We talk a lot about how we need to engage in interfaith work to bring peace and harmony among the religions of the world. Generally when we are speaking to this we are talking about Pagans working with Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.; in other words, working with members of religions that do not fall under the Pagan umbrella. All of this is important work that badly needs doing. And it is vital that Pagan voices be heard in any discussions about how the religions of the world can learn to get along with each other. However, I wonder whether our emphasis on interfaith as being between Pagan and other isn’t missing a critical element that warrants some serious consideration.
We toss around the word “Pagan” as if it were a single spiritual belief system when in fact it is an umbrella term for a wide variety of religions with often highly different beliefs and practices. Many Pagans and non-Pagans alike equate being Pagan with being Wiccan because Wicca is perhaps the most publically known of the family of Pagan religions. In fact the tendency to conflate the two words, Wicca and Pagan, was the source of serious discussion on a panel at Pantheacon in 2014. This panel discussion was presented in an article in The Wild Hunt. The “Wiccanization” of Paganism has caused resentment in other groups that is undermining our sense of having any sort of Pagan community.
There are divides between practitioners of Pagan religions that are as deep as those between Pagans and non-Pagans. Neo-Wiccans look askance at Santerians because they practice animal sacrifice. Reconstructionists look down on Wiccans as New Age nonsense. Eclectics view Traditionalists as elitist snobs. I have too often heard one Pagan disparage the practices of another based on the same sort of misinformation that contaminates our relationship to those of the Abrahamic religions.
Even to use the word “community” when speaking of Pagans would seem to be a misnomer. There is no Pagan community where I live. There is just a small group of Pagans who get together over coffee every two weeks and then go their own way. They have no interest in working together on community projects or in working with those of non-Pagan religions. They don’t have any interest in creating any sort of Pagan community so why care about reaching out to the rest of the interfaith community at all? It seems to me we have become as judgmental and as intolerant of each other as those other religions we complain of when they do the same.
Perhaps our interfaith work as Pagans needs to begin with ourselves. If we cannot find tolerance and an ability to work together between the various forms of Paganism, what chance do we have of finding it in the outside world?
Something to remember about interfaith work is that it isn’t all about talking about your beliefs and practices with others; although, education to end misinformation is certainly part of what we in interfaith hope to accomplish. Rather successful interfaith is about gathering those of many faiths who have an interest in programs to benefit their community, to promote social justice, and to work to the good of all. It is through working side by side on such programs that we come to acknowledge that we are all human and that we can and do care for each other.
Maybe this is where the various Pagan religions need to start. Sitting in a panel discussion on who feels that their particular brand of Paganism isn’t getting the respect it deserves does not accomplish much. Words aren’t likely to change firmly held prejudices. What we need are programs both local and national that allow us to show through our actions where our hearts lie. There are some such programs already in action, such as Avalon Cares, which has done relief efforts in several different disaster situations. But many more programs are needed to help build our Pagan interfaith movement. They don’t have to be big programs. Picking up trash along a stretch of road, holding a food/clothing drive, providing transportation for the homeless to the clinic, and a myriad of other small projects can draw together local Pagans in serving the community that they share.
If the Pagans of this world cannot find a way of working together in spite of their differences in spiritual beliefs and practices, how are they going to ever be able to work with those of other religions? Our actions in our own communities speak louder than our words. That we cannot get along with each other speaks volumes about our ability or lack of ability to successfully work with others.