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So, this was inspired by a little discussion I got into in the comments of Rogue Priest’s article Making a Religion Competitive. You can read it in the comments, but it basically came down to one dude (an atheist) begging for Pagans to not try and convert people because I don’t want it, me responding “screw you, our people need numbers, I’m for it,” and the dude trying to figure out why I wanted the numbers game when empathy was the solution, not tribalism. The conversation ended when he said clearly we were going to disagree and snootily hoping I had fun chasing power.
In my series on the Nine Noble Virtues, I talked about the virtue of Realism. Here’s what’s real. If we’re really, really, really lucky, the numbers of Pagans and Heathens out there might, might, be the same number as Jews or Muslims in the US. Which, really, isn’t that much, when you think about it. Problem is, both the Jews and the Muslims have national and international organizations to push their agendas, not to mention having theological ties with Christianity, which is the predominant religion in the US. So when it comes down to it, they got a leg up. And really, neither group, or Christianity is that friendly to Paganism. Jews might be mostly content to ignore Pagans (but let them near Heathens and, well, you’re gonna hear Nazi beings screamed all over the place :P). Muslims, on the other hand, don’t seem to know we’re about much, but those that do you can bet as a rule, are not friendly to Paganism, seeing as its existence is a direct insult to Allah. And the Christians just plain don’t like us.
And of course, when it comes down to it, we don’t really have much to draw allies. Unlike the GLBT community, which is apparently rather wealthy and capable of influencing politics via the twin forces of money and labeling anyone who doesn’t bend over as a “homophobes,” or the Black community, which has numbers and the capability of labeling anyone who stands in their way as a racist, we Pagans/Heathens really don’t have much on the table. We don’t, as a rule, have money. And (thank the gods) we haven’t bothered or have failed spectacularly at building any sort of “paganophobia” charges on those who don’t like us. (Despite the fact that there is more “paganophobia” in the world than “homophobia” or “islamophobia”). As a rule, we’re considered dangerous Satan worshipers by those on the “Right” and as insane quacks by the predominantly atheistic “Left.” Oh, a few groups on the left might court us, but despite the often slavish obsession with many a Pagan for “liberal” and “progressive” politics….said liberals and progressives are all to happy to throw us to the wolves (as pagan gate showed back in the earlier parts of the elections) when it’s politically expedient.
Clearly, Empathy is not going to be working for us.
So, what is our option then, since good will seems lacking and little more than a pipe dream?
More specifically, Power in Numbers. There’s a lot of people out there who are dissatisfied with the Church, who are longing for something spiritual and uplifting and meaningful. They’re all alone in a big scary world full of nightmares that as hard as they hide from they can’t shake off. They’re bombarded with the idea that there is no god out there. They’re separated from family, tossed all over the place, and bury themselves in things like facebook in an attempt to feel connected with people while at the same time limiting themselves to people who make them feel good about themselves. Kids, teens, and young adults coming up in a world that’s given them the short end of the stick and don’t really know anything about making it out there (assuming there’s a way to make it where we have catastrophic unemployment, and jobs are going predominantly to older people with more experience, thereby locking out entry level jobs to those that need entry level positions to try and get anywhere). They’re looking for a sense of belonging, purpose, and a way to move forwards.
We Pagans and Heathens have a perfect product to give them. Lives of the earth, the present, filled with a push towards family, spirituality, togetherness, and a reason to live good lives with mighty deeds. Why shouldn’t we tell them about it? Why should we hide in our homes? Because we don’t want to be like the Christians, pushing our religion on people?
Guess what, in the market place of ideas, he who sells is he who gets consumers. If we don’t put Paganism and Heathenism out there, then no one is going to come. They’re going to give up and go to the guys selling the same crap they’ve been selling for the last fifteen hundred years that got us into so much of this mess. And the only thing that will change is that Paganism will be ground down until we’re nothing again. The only way to ensure that Pagan Religions survive is to propagate them!
This means we get out there, we tell people about Pagan and Heathen religions. We sell our paths, and other Pagan paths. We show just what good they do in this world, and we do it even if people tell us to shut up. Because we have a right to exist and for our voice to be heard. We have a right to share and bring back the lost to the fold. And we have to start teaching our children about our religions, people! I am sick of this bullshit about “not forcing our religion on our kids” because if we don’t teach them, someone else will!
The only chance we have to make our voice heard is to make sure there are enough people speaking it. It’s a numbers game people. Either we play to win, or we’re gonna lose simply by refusing to step up to the table. I for one, and not playing to lose.
Drew Jacob said:
First off: “Muslims, on the other hand, don’t seem to know we’re about much, but those that do you can bet as a rule, are not friendly to Paganism,”
I have Muslim friends who respect my polytheistic ways, and did so even back when i identified as Pagan. Islamic organizations may not all be Pagan friendly, but many are working hard in the interfaith community and getting along with Pagans nicely.
Now, to the point I actually came here to make. I appreciate the desire to build political power for Pagans. But, even as the person you were ostensibly agreeing with over at my post, I’m uncomfortable with the way you frame it. Empathy matters too. The atheist who objected to you wasn’t begging anything: he based his objection on the idea that Pagans don’t need to make the same mistakes as the last 400 movements before us. (The same mistakes that the atheist movement is making right now, that I wrote about today.) And he’s right.
There are ways to organize a community and built a grassroots base of political power that don’t involve an us-versus-them mentality. The GLBTQ movement has managed it; it’s *why* they have money, not the other way around.
The beautiful thing about compassionate interfaith work is that it benefits the small minority religion far more than it benefits the majority religion. Which means it’s actually a more effective means to power than vitriol. Vitriol polarizes. Polarization entrenches both sides. When you’re the smaller, weaker side, entrenching both sides is a bad tactic.
So, I agree with your product. Paganism is indeed the perfect thing for so many dissatisfied people today. It’s your customer service plan I disagree with. We *should* care about not becoming the next wave of narrow-minded jerks in power; caring about that will help us actually get power.
Lucius Svartwulf said:
My general experience with Muslims is the ones in the Middle East, who tend to be less tolerant. I am happy you have Muslim friends that support you.
And it’s not really about political power, though that would surely follow. When I’m talking about power in numbers, I’m talking about all sorts of power: political, social, community, etc. It’s not just about making sure we have enough voices to make sure laws are friendly to us, it’s so we also have the numbers that if a Pagan kid gets bullied in school, there’s enough Pagan kids at that school so that they will step up in between the bullies and say “not to ours,” or enough members in a community so that if a Pagan gets kicked out of their home, there’s pagans who can give them shelter and support.
The atheist i was talking with may have been asking us not to make the same mistakes as the last X number of groups, but he didn’t list those mistakes. All he came across as saying was “please don’t do it, I don’t do it and it makes me uncomfortable.” The problem is if we didn’t do something because it made people uncomfortable, the GLBT community wouldn’t be where it is (and I have seen a fair bit of “us vs them” from them), race relations wouldn’t be where they are, and the Pagan/Heathen communities really wouldn’t be where we are now.
Compassion has it’s place. It is good to be compassionate. Drew, you live your life by the Heroic Path. Hopefully, you’ve been on my blog enough to realize that I walk a similar, but slightly different one: the Path of Power. Compassion is as much a power as wrath or pride, but while I seek ever to live by the motto “Just as he returned goodness with good, so too his justice and retribution were unfailing” I have dedicated so much of my life to the understanding of power. So believe me when I say that while compassionate interfaith might be working now, people are generally only compassionate when it is easy for them. As soon as things get hard, people turn insular and tribal. This, by its nature, is useful and “Good.” However, in this case the biggest “tribe’ is Christianity, and for all their interfaith work, that Religion still teaches that Paganism is evil and must be crushed. I don’t know at what point it gets bad enough for them to step up their activity on it, not that they’ve ever really stopped. So when I look at that I see that compassion is not what will save us. People have no need to be compassionate to minorities over whom they can wield power when the benefits of crushing that group are better than the benefits of not crushing that group.
This is why I say its a numbers game. Unless we can propagate the numbers in time, when the near inevitable backlash comes, we won’t have the amount of people needed to either survive, push back, or draw together to face it. This was the point I was attempting to make, both here and in your comments. This is why I am willing to walk over that atheists feelings. It’s not nice, and to be honest I would love to live in a realm where compassion is the rule, not the exception. But I walk the Path of Power, and I am a realist, and heartrendingly, I know that all to often compassion falls.
Drew Jacob said:
“People are generally only compassionate when it is easy for them. As soon as things get hard, people turn insular and tribal.”
This statement seems hard to prove — prone to exceptions, counter-examples and circumstance. Which is fine, but this assumption is at the core of your reason for feeling exempted from compassion when dealing with people you don’t like.
I find that troubling. We can just be good to all people, even to our enemies. It doesn’t mean giving up justice. I can (for example) vote down a conservative candidate, or list the reasons why his policy is bad, without losing compassion and without ever disrespecting him.
All too often I see people coming up with reasons why compassion and respect aren’t necessary this time. I never buy it.
Lucius Svartwulf said:
That makes you a rare, person, and raises my respect for you greatly. I like to think myself capable of much the same thing, and even to live by it personally.
The problem is that, as you say, all too often people come up with reasons why compassion and respect aren’t necessary. I see it too. Which is why I have my rather cynical view about this. We could all be good people. The problem is…we aren’t. I tend to reserve judgment when it comes to individuals, but when it comes to groups…i’ve seen what happens. I see what is happening. Your own post today about Atheism is an example of why I feel as I do about pushing forwards in bringing forth Paganism and converting people. Clearly, there are already groups out there trying to get rid of Paganism. They turned it into, or are in the process of turning it into, something of a zero-sum game (if I understand the term correctly).