Going Mainstream

There’s been a lot of discussion about Paganism “going mainstream.” Should we go mainstream? Is it wrong to go mainstream? What do we lose by going mainstream? What do we gain by it? Gus DiZerega spoke about the danger of losing our edge as we go mainstream.

One question I don’t hear often asked is can Paganism go mainstream? Do we even have the ability? Are we ready? Are we capable? The truth is, we have a lot of things working against us.

Lack of Religious Education

While I was unable to find reliable statistics to link to, I did find estimates that 70% of mainstream clergy have attended brick-and-mortar, traditional seminaries. One must assume that a Methodist attends a Methodist or Methodist-inclusive seminary, and so on for Episcopalians, Catholics and Presbyterians. I imagine not very many Baptists attend Catholic seminaries and vice-versa.

Few Pagan clergy have attended seminary, and a fewer number still have attended Pagan seminaries. No Pagan seminaries to my knowledge are accredited by any institution, although Cherry Hill Seminary is working very hard towards that end.

Now there are Pagans who will argue all this is unnecessary, that a disciplined Pagan education is harmful and anti-intuitive, or that formal religious education is simply caving into monotheistic norms. Yet I think Plato, Plotinus, Pythagoras, Julian and Plethon would greatly disagree with that. The fact is, most Pagans don’t even have something along the lines of Sunday School or regular study groups, much less degrees in Pagan studies.

The Problem With Editing

I remember picking up a semi-popular Pagan book and finding within the first two pages that the only editing performed on the manuscript was a quick run through spell-check, because though the words were spelled correctly, they made no sense in the context. Grapes grown in the vineyard-laden Chile make sense, but I’d like to see the person who can grow grapes worth the effort in a pot of chili.

Most Pagan authors publish through small publishers. Often those publishers don’t have a trained editor. Sometimes the only editing performed is a run through spell-check. The problem with this is the point of editing is to make the book better and the writer better. A good editor will make your writing better, will increase your skill and make you look better.

I’ve had the fortune to talk to book editor and author Kathryn Hinds, who was trained apprentice-style in New York, about how proper editing is waning. She finds it frustrating that proper training no longer seems necessary for book editors. I can sympathize with her concerns because my experience with editors has always been positive. More than once something I have written for Patheos has come back to me laden with notes, and I won’t claim it’s made me a great writer, but it certainly has made me suck less. I’ve reached the point where I expect to be edited, and if I’m not, then I’m worried that my writing didn’t receive enough attention, that it’s lacking needed improvements.

So if the majority of Pagan writers lack proper editing support, then they are lacking the feedback they need to become better writers and write better books. The publishing-on-demand and e-publishing models are not the solution to great Pagan books, they are part of the problem and creating a plethora of unedited, unexamined and unrefined books. Since most people trying to learn about Paganism do so by reading, this is a problem.

Sponging Up the Fringe

You would think it would be enough to be Pagan and to promote Paganism. It’s not. Paganism carries a wave of causes along with it , as if it crawled out of the sea dragging a net full of strange fish. Many of these causes are considered so broadly worthy and integral to Pagan values that they are practically inseparable, such as GLBTQI issues, environmentalism and equal religious rights.

Yet to be Pagan is to be expected to be pro-kink, pro-nudism, pro-legalization-of-marijuana, pro-sex-worker-rights, pro-homeschooling, pro-polyamory, pro-homeopathy, pro-choice, and a bunch of other things. It’s a lot of banners to fly. If you were to try to carry a physical banner for all of theses causes you’d be crushed and smothered by the weight.

There’s nothing wrong with these causes, but they aren’t our religion and they can’t form the litmus test of our religion. You can be a teetotaling conservative who dresses modestly, advocates celibacy until hetero-marriage and eats off Styrofoam plates and still be Pagan if you seek a relationship with the Gods, ancestors and/or land spirits.

Being Pagan is hard enough, and a lifetime of work, without being expected to fight for and espouse every alternative lifestyle option. Not supporting causes that are not part of their lifestyle, particularly when they are illegal, doesn’t make someone less Pagan. For Paganism to be mainstream, it really can’t be carrying an army of banners around everywhere it goes. The Pagan banner is heavy enough.

Letting Go Of “The Man”

For Paganism to actually become mainstream, it has to stop characterizing every sign of success and acceptance as selling out or being elitist. It has to stop seeing every setback or rejection as “the Man” trying to keep them down.

I think the biggest thing preventing a “Pagan Oprah,” or a “Pagan Deepak Chopra” is not that there isn’t a market for it, or that Pagan wisdom isn’t something the public would reject, but that Paganism won’t support Pagans reaching out to mainstream audiences. They are characterized as greedy, sell-outs, “secret Christians” and a host of other unpleasant accusations.

For Pagans to become mainstream, they need public faces that can speak to mainstream audiences and there are precious few Pagans who have the talent and drive combined with a thick enough skin to suffer the onslaught of their co-religionists. The ancients believed in excellence, in heroes and in building reputation and fame. I think that’s one key area in which Modern Paganism differs from it’s predecessor, because by and large, though it is emerging slowly from the shadows, Paganism today seems to favor conformity over excellence, heroism and fame.

The truth is Paganism doesn’t want to go mainstream, though it seems inevitable as it continues to grow. We’re being pushed into the mainstream kicking and screaming, and not exactly putting our best foot forward.

But maybe I’m just being a crank. What do YOU think?

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