So a bit ago the Wile Hunt (one of my original hunting grounds, lol) there’s another post about Social Justice work by Pagans and what it means to them. Now, anyone who has read any of my articles knows my stance on such things, but today I’m going to talk (probably again, yeah) about why I don’t do a lot of activism in my religious practice.
You will also note that there is a complete lack of dissenting voices in this article.
So I’m going to start of with a quote from Brennos Agrocunos,
My involvement in social justice movement is definitely connected to my spirituality. Both my Goddess and my morality call me to stand with the Black community during this struggle against a society that’s systemically racist and brutal towards them. … My path of priesthood is defined by these acts of service. I am unable to sit by, comfortably wrapped in the privilege of the color of my skin, gender, and heterosexuality, while others face discrimination, violence, and death for theirs.
Now, everyone’s morality is mostly up to them, even in the Reconstructionist branches of Heathenism and Paganism (though that freedom is bound up by certain moral ideals), so I’m not really going to say anything about his morality. My own morality calls me to stand by my word (in Heathenism) and to act Justly (under the Religio Romana that I’m slowly getting into. There’s a post about that coming up in while on my Religio Romana Blog). What drew my attention is that Mr. Agrocunos mentions his Goddess calls on him to do this. Now, I’m not saying his Goddess hasn’t called him to do this. I do find it interesting that he doesn’t name this Goddess. While I am sure there are Gods and Goddesses who do support…social justice…the only one I really know is Loki (at least on a personal level, though that doesn’t always have much to do with actually believing in it).
But presumably this same Goddess mention above is one who is worshiped by more than just Herr Agrocunos, but being unnamed I can’t tell if said goddess is encouraging all her worshipers to act in such a manor or not. See, I work with several Goddess (and a couple Gods) and none of them have pushed me to take a similar stance. Maybe it’s because I work with Deities of Lesser Reknown (well, except Mars, but I haven’t worked with him much yet). But still, Even the DLR I work with are pretty important. Hel is ranked as high as Odin in terms of power and import, and Skadi and Mordgud are no pushovers either. Bellona, my major connection to Rome, was the premier War Goddess of the Republic and Empire. At the risk of sounding callous, my Goddesses’ typical response to that whole situation has been as follows:
Hel: Oh look, more dead people. Am I going to have to fill out the paperwork?
Skadi: So the guy beat up a shop owner, stole some stuff, tried to kill a cop, and now he’s dead? Why are people upset about this? (She’s been off doing stuff so I can’t get much of response on the other situations beyond Ferguson).
Mordgud: (was censored because this is supposed to be a family blog and that level of sexual detail is best left for erotica websites).
Bellona: Not Roman, Don’t Care. You need a more military haircut, that barbarian shit’s no good.
Heck, I even reached out to Tyr, God of Law on this one and his stance was pretty much the same as Skadi. While I haven’t talked to Justitia yet, what I’ve read about the Roman Ideals of Justice seems to run very counter to the Social Justice Ideals. To reference the quote above where Agrocunos talks about his privileges of being “white, male, etc” and not being able to sit by being an example of privileges being something to work against, under Roman Iusitita not only is it perfectly just for him to have those privileges, it is in fact unjust to try and vilify those privileges or remove them.
Certainly, this doesn’t mean that Civil Rights are unRoman (there was the Socii War which was pretty much an attempt at a Civil Rights movement with Roman Legions. It was ended by Sulla, who was on the side of the aristocracy who put something of a stop to it. Given that he was commanded by Bellona to march on Rome and do that could explain her views a bit better).
I’m going to move on to another quote, this time by Beverly Smith,
I had a conversation with someone about the rising anti-black sentiment and how do shaman and other magical/spiritual people address the atrocities. He informed me that he had no comment, as he doesn’t “mix his spirituality with politics”.
What?? For me, the two are inseparable. How can I, as a divine being of the cosmos, venerate my Ancestors, heal the Land, honor my Deities, and hold myself up as an example, a priestess, a teacher, or a leader if my spirituality doesn’t extend to the practical needs of my fellow humans on this earthly plane? How is the fight for civil rights incompatible with one’s spiritual life?
Here in we find another issue that not just I, but several in the Pagan community, have with SJ mentalities in Paganism. How can the fight for civil rights be incomparable with one’s spiritual life? Well, depending on the Deity or Deities you worship…very easily. Look at my quote from Hel earlier. Hel really doesn’t care about Civil Rights all that much because 1) that’s a living people’s issue. Everyone is already equal in death, so there’s no interest in that idea “down there.” 2) all too often “Civil rights” isn’t actually about “civil rights” it’s about political power…which Hel finds completely boring. And since living politics has no effect on dead policy, it would be like me watching a Saudi Arabian Soap Opera. I could, but it really wouldn’t have any effect on my life or spirituality.
Sure, other gods who are more tightly tied to society that might be interested in Civil Rights, but as I pointed out with Bellona, that doesn’t always mean they care anything about a Civil Rights Movement. Bellona’s primary interest is in the military issues, veteran affairs, and winning wars. She could care less about the “privilege” of being represented on TV more often, or if a cop stops you on the street more than someone else (Roman Military justice was brutal enough that she tends to regard modern traffic stops as a nice break from hard marches. Even the ones that end in a fatality). After all, the Roman Military could crucify 3000 people in a day. One person dying in a traffic stop is about as note worthy as stubbing your toe. Sure it hurts for a bit, but you keep going. Mars is a bit…softer in outlook, but he’s also an agriculture God, who went to war to protect the peace, where as Bellona is pure War.
And the other way a mortal person could be less than interested in “civil rights in regards to their religious practice is because religious practice. My primary focus religiously has been Hel for the last several years. Hel is the Goddess of the Dead, and as said, the Dead and Civil Rights don’t mix. Not only that, but Hel is the Goddess of the Germanic Dead, so she only gets Germanic peoples there. Roman/Greeco peoples go to Pluto/Hades. Etc. So when a black person dies in America, they’re either going off to Heaven/Hell or some African God/Goddess. Everyone’s got their own afterlife, run by their Gods. So, again being callous, when a black person dies it isn’t Helheim’s problem because they don’t come to us. And that mean’s to an extent, it’s not my problem religiously because they aren’t a dead soul I’ll be tending too.
And wala, civil rights is not part of my religious practice. And it works that way with other Gods. Baccus (if I’ve understood the Dionysian/Baccian blogs I’ve come across) doesn’t care about civil rights, because he’s all about the idividual discovering the most darkest and primal natures in themselves. He doesn’t care who you are born, what your race is, or what you experience in public life. He’s all about embracing the Bacchanalia in you.
I think. I always feel a bit drugged out after going to those places. I’m not sure why…
So what about when Religious Ideals run counter to SJ ideals? I’m going to go with a quote by Autumn Crow,
Most definitely, my spirituality and activism are connected and each flows from the other. As a Reclaiming Witch, I see the divine as immanent within all beings, meaning each human life is sacred. Structural racism and other systems of oppression have always undermined this by creating stories that people of certain colors, nationalities, genders, or levels of nominal wealth have lives worth more than that of others. The existence and the defense of these ideas is a desecration I can feel in my heart every time these systems of oppression abuse, imprison, maim, or kill someone. Part of my service to the Goddess is to participate in the dismantling of these harmful stories and their associated systems so we can build a more just world.
Now, I’m not sure what a Reclaiming Witch is, but I’m guessing it’s not any sort of reconstructing witch. This is also a way of pointing out that certain Gods/Religions do not have the same issues we do. Roman Iustitia for example was based on a society (and military) where hierarchies of people was not only normal, it was Justice in and of itself. Even in Heathenism, much the same holds true. Both of these religious Systems hold that certain beings are worth more than others. Gods are worth more than Kings/Emperors/Senators/Etc, who were higher in import than those that they commanded, and so on down.
One can argue that “structural racism and oppression” are bad, but when you look at say Rome and an empire that lasted for thousands of years…objectively its hard to argue that they don’t at least work, and work well. Placing value on lives and ranking those lives in battle seems very cruel, but when you remember that losing a General means more than loosing a Legionare, and that loss can mean that thousands more lose their lives, how much is one individual’s life worth? Is it wrong to oppress some so that, in the end, all may thrive? We can say that certain groups in America are oppressed, and they are…but even our oppressed live far, far safer and better lives than most other peoples in other countries. Black Americans may apparently have to worry about Racist Cops, but they do not have to worry about full scale ethnic cleansing like people in Africa or the Middle East do. According to Ancient Roman standards…that’s pretty good as far as life goes.
Heathenism takes a slightly different stance, because it never really got to the Imperial Stage, but even they engaged in oppressive things towards others. But this didn’t mean the Gods loved them less or that they were less religious, holy, or admirable.
Certainly, it is admirable to build a Just World, but Justice is subjective, and one man’s (or woman’s in this case) injustice is a completely Just World by another person’s. So in a strange way, Ms Crow would feel it perfectly acceptable to destroy another person’s religious beliefs and oppress them systematically because those religious beliefs on justice do not match hers.
The next quote comes from Jacki Richardson and shows another reason why not just Pagans, but a lot of people have issues with Social Justice proponents and ideologies. They ignore facts.
YES! My primary social action is around the deaths of unarmed Black people. Every single life on this planet is a precious gift, a star, a God/dess that has come to bless the Earth with their presence. Each and every fallen star is worthy of respect, remembering and honor.
I remember vividly the day Michael Brown was shot. I wanted so much to be able to reach through and touch him and let his last recollection of this world be in the presence of those who would honor and respect and cherish him. It wasn’t until later that I learned his mother was at the scene, which of course makes sense. So she was there wanting to be with her son with the desperate heart’s cry of a mother whose son has died and was treated with terrible indifference. Being energetically present to Mike Brown and his parents, holding them in Sacred Space, has left a deep mark on me.
See, yes, Michael Brown was unarmed. He was unarmed because he failed to get the gun away from the officer he was attempting to beat to death. He even got shot in the hand for his troubles, if I remember correctly. In what even the racially charged Justice Department found was a clean self defense killing, this kind of attitude is held up as the normal and desirable. Michael Brown had just committed an assault and burglary, was walking in the middle of the road (obstructing traffic preventing a Law Officer from reaching an emergency situation which might have cost lives), and when called upon to move to the sidewalk, preceded to assault and attempt to murder the Policeman. And these were by no means his first legal offenses.
Our last quote comes from Michaela Spangenburg and helps to round this all off very well,
I think spirituality is foundational to the way that we experience ourselves in the world we live in, and the place we are occupy within that world.
I often hear others make the connection between social justice activism in human spirituality in the more unidirectional way that I’ve experienced it. Often I have seen other Heathens were engaged in social justice work cite the eddas to demonstrate that our faith is one deeply rooted in social justice. This seems to speak to the experience of social justice work as growing out of our spirituality.
Social Justice got its start in two general areas. The first was Communist ideology as put forth by Karl Marx and his fellow philosophers of that bent. The second and more important start, however, was in fact Christianity.
A bit of history most people do not no, but Social Justice actually started in the Christian Churches. In fact, the Religious Right, didn’t use to exist. The Religious Political Block was actually on the Left, politically. Not only did they draw the ideology whole cloth from Christ’s teachings, it was the teachings that went philosophically against everything Pagan religions stood for at the time.
Now, I can’t claim to have read the Eddas line by line, but…everything I know of them doesn’t support the ideals of social justice. Same with what I know of the Roman (which is a lot less than the 12 years I’ve spent in Heathenism, lol). Personal glory, rising high in society, gaining the privileges that come with that rise…that’s all Heathen and Roman. Sure, the chieftain was to dispense wealth to those under him…but he got all that wealth first.
Many argue the reason Christianity was so successful (aside from the state sponsorship and enforcement) was because it gave the masses an ideology that said they were special because they were lesser than those above them. Because it taught that the high and mighty were evil and had a harder time gaining salvation than the poor and oppressed…and that was the exact opposite of the Pagan religions at the time that taught the reverse.
So to say that Heathenism, the Gods, or really any other old Pagan religion embraces, or should embrace Social Justice Ideals…flies in the face of nearly every religious or historical text for any Pagan religion out there that predates Wicca.
And there you have it, ideologically anyways, why many, many Pagans do not get into Social Justice Activism. It’s not something our Gods hold to. It’s not in the religions we practice. It comes from a religions who’s ideals are everything we reject. And it ignores moral and legal facts in an attempt to play up the oppression of some people in an attempt to be a “better person” when you could in fact be a better person to the Gods and your fellow practitioners by embracing the ideologies and morals of the Gods, rather than a modern interpretation of a religion that has brought nothing but oppression and injustice to the world.