Queer I Stand
When Persecution Isn't, and What To Do About It
I'm just now starting to emerge from a situation I endured at my workplace recently, where an ostensibly well-informed college department head in a supervisory role over me dismissed my religion as not "real" out of ignorance, and then harassed me over it on another occasion. Human resources and mediation seem to have resolved the situation for the present, for which I am very grateful; though my thanks extends mostly to my gods, who were steadfast supporters of me through my difficulties, and to my many Pagan friends, colleagues, and co-religionists who acted as my support and sounding boards throughout this process. But I was lucky; many other people are not.
One mistake, however, that never entered into my mind during this ordeal was the one that Moss cautions everyone to avoid: using the fact of persecution as self-evidence of one's correctness. Yes, I have no doubts that the polytheistic forms of Paganism that I practice are the only right spiritual path and religious identity for me at present. Likewise, I had no doubts whatsoever that under U.S. law, college policy, and simple questions of everyday morality and courtesy, my religious identity and my personhood did not deserve the treatment I received from my supervisor. What often steadied my resolve during this process was my firm commitment to justice—and not merely "justice" as an abstract, but Justice as the goddesses Iustitia and Dike and Themis and Ma'at.
By both secular laws of this land, institutional policies and regulations, and the standards of the gods that I follow, I was justified in pointing out these behaviors as errors and in seeking an appropriate resolution. But it never occurred to me to think, "Well, this just demonstrates how True and Good my religion is, because this evil and imperfect world hates what is True and Good." Yes, it is an imperfect world; yes, there are people who are malicious and ignorant and who bear hatred for others; and yes, in my own situation, I was coming up against ignorance as well as the deeply flawed character of the individual perpetrating this harassment. But none of this was evidence of anything other than that the individual concerned was ignorant and flawed.
Pagan readers of this column might respond with "Yes? so what?" And Christian readers of this column might agree. But if it had been a Christian in my position, the department head might have been immediately classified as a demon-haunted wretch that was the tool of Satan himself, and the hypothetical Christian (no matter how lax in faith or practice) could have ascended to the blessed ranks of God's Chosen in Eternal Bliss.
Do you see the difference?
The mere fact that modern Pagans exist and present an alternative to Christianity (whether or not our own practice of Paganism can include Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and others as respected beings within them or not), automatically marks us for many Christians. We are perceived not as their neighbors whom they are commanded to love, nor as "just other humans" who are striving to do what they understand to be right in a difficult and unforgiving world, but as Devil-breast-fed abominations. The martyr and persecution complexes of Christianity on an institutional level make this the default setting more often than many of us would prefer. The results of it are potentially deadly in a situation where Christian political, intellectual, legal, and religious hegemony is likewise more the default than the exception.
One of the most valuable contributions of Moss' work—whether or not one agrees with her scholarship—is to demonstrate that this rhetorical strategy need not be the only option for Christians in the modern world. In fact, in light of the historical evidence, it is not a remotely justifiable position to take. But, again, even if one discounts Moss' facts as definitive, the reality that there are other options out there needs to be taken very seriously by Christians who claim to have a faith that is based on the love of their god for the world rather than on the blood of martyrs.
As Pagans who face very real prosecution and persecution, though, we cannot replicate this kind of thinking, or assume that our gods approve of us suffering on behalf of our religious commitments. Our gods love justice and devotion, but they do not relish our suffering on their behalf at the hands of ignorant and prejudiced others.
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.