From PSVL’s post, or rather, the comments:
Christine Hoff Kraemer:
I have to admit, as someone who has to moderate the comments on some of this stuff, it’s hard for me to be sympathetic with Sannion’s remarks that “polytheists stay in their own spaces” and “polytheists don’t engage in mudslinging personal attacks.” People of all kinds of different viewpoints have been extremely inappropriate in each other’s spaces. I don’t read Tumblr or all the blogs, so I certainly haven’t seen the whole exchange, but it’s clear to me that writers from various perspectives feel attacked, bullied, and threatened, and when I look at the posts they’re quoting, I can see why.
There’s a slight difference, though, in that the polytheist bloggers seem to be hanging together as an identifiable group, while many of those getting in tussles with them have no significant community backing them up. Strongly polytheist-identified people are, admittedly, a small group, so I can see why that might lend itself to a feeling of being persecuted or marginalized. But to those outside of it who are not particularly invested in the issues at hand, polytheist-identified writers are starting to look like the kind of close-knit, passionate small group that might actually try to hurt someone else.
I don’t think that’s actually the case, since I have a longer-term context for the conversations, but I can see where the perception is coming from. Several polytheists have made remarks to the effect they’re struggling with a powerful, united Pagan front of nay-sayers. But to those who are arguing with them, polytheists are the ones with the united front. The values of interfaith originally came from a peacebuilding movement that was designed to minimize violence, and several polytheist writers have recently come out vocally against those values. I’m not sure they fully realize what that looks like to those outside the hard polytheist movement.
For me, it’s a shame. I’ve been supportive of the hard polytheist perspective because I share some major tenants with it, but it’s become clear to me that because my religious experiences are not exclusively in that vein (and that I therefore I have a different theology), I’m considered an enemy by some of the major bloggers. That makes me sad.
Anyway, I comment because I find you to be a reasonable human being, and I suspect that it’s not immediately obvious how hard polytheists can look like a uniform, united group to those not involved. I think it might be healthy for strongly polytheist-identified people and groups to break away more completely from contemporary Paganism (a similar split in my tradition, though very painful, was ultimately healthy). But I also hope that people like yourself who are interested in other religions and other kinds of Paganism will continue to engage in dialogue with them.
Though, having gone through some online arguments before in which the other side ran out of valid intellectual points to make, and then started saying “Well, why should we trust your opinion at all? You’re an admitted faggot, and you don’t even know what gender you are, and you belong to an LJ group called ‘Dark Christian,’ which must mean you’re actually not pagan at all,” I can sort of see what Sannion was indicating by those remarks. It didn’t take long for people to start getting entirely personal with him on some of these matters, and to be saying disparaging things about him and his various relationships, and then about one of his partners in particular…While I don’t think that any kind of personal attack is ever a good idea, the fact that he didn’t go there initially is to be noted, I think.
But, the larger point he was making is that polytheists don’t just show up in the comments of non-polytheists’ blogs and such and start in with “But don’t you think it would be better if…” or “Don’t you realize…” or the ever-popular “UR DOIN IT WRONG.” We do tend to keep to ourselves, and to read each other’s blogs and comment on them. Non-polytheists, on the other hand, do come to our blogs and ask those sorts of questions, and in essence ask us to account for their viewpoints and include them in our discourses, when it is not appropriate for us to do so based on our own experiences. When we do show up in non-polytheists’ blogs (as with The Allergic Pagan recently), it is to correct the summations of our viewpoints that are given by people who don’t sympathize with them, and are thus often simply making a minor disagreement into a major pejorative statement of one faction against another. While some personal attacks have gone on as well in that process, and I am not happy about that nor do I approve of it, nonetheless it usually begins with one faction quoting (or misquoting) another, then attempts at clarification either being successful or not, and then frustration sets in, and it all goes downhill from there.
The reality is that polytheists are a tiny minority, even though we are a vocal one, and do at least agree on certain matters (e.g. the definition of polytheism). That reality is at odds with the perceptions of the larger majority of non-polytheist pagans is not our fault, it is the fault of the perceptions of the larger group. For a group that so often prides itself on “looking beyond the surface of things” and seeing that not everything in life is what it might at first seem, to miss something as obvious as this is not a very good point in the majority’s favor.
We have a choice: we can try to be in touch with other groups and viewpoints, and meanwhile get hounded that our definitions aren’t suitable for that larger group; or, we can retreat to our own spaces of our own volition, and get what we want to done with far less argumentation and trouble from people who don’t agree with our viewpoints. I think it is pretty obvious which option, from a viewpoint that considers the work we do for the gods to be of primary importance, would be preferable. And yet, with what you’re saying here, and how we’ve been treated in a lot of this recent situation, it makes all of the big-tent rhetoric and idealism of the larger pagan movement a great mass of hypocrisy when it comes to this specific issue…and, it really doesn’t have to be that way, but the other factions seem pretty insistent on not understanding how it doesn’t have to be that way.
There is a very big difference between stating one’s beliefs (which is what most polytheists have done), and attempting to force others to accept their beliefs or change their beliefs in order to accommodate one’s own beliefs (which is what the non-polytheists have often demanded of us); and it all really becomes especially useless and moot when the likelihood of many of the people who are doing the latter ever coming to a polytheist’s ritual is almost nil, and even if they did, they would not be required to affirm a particular set of beliefs in order to participate. That’s where the real ironies of this situation begin to become apparent: polytheists are called “belief-based,” when in reality we really don’t care as long as everyone in a ritual is being respectful; and yet the ones concerned about “beliefs” not being “open” enough and such are those who say they’re not “belief-based,” and practice isn’t even a part of the equation in any realistic manner when it comes to their participation.
And considering this, I think I’d be best off, personally, with sticking to other polytheists. Before I started interacting in the “biggest tent pagan community”, not only was I mentally undistracted by various dramas, but you know what? I was a lot happier. Things didn’t affect me quite as much, cos there wasn’t the added stress of worrying about whether or not some self-defined “pagan” would flip their shit on me or one of my friends cos “But what about MEEEEEE????? I’m X, too, and I don’t feel like believing in your gods, or doing your rituals, and defining religions is WRONG!!!!”
When there’s an understanding that not only is there going to be a line drawn, but that line is neither good nor bad, it’s just a thing, and it’s there —and while some people are on a path to examine, question, blur, and even deconstruct those boundaries (which IS NOT synonymous with “destruct”) , those boundaries are going to be there for a long time — it will take more than a few Jungian “pagans” on the internet who read Foucault and masturbate to even shift those boundaries.
This has also made me realise that the only two real factions in all this are those who do recognise an authority —from Holy Powers to scholarship and academia— and those who are, to be frank, simply interested in “pagan” religions only as a form of rebellion against mainstream religion and/or mainstream religious discourse (after all, we gotta account for the “atheist pagans” somehow, cos they’ve already got people like Penn Jilette and Bill Mahr and Richard Dawkins on to align with, if their only grievance was mainstream religion, by itself, rather than the typical discourse that happens between mainstream religion and its critics —as an aside, at least “atheist pagans” recognise the inherent fallacy of the mainstream Atheist party line, so I don’t get it, but whatever, they’re better than most atheists). Now, I think the latter group clearly misunderstands a lot — like the imprecise nature of academia, and how, like with biological science, knowledge fluctuates, and ideas once held widely become critiqued fairly often and, yes, even discarded if the new knowledge obtained necessitates replacing those old ideas.
Privileging academia in paganism isn’t the same thing as privileging the governing body of various Christian sects —academia, as an institution, is a lot more receptive to change, even if individual academics may cling to outdated ideas (so kind of the inverse of how certain Christian sects work, where individuals may be more receptive to change even if the institution is not), and frankly, I was raised to put a higher value on education and intellect and academia, at least when it’s a matter that can easily be addressed by said —and this has done me well, so I don’t understand the need to question it. Because I respect the authority of academia, when necessary, I will naturally be at odds with the anti-authoritarians who are incorrigibly hostile toward any sort of defining of anything within paganism, even the loosest, most experience-based, and implicitly opt-in-only definition of “pagan” possible. To such people, any attempt to define things —to describe its nature and outline its boundaries and to put into clear words a meaning that can be understood— especially “pagan” or “paganism” is to make oneself the enemy. And if you’ve made yourself the enemy, they see nothing wrong with making sure you know you’re not welcome.
So in the interest of xenia, stranger-friendship and hospitality, I’m stepping out. I can no longer have meaningful discussions with “pagans” who define “pagan” outside the classic, academic definition. I can no longer have meaningful discussions with pagans who are not polytheists (in which I include “animists”), and who don’t understand “polytheism” to be a belief in GODS, not comic book characters, not archetypes. I can no longer really maintain reasonable discourse with atheist, secular or “non-theist” pagans outside my own religion, which is Hellenismos (and that’s me , quite generously, assuming that there are ANY within my religion), and which means something.
I have stated many time, on this blog and elsewhere on the Internet in spaces where “pagans” gather, that for the first few years I was in the Hellenic polytheist community, I didn’t really interact with people outside that religion. That is absolutely true. I honestly forget what eventually teased me out into the greater “pagan” community —it was likely a combination of things, including dual-trad people i knew in Hellenism, and links blogs on old e-mail lists, and The Wild Hunt, and LiveJournal. But the thing is, I have more in common with other recons and academic pagans, which has always been a tiny portion of the pagan community, than I do with the many, many, non-trad, maybe-theistic, Whatever-You-Want-It-To-Be-“pagans”. These differences can be irreconsilable, especially when I’m expected to erase my boundaries to accommodate people who simply are not my co-religionists, but instead are loosely associated with a giagantic interfaith community known as “paganism”.
So, this is me signing off from that interfaith community.
I will continue to read the blogs of polytheists and academic pagans —not just Hellenists—, and I’ll keep up with The Wild Hunt for news, but I have no comment on things that don’t relate to Hellenism or traditional polytheism. I can’t possibly give much in the way of meaningful input, and I fear I may do little more than bother people and build an undeserved reputation out of the audacity of my belief that things can be defined.