Witty Title About The Latest Mess

I was not planning on writing a longer post on this topic after my brief comment the other day. Ideally, all my issues surrounding the latest Issue – namely, Teo Bishop shifting back to Christianity, or converting, or whatever he’s doing (because it’s unclear and vague) – would have been handled in comments. Unfortunately, Teo Bishop has turned off comments on his post, and it does not seem that anything but praise is being met with any sort of response.

Which means I’m going to have to write out a longer post about why, exactly, some of the rhetoric coming out of this mess is problematic.

In my previous post, I noted that minority religions aren’t niche. This is just the tip of the iceberg of problematic things that have been said lately, though. I was hoping those comments on the irrelevance and minority status of Pagandom and polytheism would be the entirety of the problem. I watched, on Twitter and Facebook, as more posts on this were made, and I felt my irritation spike with each new one posted.

As is apparently necessary (but really shouldn’t be) – I don’t care that Teo is transitioning or converting or whatever he is doing. I read his blog because I found it of interest occasionally, but we weren’t even the same type of Pagan. I don’t even identity as Pagan, though I’m reconsidering that.* We weren’t in the same religious community and I didn’t feel any religious kinship with him. Often, I felt his writing was good for me, in that it helped me calm and reflect.  And I think, seeing a high profile blogger leave or shift away from Paganism can help us figure out how to ‘deal with this’ better as a community.

It seems, to me, that we’re not dealing with it well much at all.

There’s insults of ‘dabblers’ and people who aren’t really serious about their religious path, and there’s the usual snips of Paganism not being for ‘rebellion’. Then, we see people claiming that if you’re uncomfortable with Teo’s shift, you’re ‘anti-Christian’ or have ‘Christian issues’, or that we all need to be supportive of this change. We have no right to anger or betrayal.

I have a problem with both of these ‘sides’.

As to the people who throw out the insult of ‘dabbler’ – conversion is a thing that happens. I would really like to see the term ‘dabbling’ retired from Pagan usage, especially by people who claim to want to build religious communities. If we treated people less like ‘dabblers’ and more like people exploring a religious choice, whatever type of Paganism they may be putting their toes into, we would radically shift the way we approach newcomers and those who leave. Words matter. Getting rid of ‘dabbling’ and the idea that people just ‘dabble’ might  help us restore some respect to newcomers, and it might even encourage people to treat their choices more seriously. Because they’re being considered serious choices. And people are allowed to explore and not immediately commit. There is nothing wrong with taking a look at Paganism before committing, and there’s nothing wrong with leaving even after you’ve been involved for some time.

If you want to build a religion or religious community, part of that is understanding that some people are going to move on or not fit. Hissing insults at them doesn’t speak well of you.

Now, onto the other ‘side’ – those claiming that negative reactions to Teo’s shift are just ‘anti-Christian’, or that their anger reflects more on them, or that people aren’t allowed to feel betrayed:

Yes, we get it, we should respect Teo’s spiritual path. Yes, you’ve said that…repeatedly. And that’s a good sentiment, and maybe we can discuss what that respect can look like. But Teo’s work does not magically become beyond critique, and it certainly doesn’t mean that anyone who has a problem with his writing is anti-Christian and needs to get over it.

I think people are forgetting that not everyone comes from Christianity – or cares about Christianity at all.

This goes beyond my constant mild frustration whenever someone mentions once again that ‘we all come from Christianity’ (wrong), though. This goes into the atmosphere and environment these posts are creating, in which only support and encouragement is seen as acceptable. But Teo has said some things that aren’t appropriate, especially as he shifts from a minority religion to a majority one.

This is an important thing to note, in my opinion. Minority religions are in a really different place when someone shifts away from them. While it is perfectly normal to lash out at a former faith – and questioning the relevance of Paganism (the question itself which was poor, mostly because he failed to specify relevance to what exactly) and saying that polytheists will end up being too ‘niche’ is, yeah, lashing out and being a jerk, not to mention his promotion of questionable history with his latest post on his own blog – lashing out has a lot different effects and implications when you lash out at a minority faith. You need to behave better and consider how what you’re saying is going to reflect on the faiths you’re talking about.

If, that is, you care at all. If you care, show it. Act like it.

People are allowed to be uncomfortable about this. They’re allowed, you know, an emotional reaction. You want to go on and on about building needed religious community? This is part of it. A reaction when someone leaves is normal. Rather than saying, “No! Bad!” like you’re reprimanding a dog, maybe consider why people feel betrayed or angry. And then discuss that.

Until Teo starts being respectful again, I’m going to keep pointing this out.

*For reasons that aren’t relevant right now, but will receive more focus later on.

About Aine

Aine Llewellyn is a 20 year old girl creature currently mucking about in southern Arizona. She enjoys the winters and rain but can’t stand the heat. She is a difficult polytheist that natters on and on about her faith.

  • JasonMankey

    You make some great points. I don’t have much sympathy for the people saying nasty things about Teo, but I understand the confusion and pain they are feeling. When the dude on the cover of Witches and Pagans magazine sounds like he’s leaving Paganism that’s going to bother people. If Joel Olsteen announced he was leaving Christianity people in that faith would be shaken up. The folks who are irate deserve our understanding too.

    Teo became a very influential Pagan. People choose who they allow to influence their lives, but Teo also put himself in a position where he could reach lots of folks. Writing here as he did and at Huffington Post is going to attract an audience. When you attract an audience and then suddenly start to move away from that audience there is going to be a backlash. Whether it’s completely rational or not is another matter.

    I wish him well, but people should be allowed to feel however they want, as long as it’s done in a respectful manner.

    • Aine

      Agreed on all points.

      I felt there was a bit of dishonesty in his post on the Wild Hunt. He is an influential voice, and he kind of brushed that off. And…I think it’s important to note that he’s influential. He shouldn’t just get a free pass to brush off influence he sought out.

      But, gah. This mess is so complex.

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    I really like your insight about newcomers and dabbling! We’d chase everyone away if we were trying to build a community and expected a new seeker to suddenly become a fully-committed high priest.

    Also, your point about Teo’s work not “magically becom[ing] beyond critique” is also really important. I think I discovered him much later than everyone else and so don’t fully understand the extent of his influence. But we should maybe all beware of how much we tend to want rock-stars and maybe forget to critique them (or our own feelings about their opinions) until they become something different than we thought or hoped they’d be.

    By way of example and sort-of embarrassing confession: when discussing this matter with an otherwise very serious and stoic witch friend of mine, he admitted what I’d been afraid to admit: we were both feeling disappointed by Teo’s ‘conversion’ specifically because we found him attractive. Not everyone may have been as shallow, but he and I can’t have been the only ones.

    • http://twitter.com/aldrin_ft Aldrin

      Your last comment. That makes the three of us.

  • PurplePagan

    So many of us who stand in the Pagan umbrella’s cover have a built-in need for figureheads. I think it’s reflected in a lot of our rituals and workings. I like to have deities and occasionally people to focus upon and, therefore, it seems logical that someone who, not every time but sometimes, could articulate well for us would be on the verge of becoming one of those figureheads.

    Still, these things happen and are all part of the vastness of human nature. Mr Bishop has followed his path in a direction that many feel will lead him to a distance from us, but it is his path to follow.

    The die are cast and the wheel has continued to turn even in the light of these events. Onward we go.

    Yes, I like mixed metaphors…

    • Aine

      I think he was well past the verge of becoming. He established himself as a well known blogger, and then brushed that off when it no longer suited him. At least he could be a bit more honest about that.

      I don’t agree that deities=figureheads, but I suspect that’s because our rituals have completely different focuses…

      All that said – of course he should follow his own path. I just don’t see why we should have to smile and wave and support that path when he’s deciding to be rude to the path(s) he’s leaving.

  • kenofken

    Bishop hosted some interesting conversations, but I never felt that invested in him as a “pagan leader.” The one constant theme in his writing over the years was his disappointment with how pagan religion failed to answer his questions and wasn’t institutional and “churchy” enough. Nothing wrong with questioning and struggling and skepticism, but I just never saw him as a “pagan’s pagan.”

    In any case, I learned a long time ago not to invest my faith in gurus of any kind. I’m in this for me and my relationship with my gods and goddesses. Other people on my path or similar paths enrich the experience, but it is not dependent on them. I also refuse to invest anything of myself in celebrities or in the public facade of someone. The pagans I spend my time with and seek counsel from are those who I have met in person and seen walk the walk over time. The best of the lot are usually the ones doing the least self-promotion. Take this as a lesson before being tempted to latch onto the next up-and-coming bright young thing in pagandom (and there will ALWAYS be one). The only thing they ultimately believe in is whatever will leverage their fame and fortune.

    • Aine

      Uh, I don’t know where I gave the impression at all that I latched onto him. I believe I actually pointed out that he and I were nowhere near the same kind of Pagan.

      Respected or well-publicized voice in the community=/=guru.

      And while you may be in it just for you and your gods, there are still other people trying to build religious communities. People are allowed to be frustrated with voices like Teo’s without having been dependent on them.

      (Also, you maaaay not want to come onto the page of someone who does A LOT of self-promotion to talk about how the best of the lot are the ones not doing, you know, what I’m doing. Thank.)

      • kenofken

        My comments aren’t direct at any one person in particular. I do think we tend to get a little too invested in public figureheads/celebrities. That’s a human thing, not at all particular to pagans, but one we would do well to be wary of.

        It’s understandable to be frustrated with someone like Teo. I have a hard time with the idea that we should be frustrated by his departure any more than any of the other thousands of people who come and go in this movement or any other. I have a huge problem with the idea that his or any one person’s departure can somehow hurt paganism or set us back in some way.

        He is of zero importance to the core relationship between us and our deities, and our community is infinitely stronger than any one person or strand in the web. Some legitimate frustration comes in the fact that this community helped put him on the map to some degree and he left it in something of a dismissive manner. That will reflect upon him, not us.

        I should clarify my point on self-promotion. There is nothing wrong with it, but in choosing teachers, leaders, gurus, or even just plain old role models, we need to take the time to learn what, if anything is behind the public visage. The people worth knowing or following over time don’t need the 24-hour PR machine. We all need that to get established, but reputations are then earned and become their own draw. On the other hand, the fast-rising stars of any movement, who always feel driven to be out front in any room or event, who always seem to say the right things and cultivate the right connections….those folks may well not have anything behind the self-promotion except more self promotion.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    You raise some good points, Aine. I’ve said all I’m going to say about Teo (at least for now), but I’m going to dig a little deeper into the issue of dabbling on my own blog.

    • Aine

      Yay! I very much look forward to reading that; your writing is always thought provoking.

  • Qweird

    I’m trying to retroactively follow what’s going on (forgot Teo existed for a good long while, there) and I can’t seem to find much that’s problematic. Do you think you could give me a tweet-length summary?

    • Aine

      Tweet-ish length summary: his comments on polytheism as being too niche, as well as the ‘brokenness’ of Paganism. The last post I saw on his personal blog included some digs at reconstructionists and implied that the conversion from polytheism to Christianity wasn’t /that bad/.

      Longer ramble: Part of the reason his words bother me is because he’s shifting toward a group with power and privilege and being dismissive and/or rude toward a group that lacks the privilege he, and Christianity, possess. His persistent ‘if you don’t like what i write you’re anti-christian’ rhetoric also got irritating and was a large reason why I unfollowed him on twitter. (Plus it’s just not true…plenty of people took issue with his writing before he announced his shift away from Paganism.)

      Of course, other people don’t view what he’s said as problematic, but I do, so I wanted to say my piece.

      • Placental Mammal

        I took a look out of morbid curiosity, and what the hell-

        “Something I do know, from my study of Classical culture and language, though, is that Hellenistic and Roman gods were not as central to those folks lives as reconstructionists like to pretend. The switch to Jesus was pretty easy, perhaps because he was seen as an active god, one who wasn’t just a story or just a metaphor. Most educated Greeks and Romans understood the Gods as metaphors.”

        A very selective and cherry picking reading and interpretations from those guys. There is no reason to believe why any well trained person in Classics today focusing on Greek or Roman religions would claim that the Ancients didn’t believe unless perhaps they wanted a hack career outside of research and academia (it isn’t unusual for people to abuse their degrees, by the way). The source texts including epigraphy do not support this. The gods were not viewed as metaphors-even though they could be looked at metaphorically-far from it. And the downplaying of repression against the old religions, that too is well attested to the source texts and archaeology. It’s not hard to find the data supporting that.

        This is not to deny the existence of atheism in antiquity, but they certainly didn’t represent most people even in the Classical and Hellenistic Ages. Indeed, Plato thought there was a place for executing atheists-part of why I think ancient values need to be looked at with a critical eye and not everything can or should be embraced by modern reconstructionist pagans.

  • yewtree

    Great post, Aine.

    About 6 years ago, I had a spiritual crisis, where my Christian past emerged from the bottom of my psyche (where it had been in a locked box marked “do not open” and buried under a volcano of anger). I actually considered leaving Paganism and Wicca. In fact, I said that I wasn’t Pagan any more.

    However, whilst I did have a large number of critiques of Paganism, I tried to avoid airing them in a way that would do harm to Paganism. I don’t know if I succeeded.

    After a couple of months, I found that I could not live without Wicca, so I joined a Unitarian church and carried on doing Wicca. Unitarianism helped immensely with the spiritual crisis (and I will always be grateful to it for that) but in the end, I realised that I am still a member of the Pagan tribe and that Wicca is my sangha, my home, my tribe, and that I am not a Unitarian (though I still think Unitarianism is a very fine thing).

    It is hard to be a Pagan in the public eye and then change your mind, and then change it back again – though actually, no-one believed that I had stopped being Pagan, thank goodness.

    But I think it does behoove public Pagans who leave to say “thank you for having me as a guest in your house; it is not my house, but it was very interesting”, even if they hated the carpet, the furniture, the food, and the music, and the inhabitants. Rules of sacred hospitality #1.

    I like the way that Carl McColman has continued to speak well of Paganism, even though he left and became a Catholic.

    • Aine


      I think we need to be very honest about being public Pagans. The thing that finally made me break any connections I had with Teo was his constant claims that he didn’t want to be a public Pagan. But…he was, and he made himself that way, and then he started behaving badly when he left. (He also has never responded to people who have asked honest questions about the less-than-stellar behavior, afaik.)

      I’m hoping this mess will pass on by, but it keeps dragging on…