I recently had an interesting experience that is not new to me per se, but yet was very new in some ways. I often talk about the uniqueness of being an ethnic minority, and how that can feel in majority culture. Interestingly I have always been able to relate experiences from that perspective to that of my experience in the Pagan community. What I have not always considered is the position of Paganism as the minority among the larger religious culture, and how many people might also find themselves in this same position among others religious denominations.
In a recent situation that spurred several “conversations” among a group of multi-faith religious writers, I found myself feeling like the condemned minority inside of a majority led dynamic. It screams of the privilege of majority faith followers in a society that expects everyone to think like them or be like them. I found that disturbing and fascinating at the same time, as a spiritual person and as a Black woman
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live in a world that allowed me to speak my own opinions as if they were fact without regard to others around me, and have that assumption be honored or accepted by the mainstream because of a title I have or because of a face I wear (whether it be race or religion). Then I think of how much of an impact that could have when compounded by generations of the same behavior and acceptance.
That level of allowance is not something that Black people often have and Pagans haven’t either. Is is safe to think that this type of continuous experience for any person might just fool him or her into the mindset that his or her thoughts are the correct and only answer? I could see how this would happen. We often talk about the concepts of grandiosity in my profession of drug treatment because it is so prominent in the use of specific drug characteristics, and in some forms of mental illness. These thoughts of grandeur can be a catalyst for behavior that is often delusional and without a personal sense of reflection because it separates a person from understanding his or her connection to cause and effect.
Wikipedia had a great sentence that summed up the concept of grandiosity, “It refers to an unrealistic sense of superiority, a sustained view of oneself as better than others that causes the narcissist to view others with disdain or as inferior”.
I have thought hard on this after my experience being involved within a group of other faith writers where the few Pagans are the minority, and wonder if we (as a society) build these perceptions of superheroes in our mainstream religious cultures? I have come to believe we do. Whether that superhero is a person or particular faith, there seems to be a lot of capes flapping in the breeze, and these grandiose behaviors.
A superhero often flies around town with a flowing cape, riding on the support and confidence of the people. A superhero fights their own perceived form of evil or wrongdoers. The community then puts trust in the security of the hero; cheers and applause from the crowd are not usually followed by questioning and reason. If we are looking to marginalize others beliefs between right and wrong, good and evil, Pagans will lose automatically in the mainstream view of religious authority, and so will every other minority spiritual or religious path.
This thought brings about two specific points in my mind. For people who are a believer of one of the “majority” faiths, it can be essential to remember the value of humility when working with others who (wait for it..) might not think, worship or believe as you do. They exist; really. And in my world of thought there are reasons that your God and My Gods made us with a myriad of thoughts or beliefs. If they wanted us to be the same, we would be. Instead there might be something we are suppose to learn from one another.
Do not let your assumption of right or wrong support your forgetfulness around the value of each human being. Superhero capes can help a person fly but they can also get caught in plane propellers. That is a huge risk to anyone’s faith.
The other thought I had circles around the common struggle with understanding the concept of privilege Privilege is not about any one thing in isolation. It is an accumulation of many variables that add to the societal concept and the unconscious (or conscious) thoughts that build expectations of rights that are not always common to all. It is the internalized assumptions that are ingrained so deep we have a hard time identifying them, unless you lose them or live without them.
My fellow Pagans, if you struggle with understanding forms of privilege, you don’t have to look too far to see them in the interactions of others within the greater religious community. My professional and personal experience tells me that when we are able to look at people as mirrors, the opportunity to see ourselves becomes clearer as well. I consciously work to identify the privilege within my own life so that I can be a better person, writer, Pagan, mother, counselor, wife and friend.
What would happen if we took the same experiences as being Pagans, the minority religion, and examined how the same treatment we might encounter from others live inside of us as well? I hope everyone explores that more; I plan to.