Religion and Politics

arguingAs a kid, I was taught that there are two things you don’t discuss at polite gatherings, which for us included family dinners, holidays, and any time we were in the company of people we didn’t live with: religion and politics. It wasn’t polite, it would lead to arguments, people on different sides weren’t going to be convinced anyway, so on and so on.

So what did we always discuss at family dinners, holidays, and times we were in the company of people we didn’t live with?

Religion and politics.

The internet, it seems, has also not understood this common dinner table lesson. We talk about these topics because we’re passionate about them. They connect to our values and drive our directions in life. It’s natural to have strong opinions on them, to want to share them, and to be curious about the opinions of others. Why else would blogs like this one exist?

What’s more problematic is the need to marry religion and politics. It’s become all too common in the Pagan and Polytheist worlds to demand that adherents of a given religion hold the same political beliefs too. “If you are a Real Polytheist, you must care about cause X, and agree on position Y! Your religious values demand it!”

I’ve previously been a member of the Unitarian Universalist church, and many members of the Pagan community have found welcome there. It’s a great place to be, but what really bothered me about it is that ultimately, it wasn’t so much a spiritual practice as a social and political platform. We had great conversations and did cool projects to help the community, but these were all things we could have easily done with no religious affiliation. A very specific political profile dominated the community in my congregation, and while ostensibly free thinking and disagreement were encouraged, in practice, political affiliation was the biggest thing the church members had in common, and their primary reason to gather. In the end, for me, this had nothing to do with my spirituality and personal practice, so church activities became increasingly irrelevant to my religion.

As a young adult, I was part of a local group opposing the invasion of Iraq after September 11. While there were many different kinds of people in our group–young and old, conservative and liberal, a variety of political parties, veterans and conscientious objectors–we were all united in our opposition to that particular war. When our protest efforts failed and the war went forward anyway, one of the group organizers decided to change the aim of the group. He created a lengthy list of positions and said that anyone who wanted to remain in the group needed to agree with anything on the list–but that “any decent human being would agree”. He also renamed the group to include the words “progressive alliance”. Needless to say, he was shocked when a number of group members decided to resign based on the change in mission–people that he probably previously thought of as “decent human beings” and perhaps called into question afterwards.

Does this story sound familiar? How many people have posted something along the lines of “I support this position, and if anyone doesn’t agree with it, they’re not a good (Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist, fill in the blank)”? These kinds of posts only seem to become more frequent and vehement as time goes on, and the echo chamber that is social media continues to polarize us.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having passionate values that drive your religious and political choices, affiliations, positions, and actions. But I really bristle when I see posts demanding I jump on the bandwagon for cause X or else I’m not a real Polytheist, or manifestos insisting that all Polytheists must support this or that political outcome. As far as I’m concerned, to be a Real Polytheist (TM), all it takes is:

  • A belief in or lived experience of the Gods as real beings
  • A belief in or lived experience of the Gods as having separate identities from each other (not just “facets of the same gem”, as the UUs would say)
  • A belief in or lived experience of the Gods as numerous

Poly–as in more than one. Theism–as in the belief in deities. That’s it. No political stances involved.

What the modern world seems to have forgotten is that two reasonable and good people can hold different and sincere beliefs on a subject, without ceasing to be reasonable and good people. That’s why you’re not going to find me making political rants on this blog (well, unless you count this one), or issuing proclamations on Facebook to the effect of “if you disagree with this, unfriend me now!!!” If I respect you enough to be my friend, I respect you enough to let you hold different opinions than I do. If you’re a Polytheist and we’re talking to each other about being Polytheists, then our politics aren’t relevant to that discussion, and I’m not going to drag them into it.

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