At one of the Hearthstone ADF Imbolc Retreats (I do not remember which one), John Beckett did a presentation that utilized a beautifully done meditation/visualization of a future where Paganism and Polytheism are more in the mainstream. Temples to the Gods were in evidence everywhere, and people openly showed their devotion to their chosen Gods and Goddesses. it was a gorgeous moment to experience, indeed. And while I was wrestling with a camera, I still allowed myself to feel some of what John was bringing forward in this vision of what tomorrow could be.
Now, I am not one for playing the “what if” game too much, but this particular visualization has really stuck with me over time. How things can be changed into something we envision. How we can literally alter reality if we just find that tipping point – that idea that changes the current perception cultural perception of what is “normal”, and societal behaviors towards those things and ideas that are different from our own. Just what that moment will be, I have no idea. It could be an idea that germinates because of this blog, or even of sharing John’s beautiful vision. It could be something as simple as changing the way we deal with one another on a daily basis – treating each other with respect instead of suspicion and disdain. That tipping point could happen tomorrow. Maybe five months from now. Or five hundred years. In a manner of speaking, it is unfathomable. But the idea that it could take place is there. But let us play another “what if” game.
What if Paganism had never faded into the background of society? What if monotheistic Christianity always remained in a cult status? What if the Muslim faith had never grown to the degree that it is now? What if our world was still heavily permeated by Polytheistic beliefs and traditions? What if the roles that are in current motion in today’s society were completely reversed?
Now, I must preface part of this here. I am not a Psychologist by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my understanding of Psychology of any types is rudimentary at its very best – and that’s stretching that point quite thin. Nor am I a Theologian, amateur or otherwise. I am; however, an observer of human behavior. And I have been on the bad half of some of the worst of human interactions when it comes to dealing with things that are unknown and potentially threatening. Not one bit of this post should be taken that I am claiming to be an expert of any kind, merely my own personal observations and opinions. And with that touch of legalese out of the way…
When I was fairly young in my Pagan Path, I was in the United States military. While not exactly a true representation of American society, it can be considered a closed environment that mimics some social aspects of civilian society to a true degree. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a fairly protected environment for the free, open practice of one’s religious beliefs – to a point. One early morning, shortly after my picture and name appeared in a story entitled “Practicing Pagans” in the European theater newspaper “The Stars and Stripes, I was physically confronted at the Allied Post Office (APO) location on Sembach Air Base. I was recognized, called a Satanist and told it would be better if I had “the Hell beat out of” me. I knew neither of the individuals that confronted me. Over time, I have tried to understand what would have driven them to make such a brazen confrontation in a public place (it was 2am and we were the only ones inside the facility at the moment). The only rational perspective I can come up with is that they were uncomfortable with something that was “unknown” to them – and thus the painting of a perspective they felt they “understood” by calling me a Satanist.
I would love to think my fellow Pagans would be far more understanding of belief systems and practices that were foreign to their own concepts. And given that the majority of Pagans of our current modern age understand quite well what it is like to be in the position of being misunderstood, I also realize that this happens wearing glasses colored by where we are today. Were the roles reversed, with Paganism and Polytheism far more in the open for dozens of generations, accepted as the societal norm, incorporated to a greater degree within the laws and unwritten societal rules…well, I cannot say for certain that I believe Pagans would be reacting any different with that criterion placed upon them.
Human beings have a difficult time accepting things that are foreign to their own perceptions. Westerners, particularly Americans, are considered to be brash, loud, crude, inelegant, and generally unintellectual by many in far Eastern cultures. The differences come from generations of generations of socially acceptable behaviors that differentiate the two cultures. That differentiation allows for disdain from either culture concerning the way that each acts and reacts to situations and societal patterns. Not knowing or understanding these unwritten rules creates barriers between both cultures towards acceptance of the other, as well as insulting descriptives of one another. I believe that if Paganism had enjoyed the long era of social acceptance in the western culture that Christianity has had, that there would be equally troubling acceptance of other belief structures within the Pagan and Polytheist camps. I would even present a concept that some of the unaccepting aspects that are deeply embedded within Christianity have become so because of the length of time that such disdain has been developed within the understanding of the Christian faith from those theologians and practitioners that have essentially been deified over their own writings, discussions, etc etc. I fear that Paganism would really have been no different, were it in the same position under the same societal allowances and constrictions.
I am not saying that Pagans or Paganism practice an aspect of exclusion of those that are “different”. There are elements of that in small examples, but for the most part, Pagans are very accepting of others – even those that are diametrically opposed to their beliefs. Where individual beliefs and practices are legislated into non-existence, Pagans tend to be at the forefront of the fight to oppose such measures. Even when the legislation is aimed at those aforementioned opponents of Pagan beliefs. Were the roles reversed, I believe that there would be some aspect of similar issues of legislation to remove Christian faith. Not because of the Pagans, but because of the fact that PEOPLE are involved. And people tend to fear that which they do not understand, comprehend or fathom. People tend to fight that which they believe threatens their own existence.
So, in playing the “what if” game, I have found – for myself – a manner in which to understand some of the problems that the Christian faithful MAY have with those of other faiths. And in trying to understand the reticence of many Christians to even see how allowing others to find their own Spiritual paths hurts the entire concept of faith driven by a desire to have the free will to follow their G-d, I can understand more fully aspects of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s perspective that non-violent opposition is the best way to lead change. Violence, vilifying the other side with insults and pejoratives only continues to provide the fuel to their fires concerning “cultural wars” against their own faith. After all, it is far easier to motivate and cajole individuals to fight for a cause, when the cause is perceived to be an underdog that is on its knees in subjugation.
Coming back to the here and the now – Dr. King’s non-violent approach is the correct way to handle such issues. However, Dr. King’s perspective is not going to be effective if people are in your yard with torches in the middle of the night, ready to burn your house down. Nor is it going to be useful if those same people are also armed with handguns, ready to gun down anyone that tries to flee the cleansing fires of that home falling down upon them. Pacifism to show that you are no threat is one way to handle protests. However, there will/may come a time where you will need to fight for your life too. I pray to all the Gods, Goddesses, Spirits, and Ancestors that it never comes to that for anyone. I also pray that if it does, that They will assist you and your loved ones in finding a way to become safe.
I like John’s vision. In fact, prefer it over the concept that I have brought forth here. In my concept, nothing has really changed. The players have merely switched roles. And without the experiences of being the underdogs, I fear that the Pagans would merely assume the same roles that the Christians currently possess in today’s mainstream society. In John’s vision, both sides have become more self-actualized, understanding how each had a role in escalating issues to the deep “culture wars” divide that is so heavily touted in today’s society. In John’s vision, people have learned how to handle their differences in a more effective manner. And while I do think that the ultimate manner of reaching such a utopian perspective will only come with more anger, vitriol and eventually bloodshed, it certainly is a vision to try and strive for. But the tools that will get us there are not in our beliefs in theological constructs, but rather in the belief that we need to get to a place where all human beings are seen as equals – regardless of their differences. And that, I fear, is the dark labyrinthian path that we, as a human society, are only just starting to travel through. May all the Gods have mercy upon us all…