Paganism has a problem and it isn’t that it’s dying. Paganism has given rise to cannibalism in various forms. Is Paganism dying? It may certainly seem that way to those who are eating their own.
We see this occurring more and more under the banner of noble causes of social justice and fighting oppression. We are beginning to see those fighting oppression using the tools of the oppressors upon one another. Instead of creating and nurturing a solid community to bring about equality and reform, we are seeing the rise of extremism with a world view where everything and everyone is either good or evil with no room in between. We are seeing vampiric personalities use antagonistic behavior to stir up sensationalized drama and feed off of it.
This is the exact world-view and mentality that led to the election of Trump – a refusal to see things for the complexity that they are with a quick enthusiasm to vilify anyone who disagrees or has varying opinions. In fact, this sort of culture creates personalities who take the banner of politics and social justice and use it as a weapon of hyper-inflated egotism.
We are beginning to see the Pagan versions of Alex Jones rise in our midst, a man who cannot reason, compromise and is quick to sensationalize, vilifying anyone who doesn’t automatically agree with them and screaming over any dissenting voice. Personalities who use very valid social causes as a way to feed their ego, launching crusades against people they’ve never met nor approached for dialogue as just another marketing tool to sell their self-published books while hypocritically condemning other authors of “cashing in” on Paganism. It is this extremist worldview that cannot tell the difference between commerce and capitalism. Commerce being an integral part of every single historical pagan culture I can think of.
Not only does this mentality create more and more divisions within Paganism, but it quickly creates a smaller and smaller echo-chamber of yes-men with no room for different opinions. You know, sort of like a dangerous cult. There arises a stronger concern for the crusade’s end-game in the eyes of this mentality without any concern for collateral damage. It pushes those who could be swayed to look at things from another perspective to the opposite extreme of the bullying.
The focus then becomes not on changing minds and hearts, but rather proving that one is right and others are wrong. People begin talking over each other instead of listening to each other and making it impossible to have difficult but respectful conversations. In a recent podcast interview, I had stated that social justice and equality should always be rooted in empathy and that we should never lose sight of that. Listening to one another, having difficult conversations while being respectful and planting seeds in the minds and hearts of others requires empathy and patience and ensuring that you aren’t alienating them with your inability to do so.
This damages not only the Pagan community but also the causes they are trying to champion. “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.” warns Friedrich Nietzsche. The eagerness for cynicism, sensationalism, zealotry, fighting, hyper-inflated egotism, an inability to forgive and quickness to tear people apart are not qualities of leaders in our community, but rather that of dictators. We can call out and try to educate behavior without completely vilifying the person and pushing them away, but we must be open to dialogue and applauding when they step in the right direction.
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, the old proverb states. There are real social justice issues we need to be working on. There are real issues of equality that need to be addressed. If we’re all working against each other and not with each other then nothing will change. If we loose sight of the empathy that is the basis for our activism and beliefs then nothing will change. If we cannot work on building something better but spend all our time and energy on bringing others down then nothing will change.
If your activism and beliefs are a constant witch hunt, are not inclusive and are not patient enough to talk and work with those who do not yet see things in quite the same light as you do, then I want absolutely nothing to do with your brand of activism or your Paganism – and I believe it speaks volumes of both. But I can forgive you and hope that someday you will join us in helping to build and grow our community into something that is equally just, supportive and inclusive.