Faith and Title: What I don’t want

After reading John’s fantastic post “Why we need a statement of Pagan “first principles” over at the Allergic Pagan, a great blog by the way, I felt the need to spew about the nature of Paganism as a defining word.

What frightens and annoys me the most about modern Pagans and Neo-Pagans:

The need to be labeled

The need to be justified

The need to be heard

There are other things but these three things are at the top of the list.

The need to be labeled is something that we’ve picked up from other religious systems and communities.  We have to be different and we have to be uniquely apart from the rest.  “Our faith is different and we have to prove it!” the Pagans say with fists clenched – But who are the Pagans?  What would they be wearing, what symbol sets them apart, what tenets do these monolithic Pagans hold dear?

Why do we need to label ourselves? And what if the labels we pick fail to describe anything at all?

The trend I’m seeing is that people who would have considered themselves Pagan ten to fifteen years ago, and even five years ago, are now choosing to leave that term behind.  I see this happening not because the terms Pagan and Neo-pagan fail in their description but because Pagan is now a label growing on it’s own and moving at  incredible pace outside of the control of those who had once chosen to incorporate it.  This effect is a kind of cultural engine not only changing the community under it’s banner but  the Religious world in which its bubble of uniqueness exists alongside other bubbles.  So, then you may ask, shouldn’t we mold Pagan into a term that is ours to define so that others don’t use it incorrectly?

John Hagee recently used the word Paganism in connotation with the evils of environmentalism (his words)..along with a host of even more blatant falsehoods about Buddhism and Islam.  Here’s the problem with labeling an entire conclave of religions under the banner of Paganism.  It’s generic and the term becomes misused – Pagan is not only a noun but an adjective that describes a type of belief and not a specific one.  The difference Pagans have with their self described label as compared to other faiths is that an individuals Paganism may be a complete 180 from her neighbors.

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My conclusion is that the only thing the label Pagan does is obfuscate the sincerity of Joe the generic Pagan’s path.  We want labels because we live in a world that demands concise material to hold onto and understand.  A Christian believes in Christs redemptive properties, a Buddhist believes that Siddartha Gautama reached enlightenment and thus so can she, a Muslim holds that Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah.  Unlike Christians, or Buddhists, or Muslims there is not one thing that we all can agree on, because Pagan is not a term like Christian or Muslim, it does not say to those outside of my community that I’m an Odinist or that I’m a follower of Artemis or that I don’t care about divinity at all, nor does it specify my practice limiting it to one set of beliefs or delusions.  But, don’t all Pagans consider the Earth sacred?  No they don’t, again Pagan has no central dogmatic principle…even though our “leaders” have tried extremely hard to provide one.

More opinions to come…

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2 thoughts on “Faith and Title: What I don’t want

  1. Thanks for the plug!

    You wrote: “But, don’t all Pagans consider the Earth sacred? No they don’t …” Really? I know people say that. But I think some people are just dead set against being put any box or labeled in any way regardless. Show me a “Pagan” who does not consider the earth sacred, and I will show you a person who is not Pagan. I think we should be able to agree on that and build from there. There is no point in letting the term “Pagan” remain so undefined that it can mean anything. I think the reason why you find the term meaningless is because Pagans refuse to define it — out of some fear that someone will be excluded, I suppose. Well, that’s the point of a definition. And if Pagans don’t define it, then I guarantee you that other people will (as you point out above) … and we will not like those definitions. You are right that the term “Pagan” is not like the terms “Christian” or “Buddhist” — but it could be. “Christian”, “Buddhist” etc. are general enough to include a wide variety of beliefs and practices, but somehow people still know what you’re talking about when you use those terms. We can at least obtain the same degree of specificity for “Pagan”. With a very minimal amount of definition, we will exclude very few, and the gains in our sense of community could be enormous. They’ve done it in the UK and we can do it in the US too.

  2. Thanx for stopping over, John.

    Paganism just doesn’t mean anything as far as I’m concerned, John. For others I guess it works…for me, as someone coming from an academic religious studies point of view, its a term that doesn’t tell me what a person believes/practices, what symbol is sacred to them, or what part of the world or culture their practice originates from or within.

    And personally I don’t want to see the term Paganism nailed down, it has more power and potency as a self-defined label than one placed in a box. I sometimes call myself a Pagan when confronted by non-Pagan types, and my wife refers to me as a Pagan when discussing religion with colleagues, but it doesn’t mean that it defines me or my practice. Pagan only designates that I am not Xtian and possibly Polytheist. Quite frankly it’s a term that I’m choosing not to use more and more, because usually people think Pagan is code for Wiccan.

    In the UK, unless you have figures that I don’t, the term Pagan does not define anything, the term is merely being used as a write in option for the national Census.

    If you’re talking about The Druid Network decision to make charitable contributions under the ‘Druid’ moniker that’s all together different.

    Philip Carr-Gomm had this to say about the TDN fight to define Druidry:

    “However, I – and many other OBOD members – have always liked the way Druidry has avoided being ‘boxed-in’ to one definition: a spiritual path to some people, a magical tradition to another, a religion to a third, a philosophy or cultural phenomenon to another, and so on…some Druids don’t consider themselves Pagan so you’ve got a problem right there” (Carr-Gomm,2010 http://philipcarrgomm.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/is-druidry-a-religion/).

    The TDN decision does not recognize Druidry or Paganism as a religion by the way:

    “The Druid Network has not been recognised as a religion, it has been recognised as an organisation that furthers religion for the benefit of the public — to do that, the CC had to establish that Druidry as put forward in our Foreword met the criteria under English Charity Law of ‘religion’. So yes, a level of recognition, but not that which the media implied, i.e. that we were not a religion before and now, through this decision, we suddenly are. Nor does it make all druid organisations religious” (Ryder, 2010 http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/2010/10/interview-with-phil-ryder-about-druid.html ).

    It’s important to note that this decision had nothing to do with making Paganism or Druidry a religion or even defining it, its purpose was merely to allow The Druid Network to donate ‘as’ a religious organization.

    Frith,
    Todd.

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