A Failure to Communicate (And Hope for the Future)

Sometimes I look around the Pagan Blogosphere and simply shake my head, unsure of what to say. Today is one of those days. It would be easy to describe Modern Paganism as a hydra, one creature with many heads, but that’s not probably going far enough. Today’s Paganism is more like many hydras, each of those with countless heads. As long as there are Pagans there will be disagreements among Pagans.

Disagreeing with someone is not a horrible thing, nor does it have to be adversarial. I usually learn more about myself when talking with someone who believes differently than I do. It forces me to think about my own arguments and to reason out-loud why I believe what I believe. I enjoy being challenged, and to those I disagree with, it’s not personal. I don’t dislike someone because they think differently than I do.

Today I read an intelligent and articulate blogger respond to a peer with the phrase “Fuck off, John.” I couldn’t believe it. This writer* then blamed the individual she disagreed with for intra-faith communication not being better:

The Holy Powers may be nothing more than ideas to you, or mental constructs or whatever the fuck you pretend to believe, but some of us actually do right by Them . . . . Seriously, THIS is why we simply cannot have effective intra-community dialogue.

There are lines in both my writing and spirituality that I refuse to cross. I would NEVER mock someone for their beliefs, no matter how different they might be from my own, and most importantly I would NEVER accuse someone of pretending “to believe.” I used to think that standing under the Pagan Umbrella meant that those around me would accept the validity of my beliefs, even when disagreeing with me. Apparently that ideal is not shared by everyone.

Right before reading this “how to” in poor communications Christine Kraemer (managing editor here at Patheos Pagan, hi boss!) had just announced Pagan Tea Time, an initiative to promote face to face discussions in the Pagan Blogopshere. If you haven’t heard about Tea Time yet, here is Christine’s vision:

So here’s my proposition: during the month of February, if you write online, make a date to have a cup of tea (or food or drink of your choice) with another writer or commenter. Even better, be daring, and make it someone you’ve argued with. Those of you who are attending PantheaCon will have numerous opportunities to eat and drink and talk together in person, and I hope you will take them! But for those who won’t be there, I invite you to take a risk: e-mail someone (or more than one!) whose voice you’ve never heard before and ask them for an hour of their time via video chat (or failing that, phone). Get a glimpse of their pets or babies or partners. Show off your altar or your book collection or the way the sunlight slants into your kitchen. Put away your debates for a while and take the time to talk. Debates can come later.

How do I grow Pagan intellectual culture?

I form relationships. Won’t you join me this February?

Reading this nearly alongside a post accusing someone of “pretending to believe” made me wonder if it’s all too late. Has the venom gotten to the point where certain segments (and individuals) in our community are just incapable of speaking to one another as adults? I hope that’s not the case, but at this point, I’ll admit to being unsure.

Even with my doubts, I love Christine’s idea. It becomes harder to curse and mock people when you’ve actually spoken to them, even if it’s just on Skype. I believe that the majority of us are reasonable folks and that online communication simply stinks sometimes. Keyboards are just incapable of reproducing sarcasm and comments made in good faith are misinterpreted resulting in miscommunication and anger. I’ll be happily to come out from behind the keyboard anytime someone’s interested, I promise no profanities or insults either.

I couldn’t really find a good place for this in the article, so I decided to include it as a post-script.

When someone writes something disagreeable there are various ways to respond that don’t involve the word “fuck.” Here are some of my favorites:

1. Ignore the whole thing. Why give something you disagree with more exposure?

2. Argue with the content not the individual. If you really disagree with something point out why it’s wrong. Keep the personal out of it.

3. Write a private note explaining your concerns. Most Pagan bloggers are not out to offend, a little private correspondence can go a long way.

*I have decided not to name the bloggers in question. You can easily connect the dots on Google because I’ve given you a whole quote, it will pop right up. What’s most important to me is the idea that adults don’t respond to something they disagree with “Fuck off.” We can do better.

~Note~ I have decided to turn off the comments for this particular post. After a promising start things kind of got out of control. The point of this post was not to argue over the definition of polytheism but to examine the ways we communicate with each other publicly. That seems to have gotten lost.

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About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.