Reposted from thehouseofvines, because I think its a significant article expressing important thoughts. Check out the original post here, there are a lot of thought provoking comments that are worth reading as well.
So in my last post I mentioned that there were a couple things in “Closets are for clothes” that I no longer entirely agreed with. If I had any sense I’d just leave it at that because I’m sure that my thoughts on this matter are bound to be controversial. Well I’ve been accused of many things over the years but being a sensible man isn’t one of them. So wait a moment while I put on my asbestos speedo and we can get the fun underway.
Okay, the issue I’ve got with this piece I wrote over a decade ago is that one of the strongest arguments I make for coming out is that it will show people that deep down we’re just like they are and as such pose no threat to their way of life.
I object to this for a number of reasons, actually. First off it’s premised on the assumption that they represent what is good and normal in society and in order to gain acceptance we must make ourselves out as conforming to that standard. Other minority groups have taken this approach in the past and it works to a certain degree – but always at the cost of what made that group interesting, dynamic and desirable to begin with. One of the things that annoys me most about the current iteration of the LBGT movement is that all of their effort seems to be going into gaining support for marriage rights and the ability to serve in the armed forces. Now don’t get me wrong, these are important, complex issues and I applaud those who have struggled and sacrificed for the cause – but I don’t think that these are the only issues worth fighting for, especially since they enshrine values and institutions that are not uniformly desirable. Why should gay people want to spill their blood to make fat cat oil barons even richer, especially since none of the countries we’re bombing into the Stone Age pose any discernible threat to our national security? And as for marriage it has historically been about the distribution of property – not an affirmation of love – and a way to subjugate women. Furthermore monogamy goes against our innate biological drives and is scarcely found in nature. It is also inexorably intertwined in our culture with the machinery of Christianity which has long nurtured a profound hatred for homosexuals. But I think that the worst thing about it is that those who are so vehemently pushing the marriage equality agenda do so at the expense of their queer brothers and sisters. The leather daddies, limp-wristed nancies, drag kings and queens and bulldykes are shoved under the bus so that a wholesome, sanitized and heteronormative image of what it means to be “gay” can be presented to the world. All of the major strides in gay rights from Stonewall on were made by the freaks and outcasts who never had a hope of fitting in and therefore had to develop the strength, courage and invulnerability to challenge the system and advocate for the rights of the rest of us. Now that they’ve done their job others want to marginalize and silence them, keep them out of sight and in the shadows so that everyone can forget about them once more.
And the same thing is happening in the Pagan community. In our eagerness to gain acceptance and be perceived as normal we are increasingly excluding and trivializing those segments of the population which are weird, uncomfortable and embarrassing. The people who are heavily tattoed and dress all in black, the ones who talk openly about encounters with gods and spirits and other strange phenomena, the ones who are passionately dedicated to political and environmental causes. Look, I know that I’m probably not the best person to be bringing this up since I’m merciless in my mockery of some of the more colorful elements in the Pagan community – but it isn’t their eccentricity that bothers me. Indeed I have no real problem with that and even if I think they come off as a little buffoonish at times there has always been a place for the Holy Fool in Pagan traditions. My special loathing is reserved for those who espouse one set of values but then live according to their polar opposite. And unfortunately most of the Pagans who are guilty of this sort of revolting hypocrisy are the ones most desperate to fit into mainstream society. There is a growing movement that has banded together around the “Pagan Enough” slogan. Basically they feel that as long as you consider yourself Pagan then, by gum, you’re Pagan enough. It doesn’t matter how you dress, what you eat, where you shop, how you live your life or what beliefs you profess. All you’ve got to do is identify with a label and no one can question your right to it. If these people have their way then Paganism will cease to mean anything any longer.
I know it isn’t fashionable to say so but Paganism actually does have a core set of values and chief among them is reverence for the earth and the forms of life that it supports, spiritual and otherwise. This is as true of ancient varieties of Paganism as it is of the modern expressions. In fact I recently posted some quotes to this effect over at Eklogai and I have a bunch more to add in the following weeks. So if you claim to be a Pagan then you simply cannot turn a blind eye to your environmental impact. Sadly, though, many Pagans do.
A while back I made an effort to be more involved in the local Pagan community here in Eugene by attending some weekly meet-and-greets. I went into it knowing full well that I wasn’t going to meet kindred souls and that most of them were likely to be of the Wiccanesque or Shaman Lite variety, but I wasn’t at all prepared for what I found. Most of the individuals were “Pagan” only because there tends to be a fair amount of overlap with the polyamory, gaming, SCA and furry communities. The only time that anything even remotely religious was discussed was when a group of ex-con Odinists showed up. (They were the politest racists I’ve ever met and surprisingly curious and intelligent to boot!) Most of the discussions centered around LARPing, poly drama and how addictive Facebook is. (One woman said that her husband spent so much time down in the basement playing Farmville that his children hardly recognized him anymore and they’d gotten into a huge fight when she asked him to accompany her and the kids to the park. The rest of the group laughed and nodded knowingly since the same thing was happening in their families.) Most of the people there were overweight and clearly not very healthy, which didn’t stop them from eating take-out from McDonalds and guzzling giant bottles of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper. An especially disturbing incident was when a mother talked about how she gave her daughter an amethyst stone to help offset the negative psychic energies that bombarded the child on their weekly trips to Walmart. Before the amethyst her daughter would be in tears with headaches lasting the rest of the evening because she was such a strong intuitive empath, but afterwards she was just fine as long as she kept hold of the stone. Of course it never occurred to this woman either to stop subjecting her daughter to the place or better yet to stop patronizing an establishment that has such a horrendous record when it comes to the environment, workers’ rights, sweatshop labor, its impact on small, local businesses or a thousand other things that ought to matter to a conscientious Pagan.
If these people are Pagans – and I’m not sure I’m willing to grant that – then they are very bad Pagans indeed. You don’t have to be a radical environmentalist to be a Pagan – heaven knows there are plenty of things I could improve on – but when your actions don’t line up with your professed beliefs then there’s something terribly wrong there. Even if you don’t care about your own health and safety or want to leave the world a better place for your children, shouldn’t you as a Pagan have some regard for the spirits and gods that dwell in the trees and rivers and forests and mountains that are being despoiled through our thoughtless deeds?
And that’s why I think that this desire to emulate the wider culture and be perceived as normal and mainstream is so counterintuitive to Paganism. We shouldn’t reject assimilation out of a desire to be strange for the sake of being strange, but because there’s something fundamentally wrong with the culture at large!
I’ll end this with a clip from a youth minister in the 80s who is preaching against the evils of Satanic music:
Most of what he’s got to say is pretty laughable, especially around 6:40 where he goes off on the dangers of Barry Manilow. But he closes with some very thoughtful words that are applicable to us – provided you substitute “Pagan” for “Christian” of course.
I go to school with most of you. The other kids at school know that I’m a Christian. But if they don’t see me acting any different than they act, what are they going to think? Christianity’s no big deal. He’s no different than anybody else. I can take it or leave it … Each one of us is an advertisement for Jesus Christ. The friends we go to school with and who live in our neighborhood, will they accept the message that we’re advertising? Christians should be different. Different in what we say, different in where we go, different in how we dress, different in what we do, and different in what we don’t do … everything that we do should be to glorify Jesus Christ.
Edited to add: And no, this does not contradict the primary message of my last post. You should indeed be who you are, and be proud of it. But that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with your choices or support them in any way. If you’re looking for my approval, stop. You aren’t going to get it. I am an opinionated misanthrope and that’s never going to change. It doesn’t really matter what I think constitutes authentic Paganism since I’m not involved with any groups and have no way of enforcing my views, nor any interest in doing so. So go ahead and be a Walmart shopping Pagan, blithely unconcerned by the fact that we’ve created an island in the Pacific out of our toxic trash.