The major holy days for March are finished as far as the Ekklesía Antínoou calendar is concerned; but, on these last days of the month, there’s still plenty to talk about here, as well as do devotionally and practically…So, here’s a thought that has been going through my mind the last few days.
Whether anyone else thinks so or not, I think I’m in mourning now over the concept of “pagan intrafaith.”
[I'm also amused that my automatic spellchecker/corrector here doesn't believe that "intrafaith" is a word, and keeps trying to correct it into "interfaith," which is what polytheists are now saying is the reality of polytheists and many more mainstream pagans doing anything together is--and I've said that myself recently.]
What I’m still confused over is not so much the mourning or the death itself, I’m confused over what “pagan intrafaith” was, and how it met its end: in other words, was it an adult that lived a full life, a young person that died too soon, or was it a developing fetus that was miscarried or aborted? I’m not sure…and that, too, is sad.
Hearkening back to this post from December, I’ve discussed on certain occasions how the very idea of “intrafaith” within a pagan context has been somewhat dismissed on occasion, which at the time I felt was really unfortunate. If there is such a thing as the “Pagan Umbrella,” then the obvious diversity of groups and traditions and individuals beneath that umbrella needs to be accounted for in some fashion or other, and intrafaith seemed a sensible way to do it and a sensible term to adopt for the types of conversations that need to happen. The advantages of doing so seem obvious as well; the disadvantage to those who might have dismissed the need for this would be that doing so would acknowledge the diversity and the differences involved, and therefore the necessity of such engagements in the first place.
However, I’m finding on reflection that the exact opposite can also be true. When the Wiccanate Privilege discussion occurred at PantheaCon, and I said at the beginning of it that the occasion was one of interfaith dialogue, I was corrected in a “loud whisper” by some woman in the room who said that “No, this is inTRAfaith!” To me, on that occasion, where I was clearly in the minority in that group in terms of how I understand polytheism, it seemed more sensible to me to understand my religiosity to be different in kind to that of many of the other people present in the room, and thus approaching it from that acknowledgement of difference would have been more productive in that case. The insistence by the loudly-whispering woman (and likely others in the room as well) that it was, “in fact,” intrafaith rather than interfaith–strangely enough–is an erasure of the differences, and an assumption that all of our different varieties of paganism constitute differences in degree against a background of sameness.
I’ve seen a number of recent calls for everyone who is pagan to focus on our similarities rather than our differences, and that doing so will allow us to work together on a variety of different projects in a spirit of understanding and cooperation. Unfortunately, that is going to be doomed to failure for a variety of reasons. The most important reason is that the erasure of differences means that difference is not accounted for, nor can it therefore be understood or respected, and thus no effort has to be exerted towards people actually understanding one another. If all we focus on is our similarities, and especially how “we’re all human” and so forth, that may mean that we don’t have a lot of conversations about what we really do, who we really are, and what is really important to us from our different personal and tradition-based viewpoints; and while that might do something in terms of making things less likely to result in misunderstanding, offense (and, yes, some people’s theological differences can, will, and quite frankly should cause offense–and I mean that knowing fully well that my theological understandings are entirely offensive to other pagans just as much as some pagans’ theological understandings are offensive to me…but, we can still talk about them, and in fact I think it can be useful to do so!), and–heavens forfend!–“being uncomfortable,” it also means that we’re not actually engaging with each other on any sort of deep or significant level.
If we all assume that we should all just show up to dig holes and talk about nothing but digging holes while we’re digging, that is one thing; but what we’re being asked to do in these cases is to show up and dig holes, and understand that in digging holes, we’re actually all family. Sorry, but family–whether chosen or biological–amounts to more than doing the same things together; it involves a lot of mess, sex and birth and afterbirth, arguments and making-up and courtships, disastrous dinner parties and fun wedding receptions, accidentally walking in on someone in the bathroom and being apologetic about it, having to point out that someone has broccoli stuck in their front teeth, awkward conversations and awkward situations and awkward-but-still-good celebrations, and more often than not reaching a point of mutual respect while still agreeing to disagree, and actually having the conversations that lead to being able to do that in full honesty and integrity rather than fear and silence and shame.
If all we are to focus on is our common humanity with others, then why deal with other pagans at all? Why not our neighbors, who may be of any and every or even no religion at all? Indeed, that is a very good and useful thing to do.
If I am to have good relations with fellow pagans, then I think it’s not unreasonable to do so as pagans, and in order to do that honestly and authentically, then we need to understand why it is we are different before focusing on what it is that makes us similar. I try not to make assumptions about other people (and often fail), but it’s harder to do that if I don’t actually know what is true about the other person, and there are only two ways that I can find out what is true about another person: ask them, or they tell me without me having to ask. If they assume that we’re similar, then they’re not going to tell me, nor ask me about anything, so that tends to put the burden on me to both ask and tell in many cases.
The assumption of sameness is exactly what leads to the majority of misunderstandings between any group of people and another. It’s one of the reasons why I think the Silver Rule is far superior to the Golden Rule, because it’s far more likely that both you (whoever YOU happen to be) and I dislike the same things rather than like the same things: I don’t like to have my toes stepped on, I don’t like to be force-fed foods that I don’t like (or even foods that I do like!), I don’t like being made fun of, I don’t like being deliberately mislead, I don’t like being stolen from, I don’t like being misquoted, and I certainly don’t like being beaten up, so I don’t do those things to other people…and those things aren’t that hard to do, frankly!
That being the case, I enter almost every situation understanding that I don’t know this other person and they’re not like me, and therefore I should gather what information I can about them based on what they do and say, and then ask for further information if there are still areas that I don’t know about. I can only safely assume that their commonalities with me are that they don’t like to be hurt, abused, or offended, and so I try my damnedest not to do any of those things to them, and sometimes I fail (usually only on the third of those matters).
So, I think intrafaith is dead, not just because no one seems to want to have the difficult work of engaging in these tough conversations about what makes each one of us different, and learning to understand and respect those differences, but because in the insistence that we are in fact intrafaith, that allows the assumptions of sameness to then erase differences altogether, which leads to a shallow relationship dynamic that will ultimately prove to be meaningless unless it starts to account for and acknowledge those differences, even if it involves some major fuck-ups between people to understand those differences. As various panelists at the Pagans and Privilege discussion said, there is an art to screwing up gracefully, and it’s an art that not enough people have studied nor appreciated the need for within paganism on-the-whole. The latter is still the death of intrafaith, in my opinion, even though the word gets used, because it is a kind of undead zombie-like intrafaith that only looks like it is supposed to, but inside it is rotten and only wants to eat brains. (!?!)
I suspect this might be my last post on these sorts of things–even I know when a dead horse has been beaten too severely, and this horse is looking pretty bad indeed at this point. Let’s do ourselves a favor and bury it, shed a tear for it, and learn to get on now without it, if indeed we really even knew it at all before it was buried.