Religion is inherently political and I have chosen a side
On Twitter, Steven (@true_concinnity) asked a simple question: “Is there more room for the non-left or pro-life in paganism or polytheism?”
I’m thinking of asking if “pro-lifers” are welcome the next day Roe vs. Wade was knocked down was a bad time. That said, it’s a valid question. As a group, modern Pagans are extremely liberal, and many of us talk enough about it. Polytheists (both those who consider themselves pagans and those who are not) are somewhat less so, but still strongly liberal.
There are far-right pagans and polytheists. The rest of us generally want nothing to do with them, and rightly so. But what about those who might be called centre-right, or traditionally conservative? Is there a place in our circles for them?
I gave a brief Twitter length reply. While I’m happy with this answer, I think the question merits further investigation.
The worship of the gods is for everyone
I still prefer the Thracian Abnormal’s definition of polytheism: religious reverence for many real gods. There are polytheists whose politics I find odious. They may be bad polytheists, but they are polytheists nonetheless simply because they worship one or more of the many gods. No True Polytheist is as much a logical error as No True Scotsman.
We cannot excommunicate people from the Gods. We can expel them from our circles and we can refuse to let them make offerings at our altars, but we cannot prevent them from approaching the gods on their own. What happens next is between them and the deities in question.
Every time I’ve gone to the Morrigan to complain about the politics or other behavior of one of her followers, she’s said very clearly, “leave them to me – focus on your own work “. Perhaps this was a long-term recovery project for Elle. Maybe she twisted their awkward behavior to her advantage. Maybe she saw something in them that I couldn’t. A goddess has a perspective that ordinary humans don’t, and I have every reason to expect anything she does with them to be an expression of her virtues.
Religion is more than theology
Religion is more than worship and devotion. It is the collective wisdom of those who have gone before us on how to form and nurture relationships with our gods, our ancestors, the natural world and with each other. Religion is our virtues and our values.
And our virtues and values inform our politics, which is the process by which we make collective decisions about how to run our common society. For example, I cannot separate my pagan belief that nature is sacred from my political positions on environmental issues. I can articulate my positions using religiously neutral reasoning, but my positions are ultimately religious positions.
Religion is more than worshiping gods, and those who insist on keeping politics out of religion are both endorsing the status quo and ignoring the non-devotional elements of our religions, and all religions.
Shared Theology Does Not Mean Shared Values
There are evangelical Christians who are politically progressive. They affirm the same beliefs and they trust Jesus in the same way as their politically conservative brethren, but they read the New Testament and they see socialist values (me too). They value compassion and cooperation over autonomy and competition.
Likewise, while most pagans are politically liberal, some who honor nature and the many gods believe they have no obligation to help anyone outside of their small circle of family and co-religionists. Some believe that the strong should dominate the weak, that men should dominate women, and that everyone should embody traditional gender roles, regardless of identity and orientation.
Just because we worship the same gods doesn’t mean we see the world the same way.
We may agree on the ends but differ on the means
Even those of us who share the same values may disagree about how best to embody and promote those values.
I believe our society is better off with high taxes, quality services and a strong social safety net. I have friends who sincerely believe that we are better off with low taxes, low services and greater autonomy. I disagree with them and vote against them, but I still respect them.
And I welcome them into my circles.
I welcome those who have different ideas
Winning elections requires telling good stories and making people believe in a candidate. Governing well requires smart policies and effective implementation. They are not the same things at all, which is why the government is difficult.
Even those of us who agree on a general approach to governance will have different ideas about how to do it.
Our healthcare system is broken. I want a single payer system like Canada. I could make do with a single provider system like the UK NHS. I’m willing to try to strengthen the Affordable Care Act to make it truly affordable, or pretty much any other sensible suggestion. We don’t have to agree on every policy proposal to compromise and work together – and worship together.
I do not welcome those who deny the humanity and autonomy of others
In the words of African-American author and activist James Baldwin “we can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and my right to exist” .
I don’t welcome racists, folksy folks or anyone who builds their religion around ‘blood and soil’. The gods call whom they call, and I won’t include those who exclude others because of their ancestry, skin color, or similar reasons.
I do not welcome misogynists, homophobes, transphobes and anyone else who denies each person’s right to be who and what they are and are called to be. If you and your partner prefer “traditional” gender roles, great. It’s up to you. If you insist that everyone follow traditional gender roles, if you exclude women from certain roles and responsibilities, if you deny the reality of trans people, you are not welcome in my circles.
I understand that abortion is a complicated and emotional issue. If you are against abortion, I respect that. If you try to reduce the number of abortions by promoting contraception, the culture of consent and family planning, I greatly respect that.
If you are so sure of when human life begins that you would force others to have an unwanted pregnancy, I do not respect that and you are not welcome in my circles.
We cannot tolerate intolerance
Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance is real. A society that tolerates intolerance will soon see intolerance take over, and it will no longer be tolerant.
I don’t believe in thoughtcrimes. I don’t care what you believe. I care what you do.
I don’t care if my Baptist friends think I’m going to hell. But the moment they start trying to delegitimize my religion, we won’t be friends anymore.
I don’t care if your beliefs are centre-right or even far-right. But the moment you start demonizing the poor, immigrants and women, we won’t be friends anymore.
There is no place in my circles for the intolerant.
These are difficult and dangerous times. We need all the allies we can get, but we can’t include everyone, and neither should we. These times demand that we take sides on critical issues.
Worshiping the gods is for everyone. But religion is inherently political, and those who try to keep politics out of religion subtly (or not so subtly) support a status quo that harms many. I welcome those who have different ideas on how to organize society, but I do not welcome those who deny the humanity and autonomy of others.