Posts tagged ‘atheism’

Humanist, Naturalist and other Definitions

I’m not interested in jumping into any religious debates currently, but I thought I’d shed some light by trying to sort out some definitions.

Atheist– There is/are no god(s)  Theoretically could believe in an afterlife, magic, divination or other non-scientific proven things.

Agnostic– Knowledge of god(s) is unknowable- many people use it in the sense of “I’m not sure” or “I don’t care” which would be an Apatheist. More about the a/gnostic & a/theists axes here.

Skeptic– person who uses critical thinking, reason, and logic, though they may not be consistent in how they apply these tools! Could include religious people but communities of skeptics typically don’t. Skeptics originally were a school of Greek philosophy

Freethinker/Freethought– one who thinks freely, especially in matters of religion and philosophy- originally this was used for Deists and people who questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, but has been mostly taken over by nontheists.

“None”– demographic rather than a self-identifier, person who has no institutional religious affiliation. This could include some Pagans.

Spiritual But Not Religious– many “nones” describe themselves as such, many Pagans do so as well, though I find the assumptions behind the division of “spirituality” with “religion” to be rather tiresome, I think we should listen SBNRs define this for themselves individually rather than just writing them off as flaky, which many mainstream religious folks and atheists alike often do.

Nontheist– includes atheists, agnostics. Depending on how you want to define things, a pantheist, deist, animist or ancestor venerator (with no deities) could also be nontheists. This isn’t typically a self-identifier, but I use “nontheistic pagans” as a broad term for pagan-identified folks who are less deity-focused. (If I ever get someone’s identity/label/tradition wrong please let me know)

Humanism– philosophy or life-stance that focuses on human needs, this life, a positive view of the body and the world, humans making the effort to improve themselves and the world, reason, critical thinking and the scientific method. Typically a humanist is at least agnostic or not focused on questions of the existence of gods, spirits and the afterlife.

An older definition of humanism (pre Humanist Manifesto) that is still used particularly in educational settings, is of Renaissance humanism, belief in the value of individual freedom of expression, education in the humanities, exploration of what it means to be human. This is the sense that I might use it for myself, but it requires so much explaining and disclaiming that I don’t usually bother!

Secular Humanist– pretty much the same as the first definition of humanism.

Religious Humanist– Humanists who want to have rituals, celebrations of rites of passage and/or the seasons, possibly buildings/organizational structures similar to churches, and sometimes humanist celebrants and chaplains who officiate at ceremonies or provide ethical or spiritual counseling. Religious humanists can be found in Unitarian Universalism, the Ethical Society/Ethical Culture, Sunday Assemblies, Jewish humanist groups, and various forms of Paganism, Buddhism- Secular Buddhism, Nontheist Friends (Quakers) and various people who attend church services because they like the community/music/etc. even if they aren’t sure how much of it they believe in.

Religious Naturalism– viewing the Earth, universe in a reverential manner, as a mystery, way of seeking meaning, based in scientific inquiry. This may be the “new” religious humanism. Spiritual Naturalism is another version.

Anti-theist– one opposed to belief/worship of God(s), who wants to convince religious people to leave religion behind. Please note that not all atheist activists, even those who actively criticize religion are necessarily anti-theists. Often it’s hard to tell though since they typically conflate all religion with fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. I would typically exclude these guys from humanism, whether secular or religious, since they treat most humans with such disdain. Interestingly, I’ve mostly seen this used pejoratively, but I’m starting to see people self-identify with it. Another person I know uses it as “I believe gods exist, but I want nothing to do with them!”.

Pantheism– seeing God/the Divine as the same as the Universe/nature

Universal Pantheist Society-includes pantheists, panentheists, cosmotheists, religious naturalists etc.

World Pantheist Movement– scientific/natural pantheism, broke off from the UPS and is now larger

Panentheism– sees God/the Divine as both pervading and transcending the Universe

Secularism– Not the Same as Atheism! In an United States context it can mean separation of church and state- state secularism. A secularist may advocate for the rights of nonreligious people, and ending forms of religious privilege, dissuade religious influence over political decision-making and public discourse- they can be religious or non-religious on a personal level. Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals in the United States often claim that advocacy for separation of church and state and loss of Christian privilege is “creeping secularism/secular humanism” and is an erosion of their religious freedom. Seriously, for years I didn’t know secular humanists were a real group of people, because they just sounded like Jerry Falwell’s imaginary bogeymen!

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November 17, 2015 at 7:11 am 6 comments

Pagan Identity and Responsibility

I’ve enjoyed the contributions of other nontheistic & pantheistic Pagans like the 2 Lupas (Lupa Greenwolf & Rua Lupa)- their approaches to nature have enriched my own. But they do their thing and respect that their approaches aren’t for everyone. We often come into Paganism with a particular vision and focus and that’s fine as long as we don’t expect everyone to be on board with that same vision. Nature/Earth/the environment both physically and spiritually are important to me, it long has been before I became a Pagan. Including a diverse range of human beings and their access to equitable resources in society is also important to me, and also was a value before I became Pagan, so is creativity and the arts- religion is to me, in some respects a dimension of that creativity. I also value the continuance of human cultural diversity and many languages and cultures around the world- and the ecosystems they are intimately connected with are endangered. I draw inspiration from Irish and Scottish culture, and so I have been working on learning Irish and promote understanding, interest and awareness of living Celtic cultures to broader Pagan-dom and my community in the Twin CIties metro area of Minnesota. I think most people who like to claim a single-minded devotion to saving the planet, or any other cause typically have other  interests, jobs, relationships and self-care that they need to take time for. People who 100% devote themselves to only one cause, and think they are superior to everyone, often find themselves rather lonely and unhealthy- both mentally and physically (this is not to stigmatize anyone who does activism while dealing with mental or physical disabilities)

The major reasons for banding together as a pan-Pagan alliance are two-fold- One– is to work together to preserve and ensure our religious freedoms, (in the U.S. separation of church and state) making sure there is an understanding and inclusion of Pagan religions in various institutions such as ones in which chaplains serve (hospitals, the military, colleges, prisons etc.) There is also a growing recognition that atheists and agnostics have spiritual needs as well- needing counseling while in difficult transitions and officiants at rites of passage. Commonly therapists and government officials can fill those functions, but sometimes folks find humanist celebrants and chaplains to be helpful as well.

Two– within our own sects, paths and traditions we are often isolated, and so we band together for a broader community.

Some folks are less focused on those goals, don’t feel a need for them and prefer to not be associated with the pan-Pagan alliance. That is fine. That is their choice. I like to keep the alliance open to those who may need it, but I also don’t appreciate fair-weather friends. Don’t scorn us and then call us up crying when you face discrimination, or can’t find an understanding clergy person to talk to when your relative dies. To give another comparison, it’s like how I advocate in the GLBT+ community for including asexual spectrum people who have needs for community and protection from discrimination. Some ace spectrum people may not choose to identify with us, some may find their needs better met by say, a singles rights organization. But in case they need us, we’re here. Likewise, polyamorous, swinging, kinky communities and heterosexual crossdressers may also have common interests with GLBT+ folks, though cis and heterosexual members of those communities may not face stigma and discrimination in the ways that we do and so we’d rather they not claim the word queer for themselves. (Though to be fair, maybe I could say the same of wealthy nondisabled cis white gay men…)

Likewise let’s consider the ethics of identifying as Pagan- it’s a very broad word, no one has copyright on it- technically it means “country dweller” with a connotation of “hick who does old-fashioned stuff”. But when identifying as a Pagan, please remember that it has the connotation of “religious outsider”. Atheists face discrimination in some parts of our society, but there are also some spaces- particularly in academia in which an atheist, agnostic or simply secular person is more accepted as more “serious and professional” than anyone with a “strange” religion. So don’t claim the word pagan thinking it only means “someone who thinks Nature is really important” and use our communities and resources and then get embarrassed by those of us who actually are religious outsiders and marginalized in various ways by society.

August 25, 2015 at 10:15 pm 1 comment

Thanks to Atheists, UUism is no longer a Religion

Does anyone make the connection between the lack of ethnic & socio-economic diversity in Unitarian Universalism and what amounts to a suppression and denial of religious ecstasy, mysticism, and ritual? This seems to get occasionally mentioned, but since we only seem to pat ourselves on the back for our theological/spiritual praxis diversity, but not actually discuss and engage with it. We might have to talk about touchy-feely spiritual “woo” stuff, that would be too gosh darned awkward!

OK, I get that we’re typically “low-church” based on our congregationalist & Puritan roots. And we’re big on Enlightenment-style free-thinking and rationality. But I’ve heard stories about U.U. fellowships/societies that made me scratch my head. A group that insisted that lighting candles at Christmas time was “too religious”. OK, even if it’s a purely humanist observation of the Earth’s axial tilt, you can still light candles to celebrate the winter solstice. Light in darkness. It’s not just a religious thing! And another UU fellowship that wouldn’t sing hymns- yes the even the “Yay, We are Privileged New Englanders and Reason & Religious Freedom Are Fabulous!” type ones. They were too worried that music would lead people to be emotional and be easily manipulated and they’d turn into a cult. Or something. So yeah, my favorites in the hymnal tend to be African-American gospel/spirituals, even though I’ve never been enslaved or anything nearly so bad, I feel a lot more connected to that musical tradition when I’m feeling depressed and sheepishly un(der)employed while trying to filter out perky “Get your pledges in!” speeches. Even when we sing a whole service-full of gospel songs, the minister usually has to cajole the stiff-upper lipped white folks into clapping and *really* belting out the Hallelujahs. And I’m pretty sure we’re in no danger of becoming a cult…

People have told me that Unity is the “conservative/traditional/Christian” Unitarian church in the Twin Cities, which my raised-fundamentalist Lutheran fiance finds especially amusing. Probably because of things like…we have a supplemental hymnal for Christmas for the songs that were kicked out of the official UU hymnal for being too Christian..and even those have some theological adjustments from the traditional versions! Atheists whine to me about being offended by references to the super-vague “Ground of Being”, Spirit of Love and Life and what have you…I have serious doubts that this essence is the same deity as YHWH, if it’s a deity at all…I’m sorry, but if you are an atheist (especially an educated white atheist) in the Twin Cities metro, your license to whine about oppression has been officially revoked. There’s the Minnesota Humanists, the Minnesota Atheists, and MN Atheists for Human Rights, the First Unitarian Society which is pretty staunchly humanist, and if that’s still not ungodly enough, the Sunday Assembly meets there once a month. I believe there ought to be space in UUism for a variety of religious viewpoints, including atheism. Problem is, UUs are too wishy-washy. When a UU criticizes New Atheists (i.e. anti-theists) people get mad and claim we’re “oppressing” all atheists. When I came in here as a Pagan & polytheist, I didn’t complain about the default monotheistic/Biblical language. I studied the history of UUism and understood its origins in deeply religious people. I didn’t expect it to meet all of my specific spiritual needs, I was mostly looking for a broader and more stable community. Now there are other Pagans with religious hangovers that act just as bratty as some of the atheists, and conversely there are plenty of atheists who play nicely with the liberal religious heritage of UUism, while carving a slice for themselves- contributing sermons, rites of passage, readings, etc. that fit with their values and beliefs.

I’d suggest everyone take a good look at the history of creating secular religions- whatever term you want to use- you’ll see that they’ve all appealed generally to a relatively small elite, and withered usually after a generation or two.

The Cult of Reason of the French Revolution is long gone. The Ethical Society/Culture isn’t radical enough for the atheist hipsters.  Humanist Judaism remains a small movement, known almost only in the United States, (Alex de Bouton, a French secular Jew who proposed “Religion 2.0” seemed oblivious to its existence) Reform synagogues, which are also often pretty humanist friendly also face a decline as steep as mainline Protestants. Are secular replacements for religion mostly of interest to people with a religious upbringing? Will Sunday Assembly go the way of the Cult of Reason in another generation? On the other hand, there’s always sports- and fandoms of other types!

June 30, 2015 at 11:26 pm 2 comments

Fanfiction as Midrash

The next topic in the Pagan Experience is Wisdom, Knowledge and Gnosis. I’m writing about “the Lore”, Holy Writ or Official Canon.
There’s an old post by Greta Christina, an atheist blogger called “Why Religion is Like Fanfic
I remember agreeing with a lot of what she had to say, but taking away a totally different message than what she intended. She was demonstrating how silly religion is, because religious people keep explaining away gaps and inconsistencies  with theological interpretations and midrashim- in Jewish tradition, a midrash is a story that “fills in the gaps” in stories in the Torah, and Christians do similar things. This looks completely ridiculous to someone outside of the religious tradition, just as a non-fan might look at Star Trek fan fiction writers doing somersaults to explain discrepancies in TV show plotlines. Unlike some religious people might be, I wasn’t insulted by the comparison. (To be fair, my religion wasn’t involved!) Though it might seem petty to others, I know that for myself and many other fans, Star Trek and many other fictional narratives are in fact deeply meaningful, in fact some of us find more relevance in matters of ethics and philosophy in our “silly stories” than in religious texts like the Bible which according to other people are “serious stories”. More about “fandom as surrogate religion- or sometimes actual religion” in another post!

Like many atheists, Greta Christina is going off of the “if this religion isn’t completely literally true, then why bother with religion at all?” mentality. Polytheists and Pagans are people who find value in myth and story, and we don’t typically view our myths literally. What matters isn’t that the story literally happened, but what the story is telling us. The question is not “Is this story true?” but rather “Does this story work?” That is what any good storyteller or writer asks themselves, or their listeners and readers, for that matter. If someone wants to base their worldview completely off what can be scientifically proven, that is fine. I am not interested in trying to win converts here. And I indeed find much value in scientific discovery and am very glad human beings have developed the scientific method.

As I’ve said before, particularly in the Celtic and Norse traditions, we aren’t always sure if some of our Gods are literary creations or actually historically worshipped beings, or even original historical people who were at some point deified. These stories are medieval literature, written down by monks and other Christians rather than as intended religious texts. We should be careful about viewing them as such. Heck even with things that were written down in pre-Christian times like the Iliad and the Odyssey, were they really intended as religious texts that gave people an idea of what the Gods are like and how they interact with mortals, or mostly as entertainment? It’s really hard to separate the two, because most art produced back then had at least some type of spiritual significance- anything from painted pottery to plays.

I am completely fine with admitting that my various components of my religion are human creations from parts created by medieval monks, bards that predated Christianity, the bards of the Celtic Twilight, to theologians and ritualists of the modern revival like Isaac Bonewits, to ideas of my own creation. Yes, that’s right, I just admitted my religion is “made-up”. That isn’t the same as saying that it isn’t real. Most human beings, religious and non-religious alike find value in the arts- music, dance, painting, sculpture, theater. We might even consider sports and games as another type of art. There are various theories about the evolutionary social functions of the arts, but people are not generally thinking about that when they suggest going to a concert. We can all go to the same concert and have different experiences, some may enjoy it, some may not, and we’ll all have different reasons for why that is. But there is no scientific way of measuring what music is good or bad. I see my religion as an art form, and furthermore a sort of language that I share with others. I can’t get everyone to do art the same way, or appreciate the same type of art, and I can’t get everyone in the world to speak the same language. Why would I want to? Diversity is far more interesting. The problem comes when some people *do* want to make rules about what type of music you’re allowed to play or compose- this is no joke, these sorts of laws have been made in various authoritarian regimes. Languages *do* limit what concepts you can express and how you can express them, just as religions can. This is why I enjoy being multilingual.

See also: http://daoineile/2015/02/06/friday-c-is-for-canon

February 27, 2015 at 1:45 am 5 comments

Six Types of Atheists- Relevance for UUs & Pagans

Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers and humanists- I identify loosely with several with those labels with the exception of atheist- in fact I feel atheists have a tendency to take over words for themselves which apply more broadly. The latest one is Pagan. Who has a “claim” to the word pagan? A messy question for another day! I see heathen get used, but usually in a more joking manner, and they generally aren’t aware of its use by Norse/Germanic pagans. What types of atheists make good allies for Pagans & UUs, and which types mesh well enough to even be included in UU & Pagan groups?

I came across this study- copy pasted it here, with some added commentary

How many ways are there to disbelieve in God? At least six, according to a new study.

Two researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that atheists and agnostics run the range from vocally anti-religious activists to nonbelievers who still observe some religious traditions.

“The main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community,” write doctoral student Christopher Silver and undergraduate student Thomas Coleman.

“These categories are a first stab at this,” Silver told the website Raw Story. “In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”

Silver and Coleman derived their six types of nonbelievers from 59 interviews. We’re pretty sure we’ve spotted all six in our comments section.

1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic (often but not always activist type) Some friendly to religious liberals, others more broadly anti-religion

This type of nonbeliever seeks information and intellectual stimulation about atheism.

They like debating and arguing, particularly on popular Internet sites.

(Ahem.)

They’re also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.

2) Activist (generally also the intellectual type, some anti-religion/anti-theist, others are more like “faitheists” 

These kinds of atheists and agnostics are not content with just disbelieving in God; they want to tell others why they reject religion and why society would be better off if we all did likewise.

They tend to be vocal about political causes like gay rights, feminism, the environment and the care of animals.

3) Seeker-agnostic- Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) many UUs, many Pagans- this describes me! Agnostic with a polytheistic worldview & an aesthetic/intellectual enjoyment of ritual & mythology. I feel that’s a more intellectually honest description, though I use polytheist for short. At the end of the day I feel I have more in common with them. 

This group is made up of people who are unsure about the existence of a God but keep an open mind and recognize the limits of human knowledge and experience.

Silver and Coleman describe this group as people who regularly question their own beliefs and “do not hold a firm ideological position.”

That doesn’t mean this group is confused, the researchers say. They just embrace uncertainty.

4) Anti-theist (sub-type of the activist) New Atheists, typically. This is the type that probably would *not* mesh well in a Pagan group, interfaith group, or a UU congregation! Ableist attitudes (such as “religion is a mental illness/neurological disorder” or “religious people are stupid” are disturbingly common.

This group regularly speaks out against religion and religious beliefs, usually by positioning themselves as “diametrically opposed to religious ideology,” Silver and Coleman wrote.

“Anti-theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental,” the researchers wrote. “The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.”

Anti-theists are outspoken, devoted and – at times – confrontational about their disbelief. They believe that “obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.”

5) Non-theist (Apatheists, functionally agnostic) my partner falls in this category

The smallest group among the six are the non-theists, people who do not involve themselves with either religion or anti-religion.

In many cases, this comes across as apathy or disinterest.

“A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement.”

They continue: “They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

6) Ritual atheist (secular Buddhists & Jews, UUs, some Pagans?) Alain de Botton- Religion 2.0

I suspect for a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/comics & games fandom, fandoms can function as surrogate religions for the ritual atheists. Music & sports do as well.

They don’t believe in God, they don’t associate with religion, and they tend to believe there is no afterlife, but the sixth type of nonbeliever still finds useful the teachings of some religious traditions.

“They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.”

For many of these nonbelievers, their adherence to ritual may stem from family traditions. For others, its a personal connection to, or respect for, the “profound symbolism” inherent within religious rituals, beliefs and ceremonies, according the researchers.

(Problem is I couldn’t figure out where a non-theistic path such as Buddhism would fit in- though I suppose it would depend on the kind of Buddhism. By secular Buddhism I mean the practice of meditation & some philosophy without the belief in karma & reincarnation. )

December 12, 2014 at 5:06 am 9 comments

Atheism as Cultural Imperialism

Something I’ve noticed among progressive or leftist atheist activists is that they tend to assume that atheism is culturally neutral and furthermore becoming an atheist* is necessary to achieving full liberation as an individual or for an entire oppressed group/nation etc. (*or humanism, Atheism+ or whatever positive form of atheism that they subscribe to)

There are many problematic assumptions behind these ideas. I think many of them are a reason why atheist/humanist movements tend to be heavily white and male. Though this is changing, I believe the tensions arising from increased diversity are related. A simple lack of belief in god(s) is perhaps somewhat culturally neutral (if such a thing is possible) Assuming that all forms of religion are necessarily oppressive and must be destroyed is just as cultural imperialist  as declaring one true religion for all people. Extremist atheism (or anti-theism) is just as bad as extremist monotheism- in fact it’s the flip side of it. Granted, anti-theists are typically just arguing against religion, and do not have the power (and hopefully don’t want it!) to outright suppress the practice of religion. However, we are starting to see some anti-theists argue against public religious accommodations in public schools, prisons, workplaces and other settings (adding to the arguments some Christians make against non-Christian religious) in the United States, and a ban against clothing that covers the face (targeting certain Muslims) has been made in France and upheld in E.U. human rights court.

I really think people who have de-converted from any sort of fundamentalist, extreme religion need to take some private chilling time before grabbing a banner to publicly march behind, writing books and giving speeches in the name of atheism, humanism or a new religion that they choose to adopt. Just as “rebound” romantic relationships are usually a bad idea so is choosing a “rebound” religion or secular ideology. Doing so right away is likely to result in bringing a fundamentalist attitude towards the new belief system.

However even moderate and liberal ideologies and religions can be culturally imperialist if they’re not careful.  As a Euro-American feminist, I’ve learned from listening to other folks that it’s best for us to step back and support rather than lead women’s reform movements in other countries, or even in my own country,  in the case of Black feminism/womanism, American Indian women, Latina mujeristas etc.  What works in one cultural context, may not in another.

New Atheism Has a Distinctly Neo-Colonial Aspect

New Atheism, Old Empire

Reason & Racism in the New Atheist Movement

For a different perspective check out Siviku Hutchinson’s book- Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics & the Values War

December 8, 2014 at 2:23 am Leave a comment

Good Posts on Mental Health/Illness

(Note: these posts are all personal accounts, and are not to be taken as professional psychological advice)

 The Thinking Atheist & Mental Illness by Hessianwithteeth  Yes! Just because someone suffers from mental illness does not mean they don’t value reason, logic and critical thinking. In fact they may know all too well how important those things are because of their mental illness!

Facing Depression by Carol P. Christ- Carol shares her experiences with depression and what she has found helpful in her journey

Spirit-work and Self-care by Nornoriel Lokason Having an intense spiritual life doesn’t mean neglecting taking care of yourself.

An Open Letter to the Toronto Transit Commission: Please Remove These Posters

A response to posters advertising a “Mystery Room” a “fun” scary role-playing game that involves a psych ward. 

On a more cautionary note-

No Good Deed– Sannion’s attempt to share spiritual info with a person with apparent mental issues unfortunately getting a lot of insults and threats in response. Thanks for trying Sannion! In the meantime, be cautious if you get contacted by someone using any of those names.

“I was contacted by a person who goes by Marie Benoit, Kerra Eivor, thelandofthesevenhorizons and no doubt a number of other online aliases. They claimed to be looking for information on Dionysos and shared a lot of rambling, incoherent and contradictory information about themselves.

I rolled my eyes and dutifully began answering their questions as best I could, since part of my service to the god of madness is treating the mentally divergent with respect.” Possible trigger warnings. 

August 28, 2014 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

All Wrong: Religion, Culture and Country

Wrong Country: It doesn’t matter if our ancestors didn’t all come to the United States (& various other colonies) for the specific purpose of enslaving and conquering people, but mostly were trying to escape poverty, famine, war or religious/political persecution. Or came here as slaves, prisoners or indentured servants. It doesn’t matter how long our families have lived here. We’re invaders. Or “settlers”, I guess that’s a little nicer. OK, we’ve realized that we messed up. Or someone else did, and we benefited from it. So we’re going to “decolonize” now. It sounds very enlightened and progressive. Wait, does this mean we need to move back to Europe? Black folks have to move back to Africa. (Tried that already, by the way) And so forth. Or is it OK that we stay here, so long as we admit that we have no right to be here? Just lose the sense of entitlement and gain some humility and be a good ally.  But wait, which Tumblr guide to “How to Be a Good White Ally” should I follow?

Wrong Culture: Sometimes I come across European pagans/polytheists (and non-pagans) who are baffled by Euro-American interest in their cultural heritage. But you’re Americans! You’re over there! Go do Indian stuff. Uh, no. Not touching the peace pipe. It hasn’t been offered. So be Wiccan! It’s sorta kinda generically European… Sprinkle with deities of your chosen ethnic identity. Some of us try to prove how Truly Serious & Sincere & Respectful we are. We study the languages, the customs. We become reconstructionists.  But…

Wrong Religion: We still get criticism- here’s a Scottish fellow complaining about how not Gaelic neo-paganism is. Most “Celtic” paganism isn’t very culturally Celtic, I agree to that. What I found baffling was that he specifically approved of the website Tairis, but complained about the CR FAQ. Celtic Reconstructionism was actually founded for the specific purpose of avoiding cultural appropriation that is rampant in the U.S.  Annie Gormlie, the author of Tairis is Scottish, basing her practice on Scottish folk customs. Very cool lady. The CR FAQ is pan-Celtic and written by Americans. Americans? Well in that case they must be evil cultural pillagers.  And because they talk about doing research about pre-Christian religion, they can’t care about modern culture at all, right? This is a false dichotomy Proper Scots are atheists, according to him. Another one I came across said True Scots are Presbyterians. Real Authentic Irish people are Catholic of course, no wait- atheists according to this guy. Another critic here.

Maybe we should stop arguing about which religion (or atheism) is superior and do our parts to learn & teach Celtic languages and customs? I’m in my Irish class, and there’s also a Wiccan in the class as well. No one cares what our religion is, we’re there to learn Irish. I don’t know how Pagan-friendly every nook and cranny of the Irish community is, so I don’t announce it to everyone. 

There seems to less of this among Germanic heathens- they don’t have the cultural colonization historical chip on their shoulder the way the Celts do. There are some Europeans who look down on American Heathens that get most of their info from book-learning rather than oral tradition.  But that goes both ways. 

Culture, religion, country. It would be nice if these things “matched” but life is messy and they don’t. Humans move around. They change religion and language. Deal with it. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care that much about other people’s approval. I try to do the Right Thing social justice-wise, or culture or religion-wise, but it’s always the Wrong Thing to someone else. It’s nice to get approval and affirmation when it comes but condemnation and condescension will always be coming from another direction. Once again, hey I’m an American. Guess I’ll throw caution to the wind. 

August 13, 2014 at 3:24 am 6 comments

Are We Misusing the Term Privilege?

I decided to let some more time pass for emotions to cool down before I posted this. Another blogger, Jackal & Crescent linked to my earlier post on “Wiccanate” privilege, and I thought this person gave a valid critique of the possible misuse of the term privilege– he suggested “Wiccan bias” might be a better term, and that the word privilege should be used for more widespread systemic oppression such as race, class, gender etc. Now this concept was brought up by individuals that do have personal experiences with other forms of oppression, and they were bringing that perspective in mind.

I have also seen some thoughtful critiques of the use of “privilege” in general- here’s one from a disability studies blog.

Not every form of social advantage is a “privilege” in the sense of white/non-disabled/cisgendered/class/male privilege (I’m sure I’m forgetting other isms) I found a great Tumblr whose entire purpose is collecting iffy privilege lists. They are listing real advantages that some people have over others, that are in fact unfair, but it is ridiculous for the most part to equate them as being on the same level as other isms. Also note the lack of intersectionality in some of them- for example most of the items on the “monosexual” checklist (And I’m a politically aware bisexual, so yes, I’d already heard of “monosexism”.)

Privilege is Not Hierarchical and Mock Privilege Exists by Toni D’Orsay

Excellent essay by Ms. D’Orsay discusses the false idea of hierarchies of oppression, and the idea (new to me, but familiar) of mock privilege. A relevant example of this for Pagans would be the assumption of that many of us are Christian (or agnostic/secular), an assumption that we find annoying but works to our advantage if we are (in general or situationally) in “the closet” about our religion.

Some questions about the culture of well, privilege that surrounds discussion of privilege.

Other inappropriate uses of “privilege”- this Youtube video about “Geek Privilege“- as a geek myself I very much agree that we should stop shaming/bullying other geeks for being less knowledgeable about our pet topics, and I am thankful to this fellow for putting the message out there, but privilege is not how I’d phrase it. (heck I’d say the same about various Pagans/Polytheists…)

Some atheists/agnostics are also using the concept of “Religious privilege“, Christian privilege (or even monotheist privilege) is definitely A Thing, but religious privilege assumes all religious people get social benefit cookies regardless of how marginalized their religion is. In fact, I think there are some contexts in which secularism is dominant, (though religious people as an entire group are rarely prosecuted)

Ruadhan J. McElroy: Perhaps I’ve been unclearWhat “Wiccanate” Actually Means, “Wiccanate” is the New “Cisgender

Finnchuill’s Mast: The Wiccanate Privilege

EmberVoices: Wiccanate Privilege & Spackle

“To be sure, privilege is a serious problem in the San Francisco Bay Area Pagan community, and at PantheaCon, but I really don’t feel the Wiccanate privilege is anything like the biggest problem to tackle except to the degree that it reflects groundings in other problems like classism, racism, sexism, cis- and hetero-normativity, etc.” Spot on, thanks, Ember!

Yvonne Aburrow: Wiccanate Privilege & Polytheist Wiccans

Macha NightMare: My Perspective on “Wiccanate Privilege”

Mistress of the Hearth: Wiccan Bias, Not Wiccanate Privilege

Reclaiming Warlock: My Take on Wiccanate Privilege

“As somebody who deals in privilege discourse, I think it’s a mistake to attach every power critique to a brand new “____ privilege” type label, and in this case in particular it’s important to recognize that being Wiccan is not itself a privileged state.  Wiccans hold a lot of power over the discourse within the Pagan community–something that needs to be controlled–but calling them “privileged” ignores that in the wider community Wicca is a minority faith and subject to all the bullshit that that entitles them.”- Jack

 

June 24, 2014 at 11:53 pm 5 comments

Influence of Monotheism

I just read an interesting post by Agrikosos in which she makes an extended analogy of the online pagan/polytheistic communities being like a universe with a an invisible influence in the center- a black hole. Monotheism.   This influence is inevitable and unavoidable,  we need to recognize and admit when it is present, and work around it.  All too often, I think we see suspicions of Pagans with an interest in aspects of Christian or Jewish mysticism while avoiding seeing ways other Pagans are influenced by the Big Three.

I remember  a Hellenic organization called Elaion* that arose that took the position that patron gods were not proper eusebeia (piety) that modern Paganism had adopted the idea from Jesus is My Personal Savior/Therapist style American Protestantism, and ancient Greeks had patron gods of professions or families or cities, but not individuals. Much of the Hellenic polytheist community has rejected this view, citing ancient precedent- Sappho’s relationship with Aphrodite for example.  We do have very limited information on the practices of everyday Greek peasants, most of our evidence is of state cults and mystery religions. It may be that patron deities are more common in modern practice, and I do think monotheism probably is a major reason for that. I think patron deities are a valid practice (not just due to historic basis) but I do think they are over-emphasized in modern paganism. I see a lot of beginners asking on forums how do they find (or choose) their patron?  You don’t just “find your patron” so easily and you might never have a patron in your lifetime.  But that’s OK. Since these are New Religious Movements after all, there are going to be many more eager converts with intense mystical experiences. Many prophets and godspouses and shamans. More than there probably will be, later as our religions mature.

Our attitude towards texts is also very much a legacy of the People of the Book. We are the People of the Library**.  Never enough books!  This may be more pronounced among reconstructionists in particular, though some Wiccans certainly like to quote the Rede and the Law of Three the way Christians cite the Bible. They’ve got nothing on Heathens though. Good Gerd, those saga sluggers!
For one, we rarely take our myths literally. There are some that are more historical (or pseudo-historical)
We also only have the shards left from ancient writers, Christian monks, many pieces are missing. And so when putting together the picture, it is going to be distorted both by the absence of those pieces, and by the perspectives of the writers- we hear mostly from poets and nobility, not farmers, from Christians or contemporary warring cultures (Romans writing about Greeks or Celts) we get misrepresentation. And modern scholars all have their own biases, and almost none of them are revivalists of the religions themselves.

After writing all this I realized something. The black hole isn’t monotheism. It’s atheism- the absence of monotheism. Monotheism is a big star exerting a gravitational pull, and pagans who live in more secularized parts of the world are more affected by the black hole.  For many of us, an even more distorting influence on our value systems is actually capitalism and hyper-individualism. More posts on those topics!

*Initially when writing this I wasn’t sure if Elaion was still around, but I am pleased to see that they are. I am all for there being a diverse range of practices and organizations available in Hellenic polytheism, just as there was in the ancient world.

**The People of the Library quote has been attributed to Stephen Posch, whom I’m proud to claim as a Twin Cities elder.

February 11, 2014 at 10:16 am 3 comments

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