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I’ve always wondered how much sincerity is included in the phrase “can’t we all just get along”?   This phrase irritates me. Every time I hear someone, usually someone who identifies as a  “centrist”, say this trite saying I get a feral urge to shout NO.  No we can’t all get along, we’re going to disagree.  We should disagree. Disagreement is a fertile garden which nourishes change.  Sadly much of Western culture is worried about offending others and being offended themselves. We would rather pay lip service to differences rather than investigating and communicating the unique challenges based in understanding how these differences affect a community. Instead we divide ourselves into small communities of like minded individuals.  Its Survivor and we vote those who we don’t like off the island.  This is a trait I’m finding more prevalent in the Pagan community.

 

One would think Pagans would be open minded folks who welcome differences with open arms…well sorry to say this but that no.  NO NO NO NO…..no we’re not.  Despite our liberal nature or maybe because of it, we’re a community which is quick define ourselves in terms of what we’re not willing to accept rather than what/who we are.  Debates rage in the community about the nature of Pagan scholarship, how should we present ourselves as a movement, how we should treat outsiders, and who exactly are the outsiders. For brevity’s sake I’ll focus on a topic which combines several of these arguments into one larger social issue.

 

In the Pagan community there is currently a debate to own the word Pagan. So what are the defining traits fo the Pagan community? Ronald Hutton in “Triumph of the Moon” struggled to identify specific qualifiers for what a Pagan is. To paraphrase:

 

Five identifiable traits can be associated with American Neo-Pagans.  While Neo-Pagans may disagree on many aspects of their faith, these five aspects are common throughout the movement.  First, Paganism aims to draw out humanity’s innate divinity. Second, it abolishes the Western distinction between magic and religion. Third, Paganism is a set of mystery religions that are based on experience rather than revealed through an individual or hierarchy. Fourth, the essence of Paganism lies in the creative power of ritual. Fifth, it is protean and eclectic ( Triumph of the Moon pg 420)

Turns out it is almost impossible to define Paganism in terms of what it is.  Pagans rankle at labels, and spurn attempts to define them.  This fear of definition leads to Pagan discussing their community and faiths in terms of negatives.  It is simple to explain to someone what a pagan isn’t. So why the struggle to own this undefinable term?

This struggle is less a well constructed polemic, but more a game of hot-potato. It would seem that few folks want the term Pagan thrust upon them, let alone would claim it for themselves.   Many members of the Heathen, Hellenist, Wiccan, Druidic, and other communities are engaged in a campaign to remove themselves from the wider Pagan community.  Why? While I won’t, because I can’t, speak for any of these groups I would suppose that this diaspora stems from three traits:

 

1). An interest in further developing an unique spiritual personality  free from association with the Pagan community.

2). Distaste with the practices ( real or imagined) of the Pagan community.

3).  Viewing the spiritual community as a place where Winning and Right are states any particular group can achieve, meaning that other groups are Losing or Wrong.

 

 

I see this shift from the term pagan to be a complicated issue. this is a growing pain for Pagans, we need to understand that we’re a diverse community, with a large population of refugees from other religious communities, whose major form of communal interaction takes place through the Internet.  There is an element in Paganism who are not connected to a larger community on a face -to -face level. This isolation leads many Pagans to value their own interpretations of Paganism more than those of others. They see themselves as Pagan and judge those who differ as non-pagan., while fearing the same judgment being leveled upon them.  So rather than take the risk to challenge or be challenged intellectually we instead ” all try and get along” which leads to limiting contact with those who differ….because we’ll never all get along.

 

So folks do me a favor, take a deep breath and take a gander at Project Pagan Enough’s set of promises.  Add them to your daily life. Meditate on them, push yourself to work with them. Just try them on for size.  These things won’t solve the schisms in our community, but they might help folks understand how to prevent future ones.

 

“By using the Project Pagan Enough logo, you’re making a set of promises:

 

  1. You are Pagan Enough, because you try fervently to explore what it means to be pagan and apply it to your life, despite your physical appearance, personal tastes, level of experience, or other factor that others might use to say you are not pagan.
  2. You recognize others are Pagan Enough despite how they may look, act, or believe, as long as that person feels they are fervently seeking the divine on a pagan path.
  3. You attempt to debate those that have opposing viewpoints, learning from one another despite how passionate the debate becomes, instead of simply writing others off for not being up to your standard of ‘pagan’.
  4. You welcome, befriend, and encourage others in the pagan community despite their physical appearance, level of experience, age, or other physical or superficial characteristic.
  5. You promise to treat members of other religions and spiritual paths with equality, fairness, and grace, setting a good example for the Pagan community both in and out of the community, not judging the individuals based on fringe members of their same faith.” ( http://www.incitingariot.com/p/project-pagan-enough.html )
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One thought on “Screaming at the Deaf: Issue of Debate and Communication in the Pagan Community.

  1. The pagan debate; I believe Pagan is a good blanket term for polytheistic faiths old or new. Yes the monotheistic historians may have used the term as a slur but so what, that doesn’t change the fact that it was used to denote polytheistic practices. So a person may be Wiccan, Druid or Heathen but they are still a pagan whether they like it or not.

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