Religious Unity and Identity

There’s a guest post on the Patheos Pagan blog titled “It is time for Pagans to stop being Pagan.” It’s another attempt to find a unifying principle for the community that loosely uses the label “Pagan.” The writer clearly – and understandably – has some frustration with our lack of unity of belief and practice and the occasional attempts to claim unity where none exists. He suggests we rally around “the conscious decision to defend everyone’s right to practice our own weird faith” – an admirable if uninspiring concept.

Sometimes our desire for structure, definition and identity overwhelms our ability to see things as they are: amorphous, ambiguous and organic.

This morning I sat in the overflowing sanctuary of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The service was a beautiful blend of Passover, Easter and the Easter Bunny. I’m generally not fond of “blended” services but this one was good. In that congregation were Christians, Jews, Pagans, Buddhists, Humanists and a bunch of people who are hard to classify and damned proud of it. We came together under the banner of Unitarian Universalism. We’ll come together again next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and the occasional weeknight service or weekend meeting.

Last weekend I attended a Pagan festival with about a thousand people in attendance. I met Wiccans, Heathens, Hellenics, Kemetics, Voudouisants, and a lot of people who practice a “family tradition” (I heard there was another Druid in the camp, but I never met him). Our differing mythologies, theologies and liturgies were no barrier to spending a few days enjoying Nature and each other’s company. I’ll see some of them again at Pagan Pride Day, others online or at other festivals.

Modern Paganism is a product of evolution, not of intelligent design. It began as a reaction to the environmental and commercial excesses of the Industrial Revolution that continue to this day. It’s a response to our disconnection with the land and to both male-dominated misogynistic religions and soul-denying hyper-rational scientific materialism.

It has taken the forms of whatever was available at the time. In the early days, that was Jewish and Christian mysticism and the Mesopagan orders that grew out of them such as Freemasonry and the Golden Dawn. It incorporated folk magic and the cultural heritage of the Celts, Norse, Greeks, and other people whose native religions were replaced by Christianity. Today it is heavily influenced by environmentalism.

21st century America is arguably the most individualistic culture in the history of humanity. A whole marketplace of goods, services, entertainment, politics, philosophies and religions are available to cater to our ever-widening diversity. For the most part, Pagans and UUs skew toward the wider end of the diversity pool and we aren’t likely to unite around anyone’s idea of what our religion “should” be.

But that won’t stop us from coming together where our interests intersect, whether those common interests are Sunday services or seasonal celebrations, supporting religious and other freedoms, or taking care of the home we share and the only planet we’ve got.

This, I believe, is the future of religion – not billions of people confessing the same identical creed, but small groups and individuals who delve deeply into narrowly defined interests and who come together in a series of loose confederations around broader causes, issues, and celebrations.

I claim the term “Pagan” even though it doesn’t precisely define my religion – just as I also claim the terms “Druid” and “Unitarian Universalist.” I’m not really worried about who does or doesn’t claim those same labels.

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  • >"I’m not really worried about who does or doesn’t claim those same labels."

    You know what? You and I have roughly the same perspective on this. The term "Pagan" is just about the closest descriptive I've found for how I think and believe – with Druidry adding the correct complimentary system as well. But despite me trying to find a manner of describing what I believe – I've never had a tendency to wring my hands over who else may or may not fall under those particular descriptions as well. If all is "right" with someone's heart and spirit – that's all that really matters, regardless of the descriptive they utilize. My own focus is sharing my moments in life with my students in the classroom, or through the podcast, or my own blog — and spending my other moments cultivating the richness of my family members — something I've not done a lot of over the past few years. And while all of that is important to me — it may be completely different for someone else — and who am I to say that my focal importance should be what they are focusing on? Instead of looking at the differences or similarities – my hope is to focus on the passionate undercurrents, that driving force that places the focus there.

    Not really sure if that makes any sense for you (or anyone else for that matter) but its honestly crystal clear for me. But I'm sort of used to the idea that what makes sense to me might not be the same for anyone else too. LOL