Pagan cynicism

I have been surfing the responses of the Pagan community to "Beyond the Burning Times" and have been disappointed by the number of Pagans who seem resistant to moving beyond them … the burning times that is. Are they unaware of how their cynicism and resistance to dialogue actually helps angry fundamentalists?

23 thoughts on “Pagan cynicism

  1. Hi Matt! I hope you’re not counting me as among the cynical. 😉
    Actually, I tend to agree with your analysis. It seems to me that many Pagans still harbor a bitterness towards Christianity because some of its adherents have hurt them. I think this is not only counterproductive to Christian-Pagan dialogue, but also unhealthy for the bitter person’s emotional health and spiritual health and growth. It’s quite tragic, in my opinion.

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  2. To be honest I can’t tell you as I was not taking much notice of individual names. I was just commenting on the general impression I got from listening in on multiple comment threads. Some commentors were positive and open to testing the waters but skepticism and cynicism seemed to have the upper hand. I accept that there are legitimate reasons for many to feel wary, that there is real hurt that needs to be acknowledged, but ultimately I think resistance to conversation is counterproductive for everyone, and if we want to move beyond the burning times we need to explore this together. I appreciate those who are open to exploring alternate futures.

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  3. Isn’t that just human?
    Christians have always made much of the martyrs, and if we really take the trouble to see what the martyrs were about, then we can see that the most significant thing is that they blessed those who persecuted them. But for many of those who tell their stories, it is far more important to blame and condemn those who persecuted them.
    I’m particularly tempted to do that when I hear atheists saying that religion is the greatest cause of violence in the world, yet if one looks at the record of the history of the Soviet Union, it seems that the record of irreligion is no better and possibly worse. And so one gets drawn into a kind of competition about who caused the most violence and suffering.
    We all do it, except, possibly, the martyrs themselves.

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  4. Some of the fears expressed were that dialgue with evangelicals is fruitless because in the end we are ‘only’ interested in evangelism. Well, I disagree quite strongly that evangelism is our ‘only’ motivation, and maybe that’s where the mutual listening towards mutual understanding needs to start, but it is interesting to consider the linguistic ties between ‘witness’ and ‘martyr’ at this point. You don’t have to make converts to be a faithful witness. That’s not the true measure of the practice. Blessing those who curse is far closer to the ancient understanding of the practice. Insofar as my motivations do include evangelism, it simply means this, ‘I wish to be an unexpected blessing to you’.

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  5. Hey Matt, I think there is a big trust issue between Pagans and Christians. Indeed, as a Pagan who has pushed those trust issues out of the way and worked at dialogue with Christians, I’ve had other Pagans suggest I’m either naive or I’m secretly a Christian using some kind of stealth tactic to undermine the Pagan community….. much like those Christians who believe Pagans spend all their time working spells to bring down churches and corrupt ‘Good Christians’.
    You would think that Gus being one of the authors would put those trust issues on hold (especially if they had read the first version of the book). But I would imagine Gus has had the same kind of accusations thrown at him as I’ve had.
    The burning times…. well some people use oppression and martyrdom as something to identify with…. those things give them a sense of identity and purpose.
    The book is good as a step in the process of developing dialogue. There have been centuries of hostility towards that kind of dialogue. Breaking that down will take a long time and there will be obstacles. So rather than be alarmed or dwell on the cynical responses (which should still be listened to as they are a good indicator of the obstacles to constructive dialogue) I find it better to work on the positive progress being made. 🙂
    BB
    Mike

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  6. Mike, not alarmed, just dissappointed that there were not more who were more receptive. But I take heart that there are pagans like yourself out there, that there are some who are prepared to take personal risks. I have read some of the accusations made against you by fellow pagans and recognize the kinship. I think you’re spot on about the identity issues and the way this challenges them. I also, unfortunately, have to admit you’re spot on about those Christians who believe Pagans spend all their time working spells to bring down churches and corrupt ‘Good Christians’. We tend to get cut down for challenging those myths too. I pray to God for your success in your own dialogical efforts. Blessings your way too.

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  7. Hey Matt – I hope you had a good Christmas! I haven’t engaged in these kinds of debates a great deal, and I can’t really keep up with the theological debates here, but I was prompted to follow up these discussions after a discussion about spirituality on a forum. I am a bit bemused by the discussion on Strange Onion Peelings, but it resonates with the few engagements with Wiccans that I have had on other forums (not on forums specifically devoted to spirituality but general interest forums where spirituality might come up as a subjct of discussion).
    Perhaps I’m lacking in self-awareness and self-critique, but to date I haven’t felt that the courtesies demanded of me by Pagans have been extended to me in return – and this manifests even at the most basic level of the choice of language (ie I’m getting quite sick of rhetorical questions that quite clearly suggest that I can’t be a real feminist because I’m a Christian).
    I find it ironic when people – of any persuasion, in relation to any issue, not just spirituality – insist that real dialogue will never be possible. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy!

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  8. ^^ BTW, that’s not really meant to be having a go at Pagans, as Donald says it’s about human nature…I just think we should all be really careful of ensuring that we follow the same ground rules we set for others, and I’ve been frustrated lately at the lack of courtesy demonstrated and the double-standards applied.

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  9. Bec: I think your observations and critiques (and no, I didn’t take what you said as you “having a go” at us Pagans) are valid and merit further discussion. Some Pagans have very poor communication skills and display horrid etiquette when conversing with non-Pagans in general and Christians in particular.
    I’d also note that some can be downright condescending. As an example of this, I’m reminded of an online conversation I had with someone back in 2004. This person came to a Pagan message board I was on at the time and complained about the poor reception she received on a message board for law enforcement officers. She had posted some “helpful information” for any officers that might come into contact with Paganism or the occult during an investigation. She came to our message board to complain that they seemed ungrateful for her efforts.
    A couple of us immediately read her original post and promptly suggested that her “help” had been poor received because it had been condescending in both tone and assumptions she made about the officers she was trying to “help.” She didn’t take our criticism very well.
    But yeah, you bring up a really good point, and one that needs to be addressed somehow. If you figure out how to do it, please let me know. My efforts have produced mixed results at best.

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  10. “… haven’t felt that the courtesies demanded of me by [insert group of choise] have been extended to me in return …”
    I find this is a common problem in interfaith dialogue, irrespective of what group we’re talking about. Pagans, Atheists, Hindus – I have experienced the same problems, of lack of recipricosity, with all of them. And of course, we have been guilty of the same. The very term “interfaith” is laden with Christian presumptions, that loads the dialogical dice in favour of the paths closest to us and marginalizing non-monotheistic paths. Of course that reality just in itself is used as an excuse by some to absent themselves from attempting dialogue.
    This however highlights one of the greatest benefits of dialogue. For those willing to enter into it, it forces us to higher levels of self awareness and other awareness. That is all the justification I need to champion it.

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  11. Jarred – yes, condescension is definitely something I felt I’d received. Matt – you’re right, of course, which was why I came back to clarify that I see it as a “human” problem rather than one confined to a particular worldview.
    Jarred, I think you hit the nail on the head in your first post re: bitterness – I understand that people get hurt by individuals and institutions, but to allow that hurt to continually hamper growth is tragic. Not that I always practice what I preach…!!

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  12. Actually Bec, I should get back to that comment of yours on Christian feminism.
    This was one of the issues that Lainie Peterson struggled with as one of the contributors of the book. There seems to be an unwillingness amongst Pagans to take the voices of Christian women seriously. From my own experience I sense this is another one of those identity issues that Mike spoke of. For those that simplistically identify Paganism as matriarchal religion against Christianity as patriachal religion voices like yours strike a note of dischord. It messes with their mythologies.
    I find the Pagans that are most receptive to hearing Christian women are the ones who define themselves in positive terms (this is what we are) in contrast to negative terms (this is who we’re against). But consider, this observation in turn this casts a critical shadow over Christians within our own ranks who would typecast emergent/missional Christianity in post- terms rather than pro- terms.

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  13. Happy NY Matt!
    I noticed Lainie’s comments on a thread on one of the blogs you’d linked.
    I completely agree re: positive and negative terms (uh, I usually find myself nodding in agreement with your posts and comments!). A Muslim friend and I were musing to each other one day that many people within our respective faiths seemed to be more interested in what they weren’t than what they were (ie it’s striking how much time some Christians spend talking about Muslims, jihad etc, rather than talking about Christ). Being ‘negative’ rather than ‘positive’ hampers growth in more than one way – it’s sad when someone is so focused on what they’re not that they don’t actually know who they are or what they believe.
    There are striking parallels between feminist criticisms of Christianity, and feminist criticisms of “culture”, “customary law” etc. Ie. there are dichotomies set up that (try to) force women to choose between their identities as women, and their “other” identities. In other words it’s ethnocentric (for want of a better word) and modernist….and hence I find it all the more frustrating when it comes from people who pride themselves on being none of those things.

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  14. In Beyond the Burning Times, Lainie writes:
    “I also found myself questioning some of Dr diZerega’s assertions regarding gender differences and ‘feminine values’ (such as intuitiveness, receptivity, sensuality, etc). I found his statements troubling because this emphasis on gender distinction / essentialism is being used against women who might seek leadership roles within the church, or mutuality (instead of subordination) in their marriage relationships. I personally fail to see what makes receptivity and intuition explicitly ‘feminine’ values, just as I fail to understand why, say assertiveness and rational thought are ‘male’ values. Within Christianity both sexes are supposed to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (which includes love, joy, peace, kindness and self-control). Despite the efforts of some neopatriarchalists, there is no prescribed way to be male and female outlined in the scriptures: men and women are both to be conformed to the image of Christ.”
    Like yourself I have problems with dichotomies that “force women to choose between their identities as women, and their ‘other’ identities”. Can’t one be assertive and a vision of motherhood at the same time? My wife certainly is! Archetypes aren’t destiny … balancing or reversing gender architypes is not the only way out of the mysogenist matrix.

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  15. Personally I think “pagans” have every cause and reason to be cynical about dialogue with Christians.
    First there is the historical fact that Christians have been systematically waging war against “pagans” (and “heretics”) right from the start– beginning with the “holy” Roman empire.
    “Pagan” of course being EVERY ONE who is not a Christian.
    Following on from the first point, most Christians arent really interested in any kind of real dialogue because their fundamental motive is to convert “pagans” to the “one true way”—that is to clones of themselves, in their dreadful sanity.
    By contrast “pagans” are usually very tolerant and ecumenical in their disposition altogether and are not interested in converting any one—live and let live.

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  16. John, the people who have been involved in this dialogue so far are not using the word “Pagan” euphamistically but to refer to people who explicitly call themselves “Pagan” and understand divinity polytheistically. In the context of this discussion it does not refer to “every one” who is not Christian but only those who identify with the NeoPagan movement. The dialogue partners here are not people like yourself, not on either side, so you need to pay closer attention here.
    And to be blunt I think you’ve gotten a bit ahead of yourself with your rhetoric here, as if I was to take your definition of paganism as referring to “every one” who is not a Christian I would also have to include Muslims, up to and including jihad terrorists, who are not, since I last checked “very tolerant and ecumenical in their disposition”. So, before shooting from the hip you need to take heed of the central point of this discussion which is avoiding double standards in dialogue.

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  17. Hmmm, just reflecting further on Jarred’s comments about moving beyond hurt and bitterness. Just wondering on what spiritual resources Pagans would draw on for that. Within the teaching of Jesus there is a consistant call to forgiveness: forgive others as God has forgiven us. We don’t always practice that as well as we should but the teaching is there for those with the faith to take it up. Just wondering how a Pagan would address the issue in a Pagan teaching circle though.

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  18. Matt: That’s a very interesting questions! Not being an elder in any tradition or even a teacher of any sort, I can’t give you an official answer. However, I would like to share my personal take on the subject.
    For me, forgiving and letting go of bitterness is a matter of self-empowerment and personal responsibility. In my experience at least, remaining bitter over past hurts effectively means that you’re making that other person responsible for your current pain due to past hurts. As long as someone as you hold someone else responsible for your current pain, it creates a bond (and not a healthy one) which tends to block true healing of one’s hurts.
    Healing requires that one let go of those past hurts and those who caused them. It requires taking responsibility for making sure that the process of transforming those bad experiences and the energies involved into something more positive, healthier, and ultimately conducive to spiritual growth.
    As I think about it, I’m reminded of the Devil Card in the major arcana of the tarot. I particularly love Robin Wood’s rendition of this card in her deck, as she draws on the concept and symbolism of the monkey trap. In this case, the bait in the trap would be the bitterness and the immediate satisfaction one gets in blaming the person who caused the pain. Of course, the problem with taking the bait and holding onto it is that you are trapped in that pain and denied the real healing and growth that could otherwise be yours.
    I’m sure there are other ways to look at the issue from a Pagan context, but that’s the one that’s most familiar and comfortable to me — and that I can think of right off the top of my head.

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  19. The reason I used the term “pagan” is because it is a word that has been used for a very long by Christians to put Pagans and every one else down
    Meaning/implying that “pagans” are essentially deluded and living in darkness–and thus need to be converted to the “one true way”.
    Very much like the words savages, heathens, and barbarians, which were terms used to de-humanise and thus justify all the horrors of western/christian imperialism—you know bringing “christ” and “civilization” to the heathen savages.
    Exterminate all the brutes.

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  20. Jarod, there is little that I would say differently apart from what I have already said. It seems we’re not far apart on this issue. Oh, and I had a quick squiz at Robin Wood’s deck. I get what you mean. Very nice. And I particularly liked the Hermit card.

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  21. John, it may be that Christians have used the word that way in the past and still do in some circles. But no one is using it that way here, this is a different kind of conversation.
    One of the commenters, Mike, is a self confessed Pagan I have known for some years and whom I have a great deal of respect for, which I would have thought was fairly evident. Though I am less well acquainted with Jarred he is precisely the sort of Pagan who gives me hope that dialogue is worthwhile.
    This brings me to an important principle of fruitfull dialogue, and that is, whatever negative experiences we may have had with others from other religions, we need to deal with our dialogue partners as we find them and resist projecting their kin onto them. This is why conversations about forgiveness are so important. The less baggage we bring to the dialogue table the better.

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  22. Jarred, your reasons for forgiveness resonate with me too, the only point of difference being what Matt’s said.
    I think that’s why I self-definition in negative terms as so…limiting. Like a failure to forgive, it ties us to the Other in unhealthy ways, in ways that are not empowering but very disempowering and limiting. It necessarily results in a focus on what we must avoid rather than what we can strive for; to an emphasis on fear rather than hope.

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