The High Druid's Homily

A blog about Druidism, Paganism, Politics, Southern Life, Sex, Entertainment, Sci-Fi, and a lot of crap like that.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Monotheists, do not fear Pagans: all we want is your compost . . .

Every now and then I will come across an article that bemoans the loss of the undisputed dominance that Radical Monotheism, as personified in the Abrahamic Faiths, has had over Western Civilization for the last fifteen hundred years. Usually they cite the appearance of publicly worshiping pagans as a symptom of the general collapse of spiritual and moral values. They point to the increased public presence of homosexuality, feminism, environmentalism, and, various “attacks” on the unofficial but ubiquitous dominance of Christianity in our public sphere as proof. Where society at large pays respect to Western civilization’s pagan past, they holler loud, such as they did at the presence of statues of the Goddess of Justice, Themis, in courthouses or the celebration of Greece’s pagan past at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as “proof” that we are sliding away from a moral society. Nothing rouses their ire more than the idea that we are worshiping, not “God” as typified by Jehovah/Jesus/Allah, but Goddess, with Her own unique and individual identity. That really pisses them off.

And it leads them to the conclusion that we are somehow immoral or amoral, because we do not have God as Lawgiver at the head of our pantheon. While lambasting Wicca and the other Pagan faiths for this, referring to the apparent lack of ethical and moral underpinnings for our morality, they commonly make the erroneous conclusion that we are inconstant moral relativists who sail through life changing our moral and ethical standards at whim. Had they studied the matter more thoroughly, talked to some serious members of the Neo-Pagan community, and investigated our beliefs even casually, they would find otherwise. Pagans in general tend to have high ethical standards, as it is endemic to our beliefs and practices. While these standards are sometimes – if not often – at odds with the established Abrahamic faiths, they are not ideas foreign to Western Civilization.

One reason we Pagans were excited about the return of the Olympic Games to their original home – if not to their original purpose as a religious celebration – is that it acknowledged and even celebrated one of the major pillars of Western Civilization: the contribution of these ancient Pagans to our identity as members of this civilization.

Often overshadowed by the more recent contributions of the Abrahamic faiths – faiths that codify the rites, customs, and laws of one single culture into the rule for all – the contributions of the Classical Pagans are easily as valid and important to the development of our civilization as those brought by the People of the Book.

Could you deny the profound moral and ethical effect that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and the other Greeks had on our culture? Many Radical Monotheists conveniently forget that their modern ideas and ideals were both born in hearts raised in a vibrant, sophisticated polytheistic culture, which included (gasp!) goddess worship. Yet the same moral absolutists who deride us for “picking and choosing” spiritual elements from other sources have no problem pillaging the Classical Pagans for the ideas they find useful (Logic, mathematics, ethics, philosophy, democracy) while rejecting out of hand the spiritual foundation on which these ideas were built.

In delving into the emerging Neo-Pagan religion they would have found a body of deeply spiritual people, well educated and no more hedonistic than most of our Monotheistic peers. But we are not a people of Faith (the absolute belief in God without proof), as the Abrahamic religions are, but a people devoted to Wisdom (the art and science of Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time). We often value the truth of personal experience over the vagaries of interpreting the written word. We hold the development of our personal conscience more important than our perceived transgressions against written spiritual law. And we favor adaptability to our rapidly changing world over the blind acceptance of our circumstance as the will of a single, remote deity. Neo-Pagans place a higher premium on Responsibility, personal and cultural, than we do on Sin and its attendant apparatus. Neo-Paganism may be seen as a sort of shallow spiritual buffet by some, but is in actuality the realization of an emerging religious paradigm, one dedicated to navigating the complex web of modern life and not to the fulfillment of the prophecies of desert-born mystics.

It is therefore somewhat galling that some Evangelicals have used Jerry Falwell’s infamous statement on Neo-Paganism’s spiritual responsibility for the current War on Terror as a welcome word of caution about the dangers of our times. Considering that the parties involved are all Radical Monotheists, it seems supremely ironic to scapegoat the Neo-Pagan community for the crimes committed on September 11 and since by all sides.

To my knowledge no polytheists were involved, directly or indirectly, in the fight (Apart, that is, from a few brave and dedicated Neo-Pagans in America’s military forces who are today in harm’s way because their “moral relativism” made them patriotic and committed enough to American ideals to volunteer to do so). As a rule Pagans feel no need to spend their lives in futile martyrdom, dying to protect the Holy Land – for we see all land as holy. We find the depredations performed by Monotheists on one another as not only morally repugnant and unworthy of the very God they profess to worship, but also as dangerous and haphazard steps toward unconscionable human suffering, theocratic totalitarianism, and our eventual extinction as a species.

While it is all to easy for Monotheists to see polytheism as a cause for the current crises, I counter that the viciousness of al Qaida, the War on Terror, the Intifatah, the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all the skirmishes in this conflict, known and unknown, are due entirely to the failure of Radical Monotheism to live up to its own grand ideals. For Radical Monotheism and the Abrahamic Faiths have it as an axiom that divine favor and utopic society can be achieved at the price of conformity of belief and adherence to “divine” law— as properly interpreted – and, outside of small, dedicated and openly mocked religious communities it has utterly failed to deliver. Unfettered capitalism and modern consumer materialism, after all, were inventions of Monotheists, not the pagans, new or old. Yet we continually receive the brunt of the blame for these problems in our society.

On the contrary, Neo-Pagans are not the cause of the problems, or even a symptom of the “sickness” of Western Civilization. We are, instead, a natural result of the failure of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to adequately address the grave political, ecological, economical, social and spiritual problems that have arisen as a result of their own “successes”. We are the natural and entirely predictable result of the pluralism and pursuit of liberty our Founding Fathers enshrined into our most basic laws. As the great Monotheisms flounder around grave moral matters and the fundamental questions of our time, they have squandered whatever spiritual capital they may have once had in scandal, belligerence, and a thirst for political power that belies whatever great spiritual truths they may hold. If the presence of paganism is indicative of the erosion of “former certainties” that everyone worships the same indivisible divinity, as many Radical Monotheists insist, should we not call into question the absolute nature of those certainties? Are they worthy, necessarily, of fighting, killing, and dying over?

Polytheism by its very nature can contain within itself the concept of monotheism; the reverse is certainly not true. The belief in more than one aspect of Divinity, and the idea that it might be represented as both male and female, as is all of Creation, has caused considerable alarm in the Radical Monotheistic community. They gaze in abject horror at our willingness to see the universe differently than they and their immediate ancestors did, refusing to recognize that we have left behind Monotheism in general and Judaism and Christianity specifically because, as currently preached and practiced, they just don’t work. When their neighbors dare to consider the compassionate embrace of the Goddess as personally preferable to the baleful eye of a jealous and wrathful God, the Radical Monotheists proceed to have fits. That’s not the way the prophets said it should be, after all – even if that way seems to lead clearly to our destruction as a race.

Though we are denied and derided, we will persist because we are, in the final analysis, survivors. If the worship of the Great Goddess could lay dormant in our civilization for fifteen centuries only to spring forth again in such a dramatic fashion without (I might point out) any conscious desire of Neo-Pagans to prosetheltize, it must have some value to its adherence beyond simple “idol worship”. How the Radical Monotheists deal with it will tell us much about their moral and ethical character.

In the meantime, I assure all of you Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews and Radical Islamicists that despite your fears about us, society is not dominated by pagans – far from it. Radical Monotheism is still the default religion of the majority, and Polytheism is a tiny and innocuous nascent religion, often mistaken for a cult (we aren’t that organized). Many outspoken Monotheists will even admit that we are a tiny minority, a few hundred thousand on a continent of hundreds of millions. Our own estimates place our numbers closer to a million, but the statistical difference between the two is negligible: we are a tiny, tiny minority in our nation, with little control and virtually no organization. In pointing us out, they have given us far, far more credit for our impact on “pop culture” and the American Experience than we justly deserve.

We don’t offer an Ultimate Answer – we have seen three great religions propose them, and the results thereof, and we are not interested in such. But we do offer an alternative, one outside of the Abrahmic sphere of influence and absent its considerable baggage. If the Monotheistic establishment is indeed that worried about us, I encourage them to look elsewhere for the cause of his complaint. We are not to blame. We are a minority religion immersed in a culture often unfriendly and ignorant of our true beliefs, leaving us open to frequent attack and persecution by the majority – a similar position enjoyed by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam at various points of their history.

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