Archive

Posts Tagged ‘article’

Reflecting on Two Articles on a Post-Christian Future

January 2, 2019 5 comments

Manny Tejeda-Moreno wrote an article, “Editorial: Douthat’s post-Christian future, a response” for The Wild Hunt, responding to a New York Times op-ed “The Return of Paganism”, an article written by Ross Douthat.  Rather than dig through both articles, I found things within Tejeda-Moreno’s article I felt were worth responding to. Tejeda-Moreno’s response to Douthat highlights things that I felt were worth exploring, as I have seen Pagan and polytheist communities struggle through the fourteen years I have on-and-off called myself a Pagan and have been a polytheist.

It is pretty clear Ross Douthat is not a part of any modern Pagan religion, and he has been an op-ed writer for several years. I am not shocked Tejeda-Moreno is dissatisfied with the article. Over the course of his life Douthat has been a Pentecostal and a Catholic and was educated at Harvard. He is not only writing from outside our communities essentially about us, as Tejeda-Moreno clearly points out, he is doing so poorly informed.

His lamentations that there may be more witches than members of the United Church of Christ should be evidence enough that he is mourning or at least ill at ease in the post-Christian future he sees on the horizon. I find this notion at odds, though, with those exercising levers of power and in the majority. The most prominent and numerous members in US society are some flavor of monotheist, predominantly Christian. Those who are not Christians in positions of power, such as political or academic settings, are often agnostic or atheist. All tend to default to some variation of ‘hierarchy of religion’ in which one’s personal flavor (Christian, atheist, or agnostic) is the summit of the hierarchy. Pagan and polytheist religions are often derided for their belief in ‘demons/delusions’, ‘outmoded ideas’, ‘dead gods’, and the like, treated more as curiosities than anything worthy of regard either in academia or in interfaith settings.

I echo Tejeda-Moreno’s disappointment with Douthat’s assertion that Paganism is “some civic cult with supernatural experimentation driven by secret societies of literati weaving post-Christian intellectualism into society.” Modern Pagan religions are neither that organized nor that well-developed. Even if we were, intellectualism or rationalism is not the main philosophy of a good number of Pagans or polytheists.  We certainly do not have the numbers for civic cultus, nor the structures which would make it relevant so far as I can see.

In the first place, modern Pagan religions do not even internally agree on what Paganism itself is. The term is so nebulous as to be unwieldy, effectively ending in some vague sense of ‘not Christian’. Some Pagans who use the word as their primary means of identification are polytheist, believing in and worshiping many Gods. Some Pagans who use the word as their primary means of identification are atheist, believing that there are no Gods and worship nothing. Saying anything accurate when even basic and essential matters of theology are disagreed upon internal to specific religions within Paganism is almost impossible. For instance: Are Wiccans theist? If so, which Wiccans, if any, are theist and which, if any, are atheist?

Then there comes issues of who gets to decide who gets to be called Wiccan in the first place. Gatekeeping, who gets to do it, and who has the right to gatekeep specific Pagan religions are a series of ongoing issues in many Pagan and polytheist religions. Without these basic methods of organization decided, it matters little whether one says “Wiccans are theist” or “Wiccans are atheist” because the ground upon which the matter would rest shifts dependent on the practitioner and not the identifier itself.  The reason I go over words and their meanings so often in my posts is because of this ongoing problem.  There is a consistent need to reinforce what words mean because the language in Pagan communities is inconsistently applied and used.  I can get more to the core of what I am by using the word polytheist rather than Pagan because, where Pagan is a very mushy word, polytheist says what it is right on the tin.

I have a bone to pick with Tejeda-Moreno, and that is the same bone I have with everyone and anyone who uses the term ‘organized religion’ without including our own religions.  The term organized religion means what it says, “A structured system of faith or worship” though most associate it with monotheist religions.  Every single religion is organized or it is not a religion.  Were Tejeda-Moreno to have written something like “Christian religions have failed their faithful and the broader society in two ways” or “Monotheist religions have failed their faithful and the broader society in two ways” there would be less issue from me.  It’s still an over-generalization of centuries of history, but it would be more accurate than to just hand Christianity and other monotheist religions the phrase organized religion.

Further, setting up Paganism and organized religions as being against one another is nonsensical.  The “continued toleration of sexual abuse and misogyny exposes all the other moral failings” regardless of which religion it is in question, and Paganism is no more immune to this than Catholicism is.  Indeed, it is also true that “Individuals working to experience their authentic selves are deluged by moral pronouncements serving only to layer guilt and self-hatred” is equally applicable to the Pagan and polytheist communities.  Arguably, it is something that most faith communities engage in rather than the work of their religions’ callings.

The failure here is that Douthat fails to recognize that people should be free to believe in a religion that offers them meaning without ridicule.

I do not think that he fails to understand this so much as it is in his Catholic view that there are true and good religions and those that are not.  It’s also his mistake in assuming that we Pagans and polytheists only conceive as Gods belonging to Creation, and not able to be both immanent and transcendent, or one or the other.  His agreements with Steven Smith’s assessment of things rests on shaky ground as Smith commits pantheists and atheists to his view without even so much as bringing in contemporary Pagan or polytheist authors to his article while mischaracterizing those same religious movements.  In it, he ignores the lived religions of Pagans and polytheists and misses what immanent as well as transcendent Gods, Ancestors, and spirits do to the weltanschauung of the religions and people who believe in Them and worship Them.

Tejeda-Moreno continues:

He avoids a basic reality, as well: individuals are not turning away from organized religion. They are turning toward something that has meaning for them. It may be praxis, or it may be dogma; whatever the reason, they are invoking the fundamental human rights of thought, belief, and religion. Complaining about them as sinful distortions, or implying a divine force is preparing to act in retribution, is using fear in service of patriarchal oppression.

Again, I think Douthat isn’t avoiding a basic reality, but couching in terms familiar to himself and his religion.  Douthat’s point is made here in that regard, and it is a good one:

These descriptions are debatable, but suppose Smith is right. Is the combination of intellectual pantheism and a this-world-focused civil religion enough to declare the rebirth of paganism as a faith unto itself, rather than just a cultural tendency within a still-Christian order?

It seems to me that the answer is not quite, because this new religion would lack a clear cultic aspect, a set of popular devotions, a practice of ritual and prayer of the kind that the paganism of antiquity offered in abundance. And that absence points to the essential weakness of a purely intellectualized pantheism: It invites its adherents to commune with a universe that offers suffering and misery in abundance, which means that it has a strong appeal to the privileged but a much weaker appeal to people who need not only sense of wonder from their spiritual lives but also, well, help.

Douthat goes on to say:

However, there are forms of modern paganism that do promise this help, that do offer ritual and observance, augury and prayer, that do promise that in some form gods or spirits really might exist and might offer succor or help if appropriately invoked. I have in mind the countless New Age practices that promise health and well-being and good fortune, the psychics and mediums who promise communication with the spirit world, and also the world of explicit neo-paganism, Wiccan and otherwise.

He’s not wrong in his assessment here.  One of the major appeals in Pagan and polytheist religions is that we have living relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that in some way invite us to share in co-creating with Them.  We are invited to appreciate the beauty of our Holy Powers, the Worlds we inhabit, and so much more. Our Holy Powers occupy many places simultaneously that we can appreciate on multiple levels, including that of devotion, aesthetic, beauty, joy, and more.  We build relationships with our Holy Powers at our altars and in our statues.  We build relationships with Them in places They hold in high regard.  We build relationships with Them in sacred places in nature or our cities.  We build relationships with our Holy Powers when we bear jewelry or tattoos of Their forms, symbols or Names.  We build relationships with Them when we lay down offerings at a tree, look out to the Sun’s or Moon’s rise, feel Them in the breeze.  We build relationships with Them in the grip of writing a poem, knitting a blanket, or making a piece of art.

Douthat goes on with ill-conceived generalized histrionics that are wrong, namely in regards to ancient Roman elites.  Polytheism, not pantheism was the norm.  He is also forming his argument on shaky foundations for what it would take to form a living pagan religion under his view:

To get a fully revived paganism in contemporary America, that’s what would have to happen again — the philosophers of pantheism and civil religion would need to build a religious bridge to the New Agers and neo-pagans, and together they would need to create a more fully realized cult of the immanent divine, an actual way to worship, not just to appreciate, the pantheistic order they discern.

His point here is wrong.  Pagans and polytheists do not need pantheists or outside civil religionists.  We have our own philosophers, and for those who wish to engage in civil religions there are ample examples to follow.  We need not partner with pantheists or civil religionists to create a fully realized cult of the immanent divine because we possess all the tools, ability, and functions to do so within our own religions.  We already have everything Douthat is pointing out here.

Likewise, Tejeda-Moreno is wrong.

Whether we are discussing Witchcraft, Heathenry, or any other practice broadly described as Pagan, individuals are not turning away from organized faiths; they are turning toward something more meaningful to them. Pagans are re-wilding their faith interactions to the immanent and the spiritual, and few things are more dangerous to what is “organized” than what is “wild”.

Individuals are turning away from monotheist religions, not organized ones.  They are turning towards something more meaningful to them, that is true, but it is not something that is not organized, only organized in a different fashion.  We are re-wilding our religions insofar as our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are immanently intertwined with the development of our religions.  What most who are coming into “Witchcraft, Heathenry, or any other practice broadly described as Pagan” are coming into is one where the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are immanent and transcendent, not bound by us, our morality, our politics, or our views.  The Gods are the Gods, Their own, and we do not control Them.  The Ancestors are the Ancestors, Their own, and we do not control Them.  The spirits are the spirits, Their own, and we do not control Them.

It is not us who are re-wilding our religions.  If our religions are wild it is because the Holy Powers are not in our control.  We talk with our Holy Powers, we seek Their guidance, and whether through divination, omens, inspiration, or other means They make Their desires and wills known.  This does not mean we have no bearing on our religion.  We do, because it is in relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that our religions are woven.  We can disagree with our Holy Powers, negotiate, ask, work with Them to different ends.  We can also agree with our Holy Powers, obey, negotiate, ask, do the work we are given.  We can have times where it is hard to know what They want, times where our lives are fallow, times where we are sure of what They want, and times where our lives are so full we are fit to burst.  These are lived relationships.

Ultimately, Mr. Douthat argues that the promises of Paganism are vacant. The rituals and prayers lack meaning and effect: “I don’t know how many of the witches who publicly hexed Brett Kavanaugh really expected it to work,” he writes. The same sentiment could be shared for those followers of the Christian god who prayed for hurricanes to turn away from the United States toward Mexico.

I think that this is fair on both sides.  So long as we are not living solid in our relationships with the Holy Powers, then I agree that “all the rituals and prayers lack meaning and effect”.  Without prayers bound in meaning, in relationship with our Holy Powers, they are merely words.  Perhaps the only effect they can carry is offense or disinterest. Without rituals made in relationship with our Holy Powers with clarity, discipline, and skill, it is so much empty action.  Without magic rooted in our worldviews crafted with discipline, and skill, again, it is empty action.

Rather than seeing, as Tejeda-Moreno does, that Douthat feels entitled to an explanation from Pagans and polytheists, I see that Douthat has fear of what we may bring to the table:

Until then, those of us who still believe in a divine that made the universe rather than just pervading it — and who have a certain fear of what more immanent spirits have to offer us — should be able to recognize the outlines of a possible successor to our world-picture, while taking comfort that it is not yet fully formed.

I agree with Tejeda-Moreno that Douthat “avoids the obvious remedy to his dilemma” which, for monotheists is that they are not “living up to their origins, whether those be the promise of salvation, submission, or, even more simply, love.”  I also think it is more complex than Tejeda-Moreno’s conclusion.  The problem with monotheist religions and philosophies derived from them is they seek to eliminate all others.  Those who espouse arguments like the ‘evolution of religion’ or the ‘Kingdom of God’ wants its particular religion (or lack thereof) to get to the top so it can install its hegemony over all the others beneath it.  Paganism is not the boogeyman here, but neither is hypocrisy.

What is sitting in the background of monotheist religions is that when any attains power it then seeks to crush or convert any other religion.  Calls to the faithful to evangelize, to destroy the Pagans, to convert the masses of the world are still being made.  As Douthat says:

Until then, those of us who still believe in a divine that made the universe rather than just pervading it — and who have a certain fear of what more immanent spirits have to offer us — should be able to recognize the outlines of a possible successor to our world-picture, while taking comfort that it is not yet fully formed.

What Douthat is afraid of is that we are going to be living in a post-Christian world and takes explicit comfort that a successor is not fully-formed to it yet.  After all, look at what the Christians did to the non-believers.  Why wouldn’t a Christian, having an understanding of the kinds of destruction such things brought, not be afraid of such things being brought down on them?  What Douthat and monotheists like him are afraid of is not just irrelevance, but that non-monotheist religions will make inroads, take up different power in different ways, and offer better futures than the one they’ve had the last two thousand or so years to build.  Their hegemony is slipping bit by bit, year by year.  They fear the loss of power.  They are afraid the futures we face without the hegemony of their religions and philosophies on our necks.  They are afraid of our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

Advertisements

Answering Teo Bishop on Christian to Pagan Conversion

November 21, 2011 6 comments

Over at Patheos.com, Teo Bishop asks some pretty deep questions on how and why Pagans convert.  These are my answers.

But what does it mean for a Christian to convert to Paganism?

It is a total paradigm shift, and a shift in thinking.  It is a shift in how you relate to the world around you, yourself, your family, Ancestors, the spirit world, and the Gods.  A Christian converting to Paganism is, in the Christian view, deliberately discarding salvation and is embracing Satan.  Conversion is a revolutionary act, one that redefines everything you are about.  For those who believe in a religion, it informs everything, from your morals to your sex life.  Converting from a world-denying religion into a world-affirming religion is a huge shift, especially one that is as sex-positive, body-positive, and nature oriented as many Pagan paths tends to be.

For the person, converting to Paganism can change your entire outlook on life, where you are going, and what you should do.  Rather than working for the salvation of ‘the life to come’, Paganism as I have found it roots you in the here-and-now in addition to the future.  Sure, where you’re going is important, but everyday action, right action especially, is prized.  Converting to Paganism means dropping a lot of the privileges that come with being Christian.  It is intentionally stepping into a religion maligned by the world’s largest religions, and staying there.  It is intentionally adopting what you once would have thought were heretical, or Satan-inspired, worshipping Gods you were told were agents of evil.  It is intentionally dropping any pretense of justification for the continued rape of the Earth, destruction of wild places, destruction of indigenous peoples, and suppression of religious, racial, and ethnic minorities.   It is discarding accumulated baggage, especially the feeling of superiority, that Christianity can give you.

While I feel you need to drop a good deal to convert as a Pagan, Paganism is also affirming of a lot of things.  It affirms your body, your planet, the Universe Itself, is holy.  It affirms that you need feel no guilt for sexual orientation, gender, politics, or who or what you are in and of yourself.  It affirms that you are part of a cycle, a web, an interdependent ecosystem that is physical, mental, and spiritual.  It affirms that you have a place in this world, indeed, that everyone does.  It affirms that there is more to life than living for salvation.  It affirms that each of us has inborn power that we can put to use if we have a mind, the training, and the Will to do so.  It affirms that where each of us has a place in the cycle, the web, the ecosystem, all Beings are active agents of change each and every day, for good or ill, within it.

When the Gods called me, I was thinking about entering into the seminary to become a Catholic priest or deacon.  When I answered the Gods, I put those things aside and followed Them, and They led me to my priesthood.  It took a lot of learning to trust that I was hearing Them.  It took dedicated work to make sure I was hearing Them, and even sometimes I still get it wrong.  It meant learning that repentance is action to fix things, and/or do the best I can with a situation in which I screw up, wrong someone, do wrong to myself, or do wrong to the spirits and/or Gods.  It meant learning that my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits can come to me at any point in time, whereas I tended to find YHVH in His House, our local Catholic Church.  It also meant learning that a good chunk of the information on my Gods is either handed down from Christian-recorded books, or is written in poem form, and that I would have to form my own understanding of the Gods.

No one could just give me my Gods in a book, or in a religious ceremony once a week anymore.  The Book was replaced with Experience.  Do I distrust lore?  No distrust per se, but I understand that it, like the Bible, Torah, Qu’uran, etc. is neither perfect nor does it encompass everything about my Gods.  It meant I had to form my own understanding about the spirits I work with, my Ancestors, and my Gods.  It meant that I had to develop my own testament to Them.  To do this, I had to develop my own understanding of Them.  No one could give that to me.

How does a Christian become a Pagan, and how do Pagans help Christian converts through that process?

I think each person comes to the Gods in their own fashion.  In sharing my story with other Pagans, though, it seems there are some currents of commonality that run through Pagan conversions.

  • Hearing the call from a God/dess.
  • Dissatisfaction with the former faith, either due to theology or practice.
  • Needing to find a faith that is more in line with our own understanding of Divinity.
  • An experience of the Divine shows that there is more than one God/dess, whether it is a walk out in nature or a personal revelation in prayer.
  • Studying a Pagan subject from an early age, and throughout one’s life eventually coming to worshipping the Gods we once studied.

These aren’t all-encompassing, but all of these were part of my conversion experience, and I find I share most or all of these with other Pagan converts that I’ve talked with.

Pagan can help Christian converts by being welcoming and being hospitable.  New converts are often going through challenges to their old status quo, often a lot of them at a time, and by being nurturing to this development, fellow Pagans can make this transition easier.  Pagans can help new converts by providing them with access to  good books, academic and Pagan, and provide personal accounts of their Gods.  Transition rituals, such as dedication rites, to mark the new Pagan’s path can be very helpful in providing a solid base, both for their conversion, and their place in the Pagan community.  Support, more than anything, is what I feel Pagans can offer new converts.  Whether through exploring their religion, exploring magic, or exploring relationships with people now that they are a Pagan, they’ll need that support.

I found something that helped me go through the transition was by actually saying goodbye to YHVH, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and respectfully thanking them for my time with Them.  By transitioning in this way, I didn’t have frayed feelings with my former God, nor did I feel open hostility to Him.  YHVH, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, for Their part, never called me evil and never denied me my new path.  I still occasionally talk with Them and Their angels, especially since I live in a Catholic home.

If the Gods and Goddesses are real and present in the world, where do we turn to hear their voices? Do they speak, as does the God of the Christians? If so, are we listening?

They can speak to us as the God of the Christians does, but They have so many different ways to contact us, to call to us.  We don’t need to turn, I think, so much as we need to tone down the internal chatter and listen.  The Gods are, potentially, everywhere.  We can find Them in our sacred statuary or a forest, the lands of our Ancestors and walking alongside us.  We can find Them in the powerlines and computer grids, the tilled earth and a good harvest.  Our Gods, as I see Them, are imminent and transcendent.  They aren’t at our beck and call, but They exist alongside us.  Whether They choose to talk to us or not is up to Them; it is up to us to listen.  I think listening, though, is limiting.  Hear for your Gods, yes, but also look for Them, feel for Them, smell for Them, taste for Them, experience Them.  They can show us Their ways in the flight of birds or a symbol.  They can help us to hear Them when our minds are quiet or most chaotic, or when music thrums all around us.  They can give us Their taste through brews and food, and bring us to ecstasy through their sacred medicines.  They can share with us Their scent through the burning incense or the bonfire’s smoke.  They can share Their touch through Their priests, statues, and Their own Touch Itself.  They can give us the experiences to know when They are near, when to be loud, when to be silent.  They can come to us through our pen or keyboard, through a song, a feeling; They can show Themselves in others, and They can  make Themselves known in ways that I will never be able to write or speak of.

I recommend we make spaces where we can hear the Gods clearer, whether this is making a daily walk in a park, a regular meeting with fellow Pagans to do rituals, worship, and share experiences.  Just a time dedicated to worship and communion every day can be ways we can better listen for our Gods.  I also recommend we give ourselves places to worship in our homes, setting up altars to our Gods and Ancestors.  This practice alone has been very helpful in my path.  It is a constant visual reminder that my Gods and Ancestors are with me when I wake up and go to sleep.  It reminds me that at any point I can kneel or sit in worship and communion with Them.  It is one of my goals in life to make a public Pagan Temple where anyone can come and hear Their Gods, conduct Their rites, and worship the Gods.  By having more spaces to do this we give ourselves more opportunities to listen to the Gods.  By giving ourselves more opportunity to listen to the Gods, we may well hear Them more.

%d bloggers like this: