There have been some major running arguments on the Pagan internet over the last month or so. Most have been between polytheists and humanists, while others have been between those who put activism at the center of their practices and those who put devotion at the center. I’ve been part of some of these arguments. At times I’ve been one of the primary participants. I said what I needed to say, I meant every word I said, and I regret nothing I said.
But battle fatigue is setting in. People who cheered when their side landed a punch are now going “meh.” Honestly, I’m getting tired of it myself. And we’re starting to see comments on the theme of “can’t we just all get along?” and “we have more important work to do.” This piece by Hecate Demeter is the best of the bunch and it quotes liberally from several others.
I see no way to simplify this, because it’s not simple. It isn’t a question of picking the right side or even of refusing to pick a side – it’s more complicated than that.
We can’t let our differences get in the way of doing what must be done. Our militarized police forces continue killing People of Color at a disproportionate and unjustified rate. Violence against women shows no signs of abating. Income inequality is growing. The leading candidate for President is a Mussolini wannabe. And climate change remains unacknowledged and unaddressed. These are literally life and death issues for many people and they deserve our attention.
But their importance and urgency does not mean we can give them our exclusive attention.
Maintaining relationships and alliances is important. If you get to the point of “…and the horse you rode in on!” with a friend (even a social media friend you don’t know all that well), perhaps it’s time to step away from the keyboard. Trolls deserve our wrath and scorn, but allies and potential allies deserve our patience. If you run out of patience, simply disengage. There aren’t enough of us to needlessly alienate good people we need on our side.
Some arguments aren’t worth having. I respect my non-theistic friends, but I’m done arguing with atheists. There is a point where further debate is useless. Both sides are dug in, usually because they’ve gotten down to incompatible foundational assumptions – often those assumptions aren’t even recognized. If you’ve made your point and you aren’t getting anywhere, disengage and don’t worry about who gets the last word.
And take Niki Whiting’s excellent advice: “stop reading mean people.”
But we can’t erase meaningful differences. It’s not all the same. All Goddesses are not One Goddess. All paths don’t lead up the same mountain. Fish is not just fish. Even among polytheists, there are different ways to approach the Gods… and presumably, different ways in which the Gods elect to interact with humans. We need not argue about which way is right or even which way is best to accept the simple fact that there are meaningful differences in the various Pagan and polytheist religions.
When we ignore our significant differences, we reduce everything to the lowest common denominator, which inevitably is mainstream culture. That culture is filled with monotheistic images and assumptions but its approach to life is near 100% atheist. Neither of those approaches are compatible with polytheist beliefs, practices, and the mindset that supports them. Zeus Himself could drop a thunderbolt at some people’s feet and all they’d do is look up from their phones and say “Hmmm. I think it might rain.”We can’t stop trying to rebuild polytheist philosophy and theology. Having a religious experience is one thing. Understanding what that experience means and how you should change your life because of it is something entirely different. If you’re a Christian and you have an experience of Jesus or an angel or a saint – or if you want to have such an experience – you’ve got countless resources to turn to, from the Church Fathers to Catholic monastic orders to your local Evangelical megachurch.
If Cernunnos taps you on the shoulder and says “you’re mine” where do you go? If you made a promise to a deity you assumed was some abstract metaphor and She decides to take you up on your offer, where do you go? If you feel something more every time you take a walk in Nature and you want to learn how to relate to that more, where do you go?
There are a few books available. There are a few experienced priests who can help you. But first you have to find them – and you have find them before you run into someone who convinces you it’s all in your head, or that the Gods always have our best interests at heart.
If you don’t like theology that’s fine. But some of us need it… and some of us need it desperately. We have to rebuild, re-imagine, and re-create it for our time, and we can’t stop work because some Pagans and even some polytheists find it uncomfortable.
What you do is more valuable than what you say. If I have one regret from all this arguing, it’s that we’ve been using only one tool in our religious toolboxes. We’ve been making logical arguments and building rational cases for why our particular ways are good and right. But we’re using half our brains (the left half) and leaving the rest of our bodies and all our souls out of the exchange.
Some of that is inevitable, because blogs and social media are text-centered communication. But we need to do a better job of sharing what we do and how we do it.
I’m going to try to get back to doing that starting Thursday. No promises – I write what the Awen brings and what the Gods tell me to write. But that’s my intent.
I like good, hard, honest, polite debate. I don’t like fighting, and I hate fighting with friends and allies. We have many common interests and I want to work together to advance them. But we can’t pretend we don’t have some important differences, because we do.
My orders. The Gods I follow have made their instructions clear to me: I am required to practice, worship, and write according to Their preferences, no matter who that discomforts. And I am also required to work for the greater good alongside those who practice, worship, and write in different ways, even if it discomforts me.
I have to get along, but I can’t just get along. I can’t water down my polytheism to make humanists happy. I also can’t refuse to work alongside others who embody the virtues of the Gods, even if they conceive of the Gods in radically different ways.
As with all UPG (unverified personal gnosis) the only person this divine dictate is binding on is the one who received it – me. But I think it’s worth your contemplation.