Perhaps you remember the old sci-fi movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I vaguely remember the 1956 original, which I watched on TV one Friday evening when I was a kid. The 1978 remake with Donald Sutherland is more likely to be in your cinematic memory. This is the movie that gave us the phrase “pod people”.
The final scene is especially memorable. One of the few remaining actual humans believes she has found another remaining actual human in the main character. Nope. He has become a pod-person alien, too. He points at her, tilts his head back, and emits an alien’s signature howl, outing her to all other aliens around.
We have some colorful characters in the Heathen community. Steve McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) is one of them. Ryan Smith of Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) is another. There is no love lost between these two. They are as different as night and day; so are their organizations. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to establish the nature, structure, history, and efficacy of these organizations. It doesn’t matter what I say to you about them. You are going to think what you like.
Ryan Smith recently wrote a piece here at Patheos about Steve McNallen and the future of Heathenry. I have a different view of Heathenry’s greatest risks.
As I am the current Steersman of The Troth, a Heathen organization that arose in response to McNallen’s folkish Heathenry back in the 1980s, it won’t surprise you to learn that Steve McNallen and I disagree firmly on certain topics. There are aspects of McNallen’s case that I really can’t take seriously. There are other aspects of the folkish argument for which I can’t just wave my hands and make them go away, even if I don’t find them necessary, or compelling, or even very interesting. Different people think and feel differently about them. The spectrum is quite broad. If you have experience of the world outside of badly written books and cheap theater, you won’t find that surprising.
It surprises some to learn that Steve and I talk now and then. It angers some to learn that these talks are not acrimonious. They are anything but. These are useful and civil conversations with someone with whom I disagree. That is an interesting experience, if you have never had it. As leaders of major Heathen organizations, if there is something we can do together that is constructive in common cause, we do. If there isn’t, we don’t. And if we need to talk again, we know we can. If you conclude that this makes our disagreements immaterial, you have not been paying attention.
Ryan Smith is different. Interactions with him and his HUAR associates, even reading what he writes, leave me feeling like the woman at the end of Body Snatchers. Ryan probably isn’t an alien, but he has some alienating characteristics: the Angry Young Man posturing; the cookie cutter writing style aping corny Marxist propaganda; the grandiose Us vs. Them essays; the witch hunts, show trials, and guilt-by-association tactics; the pompous self-righteousness and insistence on ostracizing anyone who doesn’t buy into whatever Ryan Smith says, lock, stock, and barrel. From personal experience, I can tell you that Ryan is eager to tell you about all the classes he has taken, all the books he has read, all with a subtext of letting you know how incredibly smart he is. What I hear him saying is that he is the only one with a brain that works, so you can just accept whatever he says and let that be the end of it.
I believe he has taken all the classes and read all the books. I also believe he has learned all the wrong things from them.
Ryan likes to tell us that Steve McNallen is the stain that will keep Heathenry from being taken seriously by respectable people. Yes, I sometimes worry about what Steve McNallen says, and how people perceive Heathenry as a result. I worry about similar things, and to a much greater degree, every time Ryan Smith opens his mouth. If there is a problem with modern Heathenry, it is not simply bipolar, for example: Ryan vs. Racism. If Ryan’s behavior is an example of what mature Heathenry is supposed to be, he is following an old model. Its name is the Inquisition. What are respectable people supposed to make of that?
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