You may have seen A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment floating around the internet over the past month or so. Released in time for Earth Day last month, it was the product of several months’ collaboration among a few dozen pagans who stepped up to be a part of the project. The idea was born out of a post by John Halstead last August, in response to the Covenant of the Goddess releasing its own environmental statement. John invited me and several dozen other pagans to help create this statement. So I decided to participate.
Over the next several months we all discussed what the statement should include–certain topics, assertions and ideas that we thought were central and valuable enough to be mentioned. This wasn’t an easy task, given that “the environment” includes, well, everything, and “environmentalism” is itself a pretty broad topic. But eventually we managed to distill everything into six basic sections, and broke up into six mini-groups for more focused, intensive work. We argued, we discussed, we compromised and we chose each word carefully, until we had a draft that we thought was fit to send out into the open. We took public comments, and while we couldn’t satisfy everyone we did our best to incorporate suggestions into the final creation.
I have seen several people talking both publicly and privately about why they didn’t sign the statement, whether because we didn’t include their suggestions completely, or they otherwise didn’t agree with it enough to want to put their name to it, or because it’s “just words and doesn’t matter”. I knew that going into this project we’d never in a million years be able to come up with something that every single pagan would agree with, and I don’t think any of the other members of the working group were under that misapprehension either. I’ve known since I was a newbie pagan in the 1990s that we pagans come by our “herding cats” reputation honestly.
So why be a part of it at all? Why did I choose to engage in an act that wouldn’t please everyone? Why not just spend the time in the garden instead of at the computer?
The statement is “just words”. But words have power. Look at how many times people have complained that the media, leaders, and other focuses of great attention have remained silent on environmental issues. We may not all necessarily be “leaders” of the pagan community; we were invited because we were known to have some involvement in environmental issues and might have something valuable to add. But we were at least not remaining silent. And look at how members of other religions have crafted their own statements on the environment; I felt, at least, that pagans should add our voice to that growing chorus. There is power in that symbolic action, even if in and of itself it neither restores the planet nor plants seeds.
One of the rather pessimistic assumptions I’ve seen floating around is the idea that those of us in the working group are just giving the environment lip service. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know a fair number of the people who worked on this statement. These are not just people who pat themselves on the back for doing a good job because they gave their opinions. They’re folks who, in their own way, do their best to walk their talk, whether through environmental activism, or trying to walk more lightly on the earth through their actions (or both!) To suggest that the writers of this statement are all talk and no action is both insulting and deeply presumptuous.
These statements are meant to offer solidarity and motivation in that regard. Probably not everyone who signed was quite as gung-ho as I was; I’ll take any excuse to try and make the world better according to my conscience and understanding. But I’d like to think at least a few people saw it, thought “Hey, there are people who feel the same way I do!” and signed on before going off to walk their talk in whatever way they could.
At the same time, such statements invite dissent. I’m not upset with people who didn’t sign it; I don’t see them as betrayers of the cause. The reasons I saw for people not signing were, by and large, ones I felt were pretty valid, even if I didn’t agree with them. I would never sign a statement that, for example, said everyone should go vegetarian or vegan because I personally disagree for a variety of reasons, but I can definitely respect someone who didn’t sign this one because that dietary and environmental choice wasn’t written into it.
That’s why it’s not THE Pagan Community Statement but A Statement, one of many that could be out there. The CoG statement already exists, and there may be others out there I’m not yet aware of. There’s room for more, too–and I don’t mean that in a flippant, schoolyard “Well, why don’t you just write your own?” way, either.
As a pagan author, I have always hoped that my writing would inspire others to get their work out there–even if it was out of spite because they didn’t like what I had to say. For every person who actually publishes a blog post, an article or a book, there are hundreds more who also have valuable things to say who just haven’t said it out loud yet. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the pagan community is its diversity of thought, opinion and practice, and I want to encourage the sharing of those things.
I also think we need to keep that diversity as we move into a somewhat more mainstream place in the world. Other religions have multiple statements on the environment, each with its own nuances and emphases. Why should expect paganism to not have an even more varied set of statements?
So. If you agree with A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment, here it is, ready for the signing. If you don’t agree with it, I invite you to consider creating your own version, whether on your own or with a group. Let it be a statement of your intent, and let that intent fuel your actions and the actions of those who sign on with you. That’s the ritualistic power of “just words”.