Pagan Zealots

In her Blog’o Gnosis, Anne Hill writes her Thoughts on Spirituality, Politics and Values. A long-time member of Reclaiming (no longer), she is now having her doubts about the value of combining religion with politics. I share her concerns. She writes:

Zealotry begins with a deep sense of frustration at the slow pace of change. That urgency, combined with strong religious beliefs, means that we turn to a sympathetic deity or presiding force to intercede in human affairs. And of course, because our deity is sympathetic it validates all our extreme views. We have now created a closed loop of influence, within which we feel increasingly justified and self-righteous about our cause.

Can she really mean “extreme?” Yes, indeed. She adds: But the closed loops I experienced encouraged emotionality and discouraged analysis and debate. This has been my experience as well. Pagan religion has been greatly influenced by both the environmental movement and Feminism and this has defined us. But both of these are political movements, and if Paganism is to survive as a religion, we need to move beyond transient and power-focused politics.

Political movements address particular issues that exist in a given society. They do not address the nature of human existence. This is the job of religion, and by focusing on what amounts to transient issues, we have not yet created the depth of meaning that would make our religion viable for the long-term. A fellow student of mine at Cherry Hill Seminary recently left because he was in crisis, and felt that Paganism had failed to support him in his time of need. This is sad and distressing. While the seminary has used this event to spur the addition of student support systems, this does not change the fact that we need to be thinking deeper about our religion than the current political issue.

I my twenties, I read Starhawk’s Dreaming the Dark. It was inspiring and magical, but twenty years later it now seems shallow. Not because of lack of passion, but because the issues are far more complex than she presented them. Political action thrives on polarization and its partner, dumming down. Simplifying any issue can create a moral clarity that is a mirage. Voting one way or another is easy if you are sure that you are RIGHT. This sort of moral clarity has historically led to people being killed for the “greater good.”

But life (and politics) is far more nuanced. I find myself deeply frustrated at the assumption that one must be of a particular political opinion to be a Pagan, or that I will vote in lock-step with a particular group because of my religious views. Starhawk writes about the recent recall election in Wisconson: For today is vote on the recall of Scott Walker, the union-busting governor who was the focus of protests and a sit-in in the Capitol in January of 2011

This is not only a far reach from Paganism’s focus on environmental and feminist issues, but because she fails to examine both sides of the argument, she (and Selena Fox as well) runs the risk of zealotry. I do not like seeing this in my religion. It feels ugly to me, but I will not ignore it. In good conscience, I can’t.

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About selinarif

Selina came across Paganism around age 15 and it felt like coming home. She has been solitary, and worked in numerous circles, both formal and informal in several different traditions. She is a massage therapist, a nutrition counselor and a martial artist and ties all of these things into her spirituality.
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3 Responses to Pagan Zealots

  1. Sarah T says:

    I guess the argument I see on the other side is this: when we get too caught up in nuance and wanting to respect people’s individual experiences, I think we risk accepting things that aren’t okay. All Pagans do not have to share values any more than all Christians or Jews do, but — as you know! — I’m interested in what convictions our practice leads us to.

    • selinarif says:

      Nuanced analysis doesn’t necessarily imply that we should accept every viewpoint as a guide to the best course of action. That means that nothing gets done at all.

  2. syrbal says:

    Thank you for a view that expresses a great deal of my ambivalence about pagan life.

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