Wyrd Words: Conservative Pagans

 photo pentacleelephant_zps70570d3c.jpeg

Image courtesy of “The Domestic Witch”

Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!

Two weeks ago, I wrote a comedic story about a rather bizarre indecent that happened to me at work. “Tea Party Paganism” got a lot more attention than I had expected, and I got a LOT of feedback. The real point of the article was supposed to be an amusing story about being outed at work, but not all of our readers saw it that way. The thing I kept hearing was “I’m a conservative Pagan, and my views count too!”

In that article I outed my own bias, but I refuse to play the “No True Scotsman” card. As a movement that eschews dogma, I believe we cannot simply exclude those among us that hold differing political perspectives than our own. I’m a bleeding heart Liberal, and a lot of my politics are informed by the same ideals that shape my religious practice. However, just because the guy sitting next to me at Symbel is Republican, doesn’t mean he’s any more or less “Pagan” than I am.

While the more liberal ideals within our movement have been pretty thoroughly explored, we often fail to look at other perspectives. So I reached out to the community via Facebook and asked for those who identify themselves as “Conservative” to help me understand how somebody could be a Pagan and a Conservative at the same time. One of the first things I wanted to investigate was how a religious minority could feel comfortable in a conservative environment. “Political Conservative” in many ways has become almost synonymous with “The Religious Right,” so how does a Pagan navigate those waters?

One commenter responded:

I find a lot of the conservative people I know are not rabidly religious. Most of them know I am not a practicing Christian and most of them just avoid any deep discussions about religion and accept me as a “good person” even though I may not follow their creed. I do not try to convert them to paganism and they don’t try to ‘save’ me. I have said most of my life that one’s spirituality or religion is a private thing and I don’t respect anyone who is “selling it on the street.”

This seemed to be how most of the people I spoke to felt. Over and over, completely independent of one another, I kept getting the same story: that the “Christian Right” is a particular subset of the conservative community, and that the majority of the population simply isn’t that religiously motivated. Further, most of them are pretty tired of being represented by the religious contingent.

Next I decided to try and hit on what really made us different. I asked people to summarize their thoughts about current political and social issues, and how they relate to their religious beliefs. Four topics came up regularly, and the results weren’t quite what I expected.

Coming in at #1 for most commonly mentioned issue was “Welfare and Freeloading.”

This was one of the top priority issues for the Conservative Pagans I spoke with. About ¾ of those who responded claimed that welfare was essential, but in need of reform. The general consensus was that those who are able to work in some capacity should be encouraged to do so, in order to alleviate some of the burden on the system and allow better care for those who are incapable of working. About half of those who responded believed that the key to a successful welfare program should be helping those in need find suitable employment. These responses seemed fairly in-line with what I had expected. (I’ve heard similar cases made by most conservative politicians.) What I didn’t expect was an overwhelming emphasis on charity. Nearly every person who responded claimed that helping the needy was an important value to them, and most felt that this value was informed/supported by their religious beliefs. The problem was that most felt that the government did a poor job of allocating their funds. The concern wasn’t about not wanting to help, but rather about wanting more say in who received their help and how.

Coming in at #2: “Abortion”

Interestingly, perspectives on this issue among those who responded were split nearly 50/50. Two conservative arguments came in neck and neck. The first was a Pro-life stance.

One contributor nicely summarized the general Pro-life sentiment:

I’m pro-life. When a life is created it is our duty to protect that life. In the womb or out we are called to protect the young till they are grown.

The other half of the conservatives who voiced an opinion on this issue took a Pro-Choice stance.

I don’t support abortion, but I don’t believe it’s the governments job to be involved in personal healthcare decisions. I don’t think anyone has the right to come between me and my doctor.

Both sides seemed equally convinced that their argument was based on conservative values.

Coming in at #3: “Marriage Equality”

This is the topic that really surprised me. While opinions about marriage in general were widely varied, out of all of those who responded, only ONE person said that same-sex marriage should be illegal. The vast majority of responses indicated that the government should have no role in marriage at all, though about 25% of those contributors expressed a belief that it is important for children to have both masculine and feminine role models while growing up.

Coming in at #4: “Evolution”

So to be fair, none of the people who responded to me mentioned evolution or science education in their initial summaries of their political leanings. As a student of Anthropology, though, I just had to see what the conservative element of our community had to say on the topic! So I asked each one for their thoughts. Now, it should be noted that I’m working with a small sample size, so this result may not hold true for the entire community.

100% of those who responded to this question (about half a dozen people) supported science education and believed that the theory of evolution should be taught in schools. Three people said they believed that there was divine guidance involved with the process, but none questioned the validity of the theory itself. I had predicted that this issue would likely end up with a 50/50 split, like abortion. I was really surprised by this result.

If there is one thing that I took away from this, it’s that the implications of calling ones self a “conservative” are nowhere near as cut and dried as I had previously thought. While I don’t agree with many of the ideas that were presented, I certainly cannot say that those views are somehow “Un-Pagan.” I’m not going to try to say that “deep down we’re all really the same,” because we all know that we’re not. What I will say, is that the biggest difference I saw between Liberal and Conservative Pagans was not which values we hold, but how we prioritize those values.

 

For those interested in learning more, here are a handful of  helpful links:

The Conservative New Ager

Conservative Pagans

Reflections of a Modern Druid

The Domestic Witch

Pointedly Pagan

I would like to offer special thanks for all of those who joined in and shared their views so I could make this post. I seriously couldn’t have done it without all of you!


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About Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer is a student of Anthropology at ASU, focused on analyzing and building religious communities. He is a devoted Heathen, and married to a Rabbi in training. Interest in Pagan interfaith relations lead him to join the committee for the formation of the Pagan Chapter at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, where he hopes to utilize his training in community building and cultural exchange. The majority of his work can be located at http://www.heathenhof.com/

  • Mikal

    I refuse to count myself as either liberal or conservative, but I really do appreciate that you took the time and energy to hear from an often overlooked and at times highly criticized group under the pagan umbrella (for lack of a better term). Few seem to be willing to do this lately.

    • Wyrd Wiles

      When I first started blogging about the Pagan community, I asked my dad for advice. He told me he didn’t know much about that kind of thing, but the best advice he could think of was to remember: “if your writing for a community, you have to write about more than just yourself.”
      I might not be a conservative, but plenty of folks are, and they’re no less a part of this community than I am. That was why I felt it was so important to get reader input for this article. I think it’s FANTASTIC that so many people chimed in to share their thoughts!

      • Mikal

        Good advice. I just seem to see so little of the effort to actually talk to an opposing group about their viewpoints without bias when dealing with issues such as this instead of breaking out a hurt feelings report these days.

  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

    Here in the Netherlands our rightwing consists out of Both conservatives and liberale. Legt and right are thougth of as a horizontal, conservative/ liberal as a vertical. Frankly almost all liberal Americans seem more To the right Than our right wing when excluding our populist nationalist parties.

    • kenofken

      The closest your country ever came to the Tea Party or neoconservatism was Pim Fortuyn, and, well, that didn’t work out so well for him. Even he was liberal by American standards, as he was pro LGBT rights (kinda had to be).

      • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

        We have Wilders now who is much much much more conservatieve. He may be pro LGBT (part of Dutch culture he imagines to protect) wants to forbis the koran and introduce a tac on head scarves. Sometimes his stanspoint just appears to be against everything. We used to have a construction where je had considerabel power over our (minority) government at the time, because they counted on his support. Fortuyn was only the start, the door through which populism has entered. But you are right, they still aren’t conservative according to American standerds.

  • kenofken

    I don’t think conservatism, at least fiscal conservatism, per se, is at all anti-pagan. However, at a national level and state level in virtually all places, the political institution of conservatism, ie the Tea Party and GOP, IS controlled by Christian Dominionists and homophobes. To the extent you ally yourselves with them, you are working toward our destruction.

  • David Quinn

    One topic I have seen come up recently in conservative vs. liberal Pagan discussions is gun control. I would like this to be explored on these same lines.

    • Wyrd Wiles

      Interesting! I’d love to do something on that topic. Where do you fall on that issue?

      • David Quinn

        My belief is that the 2nd Amendment was written in a time when assault weapons didn’t exist, to maintain the possibility of violent revolt against corrupt government. Now, the overwhelming superiority of the US industrial military complex is such that the idea of armed revolt against the government is relegated to crackpot separatist groups. I believe in the regulation of assault weapons. I believe that individuals have the right to protect themselves within reason. I don’t believe any civilian should own a machine gun for duck hunting.

  • Gus diZerega

    Well done! Sounds as if a great many who call themselves conservative are closer to “libertarian Pagans.” There is a long history of libertarian Pagans going back, at least, to the founding of the Church of All Worlds (CAW). Their dislike of government often leads to them identifying more with ‘conservatism’ than ‘liberalism.’

  • zendodeb

    This is the typical liberal thinking writ large. Just in a venue I rarely see it.

    It is easier to be a lesbian in a group of NRA members, than it is to be an NRA member in a group of lesbians. I can attest to this from personal experience.

    Not all conservatives are religious nutballs. Most conservatives are interested more in fiscal conservatism, and after 9/11, in defending our country – though the Snowden revelations have even called a lot of that into question.

    The Left and Liberals are not tolerant. Not against groups like the NRA that they hate, even if they don’t know anyone in the NRA. They are particularly hard on anyone from a minority group that identifies as conservative or Republican. (Look at the racist political cartoons aimed at Condolezza Rice when she joined the Bush administration and again when she became Secretary of State. Those attacks didn’t come from the Right.)

    The Left loves to tell itself that it is tolerant. And in its own way it is. But it not tolerant of everyone. Only those on the Left.

    • Wyrd Wiles

      Really? I specifically went out into the community to find conservative opinions to present here. I’ll admit that my usual content is generally left leaning (Because I am!), but I specifically worked with an extremely helpful bunch of conservative readers for this post.

      *Not all conservatives are religious nutballs. Most conservatives are
      interested more in fiscal conservatism*

      I agree… That was kind of the point of my article. Did you actually read it?

      If your point is that I wasn’t conservative enough because I didn’t tear apart liberals, then I think you misunderstood my intentions. I AM a liberal (As I said in the article), but I don’t automatically assume that all conservatives are evil-baby-eaters, nor do I believe anybody should be able to claim that they are not “Properly Pagan” because of their political beliefs.
      I may not always understand them, and I obviously don’t always agree with them, but I refuse to propagate this delusion that all conservatives are either crazy or stupid.
      The kind of broad political generalizations that you just made, about all left leaning people, represent the kind of thinking I was trying to argue against throughout this article. My sole objective was to showcase what the conservative members of our community believe, to show that the liberal parts of the community might want to reassess their assumptions about what “Conservative” really means.

  • Hrafn Skald

    Just a quick note-if you’re looking for some writings by a heathen from a libertarian point of view, I would suggest: http://www.patheos.com/About-Patheos/Steven-Abell.html.

    One of the nice things about our lore and the NNV (and other ways of taking life lessons from the lore) is that the same virtues and ideals can lead to different views and practices, both religiously and politically. As opposed to some faiths, that try to dictate political and economic views.

    Frith,
    Hraffy

    • Hrafn Skald

      Also, I would second the point that gun control is a BIG issue in some areas. Here in Texas, the idea that the government could keep you from being able to hunt or protect yourself is a major barrier deal breaker for many.

      • http://heathenhof.com Xander Folmer

        I was kind of surprised that the issue of gun control never came up once in all of these interviews. However, I was working with a VERY small sample size.

    • http://heathenhof.com Xander Folmer

      “One of the nice things about our lore and the NNV (and other ways of taking life lessons from the lore) is that the same virtues and ideals can lead to different views and practices, both religiously and politically. As opposed to some faiths, that try to dictate political and economic views.”

      I could not have said this any better myself. Well spoken, Sir. :)

  • Bear Rollins

    I am Fiscally and Constitutionally Conservative. I got kicked out of the Tea Party for being a Heathen. I wrote several papers that they praised, and then took down when they realized I was not Full Blooded White and Christian.

    For Me there are a lot of overlay between Heathen Values and Family Values. I also see that there is overlay between Christian Values and Family Values. Then again, I think the best part of Christianity comes from Teutonic Culture anyway. Family Dinners, Working for a Living, Fighting for your Country, Taking care of your Home and Family. Bigotry and Ignorance, as much as they affect all Faiths, Christians have it bad, and they do not even know it. At least when Heathens are Bigoted, we stand up and say it loud, for right or wrong.

    I am Former Law Enforcement and Fugitive Recovery. I have caught a lot of crap from Neo Pagans for coming from a Law Enforcement/Military Family, being Former Law Enforcement, and planning to go back when my knee heals. I catch more flack for refusing to be ashamed of that.

    I come from a Warrior Family. My Mother is Descended from Cu Cuhlainn (The Irish Champion, not the Canadian Dumbass who hates America). My Birth Father is the Direct Descendant of Rollo The Butcher. The Majority of My Family in America, and even over in Europe, have been Military for a very long time. Neo Pagans give me Crap for this.

    I did not vote for for Obama the first time. After he said, in 2009, that anyone who was not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim was a Terrorist, I most definitely did not vote for him the second time. Neo Pagans throw a temper tantrum and call me a liar. I show them the document on a government website, and they accuse me of making it up.

    I was half an inch away from getting a job as an Expert on Pagan, Heathen, Occult, and Non Conformist Religions, and then a Cop and a So Called Heathen, who represents himself as the spokesperson for all Heathens, steals 70,000 Dollars from his own Mother. A Member of his Kindred Walks into a Jewish Community Center and Murders Christians. I get told, we do not need members of your Faith in this job.

    Pagans and Heathens are fucked. We can not come up with a voice. Those that have the loudest voice make sure that others of us can not have a chance in this world to make our people look better. Many of us are Great, but we need to tell the world who we are. We should not let Criminals and Murderers Speak for us.

    • http://heathenhof.com Xander Folmer

      ” After he said, in 2009, that anyone who was not Christian, Jewish, or
      Muslim was a Terrorist, I most definitely did not vote for him the
      second time.”
      Ok, you hoked me. I’m super curious where you heard this.

      I voted for Obama the first time, but I resented it. (I was a Hillary supporter and I’m still pissed at the Democratic Party for not nominating her!)
      The second time I actually voted Libertarian. Their candidate (Johnson I believe it was) was the only person on the ballot who put down elimination of the electoral college as part of their platform.

      • Bear Rollins

        It was something the State Department pushed on the DOJ. Right after the 2009 NDAA, it was part of the FBI/DOJ definition of a Terrorist. A Buddy of mine who used to work for the State said that came from the Office of the President. By January, it was pulled from the DOJ/FBI Websites. It was apart of that original statement about Waterproof Ammo, Non Perishable Foods, and/or extensive Paramilitary/Close Quarters Combat Training.

        You know the FBI/DOJ could not have a statement on their website that said they were Terrorists LOL.

        I am not a Hillary Fan, amusingly not a Romney Fan either, but I think either one of them would have done better. I also do not think that Hillary, as President, would have ordered a Conservative Ambassador into an unsafe Area, and then deny his protect detail back up.

  • http://nonpcheathen.wordpress.com/ Erik Lundrbeck

    Another well written article, brother. You are certainly more tolerant and open-minded than say the common secular, non-theistic Liberal. I used to be Liberal and even Socialist, but due to disillusionment with all political ideologies I’ve just settled in the Center.

    Anyway, I definitely have your stuff favorited, very refreshing to see insight that isn’t filled with venom and vitriol, which is rare in this politically polarized nation of ours.


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