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.