Why Paganism Hasn’t Failed…Yet.

John Halstead has written an article around a table lifted from the anthology Deep Green Resistance*. It’s a great piece: go ahead and read it.

I’d say that’s about 2/3 of a perfect assessment of modern Paganism and the current Pagan community…at least in the US, where I am familiar with it. He’s not wrong, and his critiques are apt…painful and embarrassing as they may be for many American Pagans.

John orients his piece around this table:

Now, I think one of the most incisive and true critiques in this chart are that much of modern Paganism has “adolescent values of a youth movement”: black-and-white thinking, knee-jerk resistance to authorities and moral precepts, and a desire to “shock” conventionality just for the sake of doing so.

But this chart, too, says something about the so-called “oppositional” culture.

Being “oppositional” is actually a clinical term. It is encoded in the diagnosis “Oppositional/defiant disorder”, which is demonstrated mostly by people who were abused by authority figures as children.

Being “oppositional” and “resistant” are not virtues in and of themselves, and this is a lesson many who embrace such terms have failed to learn. It is too easy to kid yourself that you’re a hero just because you have a fist in the air.

The point is to be transformational. And being transformational involves embracing some things, rejecting others. Fighting like hell for the best possible outcome, but then not shitting on the inevitable partial loaf that reality produces. Calling that a small victory, and then gearing up for the next fight to make it better.

In short, transformational culture lives beyond self-absorbed, adolescent self indulgence, and beyond reflexive, adolescent rebellion. Beyond childish all-or-nothing demands. Transformational culture understands nuance, which makes it adult.

I’d suggest that the chart should look more like this:

Now, that doesn’t mean that the critique of most modern Pagan culture isn’t apt. Sadly, it is. But there are plenty of voices in this broadly drawn community who are neither “alternative” nor “oppositional”: who stand for the hard work–internal AND external–of changing the world for the better. I don’t agree with these voices on all points but that doesn’t matter. They are Pagans of integrity, and voices for transformation in the world.

John isn’t wrong about his diagnosis. But his prescription doesn’t really address the nature of human motivation. We’re not going to just drop all effort at growth and improvement of our lot in the name of The Cause. That’s zealotry; the likes of Pol Pot leveraged exactly that, to disastrous ends.

No. We must value the individual, the society and the Earth. We must understand that we have responsibilities to each. We must speak truth to destructive power and fight to break its grip, while not lumping all power together and labeling it as destructive.

More than anything, we must understand context. There is a time for playfulness and outrageousness and radical self-expression; there is also a time for coming to meet our fellow humans where they are, and engaging them on those terms. That is key to the art of persuasion, and transformation cannot occur without moving hearts and minds through persuasion. And there is a time to square our shoulders and simply refuse to cooperate with what destroys our world and enslaves its people.

It’s a complicated world and our strategies must, therefore, also be complex. Having a nuanced, adult understanding both of ourselves and the politics of our societies will enable us to find pressure points, leverage points we can flex to accomplish positive change.

And the spirituality of the Sacred Earth is a driving force behind this. Opposition is not enough to create a better world; that can only come about through activism rooted in love.

And what better object of our love is there than That Which Brings Forth All Life, which sustains and feeds and warms and protects each of us worldly creatures?

The Holy Earth, turning in space, home to all of us, is both object and subject of our activism for deeper meaning, more profound joy, and societal transformation.

That is the Paganism I pursue and promote.


*Note: this book and perspective have been deemed highly questionable, at the least, by people I trust, citing them as both ableist (given that it calls for the end of industrial civilization that many of us, including myself, rely on to survive), and also transphobic, so be aware that these critiques are out there. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to, and I honestly don’t know whether John subscribes to their philosophies or simply cribbed the chart from the book as a kind of one-off.

4 thoughts on “Why Paganism Hasn’t Failed…Yet.

  1. Yup! I suspect John’s critique was born out of frustration and therefore lacks some of the transformation you have suggested, however I agree that what he said is largely what I see in Pagan and oppositional cultures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel like the original chart embodies the extremes of the spectrum that most religions do, and are therefore not desirable.
    “Having a nuanced, adult understanding both of ourselves and the politics of our societies will enable us to find pressure points, leverage points we can flex to accomplish positive change.”
    This is perfect. The older I get, the more I realize being an adult is not an automatic progression for a large portion of our population. It is depressing to strive to become something only to realize many others resist it! Thank you for your perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Halstead’s criticism is that Paganism doesn’t live up to his ideal of a political movement. The problem with that conclusion is that Paganism is not primarily a political movement. It is a spiritual one or rather a set of religions and philosophies which grapples with Big Questions. My Pagan beliefs influence how I approach political issues. It often leads me to similar conclusions as what might be termed progressive politics, but they are not my religion nor ever will be.

    Liked by 2 people

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