Religion is Inherently Political and I’ve Chosen a Side

Religion is Inherently Political and I’ve Chosen a Side June 26, 2022

Over on Twitter, Steven (@true_concinnity) asked a simple question: “Is there space for the non-left, or pro-life in Paganism or polytheism anymore?”

I think asking if “pro-life” people are welcome on the day after Roe v. Wade was overturned was poor timing. That said, it’s a valid question. As a group, modern Pagans are overwhelmingly liberal and a fair number of us are quite vocal about it. Polytheists (both those who consider themselves Pagans and those who don’t) are somewhat less so, but still strongly liberal.

There are far-right Pagans and polytheists. The rest of us generally want nothing to do with them, and rightly so. But what of those who might be called center-right, or traditionally conservative? Is there a place in our circles for them?

I gave a brief Twitter-length answer. While I’m happy with that answer, I think the question deserves a deeper look.

The worship of the Gods is for everyone

I still prefer the definition of polytheism proposed by the Anomalous Thracian: the religious regard for many real Gods. There are polytheists whose politics I find abhorrent. They may be bad polytheists, but they are polytheists nonetheless, simply because they worship one or more of the many Gods. No True Polytheist is as much of a logical fallacy as No True Scotsman.

We cannot excommunicate people from the Gods. We can kick them out of our circles and we can refuse to let them make offerings at our altars, but we cannot stop them from approaching the Gods on their own. What happens after that is between them and the deities in question.

Every time I’ve gone to the Morrigan to complain about the politics or other behavior of one of Her followers, She’s told me very clearly: “leave them to me – focus on your own work.” Perhaps they were a long-term reclaimation project for Her. Perhaps She twisted their troublesome behavior to Her advantage. Perhaps She saw something in them I couldn’t see. A Goddess has a perspective ordinary humans do not, and I have every reason to expect that whatever She does with them will be an expression of Her virtues.

Religion is more than theology

Religion is more than worship and devotion. It’s the collective wisdom of those who came before us about how to form and maintain relationships with our Gods, our ancestors, the Natural world, and each other. Religion is our virtues and values.

And our virtues and values inform our politics, which is the process by which we make collective decisions about how to run our common society. For example, I can’t separate my Pagan belief that Nature is sacred from my political positions on environmental issues. I can articulate my positions using religiously neutral reasoning, but my positions are ultimately religious positions.

Religion is more than worshipping the Gods, and those who insist on keeping politics out of religion are both endorsing the status quo and ignoring the non-devotional elements of our religions, and of every religion.

Shared theology does not mean shared values

There are some evangelical Christians who are politically progressive. They affirm the same creeds and they trust in Jesus in much the same way as their politically conservative brethren, but they read the New Testament and they see socialist values (so do I). They value compassion and cooperation over self-reliance and competition.

Likewise, while most Pagans are politically liberal, some who honor Nature and the many Gods believe they have no obligation to help anyone outside their small circle of family and co-religionists. Some believe the strong should dominate the weak, men should dominate women, and everyone should embody traditional gender roles regardless of their identity and orientation.

Just because we worship the same Gods doesn’t mean we see the world in the same way.

We may agree on ends but differ on means

Even those of us who share the same values may disagree on the best way to embody and promote those values.

I believe our society is better off with high taxes supporting high services and a strong social safety net. I have friends who genuinely believe we’re better off with low taxes, low services, and more self-reliance. I disagree with them and I vote against them, but I still respect them.

And I welcome them into my circles.

I welcome those with different ideas

Winning elections requires telling good stories and making people believe in a candidate. Governing well requires intelligent policies and effective implementation. Those are not remotely the same things, which is why government is hard.

Even those of us who agree on a general approach to governing will have different ideas about how to do it.

Our health care system is broken. I want a single-payer system like Canada. I could be happy with a single-provider system like Britain’s NHS. I’m willing to try beefing up the Affordable Care Act to make it truly affordable, or pretty much any other sensible suggestion. We need not agree on every policy proposal to compromise and work together – and to worship together.

I do not welcome those who deny the humanity and autonomy of others

In the words of African-American author and activist James Baldwin “we can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

I do not welcome racists, the folkish, or anyone who builds their religion around “blood and soil.” The Gods call who They call, and I will not include those who exclude others because of ancestry, skin color, or similar reasons.

I do not welcome misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, and anyone else who denies the right of every person to be who and what they are and what they’re called to be. If you and your partner prefer “traditional” gender roles, great. That’s your choice. If you insist everyone should follow traditional gender roles, if you would exclude women from certain roles and responsibilities, if you would deny the reality of trans people, you are not welcome in my circles.

I understand that abortion is a complicated and emotional issue. If you’re opposed to abortion, I respect that. If you try to reduce the number of abortions by promoting contraception, consent culture, and family planning, I greatly respect that.

If you are so sure that you know when human life begins that you would force others to carry an unwanted pregnancy, I do not respect that and you are not welcome in my circles.

We cannot tolerate the intolerant

Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance is real. A society that tolerates intolerance will soon find the intolerant taking over, and it will be tolerant no more.

I do not believe in thought crimes. I don’t care what you believe. I care what you do.

I don’t care if my Baptist friends think I’m going to hell. But the moment they start trying to de-legitimatize my religion, we will no longer be friends.

I don’t care if your beliefs are center-right or even far right. But the moment you start demonizing the poor, immigrants, and women, we will no longer be friends.

There is no room in my circles for the intolerant.

These are difficult and dangerous times. We need all the allies we can get, but we cannot include everyone, nor should we. These times demand that we take sides on critical issues.

Worshipping the Gods is for everyone. But religion is inherently political, and those who try to keep politics out of religion are subtly (or not so subtly) supporting a status quo that is harmful to many. I welcome those who have different ideas about how to organize society, but I do not welcome those who deny the humanity and autonomy of others.

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