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Straight talk about the Pagan identity crisis

Straight talk about the Pagan identity crisis March 13, 2013

You have got to check out B.T. Newberg’s newest post at Pagan Naturally, “The ‘Pagan’ question: Beyond belief-blindness“.  He writes about the chronic debate about the meaning of Pagan, and states “in no uncertain terms what’s really going on: It’s about kicking people out” (emphasis added).  I think he’s right.  B.T. goes on to reveal an underlying tension that seems to be tearing our community apart:

“There’s a painful cognitive dissonance coming from holding two mutually contradictory beliefs about ourselves: (1) We don’t police others’ beliefs. (2) We must police others’ beliefs (if our community is to have any integrity). … We are a community choking on our own relativism.”

B.T. argues that, contrary to what we say, belief does matter to us: “It turns out saying beliefs don’t matter is kinda like denying racism by saying you’re ‘color blind.'”  As a result, we need to either get comfortable with excluding some people (which ones?) or else re-envision our community as bound together by something different than belief (what?).

I don’t think we can take refuge in “orthopraxy” either.  As I stated in my comment to B.T.’s post, I think the notion that Pagans are “orthopraxic” dates back to the Wicca-centric days, when (nearly) everyone cast a circle and called the quarters, but believed different things about the gods they invoked.  In my experience, there is even less orthopraxy among Pagans today than there is orthodoxy.

So what can we build community around?  Shared values?  Shared goals?  Back in the 70s and 80s, Pagan solidarity arose from a shared experience of persecution (whether real or perceived).  Pagans were afraid to be “out”, so there was a shared sense of being “in”.  We’ve come a long way since then, as is attested by the fact that B.T. and most of the people he links to are using their real names on the Internet.

But we still have a long way to go, culturally and politically.  And we are not going to get there unless we build some solidarity, some class consciousness, some community integrity.  I personally want more mainstream respectability.  I want Paganism to be taken seriously as a religion — not by Fox News perhaps (which doesn’t take any divergent perspective seriously), but by my family, my neighbors, my boss, my kids’ teachers, and even by the more moderate Christian churches.

I know there are some who eschew respectability like its a dirty word.  I’m not suggesting that Paganism surrender its counter-cultural critique of mainstream society.  Christianity manages to both be mainstream and critique mainstream culture.  We can too, but in a different way.  And I think this may be something that we can build solidarity around.

There are valuable things to be gained from pursuing respectability:  Respectability means being able to share our beliefs with our friends and neighbors openly — not just on the Internet.  Respectability means our children can be raised Pagan openly, without fear of interference by well-intentioned, but misinformed social workers and courts.  Respectability means being able to be openly Pagan in the workplace.  Respectability means being a greater part of the inter-faith movement.  Respectability means having more influence in theological studies.  Respectability means having greater influence on critical social and political issues that concern us, including the environment, women’s rights, minority rights, animal rights, and so on.  Respectability means power … power to bring about change according to our collective will.  And that is a kind of magic that all Pagans should be interested in.


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