Thursday, August 25, 2016

Deities and Demagogues: for Rhyd Wildemuth

For those who missed it: soon after the Polytheist Revival began it was rocked by controversy. The latest tiff pits Gods & Radicals, an anti-Capitalist collective of Pagans and polytheists, against a loose conglomeration of "devotional Polytheists." The battle began with a piece written by G&R leader Rhyd Wildemuth entitled "Confronting the New Right." In that essay Wildemuth warned of a sinister "crypto-fascist" philosophy worming its way into American Neopaganism and Polytheism. By appealing to dangerous ideas like "Our Sacred Traditions" and whipping up fear of "Our Great Threat," these Nazis in Heathen garb were trying to take over OUR drum circles and spread their hateful racist ideology under the guise of spirituality.  

(The fact that Rhyd's "New Right" infiltrators looked uncommonly like those Radical Moozlim Terrorists bigots see lurking in every mosque was lost on him: so too was the fact that he himself was pushing an ideology under guise of spirituality.  This is a recurring theme, as we will see in a few paragraphs).

Among the groups targeted for scrutiny was Druidry. Rhyd worried about the way "Traditionalist and tribalist" ideas were promoted by smaller groups like the ADF and AODA. He was especially concerned with the fact that "the ideas of Oswald Spengler (a favorite amongst many New Right theorists) have gained popularity through some 'Long Descent' druids."  John Michael Greer, head of the American Order of Druids in America and a noted peak oil expert who has talked at length about our civilization's upcoming "long descent," responded to Wildemuth's concerns in a post entitled "A Wind That Tastes of Ashes."

Greer's response is lengthy, pointed and well worth a read. It is telling that in his response Rhyd quoted a few lines from the post but did not provide a link thereto.  Perhaps he was uncomfortable responding to analyses like these:
Beyond the amusement value, though, there’s much to be learned from Wildermuth’s tirade. It really is a fine piece of demagogy. Note how he wields the classic tropes of threat by subversion, painting the New Right as a malevolent influence worming its way into the heart of Paganism rather than, say, noticing that Pagans embrace as many different political options as they do spiritual ones, and leaving it at that. Pagan traditions, he claims, can be infected with New Right ideas even without knowing it—a claim that makes it easy for him to find those ideas anywhere he chooses, and just as easy to dismiss out of hand any disagreement with his accusations. Note also the way that he glides smoothly from “New Right ideas” to “New Right aligned Pagans,” who are “hiding their political goals behind claims that they’re ‘apolitical’.” It’s the logic of Stalin’s show trials and the witch burnings: deny that you’re influenced by the New Right and that just proves that you must be hiding your real agenda.
Rhyd acknowledges that he is "of course, a Marxist. And an Anarchist, a Feminist, a Pagan, and a Polytheist." He acknowledges suggesting we challenge the traditional roles of Pagan elders and leaders. But then he explains his true motivation.  He's just here because of racist Facebook postings from dangerous bigots like the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Apparently the Asatru Folk Assembly does not recognize transwomen and transmen and is gender essentialist.  While this may be offensive to modern sensibilities their position has some historical precedent: ergi ("unmanly") was a grievous insult in Norse culture and violation of gender roles was strongly frowned upon.  They honor the Gods and Goddesses of Northern Europe -- and the people who honored those Deities would today be classified as "White." And I have no problem with honoring beautiful White children, seeing as how I'm the father of a beautiful White preschooler.  (Given that almost every Black American has some Northern European ancestry, I must admit I am curious as to how the AFA feels about the "one drop" rule).

Nowhere in this post does Matt Flavel call out for violence against transgender people or "mud races." He simply states his opinion as current head gothi in charge at the AFA and uses the word "white" to describe the AFA's membership.  For Rhyd that is all we need: their tainted ideology is enough to condemn them.  Given that G&R members like Alley Valkyrie have advocated violence against those who use "violent rhetoric," we can see just how far G&R is willing to go to protect us from those who would celebrate gender essentialism and "beautiful white children."  And how can we blame them? After all, Flavel is claiming to speak for the Gods and, as Rhyd reminds us, "If the gods declared it, then any person faithful to the gods must accept this, lest they go against their will."

Except that Matt Flavel didn't say "the Gods declare it."  Flavel said "The AFA... [believes]."  If you disagree with his ideas you're free to choose from many other Heathen organizations.  Once again we see that sleight-of-hand John Michael Greer pointed out.  We started out with a picture of a smiling White family and within a few sentences we've got brainwashed Heathen Nazis ready to fire up the ovens for Odin.  And of course the only cure is to question the Gods and challenge authority.

Except that pretty much every devotional Polytheist I know does just that. Rhyd warns and warns about the dangers of cultist Polytheist leaders using the Gods to exploit their congregation, yet somehow he can never find an example of leaders doing that.  Like a Republican congressman who wants to fight "voter fraud" by disenfranchising minorities Rhyd is long on "could happen" and short on "is happening." Tradition gets a vote, not a veto: veneration of the Gods need not lead to brainwashing.  (Rhyd may want to look up the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle sometime).

The Asatru Folk Assembly is a private organization. I would not join for many reasons, not least of which their refusal to blot Loki. I disagree with gender essentialism, although I also disagree with the ideas that gender is entirely up to the individual and that "TERFs" (Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists) should be greeted with threats of rape and violence.  And insofar as they present White Americans as somehow superior to others rather than as one of the cultural groups making up contemporary America, or advocate violence against non-Whites, I reject their ideology.   (I should note that I have to date seen precisely zero evidence that the AFA is violent or that they advocate White supremacy).  But I also acknowledge their right to run their own organization on their own dime and to set whatever membership standards they see fit.

Polytheism by its very definition will never be a monolithic and unified theology.  When you have many Gods, you have many ways of serving the Gods. There is also room for disagreement, even for heated argument.  If you dislike the AFA's theology you avoid their rituals, or you write an essay explaining your issues and justifying your approach.  The idea that they must somehow be brought over to a particular way of thinking or shunned as dangerous enemies is a Monotheist one -- particularly when we start shunning for thought crimes.  And Marxism (one of the two dueling theoeconomic systems ruling our world today) is an utterly Monotheistic and Manichean tradition which places History in the role once held by God and which envisions an inevitable Triumph of the Proletariat and eradication of the evil Capitalism.

Rhyd notes "There has been no great ‘witch-hunt’ against fascist and authoritarian Polytheists by leftist neopagans. No leaders were strung up by the readers of Gods & Radicals, violently purged and shoved into ghettos or camps." It's a deflection which elides the Soviet Gulag, the Khmer Rouge killing fields, Maoist re-education camps, etc.  It's also a clever redefinition of the term "witch hunt." G&R is not advocating violence against ideological foes -- at least not yet -- but they are recommending those foes be purged from Paganism's "big tent" and shunned for their failures to adhere to G&R's leftist/Marxist/anti-Capitalist standards of conduct.

On his personal blog Rhyd goes on to further expose the rot within our community.  He specifically calls out Dorothy Morrison for a quote about "welfare queens" which he does not substantiate and notes that Luisa Teish's gender essentialism is identical to that practiced by the Asatru Folk Assembly.  (Because there's nothing offensive about linking an African-American elder to a purportedly White Supremacist organization).  We see all the threats of subversion John Michael Greer pointed out, combined with the tender assurances that this isn't about me, this is about protecting our community.  Marxists are rarely good at irony or at self-analysis, and that trend isn't broken here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Conversations that Keep on Going: a Continuing Discussion with Galina Krasskova (Pt. 10)

KF:  Vigorous discussion on refugees continues on Facebook.  One interesting topic (one of the few interesting topics, really) concerns hospitality obligations and the obligations incurred by the recipients of hospitality.  There were definitely traditions throughout the pre-Christian world of extending a welcome hand to strangers and of helping those in need. But there were also codes of conduct which applied to those strangers and communal expectations which they were expected to meet.  And I wonder what we can learn from the Classical and Heathen worlds on how to approach this contemporary crisis.  

GK: well it worked out so well for them when they allowed Christians in. *sarcasm*. I think we can learn quite a lot right there. Seriously though, yes, hospitality was not just a virtue but an obligation in both the classical and Heathen worlds. That being said, there were obligations on both sides and one of those was that the guest was not expected to entrench themselves and remain.

We have a good example of this in the "Odyssey." With Odysseus off at war for ten years and then delayed for another ten in his return, his wife Penelope is left to handle affairs in Ithaka alone, save for her infant son. Suitors descend upon the palace after the first ten years, once Odysseus doesn't' immediately return home, to demand that she marry one of them. (They're not interested in her, mind you, but in her lands). At first, she is obliged to offer them hospitality, but then they don't leave and they start abusing that hospitality. With all able bodied men off at war, she doesn't have a force of retainers to expel them. She is forced to endure their attentions, their ravaging her lands, literally eating the people of Ithaka out of house and home. When Odysseus returns, he sees all that is going on and with his adult son eventually handles the situation: by slaughtering each and every one of the suitors and any of the maidservants who collaborated with them. That is what you do when hospitality is abused.

Violations of hospitality by a guest are as awful a crime as not extending hospitality in the first place and when your people are suffering, and your culture is being erased, I say hospitality is being violated. Now I'm not advocating genocide, but I am advocating finding a better solution. I am as concerned about the destruction of Syrian culture, which is resulting from all of the population fleeing the country as I am about various European cultures. They have a right to their own ancestral lands and their own culture. I think maybe the question should be, as we temporarily offer shelter, what can we do to help them reclaim and resettle their own lands. That's the part people aren't talking about: What's lost on their end. Are they to be perpetual exiles from their own lands? Are those lands to be sacrificed to Daesh or whatever power hungry tyrant can claim them? Why is that OK?

KF: One thing that's really been driven home to me in these discussions is the very important distinction between clementia and misericordia. I'm seeing lots of misericordia (tearful sympathy or "shared misery" for the plight of an afflicted individual) and very little clementia (clemency, mercy extended when it serves a higher cause). We're seeing pictures of wounded and dying children, cries for "unconditional love" and "mercy for these poor people" with the corollary that anyone who would not give them a home must be a heartless monster. But when you talk about the root causes of the crisis, when you ask about the limits of our moral responsibility and suggest solutions that don't involve rehoming these people -- when you try to frame the issue in practical terms and seek practical solutions rather than engaging in an orgy of teary whimpering -- there's no interest at all.

Clementia has quite a charge in Latin. I don't know that I"d use the Latin terms for an English analogy. *smiles*. However, to answer your question, of course there is. it's always easier to wallow in useless emotion and virtue signal than to actually roll up one's sleeves and get to work. It's also incredibly racist and infantilizing: oh the great white hope is going to come in and fix all the brown people's problems for them. You know what? maybe they're capable of fixing their own problems, especially because every thing that we're seeing today is a direct result of white people -- European Colonial Powers and after WWII America--interfering in native politics. I think they've had enough "Help" from us.

Of course what does one do then when seeing children washed up dead on a beach? It's horrifying and heart-rending. I say we save those children and help them go home. The way to stop this is to stop the cause of them fleeing. It's not doing any long-term good to destabilize Europe, which is what is happening. I'm terrified that a excessively right wing government is going to take power in some of these countries (Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, etc.)--we've seen how that goes. We could very well be headed there again, which should give us greater incentive to solve this problem before the right wing nationalists in Europe take advantage of it -- which, I might add, is already happening.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Polytheism's Possible Futures: for Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith recently posted an article to Patheos on the future of Polytheism.  I agree with many of his statements.  He is absolutely right when he says that Polytheism must engage with the local land and Powers; ditto when he says Polytheism needs to be something more than multiple altar statues and different holidays. We both agree the Polytheist Revival is in its infancy. (While many of us have been practicing Polytheism for decades, we have only recently put the P-label on practices we previously called "Pagan" or "Heathen.") We are in the process of defining ourselves and what it means to honor the Old Gods in a modern world. The actions we take now may reverberate across generations, but they may also come to naught like so many religious movements.  Toward our success he offers thoughts on how we can make our practices, our community and our Gods relevant in an ever-changing modern world.

And here is where our approaches differ. I am not sure we disagree: I don't know enough of Smith's theological or cosmological views to speak on those topics.  But there is a very definite difference of emphasis.  To quote Smith:
[W]e must be willing to assess our Gods, our practices, and our ideas based on what they mean, in real terms, in the present moment and we should prioritize making our ideas relevant and meaningful in the modern day by providing answers for human and present needs with consideration for their future impact. 
Smith is advocating a Polytheism focused in the here-and-now, one which seeks to make lasting changes in the real world. His focus is on the community and how the Gods can help meet our needs. As he puts it "We should be ... working to make our beliefs, ethics, and ideas as applicable (sic) to people in their everyday lives and [discussing] how they help in addressing the big questions in society." He seeks to make the Gods relevant by making them useful.

I question Smith's emphasis on the here-and-now and on judging Gods by its standards and needs.  The Kirghiz have preserved the history of their people in the Manas saga, a poem which is several dozen times longer than the Iliad and which is still being written: stories of the Kirghiz meeting Russian invaders with machine guns are juxtaposed with tales of the earliest ancestors. Compare and contrast this with hopelessly dated "modern" takes on religion like the Jesus Freaks. The Gods and Ancestors don't need fashion consultants and PR firms redefining Their message for a new era: the new era needs to redefine itself in accordance with Their message.

Smith's idea of giving seekers "the means to live authentically and polytheistically on their own as autonomous individuals" and giving them "the means to find their own answers, develop polytheistic practice in a way that is authentic for them, and build community that is self-sustaining" sounds nice. But not all Gods were served in such a free-form way nor do most active Polytheistic communities function in that fashion.  The relationship between guru and chela in India, for example, involves a great deal of submission to authority and unquestioning obedience. And we've all seen firsthand what happened when American Neopaganism tried to create a "Big Tent" that covered every possible belief -- an amorphous mush of self-proclaimed Grand High Poobahs where a seeker's uninformed opinion received the same respect as a scholar's hard-earned knowledge and where little useful work was ever accomplished. While I appreciate his fear of fundamentalism and terrorism, I submit it is possible to develop a liturgy and a coherent theology, and even to exclude people from same, without gassing undesirables or flying airplanes into buildings.

Overall, I think Smith is sincere in his beliefs. Alas, when it comes to the Gods I'm not entirely clear on what those beliefs are and I'm not sure he is either. And at some point we're going to have to answer a question which Smith avoids throughout this essay: what do we mean by the word "Gods?"Are They archetypes hard-wired into our consciousness? Are They cultural myths which preserve ancient wisdom?  Or are the Gods the wellsprings of being and weavers of this Universe and all that is in it?  Smith might want to first address the many real injustices and problems that plague the world today.  But if we are going to have a new religion which is focused on multiple Gods, we might spare a minute to ponder that conundrum. Because I submit that it is a very important issue indeed.

If your Gods are archetypes, myths or symbols -- if they are grounded in human consciousness and the human experience -- then obviously the community's needs take precedence over Theirs. Symbols only have meaning if there is somebody to interpret them: myths can be retold and retooled to suit whatever purpose the author desires. There's no reason to worry about offending Them any more than you fear Santa leaving coal in your stocking.   You can use Them like clip art for whatever ad campaign you choose: you can make Them crusaders for any cause you like.

But what if They have existence outside your head and agency to do things outside your control? What if the God you are honoring is the same one honored on Olympos or in the forests of Germania -- and what if His feelings about your pet cause differ from yours?  That would make things much more ... complicated.  Smith seems uncertain on this question. He appears to believe that expecting deities to serve humans is "highly unrealistic" but offers no thoughts on whether humans should be expected to serve deities.  He asks "What should [Polytheists] have to say about consumerism, the commodification of natural resources, gender fluidity, racism and bigotry, or the state of human life in much of the world and the communities we live in?" but is silent on what Polytheism has to say about the Gods.  And in a religious discussion this is a rather glaring and problematic oversight.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Conversations We Need to Be Having: an Ongoing Discussion with Galina Krasskova (Pt. 8)

The objections from Beckett & Co. re "spiritual impurity" all seem to boil down to two big complaints: this is too much work, and it makes us feel dirty. There's this idea that staying spiritually pure is an onerous never-ending task which will leave you with deep emotional scars. To me it's as simple as "respect your Gods and avoid people who do not respect them; exercise caution in liminal spaces like graveyards and maternity wards; honor your gut instinct if it tells you something or someone is tainted; if you cannot avoid impurity ward beforehand and cleanse afterwards." And I'm at a loss to see how any of that is particularly onerous or traumatic.

That being said, I can see how the term might seem intimidating or off-putting to someone unfamiliar with the concept. And so I think it's worthwhile to offer a quick and dirty basic description of what spiritual impurity is and how you avoid it.

GK:  I think in part it's unresolved damage from Christian upbringings. There's also this misunderstanding of pollution and miasma that ascribes a value judgement to the idea of being polluted, as though when someone is in miasma, we're saying they're a bad person. That's not the case at all. Miasma is generally a neutral thing, just like taking a bath and washing one's hair ought to be. You do or are exposed to X, you're miasmic, you clean. It shouldn't have any particular charge more than that. However, all of that being said, perhaps what they're finding "onerous" and "traumatic" is the idea that they may have to take responsibility for themselves spiritually in a way predicated on the idea of a hierarchy of Powers. I read a blog recently wherein the writer (and yes, I did feel absolutely polluted after reading it) said that while she acknowledges herself as a polytheist, she doesn't see any arguable difference between herself and the Gods, and doesn't consider Them greater than herself, and it doesn't matter by what names They are called" and this after having spent years in Heathenry. I thought, "sweetheart, maybe that assed up notion is why your life is shit." My comment of course reflects my disgust with the complete lack of character displayed here, but in terms of miasma, any miasma present would reflect the lack of right relationship with the cosmic hierarchies: gods and ancestors, the lack of relational integrity and specifically because this is a willful, volitional lack of respect. I really do think that the push back against ideas of pollution and miasma have more to do with certain anti-structural sentiments in the communities than perhaps with anything else. Traditions after all are predicated on specific structures. These things are the necessary scaffoldings that allow traditions to unfold. If you want to weaken a tradition simply attack the particularities of it, attack the scaffolding.

Part of it also is people don't, because of their backgrounds, want to exclude anyone or anything -- because they've been excluded. Consequently they are tolerant and permissive to a fault. We saw this with the Kenny Klein thing. They didn't want to exclude him, made excuses for him because in the past their own feelings had been hurt and now they didn't want themselves to seem bigoted or judgmental. I'm sorry though: some things one needs to be judgmental about, and in Kenny Klein's case child abuse fits the bill. So i think we're seeing multiple threads coming together here to create a storm of antagonism and purposeful misunderstanding. It doesn't help that 'purity' is a very loaded term in monotheism, one that is often used to attack women's sexuality and behavior. This definition of purity has absolutely nothing to do with miasma.

Then again, the cynic in me wants to point out that if we really took miasma seriously as a community, if we were really each doing the requisite cleansings that our Gods and ancestors required, that we felt we needed to do in order to maintain good discernment and good integrity of being before the Gods and spirits, maybe we'd see through some of the bullshit currently being spread throughout our communities.

Your most recent blog entry talked about the "Pagan/Heathen Atheists" who are openly hostile to any forms of devotion. I think this is the big reason (or one of the big reasons) we need to hold the line on the issue of the Gods' literal existence. Yes, there is room for debate and discussion on the nature of the Gods: there would have to be, seeing as how They are Mysteries beyond our comprehension. There is room for crises of faith and for behaving with honor and dignity in the face of your doubts. But there can't be room for people who refuse to treat our beliefs with respect and who refuse to bend their knee before the Gods. If they're just symbols, what's the big deal? You can put your hand over your heart when you hear the National Anthem: it won't kill you to say a prayer for Odin or Apollo. But of course that question never gets answered, and instead we're expected to conform to their expectations.

GK: What angers me the most about atheist incursions is summed up in an encounter I had awhile back that I wrote about here. In that piece, I talk about an encounter that I had a local shop. An atheist was talking about how he was Heathen, but only because he liked to hang out with his dudebros and drink, and he thought the Viking ethics were good to live by. I challenged him, on his appropriation of our religion and he said "well, it's not a religion to me so it doesn't matter." The extreme self-centeredness is, I think particularly enlightening. There is zero respect for the religion, the tradition, or the people and communities practicing it. Moreover these people come in and expect us to lower our standards to their level, to accommodate them in their impiety and ignorance. Our traditions are viewed as something for them to use and enjoy, as something disposable, and they do not care about the hurt and harm that they are doing. They do not care about the damage they may cause. It's all about them, and making sure that no one else can have anything deeper and more significant than the experiences they will allow themselves. It's holding not just spiritual mediocrity and shallowness, but spiritual absence up as a life goal. There is a contempt for the Gods because they will not humble themselves to acknowledge that something greater than they themselves exists. And because they won't, they cannot stand that others do and reap the not insignificant benefits of piety. They can't even have a live and let live philosophy, and note they only ever come into our communities demanding that, we never go into theirs demanding that they acknowledge the Gods and change their atheist beliefs.

I agree with you: this must of necessity be our hard line: there is no room in our traditions for people who refuse to treat our beliefs with respect and who refuse to bend their knees before the Gods. No room at all and we need to hold the line against this pollution.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Conversations We Need To Be Having: An Ongoing Discussion With Galina Krasskova (Part 6)

For me Polytheism can be summed up in three phrases: the Gods are real, the Gods are many, the Gods are here. If you believe in archetypes, symbols or anything else grounded in the human experience you are an Atheist; if you believe all Gods are masks of one God you are a Monotheist; if you believe the Gods have withdrawn attention from this world you are a Deist. There's nothing wrong with any of those positions, but they are not Polytheism. There's plenty of room for discussion, disagreement and diversity within those three phrases: I see nothing to be gained by diluting those principles in the name of "inclusivity" or "tolerance."

GK: I agree with you. What I find objectionable is not that these positions exist on the religious spectrum, but that those holding them are attempting to co opt polytheism and redefine it to accomodate their positions. If you cannot deal with polytheism as it is, then maybe, just maybe you are not a polytheist. It's this attitude, by the way, that I suspect is the reason why in many ATR houses, neo-pagans aren't welcome. They won't adapt to the tradition but expect the tradition to adapt to them. It's the height of white, western, secular privilege. I include secular there because if one actually believed in the Gods as real Beings, then the idea of taking into account what those Gods wanted, what They've told our ancestors and those who originated these practices would be taken into account first and foremost. Instead, the Gods are given short shrift and rendered tangential to a fetishization of "inclusiveness" and "tolerance." I think quite a bit of the push back we're getting from anti-theist Pagans and Anarcho-Marxist Pagans is a testament to the threat inherent in polytheism. If you want to change the world, return to the Gods of your ancestors. THIS right here is the ultimate resistance because if we become rooted in any large scale way once again in the mindset of polytheism and animism then that has world changing possibilities.

I also have to laugh at the emphasis, a dogged emphasis even, on "inclusiveness" and "tolerance." Firstly, those screaming about these things are anything but. Secondly, it is the very nature of a tradition that there are boundaries. Traditions are not open door experiences. Why should they be? Mysteries are not for the uninitiated. There are processes and rites and ceremonies and study and learning proper protocols that enable one to better engage with the Gods and spirits, to do so relatively safely, and most importantly to do so in the ways that the Gods have asked. If one isn't willing to do that, why should one be entitled to entrance? This of course brings up the question of who is entitled to set those boundaries and here i'd warrant your elders and specialists within a tradition -- you know, the ones the Gods actually task with doing just that. No one else is doing it, and apparently saying "leave us in peace" is oppression. A Tradition is a living thing, a living container for the mysteries of a particular set of Gods, and we are tasked with protecting and nourishing that, with restoring it. What we're being asked to do is allow those who don't care about our Gods, who refuse to give any thought to the most basic of religious fundamentals (like miasma), who moreover are actively hostile to the idea of restoring traditions carte blanche to trample all over them. Why would any self-respecting polytheist choose to do that. yet if we don't, we are told we're intolerant. Well, if respecting my Gods means I'm intolerant, so be it.

Of course what I find truly mind-boggling about this is that this illiberal left in our polytheistic communities seems to truly believe itself oppressed. In a discussion on my fb, Peter Dybing said that "it's the left in polythiest communities that are leading the way. With reactionary right wingers resisting the fundamental changes that are sidelining their narrow views." What fundamental changes would that be? Substituting marxist theory for theology? Eradicating veneration of the Gods in favor of social justice work? Pushing piety out the window as being 'intolerant?' They truly believe that they are oppressed because, those of us who actually care about our Gods won't allow them to run roughshod over our traditions. This is no different than fundamentalist christians whining about how oppressed they are because they're not allowed to ram their theology down everyone else's throat. It's precisely the same narrative with devout polytheists being cast as unreasonable and intolerant.

As I look at India's ongoing sacred cow controversy, I see lots of concern about regional food shortages and on how Indian Muslims have no access to beef because of someone else's religion. I don't see anybody saying "why don't they eat pork?" Because of course Hindu cow veneration is a silly superstition, but Halal laws are an important part of a major religious tradition. We're "racist" if we speak out against hamburger stands in India and racist if we suggest pork farming in Pakistan. Monotheistic double standard much? :)

GK: Of course it's a double standard and as much as we like to think that secularism is the polar opposite of monotheism it isn't. Polytheism is. Secularism is just another form of forced unity of thought and ideology dedicated to the eradication of indigenous traditions, i.e. polytheisms. More and more I've been reading about situations in India where Hindus have to fight to hold processions (there was controversy about this recently with a procession for Ganesh at one of His festivals in Mumbai), to practice their religion, to fill their streets with veneration to their Gods and this controversy should not exist. That land belongs to the Hindu Gods. period. Why should any quarter be given whatsoever to foreign faiths? At least, why should it be given when the result is diminishing one's own sovereignty to practice? Yet an insidious narrative is being fed to this nation from the time of British colonialism that damns polytheistic practice as superstition and puts a premium on diminishing rites and traditions as nothing more than interesting folklore. Why would one defend folklore? which is exactly the point.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Conversations We Need To Be Having: An Ongoing Discussion With Galina Krasskova (Part 5)

Rhyd's comment on Beckett's post mentions Wesley, Cromwell, Savonarola and, inevitably, Hitler. But he, like most of the other commenters, does not speak to one very important question: is spiritual impurity a tangible thing? They not only don't believe in this concept, they never even thought it worthy of consideration. The idea that there might actually be more to this than LARPing and psychodrama doesn't even terrify Neopagans or make them defensive -- it just goes over their heads like Sputnik orbiting above the Marianas Trench. How do we get past that? Or can we... ?

GK: This is the key fault line that separates us on this ideological battleground: we acknowledge the Gods' existence and that informs every single decision we make. The Gods are not secondary or tangential to our purpose and our work. I really think that, like so many other issues that have come up over the past few years between Pagans and Polytheists, that it does come down again and again to the question of belief. Either the Gods are real and that changes everything; it has consequences or you don't believe that They are, and all the things that flow from acknowledgement of the Gods no longer matter, save perhaps as symbolic structures to be twisted out of true or dispensed with when inconvenient. 

If we did not believe that purity and impurity were tangible things we would not have Holocaust Memorials. We would not make a concerted effort to remember the atrocities that occurred on our battlegrounds, slave markets, and other historical places of horror. These would mean nothing to our national psyche if even the implication of the sacred was without palpable anchor and weight.  There would be no point to memorializing. 

But for Rhyd it's all reductio ad Hitleram. He elides all discussion and nuance and effaces the questions that he does not want to answer: were he to answer them honestly in a way that accords with both his rhetoric and his actions the jig would be up and his shallow ideologies would be shown for what they are. Marxism is predicated on the death of religion to bring the 'glorious revolution.' But what Marx saw as an opiate we Polytheists see as vital. What Marx saw as a distraction we see as essential. What Marx saw as an obstacle, we see as fundamental. There is no meeting ground between the two sides of this debate. That's evident by how Rhyd is acting in this and other discussions, particularly when he continuously attacks the foundations and fundamentals of our religions. 
This just drives home to me once again how important the question of belief is.  I'm not even saying you have to have unwavering certainty: spiritual people throughout history have dealt with crises of faith. But if you will not even entertain the possibility that the Gods might exist outside your head, then you have no business calling yourself a Polytheist.  Whether to fight for a temple, whether to cleanse yourself from spiritual impurity, whether or not it is possible to offend the Divine -- those and so many more important questions hinge entirely on the question of whether or not the Gods exist. And I think we really need to make that a hill to die on. 

GK: Or rather, Kenaz, a hill to make them die on. Molon Labe, as Spartans would have said. 

This is our line in the sand and I agree with you, if this is too difficult an equation upon which to structure one's religious life, then don't call yourself a polytheist. it's as simple as that. Ideas and beliefs have consequence.  Secular philosophy is not theology. Bad economic theory is not theology. Piss poor poly sci is also not theology and neither is populist sloganeering which is all that comes out of their side of this fight. 

A Sinner's Prayer: for John Beckett

A recent Patheos essay by John Beckett worried that conversations about piety and ritual impurity are bringing the concept of "Sin" into Paganism. For him this would be an unqualified Bad Thing since:
Sin is breaking the rules – even if those rules are arbitrary and outdated. Sin is transgression – even if the institution we transgress against is regressive and harmful. Sin is error and “missing the mark” – even if that mark is impossible to attain. The concept of sin tries to force a rainbow world into a black and white box. 
Avoiding sin requires perfection, and since perfection is unattainable, we’re told we’re bad and evil. We feel shame for shortcomings we could not possibly avoid, some of which aren’t even shortcomings. Christianity’s answer is that a god-man will vicariously impart perfection to believers. The proposition works for some, although by their own admission they never completely stop sinning.
A straw man nailed to a cross is a wonderful prop if you're staging Children of the Corn. It's less impressive as a debate tool. There is no shortage of Christian literature on Sin, and I wonder why Beckett didn't consult Fr. Google to see what actual adherents had to say on the topic.  Since I am a cultural Roman Catholic, I'll begin my search with the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.  There is of course a good bit of RC-specific material here. But there's also a fair bit which could prove useful to people of any religious persuasion.  For example:
Sin is nothing else than a morally bad act (St. Thomas, "De malo", 7:3), an act not in accord with reason informed by the Divine law. God has endowed us with reason and free-will, and a sense of responsibility; He has made us subject to His law, which is known to us by the dictates of conscience, and our acts must conform with these dictates, otherwise we sin (Romans 14:23).
The pre-Christian world was quite capable of creating moral codes and of understanding these moral codes would be violated.  Centuries before Moses purportedly received the Ten Commandments Hammurabi's code was followed throughout Babylon. The codes of their communities certainly included proscriptions which appear silly to us, just as many of our "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" would seem odd and arbitrary to them.  But they would be puzzled indeed by the idea that "avoiding sin requires perfection" when it simply meant "behave in accordance with community standards." And the pre-Christian world certainly recognized "Divine law," though their take on said law admittedly differed from the Catholic vision. 

New Advent goes on to note that Sin must involve a conscious decision. The sinner is aware the action is wrong yet for whatever reason chooses to violate the moral imperative. This is useful in distinguishing between sin and ritual impurity.  You can be contaminated by willful wrong action but you can also be contaminated by proximity or contact: miasma involves no moral payload.  It's also useful in stopping the kind of free-floating anxiety Beckett describes. If you are honoring the Gods to the best of your ability with the knowledge you have at hand you are not going to fall into a state of Impietas. Christians may think everybody can do it -- but sinning really takes an active effort!  

We can even consult other experts on the subject.  In The Satanic Bible Anton LaVey repeatedly praised the Seven Deadly Sins and noted they led to self-gratification.  But the Church of Satan is really more about naughtiness than wickedness.  Satanists enjoy tweaking the bluenoses (and their founder wrote about the "Law of the Forbidden"), but their parties owe more to Epicurus than Hannibal Lecter.  LaVey distinguished between Indulgence and Compulsion. Throughout his career he condemned drug abuse and "druggies" and disparaged efforts to treat substance abuse or criminal misbehavior as a sickness rather than a personal failing. So while Satanists may make light of the John Beckett version of "Sin," they hardly reject the idea outright.  Current CoS High Priest Peter Gilmore has described their worldview as "I-theism." A religion of self-deification certainly can (and does) condemn acts of wrongdoing which cheapen the wrongdoer before the community and hirself.  

 The idea that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) is Christian: in the pre-Christian world it was expected that most would uphold community standards and honor the Gods, and violations were the exception rather than the rule.  And while castes and familial curses certainly exist outside Monotheism, the idea that we are all tainted by some sort of "original Sin" is hardly universal. That being said, it's ahistorical in the extreme to imagine "do whatever you want so long as nobody gets hurt" was the order of things before the Monotheists came in and spoiled the fun. They may not have split the world into "Good" and "Evil" but they certainly knew the difference between right and wrong.