I have had an idea of what I wanted to write about for a while, but how to frame it into a ‘J’ post was proving a little challenging. Then it came to me in a line from a very old movie that I happened to watch again a few weeks ago: “I don’t have to justify myself to you!”*
There is an attitude of righteousness in this phrase; of not being willing to be pushed around. You may be different, but you stand firm behind your beliefs. You don’t water it down for public consumption. You don’t side-step so that you might go unnoticed by the tyranny of an intolerant majority.
At first glance this might seem like a call for Pagans to rush out of the broomcloset (after all, Pagan Coming Out Day was only a week or so ago). It’s not. This post is about self-justification within the Pagan Community.
Pagan Community is kind of a misnomer, actually. Try as we might, there really is no such thing. We’re all too different. In a recent surfing of the Pagan news blogsphere, I came across someone putting forth the idea that what we really are is a pluralist interfaith community. Most Pagans are of differing beliefs,so a better term would be Pagan Interfaith Community. The commenter posited that addition of a single word could help us to approach community relations in the right frame of mind.
We Pagans tend to be a judgemental bunch (especially those who spend a lot of time interacting with the online community), and many seem to have no qualms about telling others that they’re “doing it wrong”. I’m not going to say that I haven’t been there myself because I have. And I’ve watched it become a game for some folks to the point where people I have known and grown to like were chased away from interaction with the Pagan Community because they felt that they were about as welcome as a toothache.
And then when there is no support for Pagan community centres or for festivals and gatherings, we hear complaints about how selfish Pagans are and that we are all doomed.
For some reason there exists this enduring idea that because one is Pagan, there is an entitlement to judge other Pagans on the quality of their faith and practise, regardless of whether or not the accused is of the same path or tradition as the one sitting in judgement. How many, I wonder, would be willing to treat a Hindu the same way; or a Buddhist?
This sense of anti-community has also created what I think of as a ‘language of inoffense’, where every belief, every phrase is so carefully chosen as to avoid the wrath of those who have deemed themselves Guardians of True Paganism [TM].** Even when not present there lingers a fear that they will pop out of the woodwork demanding proof or historical citations to quantify and compartmentalize every bit of experience and gnosis. The judges seem to have succeeded in sucking all the fun out of spiritual experience.
And so many simply roll over with prefaces and justifications – not only to other Pagans, but to the world at large. They allow their power to be stripped without so much as a whisper of dissent.
It takes a strength of will to examine your spiritual beliefs. It takes strength to find the childhood teachings that you have accepted without question to be lacking. It takes strength to walk away from a major religion and search for your own truth. And it takes strength to forge your own way when you find few or none who share your truths.
Where is your strength in defending it? Where is the respect for the personal path? Pagan Interfaith. I’m not like you. You’re not like me. But that’s ok. Pluralism means that you don’t have to believe what I believe to have a valid spiritual path.***
*For those interested, the movie was Kindergarten Cop
**I’m sure we’ve all run into these folks before. Many of them aren’t as learned as they like to seem. As those who are elders have pulled away from the web, what has filled the void are a type of bandwagon jumpers who spout the taglines without the knowledge, experience or compassion that is meant to go with them.
***I think I am all ‘serious post’d out now. The next letter will be more fun, I promise 🙂
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