Patheos is running a symposium feature on “What Good Is (Insert Your Religion Here)?.” That’s a pretty broad question, because many religious practices can be seen as filling many “goods.”
I think religion should always start at the personal level. Does this faith make sense to me? Does it answer questions? Does it help me to become a better person? Does it provide an opportunity to experience something greater than myself? Is it comforting?
Religion is also a shared experience. It ties us to family, chosen and biological. It’s been the catalyst for beneficial social change over the centuries. Perhaps not as much as we would like, but where we would be today if Islam had not kept the knowledge of the ancient world alive? The abolitionist movement in the United States was spear-headed by Christian groups such as the Quakers, and the Catholic Church helped to establish the forty hour work week. “Religion” operates on both an individual and a group level.
Modern Paganism is often ignored when discussing the “great faiths” of the world, but it shouldn’t be. Our ancient pagan sisters and brothers built many of the things that define the modern world. Today’s Pagans are active in issues of social and environmental justice, and are bringing awareness to those causes. What good is Paganism? I’d argue that it’s good for the individual, society, and has been instrumental in the creation of civilization. I don’t like to play cheerleader too much, but Paganisms past and present have shaped and continue to shape our world.
Paganism has helped me to answer some big questions. I’ve never thought that Paganism has all the answers, but it has enough of them to make me happy (and certainly more than any other faith I’ve attempted to practice). It helps me make sense of deity, and has given me a place where I truly belong. Wicca (my flavor of Paganism) is something that’s very real to me. I can feel the energy in a room when I practice it, and feel close to Goddess and God. These feelings bring me comfort and a sense of purpose.
Paganism has never been particularly good at handling the “what happens when you die question?” but at the same time its focus on this Earth and this lifetime makes me more aware of my actions on a day to day basis. I’m not waiting for some weird heavenly reward, isn’t this paradise in its own way? (Yes, I know there are lots of problems, but I always take time to find the “good” on a near daily basis.)
Paganism has made me a better person. Paganism has forced me to take a hard look at my interactions with others and has lead me to becoming a better friend and ally. Would you believe that twenty-two years ago I was a young Republican jackass* homophobe? Paganism changed that. Free from a 2000 year old book of rules I began to see people for who they really are, and not how an institution wanted me to see them. One of the things I like about the Greek Gods so much (for all their faults) is that they did everything! There’s a little bit of nearly everyone somewhere in that body of myth. I love the freedom to find out truths independently of outdated source materials.
Paganism has given me a community. Even when I was a Christian I knew that I really didn’t fit in. I was too in love with heavy metal, cryptozoology, and mythology to ever fully turn my life over to a church. But even more than that I was unable to reconcile how one religious path could be “the only way.” That’s just never made sense to me, and never will. Paganism has given me a space to indulge in the things I love (and really they are all pretty harmless, how anyone can be threatened by King Diamond is beyond me) and its welcomed me with open arms. Paganism accepts me, accepts my interests, and it’s my tribe. This is where I belong, and generally I find that I’m not judged for the things I love and believe in.
Pagans love the Earth. I don’t think Modern Paganism can save the world on its own, but because it’s something we think about (and love) so much we do bring awareness to our planet’s environmental problems. We all have spheres of influence, and I think our individual spheres often convey the message “this is our Mother, we must take care of her.” Many of us are involved in environmental causes in a direct action sort of way, and that helps move the public’s consciousness towards environmental issues.
Pagans are bringing about social change. Because Modern Paganism tends to engage in open and honest dialogue I think that we are helping to bring about social change, and in some ways are pioneers in the field. I think we were spiritual groupings to embrace the idea of gay marriage, I know I went to my first lesbian wedding (sadly, not legally binding) back in the 90’s. I remember a horrified outcry when an individual interviewed in a magazine from that time period came out against gay marriage.
Today I think we are one of the first faiths in the modern era to take a stance on the rights of trans individuals. I know we have a long way to go here, but I think we are taking those initial steps. Unlike many religious groups we are having the conversations and more importantly, many of us are opening the door to everyone who want to sit at our table.
What Paganism has given the world.
Today’s Paganism is not the paganisms of antiquity, but I do feel a connection to those who came before all those millennia ago. As a result I’m going to go ahead and claim a bunch of stuff as coming from us: writing, language, agriculture, beer making, goddesses, gods, voting, oral sex, knowledge, reason, boats, art, metallurgy, civilization . . . . I could go on and on.
I feel like this article was written through a rose colored prism. Today religion is often used as a blunt instrument to divide people and justify atrocities. I’m well aware that many “religious practitioners” are not living up to their individual faiths. However, I still like to think that in the long run religion will be seen as a beneficial thing instead of a negative one. I know that in my life Witchcraft and Paganism have made me a better person, and a more tolerant one. I hope the insights it has given to me may one day be found in all of the world’s great religions. So mote it be!
*Not all Republicans are jackasses, I was though.