Posts filed under ‘Politics/Culture’

Left/Right is a False Divide for Polytheists

Melas the Hellene’s Polemical Topics in Polytheism # 9 Politics

First view: Polytheism ought to follow Liberalism on the left, because religious monotheists tend to take the right.

Second view: Polytheism ought to follow Conservativism on the right, because Liberalism is often antithetical to tradition, religion and culture.

Third view: Polytheism needs both right and left, and at the same time, must move beyond this often stifling dualism.

Despite being staunchly left-wing most of my life, I agree with the third view. To begin with, many will ask why should politics & religion be intertwined, and indeed that they shouldn’t be by citing separation of church and state or freedom of religion as it exists in their given country. But they are confusing government with politics, and how also do we define politics? Many people define it more narrowly than I do, but then I have a bachelor’s in political science and I also enjoy studying sociology.

The division between the so-called left and right is a cultural division, with politics really being a symptom of a deeper divide. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done some great work in explaining the moral foundations that divide us in the United States and to some degree, Canada and other Western countries. Studying his research is something I’ve found very helpful at better understanding how people who are more conservative than me thin. Which is good, because that is most of my country- particularly most of the people who vaguely resemble me both physically and culturally. Conservatives tend to have stronger feelings in several areas that Haidt measures that liberal & classical libertarians are often simply lacking which leads to a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding between these factions. Conservatives often to some degree get it more than liberals do. Here’s a shorter piece about the politics of disgust, which is one of the aspects that started him down the path of this research.

My boyfriend shared an article about this with me years ago, and over time particularly while reading Galina Krasskova’s blog, I noticed the increasing importance of the purity/sanctity vs. disgust dimension in her writing. Part of it was that I recognized it more, but it also seem to grow in importance as she deepened particular aspects of her practice, like emphasis on modesty, purity and piety. Disagreements about these issues with other polytheists became larger leading to a split among factions of bloggers, though I think as time goes on hopefully there will be more of a range of views and dimensions represented. My own views while aligning somewhat with one faction have also grown more nuanced, especially as I’ve deepened my cultural and religious studies. For one thing, many of the fault lines that have formed & the assumptions behind them, don’t fit very well with Irish/Scottish diasporan polytheism or Celtic polytheism more generally I might add, at least as I interpret them.

To be clear about my own biases, I am online friends with several of the writers on the Gods & Radicals staff, though I have only met one of them in person. Several of them are fellow members of Clann Bhride. I’ll admit I’m pretty lousy at being both a practicing democratic socialist and a polytheist, mostly an armchair theorist with both.

Anyhow I’m interesting in getting other polytheists of various political stripes together to compare our scores on Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations research. The questions he has about religion are unsurprisingly, not very relevant to us, but perhaps we could contact him and see if he has any students that are doing psychology of religion research. Let me know if you are interested. Here’s the section of the Righteous Mind website for religious communities. I wonder if it would be more accurate if we had different cohorts or something. Color me rusty on methodology…

Then I’d like to further explore the moral foundations and how they fit with our various religions & cultures.

Note: For my fellow anti-capitalists, for simplicity’s sake I’m just using liberals to include us, even if yes, classical libertarians that word by rights originally belongs to you. But being an anti-capitalist in American politics is rather like being well, a polytheist in the Western religious landscape, most of the time you aren’t really acknowledged to exist in public, and you have a zillion little sects & disagreements that are really important to you, but nobody else knows the difference between your beliefs and another ideology that you consider completely different, thank you very much! Marxists though are generally far more dogmatic and stuck in the past, in my experience…though they could probably compete with online heathens in the macho department!

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June 28, 2018 at 4:17 am 1 comment

American Cultural Blinders

Being native-born American is like being from this large, very wealthy and influential family that is well-known for doing many great deeds, but also has done many ethically questionable things that helped make them gain their wealth and power. The problem is, you don’t even know what many of those things are, but when you interact with people from other families (countries) they hold you accountable to some degree for those actions. Sometimes I find out what country someone is from either in person & online, and at the back of my mind I wonder what we’ve done to them? Any proxy wars, puppet governments or corporate colonialism? Or sometimes I run into people that are really great fans of U.S. policy towards their country in a way that makes me cringe. It’s great that we supported that wretched dictator, because at least he was anti-Communist!

As Americans we often don’t even realize what many of our cultural assumptions are especially if we haven’t had the chance to travel much. Even when we do travel we may get the sanitized or oversimplified tourist version of a country. And since American culture is so spread throughout the world it’s tricky to know what is already familiar or unfamiliar to people in other countries. I often both over- and underestimate cultural similarities and familiarity with American cultural tidbits when interacting with Canadian and British friends and acquaintances for example. And that’s just with two other Anglosphere countries!  I pride myself in being more cosmopolitan and savvy about different countries compared to the average native born American, but that’s a really low bar! As the saying goes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I’ve found that admitting that I don’t know much and just slowing down and listening to people and observing goes a long way in reducing misunderstandings. I’ve so far travelled to both Canada and Mexico, which is more than many people have but still, not very far afield culturally.

So I was going thru Melas the Hellene’s Polemical Topics in Polytheism and trying to respond to the questions but found that the way they were framed didn’t quite work for me. But I couldn’t quite articulate why. Then I figured it out, they just didn’t quite work in an American cultural context. This is an unexpected problem for me to have, I’m rather spoiled since so much of the Internet- especially the Pagan/polytheist blogosphere that I run into consists of Americans and heavily American influenced viewpoints. I’m glad to find more blogs from different cultural perspectives and written in various languages, though I really have to go out of my way to seek them out. I thought I might have to re-frame the topics to my cultural context.  I’m often not sure when it’s necessary or helpful to explain aspects of American culture since often times other people throughout the world understand us better than we do ourselves! Then later I read thru more of Melas’ posts and realized that he himself was raised in the United States then moved to Greece. Finding that out definitely adds some context to his various opinions on American culture, Greek culture and Hellenic polytheism. I’d be interested to see other Hellenic polytheists (whether of Greek ancestry or not) weigh in. I don’t know much about Greek or Greek-American culture, my experience is pretty much limited to a attending a Greek-American festival held by an Orthodox church in my city and visiting the Greek area of Chicago. Also there’s this movie I’ve seen that stars Nia Vardalos, but I’m not going to mention the title of it, I suspect the association is probably annoying enough!

 

But here’s another essay that I found by a Greek-American polytheist that seemed to me a helpful moderate perspective between totally divorcing Hellenic polytheism from modern Greek culture and people and being stuck on ancient Greece and believing the practice should only be restricted to people of Greek descent. As a person of Irish/Scottish/English/German heritage who has worshipped Greek gods but would like to better understand their cultural context, I found it very insightful and I also saw many parallels with my experiences connecting to people from or in Ireland. 

June 21, 2018 at 1:10 am 5 comments

Regional/Cultural Divisions in North America

There are various ways people have tried to divide North America based on cultural settlement, economic activity, etc. Though really, the biggest division tends to be between the urban and rural areas! But if you’re curious here are some books, they are in reverse chronological order. I have only read the 9 Nations one. I think what is a lot more useful, would be to research the history and culture of the particular area you live in. (Above link compares these various books)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (2011) This sounds like it oversimplifies and leaves out a lot about later immigration.

American Colonies: the Settling of North America by Alan Taylor (2001) This one covers all the European colonial powers, so- Dutch, British, French, Spanish. Might be of interest.

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer (1989) This one really goes into cultural differences between early British settlements, and is definitely on my to-read list!

The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau (1981) I think this has similar problems to the Eleven Nations book

Immigration & Assimilation from European Ethnic to “Whiteness”

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev (this one I have actually read- very good, though depressing!)

Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Special Sorrows: the Diasporic Imaginations of Irish, Polish & Jewish Immigrants in the United States by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants & the Alchemy of Race by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White by David Roediger

**Good White People: the Problem with Middle Class White Anti-Racism by Shannon Sullivan (this sounds very good!)

After reading  reviews I would NOT recommend these-

Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America- the reviewer notes that the authors only compare Italian-Americans with African-Americans, not with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Latinos or other groups that might have more similarities. It does not take into consideration discrimination that did take place against Italians, and especially Sicilians.

How Jews Became White Folks by Karen Brodkin- apparently the problem with this one is that it does not discuss the background of anti-Semitism in Europe much, and is better at discussing gender issues than racial issues. There are plenty of other books about Jewish American identity & assimilation, so I would look elsewhere.

Note

Please share if you have any opinions on these books or additional ones that may be of interest. There is most certainly *much more* out there to read about various cultural influences in the U.S. and Canada- I am sorting through stuff about European immigration due to my own interests and focus, so this is not to exclude anyone else!

I have started reading “A Different Mirror- A History of Multicultural America” by Ronald Takaki which is quite good so far.

Warning- For anyone who reads this, and decides I am “anti-white people”, “racist against white people”, “anti-American” etc. and feels the need to trumpet this, your comments will be deleted.

August 11, 2015 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

I’ll Take Liberal Christians/Jews over Conservative Pagans

One aspect of the “We’re all one Big Happy Pagan Umbrella Community” mentality is that somehow, I’m supposed to feel like I have more in common with conservative-minded Pagans/Heathens/polytheists than with people who share my values but follow other religions.  Here and there I’ve heard of Pagans running for office, and everyone gets all excited. But oh, wait they share none of my values. There was a Pagan in the Tea Party movement who was interviewed a while back. *Shudder*  So then why should I support them? I’m sure the fact that they have minority religious views will all get swept under the rug when its convenient anyway. Pagans of all socio-political stripes have to keep their religion quiet sometimes, but I notice the people who push back the most about promoting “coming out of the broom closet” often make a big deal about how its private, the personal is most certainly not political, and ewww I don’t want to be publicly associated with all those deviant hippie polyamorous Ren-fest dorks! They remind me so much of Andrew Sullivan and other gay conservatives. Be quiet, be discreet, be personal. Don’t scare the straights!

I do try to make friends with or at least be friendly and civil with people whose politics differ from mine. But it seems increasingly difficult as I can’t quite squelch the feeling some people give me that, while they act all nice and polite, it’s nothing personal but yeah, people like me deserve “what we get”, we’re not working hard enough, or acting normal enough, and asking for more is just class warfare, or a way of inconveniencing business owners/employers by demanding “unreasonable” accommodations.  Now I appear white, cisgendered and heterosexual and at least culturally middle class, so they can show me all their true colors while talking about Those Other Scary Poor Brown Queer People/Crazy Feminists/Communists etc.

So yeah serve the gods of capitalism, Ronald Reagan, the Patron Saint of trickle-down economics, the Goddess Ayn Rand and so forth and so on. But when it comes to pick teams, I’m joining up with the people of Sojourners and Tikkun and such. Sadly liberal Christianity and Judaism are in decline- at least institutionally. I’m concerned that non-affiliated liberals may be harder to organize. Pagans sure as hell are!

October 2, 2014 at 12:37 am 5 comments

Remembering Columbine

(This post was going to be about Goth culture, but then it turned into being about Columbine. Well stay tuned for the next post!) I remember when I was in high school, when the Columbine shooting happened. Afterwards there were many panicked attempts to blame various “bad influences” on the teenagers who committed the crimes. Video games! (this is is invoked every time there’s a shooting) Goth culture! Drugs! The Occult! At various schools across the country, dress codes were tightened, specifically targeting “deviant” clothing, make-up, jewelry and accessories.

Rather than urging protection for students against bullying, bullied students were looked upon with suspicion. They must be depressed, troubled youth barely stifling homicidal urges! people thought. So it was one big fun batch of scary things society doesn’t understand and likes to sweep under the rug, all in one! Mental illness! Guns! Odd youth subculture! Misfit teenagers! My high school was mostly Black, in a “bad neighborhood”, full of “bad kids” with “bad parents”. At least, that’s how it would all be portrayed if a shooting had happened there. It would be in the news, but not like Columbine. Besides, my school always had at least one cop stationed there, and constant paranoia about guns being brought in to the school. Columbine shocked not just due to the number of students shot, but also because it was in a Nice Innocent Middle/Upper Class Suburban White town. These were “good kids” from “good families”. Why and How could this have happened?!!!

Newsflash: White people own guns at twice the rates as Blacks and Latinos (granted the shooting happened in 1999, this data is from 2013, but if anything I bet the rates have gone up since then. OMG! Obama’s been elected! Must buy guns!

Also see this helpful graphic of mass shootings: notice almost all are white dudes. Frankly, I suspect in some cases their white privilege (i.e. lack of suspicion towards them compared to co-workers/other students/bystanders of other cultural background) may have actually helped them in carrying out the crimes.  

My point here is not that “white people all suck” (while of course claiming that I’m the exceptionally enlightened white activist hipster that you should totes invite when you re-form the Black Panther Party or something) This is WordPress- not Tumblr, folks!

But I am pointing out the absurdity of lumping everyone with a vaguely similar skin tone together as a monolithic group that all thinks and acts alike. 

 

September 3, 2014 at 1:33 am Leave a comment

Smoking as a Class Issue

Among the conversations I got into with my family while on vacation was some of my relatives expressing befuddlement as they traveled across Montana and Wyoming that OMG, There are Still All These People who smoke? How strange, I mean, *I don’t know anyone who smokes* What decade is this anyway? sorta comments. At some point I pointed out that these days, smoking is something of a class difference. It used to be that smoking was pretty evenly common among every class of people. The smoking rate has gone way down with rising awareness of health risks, social pressure and anti-smoking laws. But it tends to still be higher among working-class and poor people, at least in the U.S. This may seem counter-intuitive considering how expensive smokes can be, but consider this: nicotine is a stimulant- many of these folks are on their feet all day, and smoking gives them a little extra energy. Smoking can relieve stress, and many of them are very over-stressed. Yes middle class people are also often very stressed, but have more options for stress-relieving techniques. They also are more likely to be able to access smoke-quitting programs, alternatives like e-cigs (which have a high upfront cost) therapy etc. Many people who are recovering from alcoholism, addiction or mental illness smoke as a stress reliever. Once again low income= less access to recovery programs/therapy etc. A smoke, a drink or a favorite food that might be seen as comparatively bad uses of money and unhealthy choices are simple pleasures low-income people can access after a hard day (or night). I suspect that if my one uncle who lives on an Indian reservation was present, he probably would’ve backed up some of my reasons. Some of them seem to be acknowledged, but mostly my view was overpowered by White Middle-Class Liberals Know Best self-righteousness.

Now I’m not saying smoking is this great habit that we should all take up. I’m saying that think before you swoop down and condemn “Those People” for being foolish, short-sighted, selfish or whatever for smoking. I was reminded of all this while reading Nornoriel’s post in which he points out that as a coping/stress release technique smoking a couple times a week is not as bad as many people claim. “Vice” taxes on tobacco and liquor don’t really work, and essentially function as regressive taxes that have more of an impact on poor people. Which I suspect, is exactly what they’re intended to do. I wonder what would happen if someone were to propose a special tax on coffee. Everyone would pitch a fit. That’s the “acceptable” vice that people of all classes partake in. Both sleep-deprived office workers and truck drivers alike are dependent on caffeine. It’s a drug that makes you a good productive capitalist worker. Unlike say, marijuana…

 

August 28, 2014 at 2:50 am 2 comments

Gods of Hollywood vs. Gods of Asgard

I wrote the previous post to survey what all is included in the large umbrella category of “Pop Culture Paganism” and what within it I personally find to be of interest. That does not mean I am giving my stamp of approval on every type of PCP-ism that exists and everything that each PC Pagan says or does. That would silly. Heck, even in more specific traditions/organizations I belong to like ADF, I certainly don’t agree with all of my co-religionists on everything and share all their individual beliefs and practices. 

Anyway, Lovemydane brought up an issue that is a major point of contention among the Asatru/Heathen community- the depiction of Thor, Loki, Odin et al. in Marvel comics.  I haven’t read any of the Thor comics or seen any of the movies so I can’t comment on them too directly. However, I do enjoy watching Oh My Goddess! an anime series (based on manga) that draws inspiration from Norse mythology. The main character, Belldandy (Japanese rendering of Verdandi) works for a “Goddess Help Line” which is accidently dialed by Keiichi Morisato, a shy college student. Belldandy appears in his dorm room and tells him that she will grant him any wish he makes. Befuddled by this gorgeous woman claiming to be a goddess, he thinks it’s a joke and wishes that she will stay be his side forever. She stays on Earth, realizing that she has created a contract with him that she is bound to fulfill. Later her sisters, Urd and Skuld show up.

Those of you who are familiar with Norse mythology know these three sisters as the Norns, the powerful Goddesses who decide the fates and  of humans by measuring and cutting the thread of life- and Wyrd. The cosmology of Oh My Goddess! is very different from Norse cosmology, and bears an obvious influence from Christianity- the universe is divided into Heaven, Earth and Hell, Verdandi, Skuld and Urd and others are under the authority of the Allmighty One (Odin- with some Jehovah influences) whereas in Norse myth, there are 9 worlds, and Odin, while powerful cannot determine Wyrd as the Norns can. Likewise, in Greek mythology Zeus is subject to the power of the Fates/Moirae. Watching this anime is just a form of entertainment, a purely secular activity though I find it interesting and fun to compare with what I know of Norse mythology. 

So, what if someone were to watch Oh My Goddess! and decide that they want to worship Belldandy, the character as a goddess. Would that be a problem? Well that depends. If they decided to completely base a religious practice off of the show and manga, it could be a rather unbalanced and shallow practice, because the media are designed to entertain, not to do all the things religions are intended to do. But that would be a problem for that one individual and would not really be anyone else’s business. Now if this person decided that Belldandy was the same as Norse myth Verdandi, and Oh My Goddess! cosmology/laws of the universe trumped Norse mythology, and was more “real”, “valid” and called themselves a Heathen/Asatruar and came into a Heathen forum, or offline in-person blot with all of these ideas, or tried to explain to the public (or just their friends/family) that what they’re doing is actual Heathenry, then yeah. Those would all be major ethical violations of Heathen community norms of piety and hospitality and we would be right to be offended. 

  On the other hand, there some people who initially come across Norse or Greek mythology references in pop culture and get interested in learning about the originals. It might just remain an intellectual/aesthetic interest for them or it might develop into a religious practice. If they come into a forum and mention that their interest was piqued by Hercules, Xena or Marvel comics, we shouldn’t attack them for it, but we should check to make sure they understand the difference. In works of fiction that draw on history, people will often put in a disclaimer that this is a work of fiction and not historically accurate. However they do not have that responsibility with mythology. (This movie not approved by Homer or Snorri Sturlson!) We can be offended when they get our mythology “wrong” but I think it’s better to just see as a different, alternate mythology. 

So if you want to worship a pop culture version of a deity, do you have ethical responsibilities to a community that worships a more traditional form of the deity? (Which you may or may not see as the same being, but they probably don’t) Yes, you do. You have the responsibility to not misrepresent yourself or your religious practice to the general public, the Pagan public and that specific community. As long as you do that, the more traditionally-minded polytheists ought to leave you alone. 

For more on the Marvel Thor issue:

Worse than Breasts & Melanin by Kvasir amongst the Gods

August 15, 2014 at 9:42 pm 1 comment

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