I didn’t really think I’d be making this present post now…or ever, for that matter…but nonetheless, here we are.
For a very long time, I’ve held the position that religions which feel the need to proselytize are inherently insecure. If they are so utterly convinced of the “rightness” of their own path, why must they spend so much time and energy trying to convince others of it? While it may be a good training-ground to root out the potential doubts one might be having by giving something to “face off” against for its people–and nothing makes one more entrenched in one’s position than to feel that there is an enemy to lock horns with–it’s also a good technique to distract from whatever the real purposes of the religion are, both positive and negative. I think more often than not, it gets used as a tactic to deflect the possibility of people thinking about their own doubts about their religion too much, as equally as often as it can also become a distraction from doing the works of justice, mercy, and compassion that oftentimes these same religions call their adherents to uphold.
So, that all seems relatively reasonable, I think, and is a great argument for why one shouldn’t proselytize.
But, what about less direct ways of trying to assert that one’s religion is the “best” option? What about criticizing other religions or their viewpoints, their leaders’ actions, or other such things?
On the one hand, if one is representing a new or different religious viewpoint, in understanding it people often want to know how it differs from another religion, which is what we get asked a lot as polytheists in terms of more widespread forms of paganism. I think it is possible to phrase such matters of practical and theological difference in ways that do not denigrate the viewpoints which are different from one’s own, but I think it’s been rare–and I’ll speak for myself in this–that such a lack of negativity has always accompanied such expressions of contrast. We can and should do better than this in delineating differences in the future, and I would like to commit to that now. Likewise, if someone delineates a difference between their own religions viewpoint and one’s own religion, we should try our hardest not to hear or read such delineations of difference as attacks. Too often that is the gut-level reaction, which is understandable when one’s viewpoints (or other aspects of one’s life or identity) are not mainstream and have been deprived of privilege. Those without privilege are often forced into a position of insecurity as a default, and while it is understandable and something that I think all of us can and should have compassion for, we should also try not to be automatons in the face of such reactions and simply lash out or be hostile as a default whenever possible. When genuine and actual attacks, slights, or disrespect are involved, confronting such actions and statements should be done with courage and can be done rightly and morally; but where no offense is either intended or expressed, and nothing other than pointing out a difference occurs, then it should simply be left at that.
The Polytheist movement has been gaining momentum over the last few years, and a large part of that has been to clearly distinguish itself from mainstream paganism. Not unlike the often adversarial relationship which paganism has had in the past with Christianity, likewise in some discussions of polytheism there has been an adversarial relationship with more mainstream forms of paganism (like Wicca) as well as with recently emergent varieties of paganism (like atheopaganism and humanistic paganism). I am certainly not outside of the group of polytheists who have often vehemently and viciously attacked those viewpoints, and often my intent has not been to attack at all, but instead to simply delineate the differences between my own viewpoints on religious matters and theirs. I’ve failed very badly in that, I realize, on many occasions, and I am very sorry for the difficulties and offenses which I’ve caused in that regard. I’ve tried to maintain respect for the individual persons involved, even when their viewpoints are diametrically opposed to my own, and even when I think I’ve been able to achieve an understanding of their positions, I have not likewise extended the hand of compassion to them as individuals with human dignity and respect in the process. That’s a serious violation of my own personal standards of conduct, which are inspired by my Deities and in Whose service I have been deeply committed. Because They have much higher demands of me than I’ve been able to attain on many occasions, it’s necessary that I apologize and make this statement now.
And, to be blatantly honest, I am very sick of the arguments that have been going on. It’s no secret that I like a good argument, and that I can in many cases be an argumentative person. I am not in any way interested in living in an echo chamber, and even if I don’t agree with someone, have a conversation with them and come to an understanding of their viewpoint, but still don’t agree with them (which happens with me and pretty much EVERYONE I’ve ever met, not only on religious matters but on any number of other things as well!), I hope to be able to maintain respect for them. I do find ideas and systems that are different from my own interesting; I am a student and a scholar of world religions, and even when I find things disagreeable to the point of being repulsive to me, nonetheless it’s interesting to me that such things exist. I may argue until my dying breath about the injustice or in some cases stupidity of some things that exist religiously–including and especially those which result in violence toward others, discrimination against entire groups of humans, and so forth–and if it comes down to it, I’d likely even do more than argue in many cases. But if it is simply a matter of disagreeing on basic theological premises, and there is no possibility of harm resulting from either my particular viewpoint or the other person’s, there’s no need to result to hyperbolae or any kind of venomous attacks and endless debates when there’s a lot more useful things that could be going on.
Now to the point of the “truce” that I’ve alluded to in the subject line of this post. It doesn’t get very much more different in terms of theological opinion than myself and John Halstead–yes, indeed, I said/wrote his name…it’s not like he’s Volemort or something, after all (!?!)–and over the years, we’ve had many disagreements. We are quite different people in almost every respect, and yet we also have many similarities, and our viewpoints on certain issues outside of theology are relatively parallel. While I am not changing my viewpoint on my own theology anytime soon, nor is he, it’s rather lamentable that we have not spent more time having nice discussions as humans with one another rather than arguing, or using “wanting to understand better” as a pretext for arguing while appearing to be civil (something I’m guilty of quite often, I readily admit, to my detriment). I could debate on the utility of spending more time discussing common human interests with him (or anyone else), but given that I come into virtual and actual contact with him more than I do with other people who I have less in common with and yet have been far more civil towards is an appalling stain on my own character, I think. Especially since John assisted me in my campaign to attend the World Parliament of Religions, I’ve been questioning my overall approach to him and to atheopagans in general.
Much of the present post was inspired due to his discussion of the header image on his blog. As a child of Qadesh, I am personally offended by the image he uses, and even despite the explanation of it he has given–which I understand falls into the realm of sacredness for him–and me understanding and sympathizing with that explanation, nonetheless it remains offensive to me. I do not think that those who have particular connections to certain Deities should be silent when their Deities are degraded, and I do find the idea that “my Deities don’t need me to fight their battles for them” to be rather cowardly and gutless, as I’ve said elsewhere. But, as someone who is also dedicated to freedom of speech, and who knows that it goes every-which-way, I have to learn to be comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to be as respectful toward my Deities, or toward me, as I would hope. Indeed, in the long history of Antinous in the Western world, there has almost been more written about him that has been negative in the ancient world (by Christians as well as by other polytheists) than there was positive. I’ve often quoted Adam Phillips on the necessity of granting others the freedom to hate oneself if one dedicates oneself to being as authentic as possible, and this is true in religious matters as much as anything. I would not have any polity of which I’m a part adopt a viewpoint in which others are prevented from expressing whatever-the-fuck-they-want. I do not have to like what I see as disrespectful statements, or even sacrilege and blasphemy on the part of others (and a good deal of what is being done to the earth, to indigenous peoples, and to sacred sites worldwide by corporations, corrupt colonizing governments, and fanatical religions is blasphemy to me), and I can say whatever I like against such actions, but I would be no better than the adherents of those fanatical religions if I wished that all such individuals were silenced or wiped off the face of the earth. (In some cases, where horrific violence and injustices are proliferating due to the actions of such individuals, then yes, my opinion will be stronger and my support of actions to remove them from the biosphere would be definite–but John Halstead and friends are clearly not in that category, and to place them in it by inference is unnecessary and inappropriate.)
I had a post in my drafts folder that I was debating when I’d complete, which was called “Atheopagans and Cultural Appropriation.” Given that cultural appropriation has been a hot topic of debate elsewhere in the pagan blogosphere recently, it would have been a *really bad idea* to have written that one now, needless to say. I discussed this matter, briefly, but in exactly those terms, with several people at Many Gods West, and all of them pretty much agreed that it was an important thing to talk about. I also heard a great deal of outright hatred expressed for John Halstead, which somewhat disappointed and disturbed me, and in some cases surprised me: while I can understand finding someone who expresses viewpoints different from one’s own in a hostile manner being distasteful to oneself, “hatred” is another matter entirely, and is not something to be spread around casually, nor is the word to be used lightly, I think. So, while it still confuses the fuck out of me why many atheists are interested in being a part of paganism–something that, whether anyone else agrees with me on this or not, I’ve always thought of as a religious marker and identity more than anything else–and it also has often dumbfounded me that some parts of paganism that are not explicitly humanist or atheist (etc.) in orientation seem to be utterly welcoming of atheists, and infinitely further matters of theology, of practice, and of discourse around these issues…my confusion is *my problem* and no one else’s, and I should try my best to make sure it stays my problem and no one else’s. As a result of that admission, I’ve ditched that post, and will not be writing it: now, in the near future, or ever.
Polytheism and mainstream paganism are different religions, and as much as realizing this might hurt many people, it’s a dawning reality for many more of us that can no longer be denied. The “divorce,” so to speak, is going to hurt, and has hurt many folks in various ways and for various reasons, myself included. But, acting like it doesn’t exist or hasn’t happened only prolongs the hurt, I think, and not in any way that is useful or productive of anything other than further resentment, misunderstanding, and vicious argument. Over the last few years, I’ve tried–as a result of the above realization–to talk less and less about general paganism, and likewise not to speak of it in any way that indicates I have any investment with it. Doing so is as useless as talking about all of the internal theological and practical problems in, let’s say, the Methodist church, because I’m not a part of that organization and never will be, and thus while its struggles may be of intellectual interest to me at some point or another, it’s not of any great personal relevance, and thus shouldn’t rank as high in my own priorities of things that must be discussed. I’ve failed in this regard with general paganism (and with other religions, too, including recently–e.g. Catholicism!), but I’m going to try harder with that in the future.
But that’s not the main “point” of the truce I’m proposing here.
As I think will be more and more apparent in the future, atheopaganism and humanistic paganism (whether they are two names for the same thing or are entirely different movements) are going have to be differentiated from the larger “pagan umbrella” to a much greater extent as well, not because general paganism is not welcoming toward them (although sometimes it isn’t, I think–which means it has something in common with polytheism in that regard!), but because it will no longer be useful to have there be any confusion between the more mainstream loosely theistic forms of paganism and those which have no theistic outlooks. These are different religions, not only to polytheism but to each other as well, and thus having arguments with atheopagans over matters of theology and practice is pretty useless, and a waste of both of our factions’ time, energy, and attention. We all have movements to be building, and any time spent that is a distraction from that purpose (no matter how much any of us may like a good scrap!) is wasted time.
If any of us are to have mature religious viewpoints which are not inherently insecure, and can trust that people will seek and find our particular viewpoints of their own accord because they have had thoughts or experiences consonant with them, then it would be better for all of us to have our public presences on the internet be full of messages that are good and positive and that build up our own viewpoints rather than tearing those of others down.
So, here’s the truce I’m proposing:
1) In my own blog and my polytheist writings elsewhere, I won’t argue or disagree with things that atheopagans, humanist pagans, and so forth have written or said; I won’t refer to their writings directly with links or obliquely and by inference simply to critique them.
2) If I do read their blogs or other writings, I won’t comment on them to start arguments or to prolong them. Beyond “that’s interesting” or agreeing with things that are not of an explicitly theological nature, I won’t comment at all.
3) Studies in contrast might be useful on occasion, but sparingly so, and only if they are not personal attacks, and do not denigrate or disrespect the viewpoints of the others involved.
If anyone else would like to agree to this truce, which I hope is permanent (though open for re-negotiation and revision), feel free to do so; if anyone in the atheopagan and humanist pagan groups, and John Halstead himself, would like to agree as well, or come up with their own alternatives worded to better suit their views, they’re free to do so as well. If they don’t, that’s also fine–it’s not my job to regulate their conduct.
And, if you have any thoughts on these matters, I’m interested in hearing/reading them, most certainly, so go on and comment below to your hearts’ content. :)