I’m a Southern girl, born and bred. I’ve had family serve during almost every military conflict from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. I grew up on Gone With The Wind, trips to Fort Sumter and watching the laser show dance across the faces of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at Stone Mountain. Despite this, I have no love for Southern romanticism regarding the Civil War. In fact, although I am a history buff, I tend to not dwell on it if I can help it. It carries deep emotion and infinite nuance and can sweep you away if you let it.
PBS’ second part of their God In America series touches on Lincoln and the Civil War. It stirred up all sorts of thoughts and emotions. One idea it brought to the forefront was that “Jesus died to make men holy. The men of the Civil War died to make men free.” That’s a powerful statement. Dying to make men free. It’s true that men on both sides interpreted freedom quite differently but both fervently believed that their cause was to free men from that which bound them.
I’m proud of our Pagans in the military and I’m proud of our Pagan pacifists. I do not doubt their commitment to, or the strength of, their convictions. I have faith that they are people of strong ethical standards. What I wonder though, is if confronted by moral imperative are modern Pagans willing to die to make men free?
Without qualifying the issue, without exploring nuances, if you were faced with a situation in which you knew without a doubt that your actions could free humans unjustly bound and your actions might imperil your life, would you act?
Think about it. Don’t think about what you ought to do or should do. Think about what you would do. I confess, I find the idea daunting.
My patron, Hephaistos, has an interesting relationship with the concept of freedom. He refuses to be bound by Olympus, by Zeus, by handicap or even by Aphrodite. The rituals of his Cabeiri were uninhibited frenzy and the fire Prometheus gave to man came from his forge. Hephaistos likes humans and prefers to live among them when he can. At times he’s portrayed wearing something very similar to a liberty cap.
I am devoted to Hephaistos. While my devotion to him is different from a Christians devotion to Christ, it is no less sincere and no less affectionate. If Hephaistos told me to fast for two days, I would do this. If Hephaistos told me to go into the healthcare field, I would argue fiercely but I would in all likelyhood do that as well. If Hephaistos told me to summon up my passion, conviction and courage in order to be prepared to lay down my life for another’s freedom, I would want to cling to that pure ideal, but I’m not certain I could do it.
We’ve become an apathetic people. We feel impotent in our politics, impotent in our churches and impotent in our ability to prevent environmental destruction. If confronted with a great ethical and moral question, such as slavery, do we even have faith that we could make a difference?
(For a great Pagan response to the first third of the God In America series check out the post from The Wild Hunt.)