On Freedom

In the United States, we lionize “freedom”. We make much of how “free” we are, boast of it. Our national narrative is filled with reinforcing stories about liberty and the struggle for freedom.

But what is it?

If freedom means anything, it must be the freedom not just to believe as one wishes, to think as one will, but also to act as one will. To be treated as an equal. And that freedom is in danger in this country at this time.

We are, in reality, one of the most authoritarian states of the developed world. We have a higher rate of incarceration even than China or Saudi Arabia or Russia. Offenses that might warrant a police warning in other nations routinely result in prosecution of Americans; particularly, Americans of color. Police here are militarized. And as we have seen, they get away with murder.

A lot.

Currently, freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion are all under attack by the right wing in this country. Radical conservatives want us to be a nation where we are “free” only to express what they believe, what they want others to think. The abominable person currently occupying the White House does his best to freeze out legitimate journalism, castigating it as “fake news”. And so-called “Christian” conservatives press calls for “religious freedom” measures to authorize discrimination against religious minorities and LGBTQ people under color of law, and to oppress women through control of their medical choices.

We have a very long way to go before this nation is “the land of the free” by comparison with other developed nations. And we appear to be moving in the opposite direction at the moment.

Let’s not even get started on the checkered history of this country’s support for tyrants elsewhere, nor its military belligerence.

Here, on “Independence Day”, we have a bloody flag to contemplate, and a country becoming more rigorously repressive by the day.

Still, there are bright spots. Throughout the country, for example, decriminalization of marijuana—bans on which have been used particularly to oppress people of color and the poor for nearly a century—is becoming widespread. And the culture is changing such that within a generation, LGBTQ people are going to be widely accepted no matter what the “Christian” right has to say about it.

Finally, our judiciary appears—for the moment—to be defending principles that the neofascists of the American right hope to destroy.

The right would have us believe that “freedom” is a flag-waving, chest-beating boast, and a license to be as cruel and terrible to others as one wishes. The right does not believe in the common good so much as the individual whim.

We, I hope, Atheopagans, are a countervailing voice to those for whom bigotry, oppression and destruction of the common good at the behest of personal greed constitute “freedom”.

Ours is a vision of an expansive world, where difference is celebrated. Where the Great Commons—the Sacred Earth itself—is treasured and stewarded as the birthright, progenitor and carekeeper of our species, now and into the future.

Where “freedom” means the freedom to be individual, to believe and practice as we like without the structures of government telling us otherwise, and a general principle of kindness to one another as we each explore our individual paths.

Freedom is something we hold in our hearts, regardless of what happens out in the world. It colors our behavior, and is a beacon we aspire to in our personal struggles: to be free of the internal oppression of our wounds, as well as to be free of the external constraints of injustice.

We are Atheopagans. We will not be what those who boast and brag about “freedom” while they try to take it away from others want us to be. We believe what we do, we practice as we do. We sing and ritualize and observe our Sabbaths and strike a new path into the future without fear. And we stand for the freedoms of those who are oppressed.

We are free.

Happy Independence Day.

Visions of the Future

As I’ve written before, Atheopaganism is inherently political. It isn’t possible to revere the Earth as Sacred, to hope for a world where love and kindness and justice are far more widespread without having a political agenda to match.

Many Pagans are political, in varying ways. While most lean to the left, some do not. And a significant number identify as anarchists, viewing the root cause of human suffering and strife as being institutions such as governments.

I am not one of them.

I simply do not see examples of anarchism having worked successfully in groups larger than a hundred or two. With the world’s population well over seven billion now, I do not see how basic functions such as provision of health care, food distribution, environmental, health and safety protections could possibly be achieved on the basis of collaborative voluntary agreements.

Anarchism operates on the assumption that humans are fundamentally of good will and intention. Many are; it’s true.

But some are not. Some are psychopaths, some are deeply damaged by poor upbringing or experience of discrimination and injustice. No magical invocation of universal equality can prevent such people from acting out their issues: be they in the form of greed, violence, or lust for power.

And let’s not forget: this world is completely awash in guns. Mostly in the hands of those who would use them to conquer and oppress, not to defend.

Most people are primarily focused on making do for themselves and their families. They go along to get along. Such folk are the natural prey of predatorial people. And once you have predator and prey, you need something to rebalance the scales: an intermediary.

The liberal democracy is that intermediary, in its ideal form.

Now, do I support the Empire?

No, I don’t. Among other things, I think human affairs work better when political units are small, so that their governance can be accountable to their members. I certainly do not endorse the militarized, world-spanning resource-grab and labor-exploitation that constitutes today’s neoliberal global capitalism.

The problem is that capitalism (greed) and population pressures, driving excessive consumption and exploitation of the Earth,  are killing us. Not the Earth—she’ll be fine in any case. Us. In the end, there are only three things that will save us: consuming considerably less, reproducing considerably less, and shifting to carbon-minimal energy production.

Is the regulatory state a perfect solution to the issues I have mentioned? No, it is not. And there is a legitimate argument to be made that current systems are too slow and too compromised to be able to save us.

But I’m willing to venture that there are no perfect solutions. There is no utopia when it comes to human beings. We are born selfish, and though this (usually) moderates, it doesn’t disappear. While government is also not a perfect solution, it has a higher likelihood of leading to desirable outcomes than does its elimination.

I have chosen not to have children due to these very issues. I didn’t drive until my mid-20s and didn’t own a car until I was 31, at the point when I needed one in order to work. I do what I can (as an American, which is challenging) to keep my footprint small.

Just because government is broken now doesn’t mean it always was, nor that it must be. What advances we have seen in civil liberties and rights for people of color, for women, for LGBTQ people, for workers have been achieved through the intercession of state institutions in the social contract following political organizing efforts. Likewise what advances we have seen in environmental protection. The results have been far from perfect, but they have been much closer to perfect than were conditions prior to implementation of those laws and jurisprudential rulings. Where the state imposes on individual liberty for stupid and senseless reasons (as in the “Drug War”), it is in the wrong, and must be fought. But that doesn’t mean that government itself is wrong.

Without institutions to stand between the selfish man with a gun (and it will, generally, be a man) and the person who has none, humanity descends rather quickly into the chaos of places like Somalia and South Sudan. Kindness and generosity do not bloom in such places. War, enslavement and cruelty do.

Yes, humanity has a better nature, but it is not our only nature. Not by a far sight. A collectively, democratically chosen interlocutor in the form of a liberal democracy is the best system yet devised for refereeing the conflicts that inevitably arise between self-interested humans.

So I believe.

Your mileage may vary, and to some degree it probably does. That’s fine. So long as we are acting to bring about our visions of a better world, the details of the ideal matter far less than that the fact that we are working towards greater ecological responsibility, greater equality, greater kindness.

We have so far to go that arguing about the ideal outcome is rather pointless, in my opinion. We have certain tools at our disposal—our voices, our votes, our strategic sense—and we can apply them as we see best. We don’t all have to be in lockstep, nor do we have to agree on “perfect” political systems that are highly unlikely ever to develop. Debate over such utopian visions is often more rooted in how people want to view themselves than it is in actual movement forward, and I’m a pragmatist: when it comes to politics, all I care about is outcomes.

Nothing humanity does is perfect. All we can do is seek improvement, and we have seen that improvement is possible.

Perhaps there isn’t enough time to avoid a crash. That’s very possible.

But we can try. And while we are trying, we can create a culture of science-rooted, Earth-revering spirituality as a new value frame for the future, to inspire and sustain us as we advocate for a better world.

Let’s focus on that.

What’s Wrong With Joy? A Rant.

You can ask me what is wrong with Trump voters, with the manbaby himself, with the terrifying sociopaths in the Congressional majority.

You can ask me what the hole is in the world.

And if you have the patience, you will hear me go on, for an hour perhaps, about every wrong policy position, every cruelty, every coldness and dismissiveness, every bigotry.

But that won’t answer the question.

I have been watching Sense8 on Netflix. I just finished the beginning of the second season, a two-hour episode.

And after crying a lot, I come back to this most basic of conclusions about those who make war on their own people, on their world.

It is that they hate joy.

They actually hate happiness.

They are so lost, so damaged, so broken that their only pleasure comes in cruelty.

That is who is running the United States of America.

If they did not so terrify me, I would pity them. I would weep for them.

But how is this possible? 

How can it be that a person can become so twisted as to be what Donald Trump, what Jeff Sessions, what Paul Ryan is, and still be able to walk and talk and pretend to be human?

It’s baffling to me. It fills me with sorrow and horror. It has done so from the days when I would howl to myself WHY????????? when bullied after school, when beaten and humiliated by my parents.

I don’t understand cruelty. I don’t understand it.

When I watch Sense8, I see diverse people whose sole commonality other than the plot device is that they just want to live, and to love.

That’s all.

They aren’t ambitious. They aren’t greedy.

They just want to love who they love, and live.

Like me.

Is that so much to ask, really?

Is it something that deserves hate and viciousness?

I don’t get it.

I just don’t.


The whole point of Atheopaganism is happiness and a better world. 

A world with room enough for love.

Love for the sky

Love for the water

Love for the land

Love for each other.

 

Is that so goddamned radical? Is that crazy talk?

 

I don’t get it.

I just don’t get it.

But I’m not going to stop.