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.