Friday, April 5, 2013

The Excluders

There is a tendency among some within the kulturgeist that is contemporary Paganism to make proclamations regarding who is and is not, or who can or cannot be, Pagan. Generally, these polemics take the position that, if someone holds a belief or affiliation with which the would-be Pagan Pope disagrees, then that person cannot, by definition, be Pagan.

Ásatrú went through a similar phase about 15 years ago, but a general attitude of “live and let live” has prevailed since, reinforced by a more general tendency on both sides of the various points of disagreement to tell would-be exclusionists to just shut up. In so doing, all sides have come to the realization that those with whom they disagree aren’t evil monsters out to promote some sort of political agenda while merely wearing their religion as a mask to cover their true aims. On both sides of any issue there are people who have much to contribute to the commonalities within the Ásatrú community, and to attempt to exclude them, ultimately harms the very people who yearn to ban those with whom they disagree on non-religious issues.

This sort of “libertarian” (ahem) approach to Paganism makes the most sense both from a practical and from a philosophical point of view. Rather than desperately trying to create new (and, ultimately, inaccurate) definitions designed specifically to exclude a certain group or class of people, Paganism as a whole – an amorphous, impossible-to-define, whole – should, at the very least, not try to be in the business of telling people what they must or must not believe.

I don’t have the right to say you’re not Pagan, and neither do you. Period.

Admittedly, this will mean that Pagans will be forced to share that label with people with whom they disagree vehemently on a vast array of subjects. Most of these points of contention in actuality have nothing to do with Paganism at its essence, despite the insistence of the excluders to the contrary. The purported connections between Paganism and a variety of political ideologies are, to the excluder, simply a tool to accomplish their main end; to enforce an ideological purity specifically for the purpose of ensuring that they don’t have to share the label “Pagan” with someone with whom they disagree politically.

Forget actually belonging to an official organization, or attending a face-to-face gathering, that includes The Excluded. The very idea that The Excluded could even share the Pagan label is intolerable to the excluder. They cannot accept that someone could possibly disagree with them in good faith on a given issue (whether that issue is animal rights, abortion, gay marriage, tax rates, environmentalism, immigration, gun rights, or a combination of these and many others). To do so would be to admit that their beliefs are not necessarily Objectively True, and for a certain type of person, that admission is simply unacceptable.

For that person, the only solution to the conundrum is that those who disagree with them must either be deceitful or ignorant. No other possibility exists, for if it did, it would open up the door to the possibility that they themselves were not correct, and the sort of fragile mindset of the excluder cannot embrace even that possibility. There are no honest and good-natured differences of opinion; there is only deceit or ignorance. In their zeal to be Right, they feel justified in trying to define Pagans who hold other opinions out of existence, in the name of removing the deceitful or the willfully ignorant.

Naturally, the excluders are a very small minority within Paganism. But they are a vocal one, all the more so because of their insistence that their pronouncements of exclusion be adhered to by others.

The solution, of course, is to simply ignore the excluder. Don’t worry about what other Pagans happen to believe about politics and other non-religious concerns. If someone believes in the Gods and worships Them in their own way, what does their opinion on tax rates matter? Unless you can’t accept the very existence of someone who disagrees, the answer is that it shouldn’t matter at all.

The beliefs, practices, and ethics of Paganism – remember, that vast and amorphous kulturgeist beyond the scope of any one person to constrain, and certainly not equivalent with a specific interpretation of Wicca alone – transcend the boundaries of Wicca, or Druidry, or the Religio Romana, or Ásatrú, or Khemetic Orthodoxy, or Hellenismos, or any of the hundreds of sub-faiths that are often collected under the Pagan umbrella. And even within those sub-groups, an enormous breadth of opinions, ideologies, and stances on issues exists.

If someone holds the Wiccan Rede as their moral compass, but at the same time is not a frothing anti-capitalist, then more power to them! My coven might not be a good fit for them, but that doesn’t make them not Wiccan. At the same time, if someone espouses the Nine Noble Virtues, but at the same time is a pacifist and socialist, then that’s between him and his Gods. I might not feel that person is a good fit for my kindred, but it’s certainly not for me to say they can’t be Ásatrú because of it.

Paganism is, by its very nature, inclusionary and decentralized, even if sub-groups within it establish boundaries and have central authorities. It is broad enough to encompass both the feminist divinity of Goddess Worship and the multitude of deities of the Religio Romana, the historical reconstructionism of Ásatrú and the bold multi-cultural combinations of Eclectic Wicca, the Sacral Leadership of Théodism and the individualism of hedge witchery, and on and on and on. Just because I disagree with the form your Paganism takes doesn’t mean I get to say you’re not Pagan.

The fact that there is no Pagan Pope (despite some Pagans acting as if they wore the funny hat) means that attempts to exclude others who self-identify as Pagan are ultimately doomed to failure. No amount of proclaiming or disingenuous redefinition will alter that fact.

And that, I think, is a good thing. Paganism should be open and inclusive. We should be able to endure the fact that some of our fellow Pagans will disagree with us on many things, some of them quite fundamental, both religiously and outside the bounds of our faith. By doing so, we open ourselves to new insights, knowledge, and points of view that we might otherwise have missed out on. And that would be a shame indeed.

1 comment:

  1. I am really glad to find brother Joseph writing pagan from a conservative/libertarian view.

    I'm a Wiccan conservative/libertarian. I've also been told "You aren't a Pagan" by self proclaimed "leaders" of the a local pagan community group, and kicked out of COG, because I didn't support their radical leftist agenda. I remind Wiccans that Gerald Gardner was a political conservative and colonialist. Wicca is a religion, not a left wing political party. More recently I've been supporting families and marraige from a pagan perspective. Every historical pagan culture I can find from the most primitive tribes to city states and nations strongly supported real marriage, children, and families. The current left wing anti-marriage agenda has no historical pagan basis, yet they dare to call us "not a pagan" for not hating real marriage that joins families in blood.

    I'm going to keep reading. Maybe we can meet at some festival some day. Blessed Be brother Joseph.