When M’Colleague first broached the “what does it mean to be a Pagan-American” subject, I was all excited and deeply thoughtful. Unfortunately, even the deeply thoughtful must vacuum the car and buy some groceries. As I drove around my touristy-collegey-military town I was horrified at the holiday goings-on. It was an explosion of tourists in the tackiest red, white and blue get-ups you ever did see. One older fella was wearing patriotic plaid shorts with decorative patches. *shudder*
I’m no fashion plate. I have been known to eat spam. I never use a fork to eat either pizza or fried chicken. I am a born and bred cracker and dang well proud of it. They say you can’t make fun of rednecks unless you are one, and like the man says, I are one. So when I tell you I recoiled from patriotism in all it’s redneck glory, I do so from an insider’s perspective. I went from feeling very much that I was a proud Pagan-American to “I’m not one of those people” in 5 minutes flat. So to answer M’Colleague’s query, I first must resolve this here paradox.
The problem with embracing patriotism and wrapping myself in the American flag is that I associate it with hypocrisy. The flag-wavers don’t tend to really believe in religious freedom, or in liberty, or in many of the ideals they espouse. People whose heart swells to John Phillip Sousa I have come to associate with the unthinking, hypocritical bigots I have encountered in my life. The ones who think because I drink RC Cola I must vote Republican (aka not for that black candidate), or that because I love Dolly Parton I can’t be a feminist, or worse, that because I was brought up to be polite and hospitable as any good daughter of the South I must be a good Baptist or Methodist.
Calling myself patriotic, or even a good American, rubs me raw because I associate that language with distinctly unAmerican people and actions. Now that Jason’s question has made me aware of this, it makes me angry. What right does anyone have to make me feel like less of a citizen? How dare I let them make me feel that way?
So here’s my answer: Pagan-Americans are important to this country because they do not make it seem like being patriotic means being just like them. A proud Pagan-American is proof positive that one can embrace one’s country, pray for it, believe in it and celebrate it while being as far from the Religious Right as it gets. Pagan-Americans are important because they directly challenge the status quo of this country by their existence without threatening the country itself. They are the voices calling us back to our roots, to the voices of our Founding Fathers and to “all men are created equal.” We are vital because we love this country and it’s history, but we feel no need to whitewash it or make it PC. We honor the truths of our past that they may serve us wisely as we forge our future.
Being a Pagan-American is an amazing privilege. We, despite our difficulties, enjoy the freedom to practice our religion openly. Like other religious minorities before us, we are demonstrating that despite our religious differences, we are still a vibrant part of American culture, and we embrace that culture in ways you may have not thought possible.
I will never have patriotic plaid shorts. I will never stand side-by-side some of the bigotry I know still exists in my part of the country that thinks hatred is ok as long as you wrap a flag around it. I will never call someone un-American for believing in a different God or Gods than I do, or for loving someone without regard for race or gender.
What I will do is honor my country, honor my ancestors whose sweat, blood and tears went into the making of this country and honor those who serve this country, from the lady at the tag office to the servicemembers on tour overseas. I will read the words of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Washington and other Founders with pride. I will support equal rights for all, including the right to clergy of your own faith. I will fight every day to maintain the heritage my ancestors gave me and not let it be swindled away from me because I’m Pagan.
On that note, this Redneck child is off to a cookout with fireworks. I bought them myself. As we celebrate our freedom I will proudly flick my Bic in one hand, raise up my firework in the other and shout out “Hey y’all! Watch this!“