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:
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!