I see a lot of discussions around the pagan community, both on social media and in person, which often focus on debating points of belief with an idea of reaching agreement. We discuss the nature of the Gods as if we are trying to convince other people to agree with us. We debate the efficacy of magic as if we need to prove or disprove it to others. We advocate for or against systems of practice.
These discussion are necessary for the growth of polytheism, I think, as we explore our own beliefs and reach a better understanding of our cosmology and theology for ourselves. However it is a fine line between discussion as self-exploration and a healthy sharing of world-view and discussion as argument where consensus becomes a requirement. I think that we, in a general sense, would do well to give some thought to why we need others to agree with us and what value it really adds to have divisive arguments over points of belief.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good spirited discussion about belief and theology, but I firmly believe we can discuss without needing to prove our own beliefs or disprove someone else’s*. To quote Aristotle “It’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it“. Even things that I would say pass beyond belief for me and are simply part of my reality, like the existence of the Good Neighbors [read fairies], are things that I can accept that other people do not believe.
I don’t find that what I think or believe is threatened by people who have different opinions, and so discussing my beliefs isn’t about convincing others but about sharing. In the same way listening to other people discuss their spiritual beliefs is something I usually find interesting, even fascinating, rather than threatening; even when I don’t agree or don’t find any personal resonance in what someone else is saying.
There is one area where I will argue to the end, and that’s on subjects that have a factual basis. Fact is not opinion, and as Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”. If a person wants to believe that the Morrigan is a goddess of fluffy kittens that’s a personal belief and that’s on them; but if a person wants to say that there’s an Irish myth where the Morrigan nurtures fluffy kittens and declares them her familiars then we have crossed over to falsehood. And I can’t deny that while I don’t care whether or not a person values myth more than modern lore I do care that people understand which is which. How much fact and fiction matter to anyone will vary, and that is another point of belief that we can agree to have different opinions on.
Sometimes I think people simply aren’t listening to each other but are only engaging in order to have a platform to speak their own opinions. And sometimes I think that people really, truly do think that what they believe is the only option, the only possibility, and that other people must believe what they believe as if their beliefs were facts.
Maybe sometimes – maybe sometimes there is a concrete right and wrong of it – but more often I think it’s about our own perspective. If you ask five people to describe the same animal or plant, will you get one cohesive description or will you get five different ones each focused on the aspect that mattered most to the person answering the question? Often, I think, we forget that the tiny portion of reality we comprehend is heavily coloured by our own perceptions, culture, filters, and that life isn’t about either/or but a series of endless ands and shades of possibility.
My beliefs aren’t yours, and that’s okay. We don’t have to believe all the same things, and quite frankly it would be very boring if we did. It is diversity of belief that keeps things interesting and keeps challenging us to better understand ourselves and our own spirituality.
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, it does not exist.” – Nietzsche
*obviously the exception here is when another human’s beliefs, spiritual or otherwise, involve or are predicated on denying or reducing the inherent value of other human beings. That I have no tolerance for.