Sadly, prejudice and bigotry are nothing new within the Pagan movement.
Over the years we have, in our many Traditions and communities, wrestled ~sometimes quite publicly and messily and nastily~ with racism and misogyny and misandry and patriarchy and religious intolerance (aimed both at other Pagan faiths AND at religions outside the Pagan community) and with homophobia and with radicalism at both ends of the political spectrum.
I remember a discussion with some friends once where we had been discussing the history of the U.U. congregation I am a member of. We had discussed both the Sexual Revolution and the current struggles around GLBT rights and we had also discussed the U.S. Civil Rights movement and ‘America’s’* struggles with racism and sexism. In the U.S., as befits the once boundless optimism of our Nation, the dominant discussion or idea is that “we dealt with that….”. My friends and I came to the consensus in our conversation that bigotry and homophobia are not things that you wrestle with once and are done with. These are things that peoples of conscience must continually look at and wrestle with and that each generation must have its own showdowns with.
So too must Pagans continue to wrestle with the hostile spirits of intolerance and fear and bigotry and hate, again and again.
Lately I have been encountering, within some forums and blog comment sections, some Pagans being extremely vocal regarding the “evils” of Christianity and Monotheism. Now, I would and do not mind criticism of Christianity or other religions. There is no denying that any religion, ANY religion, is capable of injustice and fanaticism fueled evils. Especially when those religions are tied to a State or are wielding social and political power akin to a State. A reasoned and reasonable critique of any religion is not out of order.
But these so called ‘defenders of polytheism’ have been crossing the sometimes hazy line from criticism into bigotry with the advocacy for violence against Christians, with the active and regular denigration of other faiths if they are Monotheistic, and the extremely toxic levels of condescension and insult that those who voice objections to the above are subjected to.
Our Pagan ancestors were, by and large, extremely tolerant of other religions. Some of these same voices of intolerance look to the history of Pagan Rome and mutter “too tolerant…”
When one tries to point out that there are Christians and Jews and Muslims who are active in Interfaith work and doing good in the world and working for a fair and just society for ALL regardless of religion; these ‘critics’ will immediately try to equate all Christians and all Catholic Priests and all Christian Clergy with child molesters, or all Muslims with terrorist extremists or the Taliban, OR they will try to suggest that when monotheists are engaged in good works and in Interfaith work and work for justice and tolerance that they are somehow FAILING as monotheists in accordance with Christian or Jewish or Muslim doctrine?!
When attempts are made to point out the injustices and deep wrongs committed within the Ancient world when various forms of Paganism were the dominant cultural and political forces, these wrongs are brushed aside by these fanatics as merely the result of complex historical and social and political forces as having nothing whatsoever to do with the religions or religious values of the Ancient Paganisms; whereas when someone tries to use similar arguments about more recent history or current issues as they relate to Monotheistic religions these same fanatics brush aside such arguments as missing the point or as fueled by their critics ignorance of the true evils of Monotheism or the particular Monotheism under discussion.
The tragic irony here is, of course, that in embracing such an Us Vs. Them mentality, they have embraced some of the very same and very worst of the Dualistic mindset that is admittedly of monotheism’s problematic legacies in our world.
Many Pagans, and many of the ones I most deeply respect, would tend to agree to varying degrees with Deborah Lipp’s excellent essay Putting the “poly” in polytheism…
Fundamental to our values, I believe, is pluralism. Everything we believe, even the lines we draw in the sand, must be rooted in plurality. There are many gods, many paths, many truths.
Monotheism has “mono” as a root value. One God, one Truth, one Right with all other things Wrong. This is a net negative for culture, I believe.
Polytheism allows us to worship many gods, few if any of whom are “jealous Gods.” None of them seem to demand that we worship Them and Them alone. Kali has never asked me to cease worshiping the gods of Wicca, and vice versa. Doing one thing fervently, wholeheartedly, with body, mind, heart, and spirit, does not prevent Pagans from doing another, very different, thing with the same wholeheartedness.
One can disagree with some of the more extreme and fundamentalist forms of monotheism WITHOUT wishing them ill, and without painting all Christians or monotheists as being either fanatics or fools, one can criticize Christians without cheering on the prospect of violence against them, and without constantly trying to stain ALL of a particular form of monotheism with the blemishes of one portion of the whole.
If some group of Pagans were to employ some of the same tactics and attitudes about another of the current Pagan religions that these critics employ against the monotheistic faiths, especially Christianity, one would probably be banned from lists and comment sections quickly and the posts would be widely decried as intolerant and bigoted and not even worth discussing.
Hatred, unlike anger, serves no useful purpose.
Anger can give one energy to get something done, provided you actually engage in some careful thought how to harness it, and provided that you are actually doing something useful and productive with it. Hatred just lashes out, repeatedly and endlessly, often at the nearest available target with no regard to reason or logic.
Why then should we continue to dignify with our attention the venomous ravings of people who have nothing better to do than spit on another faith tradition rather than speaking and singing praises to their own? When this spleen venting is the only response they can come up with to the injustices of the world and they cannot come up with so much as ONE useful, or constructive, response, why should we as communities continue waste our time upon them?
* (as we U.S.-er’s of a certain generation are still wont to refer to our nation… sorry Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America old habits die hard…)