Pagans on the Middle East: Intro

Pagans on the Middle East: Intro April 11, 2011
Photo of Exodus taken by Ruth Gruber

Nothing is going as planned today. Somehow the tv ended up stuck on a documentary about a female Jewish reporter who was a PhD by 20 and covered some pivotal Jewish history. Not only did Ruth Gruber greet and interview Jewish refugees coming to the US, she also covered the journey of the ship Exodus and captured the picture of the swastika drawn on the Union Jack.

One thing she said stuck with me, because it’s something I’d wondered myself since I was a child. She said no one was offering to take in Jewish refugees, not even the United States. I’ve never been able to reconcile the creation of the state of Israel with the vision of Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I’m not a Zionist or an anti-Semite. I don’t believe the Fertile Crescent is any more holy than any other stretch of land. I don’t pretend to know the answers to the problems plaguing the Middle East, and I can’t say I understand all the nuances. What I do know is religion, natural resources, and politics have combined to make a difficult environment, and it’s an environment that I think polytheists have an interesting perspective on.

Polytheists don’t see the Middle East as the holy land, unless they are Canaanite-Phoenician recons, in which case they have no particular sympathy for any of the faiths trying to lay claim to the region. Pagans in general are environmentally conscious and not committed to the idea of oil as being a solution to our energy needs. As a polytheistic religious minority we have a unique perspective on safety, persecution and homeland.

Today I wanted to focus a bit more broadly on the Middle East in general, but now that question I had as a child is reverberating through my brain. Is the US a place where religious minorities can find a safe and permanent home? Is it welcoming to religious minority refugees? Is this a place where religious minorities are welcome to create communities where they can preserve their faith and culture? Why didn’t the US invite the Jewish people fleeing Europe to settle here? Has the United States been welcoming to the Mormons, Santeria or other religious minorities?


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  • Is the US a place where religious minorities can a safe and permanent home? Of course. Will all of them? No. Differences in location, population, surrounding religious identity, etc. will all impact the ability for a minority of any type to build a home and religion is no different.

    I think there’s a recognizable difference between the policies of the US and the actions of her people. While there are times when the government has made deplorable choices based on race, creed, religion, etc (see Japanese Internment and the above mentioned lack of support for Jewish refugees), I think a case could be made that the government does its best to try and be as pluralistic as possible even bending over backward to defend the rights of groups that no one really likes all that much (e.g., the Westboro Baptists). But, the individuals — both those in the government and just normal folks living here — can all act in accordance with their will and that will doesn’t always have to line up with ours or with the government’s.

  • Is the US a place where religious minorities can a safe and permanent home? Of course. Will all of them? No. Differences in location, population, surrounding religious identity, etc. will all impact the ability for a minority of any type to build a home and religion is no different.

    I think there’s a recognizable difference between the policies of the US and the actions of her people. While there are times when the government has made deplorable choices based on race, creed, religion, etc (see Japanese Internment and the above mentioned lack of support for Jewish refugees), I think a case could be made that the government does its best to try and be as pluralistic as possible even bending over backward to defend the rights of groups that no one really likes all that much (e.g., the Westboro Baptists). But, the individuals — both those in the government and just normal folks living here — can all act in accordance with their will and that will doesn’t always have to line up with ours or with the government’s.

  • NorseAlchemist

    The US is probably the safest and most accepting of Religious Minorities. That said, how accepting it will be in the long run is to be judged, especially as Christianity and Islam fight for power as they are starting too now. Certainly, the Middle East and Nations that are primarily Islam are the most dangerous and least accepting of religious minorities. I’ve read to many stories of what Muslims in those nations do to those who are not Muslims in both their states and the states that are around them to ever think otherwise.

    As for why the US didn’t accept Jews back around WWII, that’s a rather long and complicated issue. Part of it was that there was a strong push by influential people to join with the Nazis. Part of this was due to the fact that while Jews were being evicted, public knowledge knew nothing of the Death Camps, most of which hadn’t even started up until a bit later in the war. For most people, the Nazis were anti-Semitic (a not uncommon feeling, nor one that was all that frowned upon, but then those were more racist times, with prejudice going against every single racial group from every other racial group. Irish, Italians, and others were would think of as “privileged” or “white” were the victims of racism just as much as blacks and Jews were. Also, Germany was considered a very Jewish Friendly country. The Nazi party really should have appeared in France, which was the most Anti-Semitic nation in all of Europe at the time.)

    The Nazis, however, were seen as the first nation to throw off the Great Depression and come back as a roaring economic power, which was very attractive to a lot of people. It was only due to FDR wanting to back the British Empire (at that time, not the biggest ally America had, but the America itself was an insular nation with not a lot of military power and a tendency to stay out of other nations affairs.) So part of not accepting the Jews was probably that they didn’t want to anger what at the time was one of the most powerful Nations in the world, and one that was across the ocean and had shown no interest in America. They probably didn’t see the need to get into larger trouble when they were digging deeper and deeper into the Great Depression. Ironically, the only thing that got America out of the Great Depression was WWII. Who says war isn’t good for something.

    The Nation of Israel did come about simply because there was no other place to go. That is also the reason why the Israelis are some of the toughest and most ruthless fighters. For us WWII and the holocaust was about 70 years ago and we don’t really have a direct connection to it any more (indeed, the attitudes I often seen towards Israel remind me of the Antisemitism that was rampant in France and later Nazi Germany.) For the Israelis, all that was their Grand parents, and sometimes their parents. They grew up with the stories of the Nazi death camps, as well as the Soviet death camps. And they are surrounded on almost every side by Nations with a religion (Islam) that says the Jews must be wiped out with a fervor that would make a Nazi blush and feel inadequate. I can’t say I’m all that pro-Israel, but I know the forces that shape them, and frankly I think the only reason the whole lot of them hasn’t gone Berserkergang is the fact that for the last forty or so years, the US has held them in check.

  • NorseAlchemist

    The US is probably the safest and most accepting of Religious Minorities. That said, how accepting it will be in the long run is to be judged, especially as Christianity and Islam fight for power as they are starting too now. Certainly, the Middle East and Nations that are primarily Islam are the most dangerous and least accepting of religious minorities. I’ve read to many stories of what Muslims in those nations do to those who are not Muslims in both their states and the states that are around them to ever think otherwise.

    As for why the US didn’t accept Jews back around WWII, that’s a rather long and complicated issue. Part of it was that there was a strong push by influential people to join with the Nazis. Part of this was due to the fact that while Jews were being evicted, public knowledge knew nothing of the Death Camps, most of which hadn’t even started up until a bit later in the war. For most people, the Nazis were anti-Semitic (a not uncommon feeling, nor one that was all that frowned upon, but then those were more racist times, with prejudice going against every single racial group from every other racial group. Irish, Italians, and others were would think of as “privileged” or “white” were the victims of racism just as much as blacks and Jews were. Also, Germany was considered a very Jewish Friendly country. The Nazi party really should have appeared in France, which was the most Anti-Semitic nation in all of Europe at the time.)

    The Nazis, however, were seen as the first nation to throw off the Great Depression and come back as a roaring economic power, which was very attractive to a lot of people. It was only due to FDR wanting to back the British Empire (at that time, not the biggest ally America had, but the America itself was an insular nation with not a lot of military power and a tendency to stay out of other nations affairs.) So part of not accepting the Jews was probably that they didn’t want to anger what at the time was one of the most powerful Nations in the world, and one that was across the ocean and had shown no interest in America. They probably didn’t see the need to get into larger trouble when they were digging deeper and deeper into the Great Depression. Ironically, the only thing that got America out of the Great Depression was WWII. Who says war isn’t good for something.

    The Nation of Israel did come about simply because there was no other place to go. That is also the reason why the Israelis are some of the toughest and most ruthless fighters. For us WWII and the holocaust was about 70 years ago and we don’t really have a direct connection to it any more (indeed, the attitudes I often seen towards Israel remind me of the Antisemitism that was rampant in France and later Nazi Germany.) For the Israelis, all that was their Grand parents, and sometimes their parents. They grew up with the stories of the Nazi death camps, as well as the Soviet death camps. And they are surrounded on almost every side by Nations with a religion (Islam) that says the Jews must be wiped out with a fervor that would make a Nazi blush and feel inadequate. I can’t say I’m all that pro-Israel, but I know the forces that shape them, and frankly I think the only reason the whole lot of them hasn’t gone Berserkergang is the fact that for the last forty or so years, the US has held them in check.

  • I think the category “religious minorities” is very misleading. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney and Anton Scalia are all members of “religious minorities”. In fact, Romney and Scalia are members of minorities that have a history of being viciously persecuted in the US.

    Being a minority doesn’t mean anything, or at least it doesn’t mean much, and in particular it does not automatically make a group deserving of empathy. Rich people are a tiny minority, and they love to claim to be victimized too! Pity those poor rich people, they are so oppressed by taxes and regulation!

    Jews, in my opinion, form a very different kind of group and should not be lumped in with Mormons, Pentecostalists, Catholics and rich people (although putting them together with Santeros makes some sense). Jews have been on the receiving end of savage and relentless persecution for 1700 years or so. Before that they had their ups and downs, too, but everything changed when the Christians came to power, and things got even worse when the Muslims came along.

  • I think the category “religious minorities” is very misleading. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney and Anton Scalia are all members of “religious minorities”. In fact, Romney and Scalia are members of minorities that have a history of being viciously persecuted in the US.

    Being a minority doesn’t mean anything, or at least it doesn’t mean much, and in particular it does not automatically make a group deserving of empathy. Rich people are a tiny minority, and they love to claim to be victimized too! Pity those poor rich people, they are so oppressed by taxes and regulation!

    Jews, in my opinion, form a very different kind of group and should not be lumped in with Mormons, Pentecostalists, Catholics and rich people (although putting them together with Santeros makes some sense). Jews have been on the receiving end of savage and relentless persecution for 1700 years or so. Before that they had their ups and downs, too, but everything changed when the Christians came to power, and things got even worse when the Muslims came along.

  • America has long been a breeding ground for religious experimentation and religious communities. The idea of separate religious communities forming in the US is by no means a new idea. Which is why I don’t understand why we didn’t grant protection and asylum to the Jews in 1947, after the Nazis were defeated. Why didn’t the US offer the Jews of Europe the chance to settle in Montana, or in dust bowl ghost towns? After the atrocities that we had just seen first-hand, why didn’t we make space for these family-oriented Abrahamic-faith people?

    Because we know the Mormons had a turbulent history in trying to create a religious community, and there was the persecution of Native beliefs, so is the US truly a place where minority religions can not only find a home, but create community? There has been some idle talk about turning Detroit into a Pagan city, with Pagans moving there and building a strong community from the mess left by the decline of the American automobile. A lot of us only get that sense of safety and community when at festivals, but could we create that in a brick-and-mortar town? If the Mormons were pushed all the way to Utah, the Amish are looking for places to relocate far from “the English”, and many religious minority communities dissolved, could Pagans create a community in the US safely and simply?

  • America has long been a breeding ground for religious experimentation and religious communities. The idea of separate religious communities forming in the US is by no means a new idea. Which is why I don’t understand why we didn’t grant protection and asylum to the Jews in 1947, after the Nazis were defeated. Why didn’t the US offer the Jews of Europe the chance to settle in Montana, or in dust bowl ghost towns? After the atrocities that we had just seen first-hand, why didn’t we make space for these family-oriented Abrahamic-faith people?

    Because we know the Mormons had a turbulent history in trying to create a religious community, and there was the persecution of Native beliefs, so is the US truly a place where minority religions can not only find a home, but create community? There has been some idle talk about turning Detroit into a Pagan city, with Pagans moving there and building a strong community from the mess left by the decline of the American automobile. A lot of us only get that sense of safety and community when at festivals, but could we create that in a brick-and-mortar town? If the Mormons were pushed all the way to Utah, the Amish are looking for places to relocate far from “the English”, and many religious minority communities dissolved, could Pagans create a community in the US safely and simply?

  • Kilmrnock

    i personaly am not sure why more jews wern’t welcomed here . but as many have mentioned the US is supposed to be welcoming of all religions , but in reality there seems at times to be a mob rule mentality. the christians are the current majority and in all reality don’t really want to have much to do with anyone outside their dominate group.us polythiests, the jews and muslims are viewed by them as outsiders , the extremistist groups are down right hostile to us outsiders .altho we all have constitutional rights that shouldn’t ever be in question , minority groups many times have to go to court to get those rights enforced.and now we are experiecing a return to raging conservatism . i’m hoping cooler , smarter heads prevail and we can survive this.

  • Kilmrnock

    i personaly am not sure why more jews wern’t welcomed here . but as many have mentioned the US is supposed to be welcoming of all religions , but in reality there seems at times to be a mob rule mentality. the christians are the current majority and in all reality don’t really want to have much to do with anyone outside their dominate group.us polythiests, the jews and muslims are viewed by them as outsiders , the extremistist groups are down right hostile to us outsiders .altho we all have constitutional rights that shouldn’t ever be in question , minority groups many times have to go to court to get those rights enforced.and now we are experiecing a return to raging conservatism . i’m hoping cooler , smarter heads prevail and we can survive this.

  • Wyrddesigns

    Simply put there was an agreement between US & England concerning the “Jewish Problem” during, and after the war. They didn’t want to bring that problem home to roost so to speak.

    CLEARLY, the government was very anti-Jewish, this was a time in Washington that those in power were almost always Christians. What activism we see from our government came out of a concerted effort from the US Treasury Department. Yep you read that right, the Treasury Department waged war against a State Department that was fully aware of what was going on, and refused to do anything about it, or created more red tape so nothing could be done about it. Select members of the US Treasury Department had to publicly oust their own government to public outcry before it reluctantly would act. This would eventually lead to about 200,000 Jews being saved.

    See the evidence for yourself:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/filmmore/reference/primary/index.html

  • Wyrddesigns

    Simply put there was an agreement between US & England concerning the “Jewish Problem” during, and after the war. They didn’t want to bring that problem home to roost so to speak.

    CLEARLY, the government was very anti-Jewish, this was a time in Washington that those in power were almost always Christians. What activism we see from our government came out of a concerted effort from the US Treasury Department. Yep you read that right, the Treasury Department waged war against a State Department that was fully aware of what was going on, and refused to do anything about it, or created more red tape so nothing could be done about it. Select members of the US Treasury Department had to publicly oust their own government to public outcry before it reluctantly would act. This would eventually lead to about 200,000 Jews being saved.

    See the evidence for yourself:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/filmmore/reference/primary/index.html