Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fussing with my blog title

I like the blog title, "Plainly Pagan."  First of all, it utilizes alliteration which is one of my favorite little tricks.  I also like the play on words.  It bothers me to think that I might have to set this title aside and come up with something entirely different.  If this turns out to be the case, it is unfortunate.

My problem seems to be a problem of community.  Whatever labels I apply to myself in the privacy of my mind are just fine and dandy.  Whenever I struggle with the labels many friends, including many who comment on this blog, have told me that it doesn't much matter what I call myself.  But I think maybe it does matter.  Many years ago I decided to surrender the term Christian not because I had stopped believing as a Christian according to my own conscience, but because I realized that very few Christians shared my beliefs and that my use of the term was confusing to those with whom I wished to communicate.  I could have, as one of my professors wanted me to do, stay within the Christian framework and work to reform Christianity along with so many of my favorite feminist thinkers, but  I did not feel like struggling eternally with the basics of definition.  I wanted to believe as I believe with the freedom to move between the vocabularies of many faith systems and without the pull and drag of collective community expectations of Christian religious identity. 
Paganism seemed to offer that to me.  I loved the ability to utilize the broad range of mythologies and concepts found within ancient and modern Pagan narratives and philosophies.  I felt that being Pagan allowed me to build many rooms onto my Christian foundation.  I also liked this because it allowed me to continue believing and thinking as I had before as a liberal Christian without having to put up with sharing a label with fundamentalists.  It was a relief to no longer have to say to my progressive comrades, "I'm not that kind of Christian."  Saying I was a Pagan gave me, I thought, an immediate edge as one who self-identifies with a funkier, earthier, freedom-oriented spiritual tradition.  We could start talking more immediately about more interesting ideas than how crappy and limiting Christianity is.  I also relished the idea that people could tell right away that as a "Pagan" I am certain to be unlike the commercial variety of Christian.  Specifically, I am not a religious bigot.  Of course most Christians I have known are also not religious bigots, but try selling that line to non-Christians who are inundated with television images (sensationalized and simplified as the media is) of the wing-bat variety of "Christian" every time any kind of human rights becomes an issue.  It was a relief to be free of the dead weight of what passes for Christianity in this country (at least in the popular media and press).

 I was also certain that Pagan spirituality, like liberal Christian spirituality, was deeply concerned with ethics and of growing toward right relationship between peoples of different backgrounds and between humans and the rest of the living planet.  While I value Christian environmentalism, I felt that Pagans' more diverse spiritual vocabulary protected Pagans from some of the nastier traps orthodoxy sets up for thea/olgians and spiritual problem-solvers.

Here's what I hadn't counted on and which is becoming increasingly evident. 

1.  I was living in an ivory tower.  All my Pagan sources were academics and philosophers.  I knew that most Pagans are not academics.  I assumed that most Pagans were "just folks".  I also assumed that these folks, unlike most "just folks" Christians, were more motivated to research and study.  I was not prepared for the large amount of gross ignorance I have encountered among Pagans.  I am discouraged by sloppiness in research, thought, and communication I have found among Pagans and by the community's inability to address this problem in an organized, educationally responsible way.

2.  I was immersed in an educational environment that valued spiritual diversity.  I was pleased to find that the Pagan sources I read were analytical and thoughtful in their approach to other religious disciplines and beliefs.  Their criticisms grew out of this context.  I was horrified to find such a large number of Pagans outside of my foundational Pagan sources are religious bigots at least as aggressive as Christian bigots.  While I have occasionally encountered outright nastiness and ignorance from Christians regarding Paganism, most liberal Christians are at least polite and inquisitive about Paganism.  On the other hand, I have found that friendliness and patience toward Christians is atypical of Pagans who are far more likely, not just to stereotype, but to viciously stereotype Christians. 

3.  I had assumed that a focus on metaphors of immanence, embodiment, and the interconnection of Life gave Pagans an ethical base that would influence them to lean toward pacifism, human rights, and environmentalism.  I felt we could be guides to other spiritual and religious groups as they too developed metaphors of caring and cooperation from within their own traditions that would help us work together to sustain Life on this planet.  I did not expect that so many Pagans would show such contempt and/or disregard for issues of social justice, environmentalism, and peace or for interfaith cooperation.  I began to realize that the diversity of Paganism does not necessarily mean that Pagans will find more ways to talk about Peace, but that they can find more ways to justify war, violence, oppression, selfishness, and apathy. 

So it seems that I am back to where I was way back when I was still calling myself a Christian but having to listen to myself repeating, "I am not that kind of Christian."  I do not choose to justify my limitations with the word "faith".  I do not turn my religion into a tool to justify greed, hatefulness, intolerance, or sloppy thinking.  My relationship with Christianity and its foundational principles deepened when I no longer felt called to carry the label.  And now I must say, I am not that kind of Pagan either.   I'll wear this sword as long as I can, but I think, eventually, it too will have to be discarded.


RantWoman said...

THANK YOU for articulating the points about diversity of views among both Christians and Pagans.

One reason I dislike the thought of abandoning the label Christian for myself is that it is so deeply connected to my heritage: it feels dishonest not to own the good and bad of that. Maybe because of the heritage it also feels important not to abandon the concept to all the other, excuse me, space aliens who want to grab it all for themselves. To say the least this perspective makes for challenging conversations at times!

I hear you about wanting to imbed spirituality and care of the earth in a framework which I am paraphrasing as connections lasting longer and with more diverse roots than biblical history. Have you considered whether you are letting all the objectionable issues with PEOPLE who identify as Pagan drive your discomfort about the label Pagan? Does the label Pagan cover enough that is central to your understanding of spirituality to bear with it in spite of the people you mention?

Personally, I like the alliteration. I like the Quaker subtlety. But warm thoughts in your discernment.

One of these days I will get aroundt

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Your critique of the Pagan world is more merited than I wish (obviously--I know you've heard me go on at length about this!). But it is worth noting that the Internet Pagan community is not actually very representative of the flesh-and-blood Pagan community, and the fact that, as elsewhere in the world of the Web, empty barrels make the most noise.

I hope you will not let the vocal minority outweigh the thoughtful many; certainly there is room for you thealogically under the big tent of Paganism.

And, yeah, given some of my own recent rants, I get the irony that I'm saying this to you. But there you go.

Roger E - Kidderminster UK said...

Why fuss with your blog title?

Surely the best and obvious name has to be "Plainly Quaker"?

Thank you for this really uplifting site and especially your previous lovely blog, "The Light of Christ and my Kids"

Cora said...

I hear what you are saying and I get where you are coming from, but I think you are not giving Pagans enough right to be themselves.

Being Pagan doesn't automatically mean an Eco/Vegan/Pacifist/ etc. Each of us lives our lives the best way for ourselves. Some protest the military while others join; some are very conservative and some are very liberal; some embrace New Age philosophy while some embrace academics.

And it's all okay...each way is Pagan. There's no reason to have to justify that a person isn't "that sort of Pagan" because we *are* Pagan.

Will you agree with every Pagan you ever meet? Nope. And why should you have to? If an entire religion that is as varied as Paganism is becomes homogenous then it no longer is a religion of freedom but a cult of oppression.

Within this vastly varied religion I have the freedom to truly embrace all the issues that I believe in without the worry of not being the "right" kind of Pagan or of not fitting the right mold and therefore someone will see fit to tell me that I am no longer Pagan. Most other religions cannot say that.

I am a servant of the Gods will, not the slave of human opinions.

Morgaine said...

I guess I avoid that conundrum of every religion known to man that has or ever could be organized. I don't have any "community" of religious persons to answer to, or to answer me back. My "community" is the one I live in, and there are so many wonderful people in it. There are fewer Pagans than Muslims, mostly Christians and Agnostics/Atheists and 4 Muslims. We all work for the same things, the things that affect our community, and I feel absolutely no need to have any theological discussions with them of any kind. Few of them have ever been unkind toward me, and most just smile when they notice that I have fallen to my knees in the presence of a brilliant sunrise, or bent to touch a blooming flower petal to my lips, or chastised a passerby for letting loose of their trash on the highway in the name of Gaia.

I'm fortunate that they all share their best spiritual aspects when we work together to actually better our community in whatever way finds us brought close to one another. I learn a great deal from all of them.

I guess I really have found no need for that kind of acceptance from any "religious" group. Especially not Pagans. Pagans are every bit as divisive as non-Pagans. They can be just as uneducated and unethical as non-Pagans. They can be just as calculated and consumer-driven as any other organization that espouses a spiritual purpose.

When asked about my religion, I admit to my Paganism; but I ask to be judged by the reality I create rather than the religion I practice. I make a highly unpopular sort of Pagan, anyway. I chose to explore and fall in love with Christianity, not because of my introduction to it [which was repugnant and vile to say the least], but in a true measure of spite against those who practice it. And I still treasure the transformation I experienced because of it.

Dilettante Ventures said...

Religious naturalist?

Hystery said...

I will spend more time in thought and response to these comments. As always, I am thankful for the kindness you bring with your words. I am also thankful for the challenge.

I do think I need to articulate one point more clearly. I have never had any desire at all really to be in community with Pagans as such. If I happen to fall into association with Pagans, it is fine with me, but I've never sought it out. In fact, unlike Cat, most of my positive experiences of conversational exchange with Pagans have been online. I've not had much pleasant experience in "the real world". Probably this comes from my limited background...but there you are.

So this is not an issue of me trying to find community. I have that. Like Morgaine, my community is interfaith in nature and I like it that way. My concern is not what people think of me or whether or not they will like me, but whether or not they will understand me (or misunderstand me) and of how much resistance I must encounter before I am able to do my spiritual job with them. If I call myself Christian and/or Pagan and find that my audience is confused by my meaning as a result of holding a much different view of those traditions than my admittedly wildly heterodox interpretations of them, then I have given myself an unnecessary handicap in my task.

I am well-aware that Pagans can have all manner of belief. That is excellent and fun. They may be as diverse as they like, and I can enjoy them. However, as one who is called to do the work I do, I cannot share a religious label with those whose beliefs are fundamentally opposed to the message I am required to communicate. That's just inefficient.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Another fine thoughtful journal. C.S. Lewis would give you the tip of his hat, I think (you being/or he being your kind of "Pagan").

I must admit I've about given up on any labels. None of them satisfy...some days I call myself a "Christian" when I am talking to some people (in order to identify with Jesus' way to them); on other days and different situations, I stay a million miles from the "Christian" label.

Recently, I discovered it is not even wise to say I am a "panentheist" because some panentheists represent shockingly pro-war and philosophical views that are completely opposite from my understanding of Life.

Maybe some of us could call ourselves the "No-Names";-)

In the Light,


Hystery said...

That is disappointing that you've found such negative examples of panentheism. People will use anything at all to justify violence and hatred. The fact that so many have used Jesus to justify killing seems good evidence of that.

It is aggravating when I've found a term that begins to speak to my particular mixture of beliefs only to find that people who believe horrible things have adopted the term for themselves (usually inappropriately in my opinion).

I have taken to using these words as adjectives rather than proper nouns to describe my experience and belief. In this way, I hope to use them as descriptive rather than as identifying terms. So I am a pagan, spiritualist, mystical, christian, pacifist, environmentalist, feminist and humanist, panentheist and occasionally non-theistic person. And then I must explain myself because, of course, all of those terms have been applied to a wide range of people in a wide range of situations. But then so have the words "female" and "mother" and "American". We are always negotiating terms. *sigh* I think I may have been born to explain myself. Perhaps this is my vehicle for calling people toward deeper reflection of their own assumptions about who they are at the deepest levels.

Ev said...

I think the name should stay. I too have had such experiences. But most of my interactions have been face to face. There is one great point that you must remember. If you do, I believe it will assuage your fears. That point is that we are all only human. We are all ignorant until taught to be otherwise. Every spiritual, religious, political and social strata contains a group who are extreme. A group that shuns all other groups and believes itself to be more "pure" or correct than any other.

We are flawed creatures. Perhaps the most flawed of all. Our ever glorified intellect is what gets in the way. We over think things. We rationalize things. We use our intelligence to justify things that should never be done. We can convince ourselves of things that, deep down, we know are dead wrong.

Being special is something that every human desires to be. And what could make you more special than knowing the ultimate truth? What could fuel a serious superiority complex better than knowing the BEST spiritual path? "My religion is the RIGHT religion!" is the grown up version of "NO! Batman would TOTALLY beat Superman in a fight!".

The moral of this story is that no group is free of idiot members. Idiots are everywhere. Saying ANYTHING ANYWHERE will result in people having an opinion that opposes yours. That opinion will RARELY have been formed via deep study and a sound knowledge of all aspects of the subject at hand. You simply have to learn to smile, nod and mentally filter insanity that bombards you at all times. Listen to the criticisms, but learn to sort the constructive, intelligent criticism from the rantings of the elitists.

Just my two cents and an attempt to give a little helpful advice to someone who has given me far more guidance than I can ever repay.


Paula Puddephatt said...

I struggle with the "labels" issue. I describe myself as "Quagan" at present, but I am not sure that all Quakers, or all Pagans, would accept me as such. It is a difficult one. Personally, I love your "Plainly Pagan" blog title and hope that you will stay with it! :-)

Hystery said...

I'm sorry it took so long to publish your comment. It was lost in my crazy, unorganized in-box.

Your advice here is golden. You are a truly good friend and I am thankful for you.

Hystery said...

I'll let the name stay, but I'll think of it as an adjective rather than an identity. I may use the term lightly in conversation and spend less time trying to find catch-all categorizations and more time just expressing what I have learned and experienced.

Ev said...

Don't worry about it ;) I'm grateful to be counted among your friends!

I feel that the greatest virtue that anyone can possess is understanding. It could be argued that the greatest virtue is patience, but if you understand other peoples' perspectives then you have no need of patience (at least when dealing with people).

When it comes to spirituality, my views are very diverse. I think that it is every individuals right, if not duty, to seek out the path that speaks to them. I have my own ideas and beliefs and I'm sure they are different from yours, or my wife's, or my best friend's. Everyone is entitled to find their own way. Arguing over religious/spiritual beliefs is perhaps the single most pointless activity in the universe. It's like arguing over who's imaginary friend is cooler. They are personal, intangible and and most of all, unknowable. No one path can claim absolute proof of "rightness". Its all up to what is in our hearts.

staśa said...

I think that whether or not one identifies as a Pagan is about how and where one hears, feels, tastes, smells, and touches the Spirit... Self-identification as a Pagan is between you and the Spirit, between you and the Goddess, between you and the sweet Earth, between you and the Goddess-Within. No one else can give you that name, no one else can take it from you. Is it your inner truth? What answers do you get from the wind, and the air you breathe? The fire of the sun and stars, and in your nerves that moves your muscles? The water of the rain and snow, and in your blood and tears? The earth under your feet, of the hills, and of your bones?

I remember sitting in Meeting for Worship one First Day morning, after spending the entire day before with a Pagan community group I'd never been with before but where I'd been invited to do music ministry, and where I'd felt welcomed but like a complete space alien. I'd been completely unable to explain there what kind of Witch I was, from the Feminist end or the Quaker end.

As I sat in Meeting, I held the pentacle I wear every day, as part of my commitment to the Goddess, in my hand, and stared at it. It has a triple moon in it, the Full Moon a rainbow mooonstone. And I thought to myself, Should I still wear this? Why am I wearing this? I'm not involved in British Traditional Witchcraft [it's a symbol often used there, as well as in Feminist Witchcraft, where I am involved] (or should I throw it across the room??). But I had been very clearly led to buy it, and to wear it every day, in the same way I was led to buy and wear my wedding ring. I was bruised and sore and confused in worship, but a clear, cool, balm-to-my-bruises answer did come to me, not in words.

My pentacle was not like Penn's sword, to be worn as long as I could: it's a joy.

I may or may not be "like other Pagans." I may or may not be "like other Quakers." Among Quakers, I'm really clear that that's not the point: I'm led to be here, I'm led to live my life as a Friend, I'm led to be in community, I'm led to live in love here. And I do! :)

I'm led to live my life as a Priestess and Witch, to live my life as the Goddess leads me, to live in love. Whether that makes me similar to other Pagans and Witches or not, it still makes me Hers, and it still makes me a Witch and a Pagan. Sometimes it leads me to community, sometimes not. But when not, it doesn't make me not a Pagan. I will not let other people take that word away from me.

Whether they're Quaker, Pagan, or anyone else.

Hugs and lots of love to you, dear one. You'll need to find your own way through this, but we're here with you.