going to get a piece of my heart without at least becoming a personal friend first.

        • Sorry, Lori, but my brain just did a double-take…. Did you just write “shame on the finger-wagger”? :)

          Generally, I try to emphasize affirmation rather than condemnation, and empowerment over defensiveness and justification. I lived below the poverty line for many years, and still managed to shop locally, organically and fair-trade for almost all of my goods. Does that mean I’m trying to “shame” or tsk-tsk those who don’t? Certainly not. But I am trying to offer myself as an example that it is, in fact, possible, and that we often don’t know what we are capable of until we try. Plus, striving to balance these concerns is often not something we can do all on our own in isolation, and seeking out the support of the community can help us make those difficult choices. Seeking out that support sometimes means we have to reach out to others we might not normally consider to be “our people.” So I find the general attitude of “me and mine first” to be problematic, not least because it sets up unnecessary roadblocks that make our own lives more difficult.

          • Yes I did, and it was not rhetorical or ironic. I mean “shame on you” as in a polite way to say “GO F**K YOURSELF” to people who espouse their elitist attitudes to others for their way of living. (It’s in the same vein as southerners will say “Bless your heart” to someone who’s naive or gullible.) And yes, that goes for people who feel the need to go into detail how “easy” it is to eat healthy/get a job/stay out of debt/any other difficult situation. That’s an awful lot like how Glenn Beck oversimplifies things, which is how he suckers in so many repeat viewers from all sides.

            I cite /examples/ of things I do to make the world a better place, and I often do share my experiences/findings, but I do so in an energetic, matter of fact way. Does it make it fact? Nope, it’s still my opinion, but my opinions are backed with factual results.

            And why are my beliefs to be “unnecessary roadblocks”? Because I prioritize who gets my attention? I respect your opinion, but outside of Mother Teresa, most people aren’t saints, and therefore, most people are going to prioritize who gets more of my time and energy. Therefore, your “buy the world a Coke” belief is pretty much out of some sort of utopian dreamland.

            • Defensive much?

              I don’t think you’re being attacked. Attacking, perhaps.

            • Lori,

              It is precisely because people are not saints that I have found, in my own personal experience, that I need help from others in my community and beyond in order to strive to live ethically in the way that I feel called to do.

              In seeking that help, like I said, I have often had to reach beyond “me and mine” (at times because “me and mine” have been the very sources of abuse, violence or condemnation directed against me that I have needed help in coping with and overcoming). This has sometimes been incredibly difficult and painful – simply because something is possible, doesn’t mean it is easy or pleasant (and simply because something is difficult or painful doesn’t mean it’s not also something worth doing).

              My statement was in no way a condemnation or an attack on your perspective. It was a statement about my personal experiences and why, though I respect your view and your right to it, I do not agree with you. I do not see why my disagreement should be perceived as a threat or an attack.

              • “…because ‘me and mine’ have been the very sources of abuse, violence or condemnation directed against me that I have needed help in coping with and overcoming…”

                Well then, it sounds like *you* need to get up, get out and get on with your life. Not too many of us Pagans have had it easy, but the strongest ones take the hard and turn it into something positive. It’s no wonder why many wave the Freak Flag, because the bulk of society has pushed us aside. But the flag I wave is not the same as yours (obviously); they don’t even have the same colors!

                Why do I have to play nice in the sandbox when I’d rather go on the swings? Because we’re at the same playground? What does that have to do with anything? Chester the Molester is in the playground too, but I know better than to hang around him!

                • ::blink::blink::

                  Um…. what?

                  • Don’t pretend to not know what I said, but just in case, allow me to reiterate:

                    Your sanctimonious, elitist, holier than thou attitude is making me sick. YOU are the one worrying about “the others”, even when “the others” don’t want anything to do with you.

                    You’re no different than PETA members telling inner city school children how eating McDonald’s makes them fat and kills cute and fluffy little chicks, how yummy organic soy milk is, and how it is sold in green packaging. This is in spite of the fact it costs four times as much as a conventional gallon of milk in a standard, plastic jug, and the nearest Whole Foods is three bus rides away. And, when the parents get pissed off for terrorizing their children and making them feel even worse than they already do, the answer is to call them bad parents for not going the extra mile(s!), perhaps with the add-on they shouldn’t have had kids they couldn’t afford in the first place.

                    Me, I’d rather do *my* thing, worry about *my* friends and family, and extend a hand when *our* needs are met. Why is that such a problem? I again ask why do I have to play nice in the sandbox, nodding with your every notion like a bobble head doll, signing every petition and attending every rally, even when I really don’t even have a horse in the race? It’s not that I don’t care about welfare in general, which a lot of the time is mistaken. But if an issue, or a religion, or a political stance isn’t directly affecting me, it ranks pretty low on the totem pole.

                    But I guess because I don’t extend myself to every cause, that somehow makes me wrong.

                    Shame on you.

                    • Thank you, Lori.

                      This is perhaps the first comment you’ve left that avoids any passive-aggressive implications and directly addresses what you think of me and my opinions – or at least, what you believe to be my opinions.

                      As it happens, you have grossly misunderstood what it is I’m advocating and seemed to have lumped my views in with a lot of other arguments that I have never put forward in any way, shape or form. As a result, you have portrayed me as some heartless, mindless person who cares more about “a cause” than my fellow human beings, though it should be obvious from everything I’ve written that this is simply not true. In fact, I have never met anyone who actually fits the depiction you put forward in your last comment. (But then, I’ve met only a tiny fraction of the world’s more than 6 billion people, so I’m willing to admit there may be some out there who do. Still, those people, such as they are, aren’t me.)

                      But in your honesty – even if it is accusatory, angry and intentionally insulting – you have at least been able to articulate your real views in a way that makes them easier to address directly, and to correct where they are in need of correcting. So thank you for that.

                      Whether you will be open to having your views of my position corrected is, of course, another matter. And one not entirely up to me, obviously. But that’s why I’m a writer, after all. I don’t mind explaining myself to others – in fact, I enjoy it.

                      Civility in this forum is something I hope we can work towards. For now, I’m more than willing to settle for honesty.

                    • Also, if this reply came across as “sanctimonious” – I’m sorry. But only a little. You’ve backed me into a corner where I can either rise to the bait and become equally angry and accusatory in my reply, or try to maintain some humor and perspective. So for the record: I would rather be perceived as sanctimonious and still be able to smile and move on with my day, than be dragged down by anger and vitriol by someone who doesn’t know me or my views very well.

                      Also for the record: I think soy milk is kinda gross (and soy is a monopoly in this country almost as bad as yellow corn, in any case).

                    • Shall I go back through the various comments you’ve left for me and others on this forum to cite my findings? Uh-huh, I thought so. Perhaps you should have chosen a forum other than politics if you weren’t willing to take sharp, brutal criticism, but boy howdy you sure can dish it out.

                      Nice to see too you removed the reply button so you could get the final word. Guess I hit a nerve.

                    • Lori,

                      I did not remove the reply button – as you’ll note from your own comment (which also lacks a reply button), the nested comments only allow ten and we reached that limit.

                      I can take criticism, so if you would like to take the time to go back through my various writings and bring up specific statements to discuss, please do. I can’t promise I’ll respond to all of them in a timely matter (I do have other shit to do), but I will do my best to answer all of your concerns when I can. I also intend to keep writing on this blog, so there will be plenty more opportunities for you to challenge me on specifics. I look forward to it.

          • You really don’t hear anything but the voice inside your own head, do you?

            You find the attitude problematic “because it sets up unnecessary roadblocks that make our own lives more difficult”.

            Golly, that sounds like you’re relegating people who don’t agree with your way to “the other”.

            “But I am trying to offer myself as an example that it is, in fact, possible, and that we often don’t know what we are capable of until we try.”

            There’s that “we” again. Has anyone explained to you that it’s not up to you to fix “we”, just “you”? It’s not your problem to be problematic over; if it means that the world does not spin as you like it, that’s just a condition of having to live on it with other people.

            This kind of attitude is much more an example of self-centered self-absorption than anyone who says “I’m prioritizing taking care of my own responsibilities over peripheral obligations”.

            • Snooze wrote:
              This kind of attitude is much more an example of self-centered self-absorption than anyone who says “I’m prioritizing taking care of my own responsibilities over peripheral obligations”.

              ding! gold star on your report card & cookies later.

              the Nine Charges say, “Succor the friendless, but put no weight to the plighted troth of a stranger people.” (as borrowed from the OR)

  6. I always find it disappointing when I see Pagans speaking intolerantly of more mainstream religious expression, or worse yet, of other modern Pagan traditions. I think the very fact of our theologies and cosmologies speaks to the virtues and worth of inclusiveness, tolerance, and celebration of diversity.

    We are polytheists. One may be eclectic, syncretic, a ‘soft polytheist’ grouping together by archetypical style and function (All the way up to God and Goddess dualism), ‘hard’ polytheists that focus on a single pantheon and cultural context, or henotheists that acknowledge many, but focus honor and worth-ship on a single divinity.

    In any case, we forced by our beliefs to acknowledge the many, to acknowledge a multiplicity of gods. Even working within a single pantheon, one usually will not honor all the gods and spirits equally all the time, but will slide towards that cluster who best fits our needs, towards those who speak to us. And it is right and natural and appropriate, that others will tend in different directions, honor different gods in different contexts.

    Consider the ruthlessly pragmatic eclecticism and syncretism of the pre-Christian Roman Empire, and the religious millieu of the Western World at the time. Consider the interactions of Buddhism and Shinto in Japan, or Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and folk belief in China: situations where lines and boundaries mix and blur, because different traditions fulfill different needs.

    I have heard of some research and thought to the idea that polytheistic culture breeds tolerance of Other better than monotheistic culture; I think it is an intriguing idea worthy of further investigation.

    To me, the fractitious, factionalized, tendencies in modern Paganism speak to not only the regrettable human tendency to tribalize at the expense of a wider perspective’s wisdom, but to concerns about legitimacy and identity. Paganism is still marginal, it is not a universal creed or expression but a big tent, and a certain amount of censoring or image management can occur when marginal groups seek acceptance and non-Othering. “Oh, don’t worry. We aren’t like *them.*”

    • “To me, the fractitious, factionalized, tendencies in modern Paganism speak to not only the regrettable human tendency to tribalize at the expense of a wider perspective’s wisdom, but to concerns about legitimacy and identity.”

      This speaks to me. It makes me feel a bit less cynical, to be reminded of where some of our obstreperousness as a community may be coming from… The idea that, as polytheists, we are more open and accepting of difference so often seems belied by the way we go after other religions or Pagan traditions for what seem to me often to be human imperfections none of us are immune to.

      But we’re young–adolescent, perhaps. It’s all about establishing our identities. Maybe, like adolescents everywhere, we just need to make some noise from time to time, roll our eyes at the other guy, and pretend we’re the last word in cool… Because we’re not yet (quite) at the place where we carry our sense of cool, of worth, inside us where we don’t need so much anxious social scrambling.

      Thanks for sparking a good line of thought for me, today.

  7. Ali, this post, like the discussion on yesterday’s Wild Hunt, is sending me down memory lane. Everything you’ve said about fighting patriarchy was said by secular feminists in the 1970s and Goddess oriented feminists in the 1980s. I speak as from the middle of those scenes.

    I hate to bring the party down, but patriarchs are still out there, some with no shame about calling themselves patriarchs. I feel that our duty to our fellow Pagans and minorities in general is to craft ways of making things better while coexisting with the patriarchies at least in our lifetimes. I think the best way our movement does that is through our institutions like Lady Liberty League and the Military Pagan Network. (The impending dissolution of the latter, reported on The Wild Hunt, is cause for alarm.)

    I’m not a “my people only” liberationist but I do believe that Pagans getting civil liberties victories out of the Man creates space for other minorities to flex their wings. We do a favor for similarly situated cohorts by strategic pursuit of our particular goals, imho. Call it an idealistic reflex from the 1960s.

    • Baruch,

      “I’m not a ‘my people only’ liberationist but I do believe that Pagans getting civil liberties victories out of the Man creates space for other minorities to flex their wings. We do a favor for similarly situated cohorts by strategic pursuit of our particular goals, imho.”

      Yes, I am in total agreement with you on that point!

      I don’t particularly see my statements about continuing to work to resist and dismantle unjust systems to be somehow idealistic or utopian in nature. In fact, it seems to me that it’s quite practical and level-headed to be forthright and consistent in denouncing what we see as underlying causes of injustice and inequality in our society. I don’t see that I have implied anywhere that we can somehow wish away patriarchy, or that we should condemn, reject and dismiss those who identify with patriarchal systems. Indeed, I am explicitly suggesting the opposite: that if “patriarchs” are the kinds of individuals that you personally are inclined to reject or dismiss as “other,” than part of the process of engaging with the “other” means engaging with those very people and learning to live with them in healthy ways.

      On the other hand, it is my personal belief that the better we are at this work, the fewer examples of patriarchy and hierarchy there will be, and that systems of injustice will naturally (albeit gradually) collapse in the face of persistent efforts to engage with “others” (and our “selves”) in healthy and compassionate ways.

  8. Yes, we are in this together–but it has to go beyond that. I realize there are many differences among us pagans, but for me, paganism has something to say on the matter of GLBT issues because our “theology,” if you will, IS different from what the mainstream religions offer. I can respect the desire to be seen as simply one among many faiths, but honestly, we ARE different. Pagans celebrate sexuality in all its forms; pagans celebrate all genders. We’re all about love–not categories and labels. Majority religions, at least in how they are practiced in many, many places, are about rules, regulations, restrictions, taboos. Pagans see beyond this. I don’t know that we need to necessarily speak out on every single GLBT issue out there, however, we should not shy away from the fact that we are different and our beliefs are different, therefore offering hope that can rarely be found elsewhere. True, we shouldn’t celebrate our “oppression” (I don’t feel oppressed, personally, as a pagan), but we do need to say loud and clear that we do offer a welcoming circle of faith for many in the GLBT community (myself included!).

  9. I feel that “what others believe” should concern us, when those beliefs include feeling that they have a natural right to exploit everything and everybody around themselves without interference, in what ever way suits their whims or psychotic need for wealth.

    It doesn’t matter if their belief is that they come by such a “right” from their social class, their particular church, their income bracket, their ‘race,’ their political affiliation, how many square feet of office they personally have at work, or by the number of gullible fools they can get to follow them and give them money.

    These people are dangerous to everybody . . . and not just those nearby them.

  10. Ali, thanks for keeping it civil and for keeping it real.

    I can’t help but feel that there are people who are threatened enough by the very existence of certain values (like pacifism, or altruism) that they feel angered and attacked by anyone who espouses them.

    As if attempts at civility and generosity were intended to shame others, rather than to improve ourselves or the world.

    Or something. I don’t get it, but I’m beginning to recognize the phenomenon. I suspect it’s even stronger and more angry on political blogs without a religious focus; I’m telling myself that’s it, anyway, and that it’s not the New Paganism. (But if I’m wrong, I’ll be over here, in the corner, practicing the old, idealistic version of this religious movement. Anyone who wants to play in my end of the playground is welcome, though I don’t promise to respect you if you feel the need to throw sand at the rest of us…)

  11. Does anyone else find it a pain in the ass to follow discussion in this format? Can this site get an email update feature like WildHunt and GetReligion?