Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 9, 2013

Fundamentally Speaking…

As you know, over the past few weeks I’ve discussed the issue of “pagan fundamentalism” here, particularly in response to Prof. Sabina Magliocco’s keynote presentation on this recently. I also posted a clarification on certain points that Prof. Magliocco did in the comments from the original post at The Wild Hunt on her keynote.

Now, The Wild Hunt has given a guest post by her on this topic, which can be found here.

It’s good to read what she wrote, and I’d encourage everyone who is interested in this topic to do so. I still think there are some unanswered questions in what she’s said, mostly (as some of the commenters on that post stated) having to do with specifics. And, there are some bits that I’m also not particularly happy about for various other reasons…but, I’ll leave those aside for the moment and will instead invite readers here to have a look at it, and then comment below on any further points of discussion you’d like to raise.


  1. I guess, for me, it’s hard to get past the timing on Dr. Magliocco’s lecture- and now Wild Hunt post- specifically with all of the clamoring about ‘Pagan fundamentalists’ following your own ‘Bringing Back the Gods’ post on Patheos. Even though her post today does clarify her position and bring more nuance to it, there is something that just still doesn’t completely sit right with me. I can’t help but feel that, on some level, she is mistaking the increasingly vocal group of people for polytheism- of which, I will admit, I am a part- as a dangerous potential for fundamentalism; those speaking up for polytheism, though, I think do so out of a sense of marginalization because of it- whether real or perceived I don’t know.

    • Yes, I agree…even though she’s attempting to say that “holding a belief does not equal fundamentalism,” at the same time, *literal* seems to be a worry for her, and as polytheists, well…

      Even where hard polytheism is insistent, I’m not seeing it promulgated as a dogma, nor saying that others are in any way “damned” or such for holding different beliefs.

      As an anthropologist, I’d also hope that she’d be a little more specific with the people she’s referring to, or the statements that she sees as reflecting these trends.

      • Well, and even if hard polytheism is “insistent”, even if it’s “dogmatic”, there’s no equivalency. One of these positions will perpetuate the worship of the Gods, and one will not. I feel a responsibility to those who came before, and to those who will come after: first, do no harm. In my book, treating the Gods as useful figments of my imagination counts as harm. Also, let’s not pretend that there’s any strong resemblance between what Prof. Magliocco is doing and anthropology. She’s moonlighting here.

      • Yes, yes, and yes…

        And also, I think your latter statement is hilarious, and I feel both good and bad about myself for finding it so amusing. 🙂

  2. I don’t know how Prof. Magliocco can say that “Twenty years ago, Pagans were insisting that Paganism was not about belief at all; it was about practice.” My impression is that it is only very recently that one hears about Paganism as inherently “orthopractic”, and indeed that this sort of talk has, in my experience, been used primarily to paper over differences between two patterns of belief: polytheism, on the one hand, and diverse forms of reductionist theology on the other. It is evident which one Magliocco prefers, since she places polytheism under the gravest suspicion. So it is about belief, after all, and Magliocco is simply seeking to leverage academic concepts and methodology in support of her obviously preferred theology. I also find it rhetorically manipulative to to insist on talking in the same breath about belief in the very Gods, and belief in “founding narratives” of modern sects like Wicca, as these are not on the same level by a long shot.

    • Yes, I completely agree.

      I’m guessing she’ll never show up at any of my rituals at PantheaCon–she never has before, and isn’t likely to now, I suspect, being I’m such a well-known Nazi fundamentalist and such.

    • I agree, because most of my experiences when I first got involved with the pagan community have been dealing with people who are focused on their individual belief, or the belief of whatever tradition they belong to. I never encountered the idea of orthopraxy until years later when I got involved with Nova Roma and the regular insistence of orthopraxy, that it didn’t matter if you believed so long as you are doing the rituals. It seems that as polytheists are becoming more publically verbal and more numerous that we are essentially being told to mind ourselves and keep in our place and yield to the theology that she supports, less we be labeled with being fundamentalists. And you are absolutely correct here that it did seem out of place to discuss belief in the gods with founding narratives.

    • I suspect that the Prof is on the other side of a large cultural divide from me (I seem to recall she says she’s affiliated with a BTW group?).

      Specifically: BTW groups and at least some other Craft lines seem to have always been more primarily orthopraxic.

      That information never made it into the pagan book explosion. Which means people like-me-and-of-my-generation, whose introduction to paganism was through pop-Wicca books and the like, tended to start out with “belief”, because “belief” is the Christian-dominated model of religion.

      And as far as I can tell the overwhelming majority of pagans do not ever leave the book-mediated conceptualisations of religion, and keep coming around to areas where I spend my time talking about “belief” – often meaning by it “which god/dess/es do you follow”. (The Cauldron recently had someone explicitly come in and ask “Have your beliefs changed? By which I mean if you were following, like, Athena at the beginning, do you still do that?”)

      But if someone lives in a traditionally-conducted-Craft bubble, or their formative experiences are there and they didn’t really realise how the mainline stuff developed, I can see someone believing everyone does orthopraxy and this belief stuff is new.

  3. I think someone who commented there posed an excellent question (which as of yet she hasn’t answered, the only comment she replied to was one praising her) asking how polytheism and recons fit into this. For my personal experience we are in an interesting position in which we can easily be targeted for fundamentalism, not so much because we say “you must hold this belief or else”, but rather we are not popular because we demand that belief yield to historicity when it comes to common factual information about the religion and the gods. So even though we aren’t telling people how to believe we are also a huge target for such accusations. To be frank I have more negative experiences from non-polytheists and non-recons. Things from how we worship academia rather than the gods, to saying that we lack any real spiritual relationship, and mostly targeting us for not following into anything goes/anything is valid/true mindset that is common in the pagan communities. I can imagine that with this kind of discussion if I ever made a reply…for instance…to someone claiming that Artemis is a goddess of wild uninhibited sexual passion (not that I have ever come across that lol)…then with this kind of discussion in regards to fundamentalism, I would probably be branded as a fundie for disputing said idea. In short, this can potentially be the wedge that ends up irreparably dividing pagans and polytheists.

  4. I don’t see what the big deal is. What’s so bad with being a fundamentalist? Although there are many situations where things exist on a continuum there are also some where one side is right and one side is wrong and it’s as simple as that. The gods exist. They are many. End of debate. I’m not going to dump petrol on someone who thinks otherwise but you know what, neither will most people who hold fundamental beliefs. This throwing around the F-label is nothing more than scare tactics to silence the opposition. I think those of us who are serious about our beliefs ought to proudly embrace it. And if the other side keeps getting more strident in denouncing us … maybe we should stop associating with each other. But I have been arguing that all along.

    • I agree. Why people are twisting themselves into knots in order to avoid saying “I think you’re wrong,” I will never know. It’s okay to think someone is wrong as long as you respect each other’s space. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

      • Indeed, I agree.

        Or, even more specifically, “I can’t accept your viewpoint for myself, but you may think it’s fine, and if so, that’s great.” That’s usually my position–I’m not a total relativist, though, especially when it comes to knowing what is right and true for me.

    • “Fundamentalism”, of course, started out as a proud badge of self-identification for Christians who rejected the trend toward modernization. And I think it’s even more interesting to note that one of the proudest and most outspoken American Fundamentalist Christians in the early days of fundamentalism was William Jennings Bryan, who managed to combine Bible thumping literalism with a social liberalism that many Obama supporters would be hard pressed to match (especially when it comes to placing anti-imperialism and economic justice on the front burner).

      But let us not be in any doubt about what Professor Magliocco means by “fundamentalism”. She means something very dark and very ominous. She means something that is intrinsically intolerant and anti-intellectual. In fact, she clearly means “fundamentalism” as a slur. This is why it is so important to demand that she publicly name whoever it is that she is slandering with this label. So far she has refused to do so.

      • Yes, I agree–and that’s so frustrating, especially when in her latest post she’s saying that she’s a respectable academic who has to follow certain ethical procedures and such. Making vast generalizations while not actually pointing out the specific cases she’s talking about is a major oversight, and wouldn’t be tolerated in any other anthropological work, especially where there are potentially “negative” consequences for falling within a particular group that is being discussed, etc.

    • I hear you…and, I’ve had a similar conversation with my Thracian colleague.

      I’m more and more starting to ask cui bono? about these matters…Is it those who are arguing for “big-tent” paganism, but almost in a kind of “All Ur Paganism Are Belong To Us” sort of fashion, that want the vitality and the power of those of us who are polytheists, without actually granting us any autonomy or ability to believe what we want in doing so? And thus, the use of the “fundamentalist” label for someone else sort of has the interesting effect of actually identifying the real fundies as the ones who are using the term negatively for others? Hmm…

    • I think the problem is right there in the definition being used – “a black-and-white, either-or, us-vs.-them morality that precludes questioning.” “anyone who disagrees is labeled an enemy or heretic.” “the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions.” I don’t know about you but I don’t want this associated with myself – never mind the negative, anti-intellectual, intolerant, abusive, homophobic and sexist baggage that word carries. Polytheists don’t want voting rights stripped from everyone else. Polytheists don’t wish to force everyone into rigid gender roles. Polytheists don’t dream about killing or converting all others at gun point. These are all positions that come to mind when the common person hears the word fundamentalism (whether or not the average fundamentalist actually holds these views), and I really don’t want that to be the impression outsiders (and other Pagans) have of polytheists.

      That said, I agree with you 100% that this is a silencing tactic. (I’m not even sure what to classify it as – it’s not tone policing…?) I’m not sure why believing in/knowing of the existence of multiple gods comes off as so threatening to some people, but I guess it does.

      • I do agree. I have some vast disagreements with many other groups and individuals (including the earlier group dedicated to Antinous of which I was a part), and while I very freely critique many of those I disagree with, I’m in no way interested in silencing them, nor in calling them “heretics” (outside of the actual, literal meaning of that term, i.e. someone who has made a choice) or in stating on their fitness for damnation or salvation (and we do have those things in my tradition), etc. I totally agree on what you’ve said about the characteristics of polytheists, and I hope it remains so for a long time.

        I wish I understood better why it is the term is being used so negatively against some of us, though. I really don’t know…

      • I think this ties in with something I haven’t heard anyone talking about – some humanist pagans feel like they are being pushed out of the pagan umbrella by polytheists, and some polytheists feel like THEY’RE the ones being pushed out of the umbrella by humanists! So maybe this is a reaction on the behalf of humanist/non-polytheist pagans against what they are perceiving to be dogmatic polytheists who want to make everyone worship multiple gods (when what I think is actually happening is some polytheists wanting people to acknowledge that some people are not earth-centered but deity-centered and this was *very important* to ancient pagans).

        Really, this whole thing has flared up rather recently starting with that disaster of a Wild Hunt post where a humanist pagan implied all theists are unsophisticated, unintelligent, and don’t care about social justice/the environment. (Wasn’t that also around the time when a different humanist pagan made a blog post stating they felt actual hostility against polytheists because we’re “stealing” the gods from them by not thinking of them as archetypes?) It has only gotten worse from there, as people tried to make new definitions for the word Pagan that wound up removing gods from the equation at all, so then polytheists started speaking up, and then this… *sigh*

      • Yes, I think that’s pretty accurate.

        It was Brendan Meyers who made that post on TWH (last year!); but, with the recent spate of “Let’s define Pagan to make polytheism irrelevant” trend that I saw that bothered me and caused me to write my column last month at Patheos; and then the fundie accusations started to fly, alas…

        The ways in which humanist pagans want to make the world of paganism safe for their non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, and in fact to often force others to do so is, itself, a kind of fundamentalism. The way that polytheists are being told to “put up and shut up” about their experiences regarding the gods as real beings in all of this is a kind of fundamentalism. We are being told that we’re either wrong, or our ideas don’t accommodate everyone, and while the latter is true, I don’t think it necessarily matters. I have yet to be a part of any ritual where an assent to a statement of beliefs has been an issue, so I’m not really seeing how private beliefs and the policing of them is really of any relevance or interest to anyone.

        The whole thing is a big huge mess, in my opinion, and I’m beginning not only to regret having raised some of these issues at all (important though they are), but also being associated with a wider religious movement that doesn’t seem to want to do anything that looks like organization, systematization, or deliberation at all–in other words, any of the things that are signs of having a mature religious outlook. It is the lack of these things in 95% of modern paganism, and not whether or not we believe in the gods, that is the reason most other established religions don’t take us seriously, I think. Not that we have to ape them, or have creeds or institutions; but, at least some bit of seriousness in articulating these things and actually committing to a definite theological position would be a good step in the right direction.

  5. “The ways in which humanist pagans want to make the world of paganism safe for their non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, and in fact to often force others to do so is, itself, a kind of fundamentalism.”

    Do you really think that theistic Pagans are being “forced”? Or is someone else just grabbing the microphone?

    • Forced, no; but, barraged with reminders that our gods aren’t real and don’t matter, or that we’re foolish or misguided for thinking they are real, absolutely.

      And, then, some are attempting to re-define Paganism to explicitly not include deities, thus making those of us who are polytheists the “weirdos” and such. I will admit to being weird in a huge variety of ways quite gladly, but I don’t think polytheism within paganism should be one of those ways.

      I’m a fan of various “live and let live” philosophies. I’m fine with having non-theists, atheists, agnostics, naturalists, and humanists come to my rituals, talk with me, and so forth; I’m not fine with them trying to convince me that I’m wrong, or speaking derisively about my viewpoint in public fora. No, I don’t agree with their viewpoint, nor do I think it’s a wise viewpoint; but at the same time, if they introduce themselves as such and still want to participate with me in ritual, I’m fine with that, and with not getting into issues of whether or not the gods exist. If I can have my beliefs and they can have theirs, and though we disagree we don’t let it be a divisive matter (which is what most of my personal experience has been, both online and in real life), that’s fine; if I need to be branded a fundamentalist for having these beliefs, while not questioning or critiquing their beliefs (while they are free to do so to me), that’s not fine.

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