“A mighty host respond”: Pagan unity through diversity

Three mountains diverged in the sky, and I—I took one of them and you took the other. And that has made all the difference.

This past Sunday, in the morning “Sprit Circle” discussion group at my local Unitarian church, we watched the introduction to the PBS documentary Beyond Our Differences.  The movie explores “the fundamental unity of the worlds religions”.  It features interviews with the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Karen Armstrong, Deepak Chopra and dozens of other religious leaders and authors.

I took issue with the premise from the start.  And I shared my recent experience trying to understand devotional polytheism.  I explained how had started out trying to find the similarities between my experiences and beliefs and those of devotional polytheists.  What I did not see right away was that I was not even trying to understand polytheists in their own terms.  Their “otherness” made me uncomfortable, and so I tried (unconsciously) to reduce their différance, to make them more like me in my own mind.  I tried to interpret their words to fit my own comfortable categories.  And so I failed to really understand them.

A friend of mine offered a great analogy during the Spirit Circle discussion.  He explained that he grew up on the Northwest, and when he went to the coast, he saw that the ocean was turbulent and cold, the beach rocky and hard.  Later in his life, he visited Florida and was shocked to experience a different ocean, one which was warm and inviting, a beach which was soft and transitioned gradually into the ocean.  I think he meant to suggest that both of these oceans are connected.  They are in some sense, the same body of water.  Nevertheless, I think the two experiences are so different that it is difficult to speak in a meaningful way about them being the same.  We call both “ocean”, but in what sense are they similar?  You can get wet in both places, but even “wetness” is a very different experience in Oregon and Florida.  To me, it seems that the differences between the two experiences matter more than the similarities.  I care less about the chemical composition of water in general, and more about my friend’s experience of an ocean I have never known.

The same is true of experiences of the Divine.  The Tao Te Ching begins:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

I’m not denying the existence of one monistic Divine, one eternal Tao, one great ocean connecting all of our religious experience … but is it possible to talk meaningfully about it apart from our own idiosyncratic experiences of the “ten thousand things”?  I don’t think so.

Religious scholar, Bryan Wilson, has identified seven types of religions: conversionist, revolutionist, introversionist, gnostic manipulationist, thaumaturgic, reformist, and utopian.  There are probably other types too, and there is undoubtedly overlap between the types.  Different kinds of Paganism would likely fall into different categories.  There’s not enough space to go into what all these categories mean here, but the point is that there are fundamental differences between religions.  These are not different paths up the same mountain.  They are different mountains.

I think a lot of interfaith work starts out with the admirable goal of finding similarities between religious communities.  (The Foundation for Religious Diplomacy is one exception.)  The hope is that this will reduce religious conflict and violence.  But I think that, in the process of seeking universality, we lose too many of the particulars.  Those particulars are important.  They can be as important, or even more important, than the universals.  As Stephen Prothero observes in his book, God is Not One, “These differences may not matter to mystics or philosophers of religion, but they matter to ordinary religious people.”

The result is that we end up watering down religion — usually other people’s religion — so it is palatable to us.  This does not really reduce religious conflict.  It actually perpetuates conflict by distracting us from learning about the real differences between religions.  I’m not suggesting that we stop looking for our similarities, those that are rooted in our common humanity.  But we shouldn’t try so hard to find them that we end up loosing sight of our differences, which are part of our humanity too.

In the process of searching for these commonalities, we tend to identify those elements that we like as “core” or “essential” and those we don’t like as mere “interpretations”.  (Swami Sivananda writes, “The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same.  There is difference only in the non-essentials.)  But one person’s “interpretation” is another person’s “core”.  And in the process digging for the “core” of all religions, we inevitably whittle away the experiences of certain classes of individuals — usually women, minorities, and the underprivileged — and even whole communities.  Looking at the dozens of religious leaders gathered in the Beyond Our Differences documentary, for example, I noticed that women were under-represented.  Liberal voices were over-represented.  Educated voices predominated.  What other voices were lost in the discussion, I wonder?

The way this happens can be very subtle.  Take this very simple example.  Sunday afternoon, I was talking to my wife about this very discussion in my UU Spirit Circle earlier that morning, and she said, “Don’t all religions share the same basic values?”  First of all, I think the answer to that question is “No.”  But even the question itself shows how profound differences can be lost in the process of seeking commonalities.  My wife phrased the question of religious commonality in terms of “values”.  It’s a natural question for her, and for many Mormons, who frame their religion primarily in terms of values.  But that’s not true for all religious people.  My own values, for example, flow from reason, compassion, and social contract, while religion for me is primarily about the “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder [...] which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”  (First Source of Unitarian Universalism).  By framing the question in terms of values, my wife inadvertently privileged forms of religiosity which were similar to her own.

This can happen in an intrafaith context too.  It happens routinely in the Pagan community whenever we try to define what Paganism means.  Most attempts to define Paganism begin with mandatory lip service paid to Paganism’s diversity and then proceed to define the community by certain “core” ideas and practices which supposedly most of us hold in common.  The problem is that such lists always tend to privilege the Paganism of the author of the list.  While such attempts do commonly concede that there are forms of Paganism which are divergent, these lists unavoidably put certain ideas and practices at the conceptual center, pushing the divergent forms of Paganism to the periphery.  The result is that entire religious traditions are marginalized.  This has happened to devotional polytheists over the last decade or so.  Then we see individuals and groups withdraw from the Pagan community, because they no longer feel that Paganism is their home.  And when they leave, the Pagan community as a whole is diminished for the loss of their diversity.

(This is why I prefer to think of Paganism as having multiple centers, at least three — deity, earth, and Self – and possibly more.  This is a decentralized model is intended to reduce the risk that any one will be privileged over the others.)

One of the most visible forms of this totalizing of Pagan experience happens when we gather for pan-Pagan gatherings, especially Pagan Pride Day.  There, we feel compelled to present a unified face to the non-Pagan world.  As a result, we conduct purportedly “generic” Pagan rituals, which are really inspired predominately by one Pagan tradition, and then watered down to be palatable to many, but savory to none.  Stephen Prothero observes that “religion does not exist in the abstract.  You cannot practice religion in general, any more than you can speak language in general.”  So-called “generic” Pagan rituals are proof of this.  As many people will attest, these rituals are the worst that Paganism has to offer.  So why do we do them when we should be showcasing our best?

I wonder, wouldn’t it be better, rather than trying to represent everyone at once, instead to take turns presenting rituals that are specific to smaller Pagan groupings?  Instead of having a Wiccanate ritual open and close Pantheacon every year, for example, the organizers chould invite different traditions each year to plan something different.  Instead of performing the same Wiccanesque circle casting and calling of the quarters at the next CUUPs ritual, leaders could invite people to share a ritual that really matters to them.  Yes, ask them to explain their tradition and the ritual to those who are unfamiliar with them.  Invite them to tailor it for the larger community to the extent they are comfortable, but don’t pressure them to dumb it down or make it more accessible to everyone if doing so will compromise the integrity of the ritual.  If we truly value diversity as much as we claim, shouldn’t we be encouraging deviation from the standard Wiccanate ritual format?

This is just one suggestion, but it is part of a broader vision of building community around difference, instead of around commonality.  I admit, I have been guilty focusing too much on the supposed similarities among Pagans myself.  You can see on this very blog how I have frequently tried to define Paganism in my own image.  But I’m starting to ask different questions now … Is it possible to build a religious community around the idea of celebrating difference?  Is it possible that what makes us “Pagan” is not what we have in common, but the ways we are different?  Perhaps being “Pagan” means nothing more (and nothing less) than being one those who have gathered around this word, “Pagan”, gathered together to celebrate not a single meaning, but to celebrate the diversity of what that word means to us.

During the service at my Unitarian church Sunday, we sang “Where is our holy church?” (Singing the Living Tradition, Hymn 113).  I was struck by one line, goes:

“Where is our holy One? A mighty host respond …”

Most interfaith and intrafaith discussions about community might be described as a search for the “holy One”.  But in response to our call for Oneness, the world answers with a “mighty host”; it answers with the “ten thousand things”.  I think the wider Pagan community might take a page from the polytheists and consider seeking unity in diversity, or better yet, unity through diversity.  This is like what Jason Pitzl-Waters described as “solidarity, not unity”, but even more than that.  It is a kind of unity, not in spite of our differences, but because of our differences.  It is about seeing diversity, not as an obstacle, but as a strength, as a resource.  It is about seeing our difference paradoxically as the real defining characteristic of Pagan community.  This radically different kind of community is, I think, one of the promises of Paganism.

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  • http://www.12stepwitch.com/ 12StepWitch

    Where’s the damn like button? ’cause you said it all.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      :)

    • An Elder Apprentice

      12StepWitch, I believe the little ^ symbol is a ‘like button’. But I am glad you wrote out your ‘like’ so that I could like it.

  • yewtree

    Yes! I love this. I have a post in the works entitled “Your mountain is not my mountain but that’s OK” (taking a leaf from the kink community’s saying “Your kink is not my kink but that’s OK”). You have said here much of what I was thinking would go into that post.

    I wonder if we actually each have our very own mountain – not just a mountain for each tradition and religion and denomination, but personal mountains.

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    This makes me think about how Sam Webster argues that the rise of “Paganism” (as a self-applied label) has always been countercultural, a way of saying “we are the Other.” (Hopefully I am not mis-paraphrasing him.)

    • Henry Buchy

      countercultural in the sense that ‘Pagan culture” should be restored to being “mainstream culture” which in some respects is a romanticism.

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    BTW, can I count this as your contribution to the “What do we hope to build?” question? It is apropos. :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Yes, thanks!

  • http://whenthewhorlsfuse.wordpress.com Dauphine Sb

    I think it even gets to the entire idea of “religion”, which is itself a construct. Some “religions” (like Buddhism) have no word for religion! I’m not a religious studies scholar by any means and others could speak to this more specifically, but it seems that there are a lot of unspoken 19th century ideas of secularism, anthropology and, yeah, colonialism. One of the things that has attracted me to paganism is the possibility of having a “religion without religion”–and maybe this speaks to your idea of gathering around differences. Maybe it’s a matter of a ragtag group trying to move past the assumptions of what allows “rationalist” religious categories to exist in the first place (but not from an intent of erasing differences). I don’t know.

  • yewtree

    Rabbi Rami over on the Judaism channel has nailed how to do diversity properly in a series of posts on the Jewish people as storytellers.

    Pagans are people of many different stories, and many different interpretations of those stories, too.

    March 4, 2014 1. A Tribe of Storytellers
    March 6, 2014 2. Faith in Story
    March 6, 2014 3. Nurturing Our Story
    March 6, 2014 4. Two Jews, Three Opinions
    March 6, 2014 5. Our Endangered Species

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks, I’ll check it out!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      >>”most of us disagree with one another as to how the story is to be misread, or what it means, or how to live it. That’s a funny thing about our tribe: we don’t agree on much. Funnier still, we take our lack of agreement as a hallmark of what it is to be a member of this tribe.”

      Yes!

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Fantastic insights, John–and I hope I’m not saying that just because the way you’ve phrased things here largely agrees with my own thoughts on these matters…!?! ;)

  • http://www.12stepwitch.com/ 12StepWitch

    I think a lot of this comes down to feeling comfortable with thinking other people are wrong.

    Many of us are not comfortable with thinking other people are wrong, especially people we like and respect. So, we come up with worldviews that allow us to express ourselves in radically different ways but conveniently, in the end, all end up in the same place (many paths up the mountain).

    But, if I am going to appreciate diversity but at the same time have conviction in my own beliefs, I need to be ok with thinking other people are wrong.

    For example.
    If I believe in the immanence of deity, but am friends with a devotional polytheist who does NOT, then I need to respect their beliefs by not trying to tell them that they REALLY believe the same thing I believe, but they are just expressing it differently. No, in fact, I can just think they are wrong. I don’t need to make their worldview fit mine with some creative accounting.

    That is uncomfortable for me. I will admit it. I am naturally inclined towards a many-paths model that lets us all be correct. but I see now that I cause harm when I try to violently impose this on other people. It is my attempt to exercise power-over by rewriting their narrative for my own convenience.

    I was reading Carol Christ’s most recent piece this morning Immanent Inclusive Monothism with a Multiplicity of Symbols Affirming All the Diversity and Difference in the World and I think for the first time I really *got* it.

    By it, I mean just how aggressive and demeaning that this grinding insistence that “All God/dess are One” and that “I am more like you than unlike you” (and perhaps, as an extension from that, than my beliefs and Gods are more like yours than unlike yours) can be.

    There is a blindspot, a huge one, that many Neo-Pagans have. It’s sort of like being part of the Borg….why would you not want to assimilate, to let your cultural uniqueness be added to our own?

    Anyway…just some thoughts, on my own realizations on these issues. This is not an easy growth path for sure.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      >”This is not an easy growth path for sure.”

      It’s has been and continues to be a rocky road for me.

      I like the Borg reference!

  • Courtney

    I’m glad, John, that even though you may feel like you spent a long while barking up the wrong tree, or trying to drag others with you up your mountain, you can use your experience to guide others towards your understanding in perhaps a quicker time frame.
    It seems to me that teaching others about our underlying unity has its place. I think many of us today take for granted that every human has value and deserves certain freedoms. We were brought up that way or have been definitively convinced. Unfortunately, there are still plenty out there that think of others as second-class citizens or almost a different species due to their gender, sexuality, religion, or race. The job of getting the common human to accept our common humanity is far from over. For those of us who take such things for granted, our response to the “we’re all human”/”coexist” rhetoric may be to over-extend that reach and try to overstate similarities. (Reminds me of this girl in a class I took once who asked the professor, “Birds are reptiles, right?” Of course they aren’t- but once you hear that they evolved from dinosaurs, and if you have a certain idea of a dinosaur, you think that makes birds reptiles. But they aren’t, any more than a mammal is a fish or a human is a great ape.)
    It’s like… for a long time I felt like humanity, and our “higher consciousness”, and most definitely myself, were flukes in a cold, dead, uncaring universe. I found some philosophy that turned it around for me and made me feel at home in the universe for the first time since I was little. I felt a wondrous sense of how everything is connected, that everything we see and touch comes from ever-more complex combinations of simple elements, etc. I felt that nature and humanity and myself were all One; it was just what I needed at the time. But then after a few months, after I had come to take this for granted, my brain started to overcompensate, and I started running into new problems by thinking my tiny little-s self somehow had to encompass everyone; that what I felt in my heart was the right way, that every person’s problem was my problem.
    Uh- I guess my point got a little lost in there, but it was this: we humans share many things in common with each other and with animals, which should lead us to some conclusions as far as ethics and mutual respect, and there are many people who still need convincing of this. But if you’re used to taking that as a given, it becomes healthy to focus on differences, lest you lose or suppress the reality of how complex and diverse human tradition and human individuality really is.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      >”The job of getting the common human to accept our common humanity is far from over. For those of us who take such things for granted, our response to the “we’re all human”/”coexist” rhetoric may be to over-extend that reach and try to overstate similarities. [...]

      >”… we humans share many things in common with each other and with animals, which should lead us to some conclusions as far as ethics and mutual respect, and there are many people who still need convincing of this. But if you’re used to taking that as a given, it becomes healthy to focus on differences, lest you lose or suppress the reality of how complex and diverse human tradition and human individuality really is.”

      Excellent point. The job of convincing the world of our common humanity is far from over. I have taken that for granted, given my Pagan audience, but we need to be reminded of that too.

  • trueinar .

    Thank you John. You have successfully expressed something I have been trying to for some time.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thank you! I am still struggling with the language to describe this idea. It doesn’t come naturally to me.

      • trueinar .

        Maybe part of why it sounded like what I was saying is due to what I guess we share: we are both former Mormon pagans. There aren’t really that many of us so it is always interesting to run into another.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          There’s more of us than I used to think. Given the percentages, I’ve met a surprisingly high number of post-Mormon Pagans.

      • Kenneth Apple

        There is a reason so many ancient wisdom texts don’t make sense on the surface and only give up their meaning to deep study.

  • An Elder Apprentice

    Thank you John for the wonderful post.

    The metaphor of the realm of religion as being a land with many mountains (and I know it also has deserts, grasslands, caves, lakes, rivers, and oceans, even a city or two) feels so right. Are you saying that Pagans are those who crave diversity and paradox as our route to meaning and truth? This land might have its underlying unity of mechanism, its three laws of motion or genetic code as it were, but is what is common across the Pagan calling the primacy of the experience of the diversity; experiencing this realm’s particular manifestations becomes central rather than the search for unity of either cause or meaning?

    What does it mean for me to become Pagan?
    Must I become comfortable with Gods, my own and those beloved by others, who are diverse, contradict each other and overlap in authority and scope? Do I learn how hold and allow others to hold conflicting and seemingly irreconcilable theologies, knowing that any synthesis, if a synthesis is even possible, may produce more wonder but but will likely just increase any intellectual theological tension? Will I become polypractic (I think I just made up a good pseudo-academic word here) in accepting the diversity of possible religious expression however knowing that I am limited to only a few deep practices in this life? Do I want to accept polydoxy (hey, one more and I have a hat trick for creating new pseudo-words) where the beliefs of others must be different from mine and mine must change and evolve?

    What happens when I begin to climb one particular mountain in this realm and start to see other beautiful peaks in this range off into the distance? Do I become a mountaineer, and climb many peaks, or do I so fall in love with the one I am climbing that I explore it for the rest of my life and see the other mountains only in the distance, while knowing that others are climbing there, equally in love with their climbs too? Do I live in a world where I know I get a choice in how I experience the mountain range?

    Am I as a Pagan one who has fallen in love with possibility of diversity of this realm as much as the realm itself, knowing that I the I must chose just a few of the innumerable trails.

    I agree, this is living a paradox, one that is a great gift to myself and I trust to our world.
    Again, thank you for your post.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      >”The metaphor of the realm of religion as being a land with many mountains (and I know it also has deserts, grasslands, caves, lakes, rivers, and oceans, even a city or two) feels so right.”

      Yes! I thought about this when I wrote the post, but didn’t address it. Even the image of a mountain suggests a certain kind of spirituality, right? Upward striving, etc. And that is not all religions.

      It seems that most of your questions were rhetorical, but I wanted to respond to a few.

      >”Are you saying that Pagans are those who crave diversity and paradox as our route to meaning and truth?”

      I think that’s one part of it. But different religions might also fall under the description. I think we are also the people to whom the word “Pagan” calls.

      >”but is what is common across the Pagan calling the primacy of the experience of the diversity; experiencing this realm’s particular manifestations becomes central rather than the search for unity of either cause or meaning?”

      I know there are Pagans who do one or the other, or both.

      >”What does it mean for me to become Pagan? Must I become comfortable with Gods, my own and those beloved by others, …”

      No, there are non-theistic and atheistic Pagans.

      >”Do I learn how hold and allow others to hold conflicting and seemingly irreconcilable theologies, …”

      That does seem to be common among Pagans.

      >”…accepting the diversity of possible religious expression however knowing that I am limited to only a few deep practices in this life?”

      Again, that seems to be common among Pagans.

      • An Elder Apprentice

        Thanks for your reply.
        A bit of clarification, when I said, ‘Comfortable with Gods …’, I was using ‘Gods’ in the most broad possible way and would have been clearer if that question had said something like, ‘Gods, or no Gods at all …’, to include the Naturalistic or Non-theistic which I meant to include among those who might answer ‘yes’ to that question.

        ‘To whom the word Pagan calls…’, I would assume that in most cases such people would have to be rather comfortable being with others who were called use to the same word to describe themselves. Thus some overlap in our mutual definitions of Pagan is required for the word to ‘call’, some commonality in the definition seems required.

        This leads to another rhetorical question. If I am one who is called to label myself ‘Pagan’, when would I say of another “she claims to be Pagan but ain’t”? In my experience, in many but not all cases, a personal ‘bouncer’ might be called to remove that person from a personal rhetorical Pagan cocktail party if that person were to not accept significant diversity of practice and belief in others as basic requirement for calling themselves Pagan. At minimum I expect such a person would have less to talk about with other self-identified Pagans at the rhetorical party.

        You seem to have delineated the importance of this particular quality of acceptance of spiritual diversity as one possible defining characteristic so well in the original post and in your reply to my comment. However, clearly there are other dimensions to any Pagan’s self definition of the word. A Unitarian probably accepts such diversity too as part of their self-definition of Unitarian and clearly not all Unitarians would call themselves Pagan.

  • Julian Betkowski

    John, you really impressed me with this essay. I admit that I have been deeply suspicious of you and your writing, and yet here you have demonstrated such an earnestness and openness that it is really heart-warming. I would absolutely love to have a tea time conversation with you, even though February is now well behind us. If you are interested in having a chat, please do let me know!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Julian, that would be great. I’ll shoot you an email or Facebook message.

  • Northern_Light_27

    This article is fantastic, and I really love the way you’ve changed and grown in how you understand your religion and those of the people around you. I agree completely with the idea of embracing diversity and seeking to really understand it instead of looking for commonalities (or worse, forcing commonalities).

    I completely disagree, though, with the idea that the people who’ve left Paganism did so because they were marginalized (though it’s certainly true of some) or that Paganism is diminished when religious groups leave it. I think the opposite is true, actually, that leaving strengthens groups and makes Paganism perhaps more coherent; that Paganism would benefit from seeking to get to know diverse groups once within its “umbrella” as not just “Pagan traditions” but as completely different religions. I’m mainly thinking of Heathenism here, but it’s hard to look at the parts of Heathenism that have broken away from Paganism and not see that they’ve benefited enormously from doing so. Comparing the information being shared now with older material it’s clear that the knowledge base of how our ancestors thought and behaved has increased exponentially– a lot of that is from a few Heathens who rejected borrowings from Wicca and from Ceremonial Magick and sought a more scholarly approach. These founded forums and a journal and found others with the same interest, and last year the wider community paid into a kickstarter to send one Heathen to Iceland for a Masters’ program in ancient Germanic studies. That person has been regularly sharing the things he’s learning with other Heathens. I think rejecting a romanticized, Neo-Pagan model of how it must have been has allowed for a real renaissance of learning of how it actually was, which in turn has led to an embracing of completely different models of religion– a turning away from big, national organizations and a centralized idea of Heathenism and an embracing of local/regional organizations that each have their own customs and their own traditions, but with information sharing and discussion between them. I think Pagans could learn something from that, and benefit from the idea that “I can learn from you without having to *be* you”.

    I don’t know, I’m probably not articulating this very well, but I’m starting to think that the Pagan umbrella may be nearing the end of its usefulness in many ways. I think as public acceptance increases there may be more value in Wiccans networking with Heathens networking with Druids networking with Hellenists networking with Humanistic Naturalists networking with Devotional Polytheists as completely different religions and true interfaith, without the pressure of trying to define themselves within Paganism and figure out who is and isn’t part of that boundary. People could concentrate on core statements that are real for their religion or even their specific group without worrying that they don’t include every single Pagan. I think the effort to be all things to all people hurts Paganism– I agree completely about a wide, diverse range of rituals, no more dumbing down, etc., I just don’t know that we need to do it *as Pagans*. If groups leave, it doesn’t mean their content is gone from the internet never to be retrieved again, after all. I read Heathen content, Pagan content, Satanist content, Thelemic content, Christian content, Jewish content without feeling the need to be part of all of these religions just to learn from and about them. So I guess my answer is that no, I’m not sure we can build *a* religious community around the idea of celebrating difference, but we can build *many* religious communities and friendly information-sharing and social ties between them built on the idea of celebrating difference, and I think that model would run very well and benefit a lot more people.

    • WAH

      I agree with this completely. In addition, aside from problems with the modern community there are many of us who view terms like “Pagan” and “Heathen” as fundamentally problematic *in and of themselves*.

      • Northern_Light_27

        I’ve never heard of the idea that “Heathen” is a problematic word, could you tell me more about what the problems are that people are seeing?

        • WAH

          Both “Pagan” and “Heathen” derive from words that had nothing to do with religion and were given their religious connotations by Christian opposition. So using them to refer to religions positively is a redefinition rather than a reclaiming, not to mention an uncritical adoption of the words. In addition, I personally think “Heathen” gets used to imply a unity in modern Germanic religions that doesn’t really reflect the historical reality.

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            I’ve come to this place regarding words like ‘pagan’ or ‘heathen’: I acknowledge that, per common English–or general Western usage–they refer to people like me, i.e. people practicing polytheistic, pre-Christian religions; but that doesn’t mean that I have to accept either of those as a label for my religious identity, or that it automatically makes me a part of a community with all other people to whom those terms apply.

            • WAH

              Exactly. In fact I specifically tell people that, “according to the dictionary I am, yes, but I personally find the term offensive and ask that you not call me that.” People tend to be alright with it once I’ve explained. “Heathen” I’m still in the habit of using out of convenience in very specific contexts, like when the people I’m talking to understand what I mean by the word. But outside of Pagan and Heathen circles I don’t identify myself as “Heathen.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks!

      >”So I guess my answer is that no, I’m not sure we can build *a* religious community around the idea of celebrating difference, but we can build *many* religious communities and friendly information-sharing and social ties between them built on the idea of celebrating difference, and I think that model would run very well and benefit a lot more people.”

      I guess religious it depends on how you define “community”, but ” friendly information-sharing and social ties between them built on the idea of celebrating difference” sounds like a kind of community to me.


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