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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 28,405,241  

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Question of the Week: 27 - 2/3/2001

Where Are The Pagan Social Programs? Do We Care?

Pagans have been put in the somewhat uncomfortable position of being asked about their own social programs. Granting that modern public Paganism is only about fifty-years-old (and the Gods know that we have had many credible reasons for keeping a low profile for most of that time), is there need in the Pagan communities for social or charitable outreach programs? Do you know of any in your area? Do you have an idea for one? What needs do you see in the communities that such programs might address (such as food pantries, Pagan baby-sitting or child-care, counseling). Do Pagans have some unique ideas that might carry over into programs to benefit the general public as well as the Pagan communities themselves? Do we even care about social programs?

 Reponses:   There are 22 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

Up Until Now I Think A Great Deal Of Our "social Programs... Feb 5th. at 7:53:27 am EST

Trish Telesco (western, New York US) Age: 40 - Email

Up until now I think a great deal of our "social programs" have taken place on an individual or small group basis. For example, pagan A volunteers for homeless outreach programs, pagan B reads to the elderly and pagan C helps with environmental causes. Group A has an auction and donates part of that money to a family whose house burns down, or to someone in our community who is sick and without insurance. Because these efforts are spread out and often localized (e.g. it extends only into that person's or groups community) it doesn't see a lot of press (in other words, we're back-stage social workers).

In light of present times and tensions, I think that some of our larger neo-pagan groups and organizations need to have a more public face and work together to create established programs that the world begins to see and relate to regularly. Now, this means these groups who have claimed for years to support our freedoms and community will have to really open their doors and reach out beyond the safety of an email (if you see that much of a reply -- the inactivity in many of these organizations really worries me). Similarly, each of us as individuals needs to find other people or groups that we can join our voice with. Social outreach programs IS a worthy cause -- it brings joy, hope, and help to corners of life where such things are in small commodity. But in so doing we should not hide our pride in the closet -- if we are working together as "neopagans" and making a difference, it's ok to be proud! And I believe that such efforts will go a long way toward legitimizing our faith in the public sector.

Amazingly Enough, There Is At Least One Pagan Social Services Program In... Feb 5th. at 12:55:56 pm EST

Sue McCullough (Oakland, California US) Age: 41

Amazingly enough, there is at least one Pagan social services program in existence. They're called FOOD, NOT BOMBS, and they feed homeless people (and anyone else who is hungry) in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I don't think the organization explicitly identifies itself as Pagan, but everyone I know who works/volunteers with them is a Pagan of some stripe or other. I've never heard it mentioned to anyone who is being fed though.

I hope to see them applying for - and receiving - some of the new administration's OFBCI money.

And my next hope, is to see some of the professional counsellors in our local community set up a Prop. 36 (California's new law requiring treatment instead of incarceration) drug treatment center, and also get some of that federal money.

I think separation of church and state is the ideal. But we're living in the real world, not an ideal one. As long as the real world is paying religions to "save" the members of society who need some help, I want to see the religions that DON'T proselytize doing whatever we can without shoving religious messages down throats in a misguided attempt to convert the person seeking help.

Here Is A Lesson In Perhaps The Growing Pains We Are Going... Feb 5th. at 2:22:24 pm EST

Iko (Chicago, Illinois US) Age: 36 - Email

Here is a lesson in perhaps the growing pains we are going to go through as we begin our own charities:
I was researching a "charitable" organization here in Chicago that I believed if it were not administered by Pagans it at least certainly sounded like it was based on almost universally held Pagan ideals. It is set up as a "charitable" organization along the lines of the Goodwill or the Salvation Army with green donation boxes set up around the city of Chicago. It is called The Gaia Living Earth Movement Green World Action USA. The group runs a thrift shop here in Chicago at 2918 N Clark Street and another in Milwaukee, WI. The group collects and resells old clothes and household items supposedly with the proceeds going to different environmental concerns. (Of course that sounded GREAT to this Pagan who had to always convince herself that a donation to the Salvation Army was not actually funding another metaphoric nail in her own Pagan coffin). As I was researching the Gaia group (to tout them as a Pagan friendly group) I discovered they have a history in Europe and now in the US of not giving their money to charity, and not actually being affiliated with the known groups with which they claim to be linked. To put it bluntly, I discovered that as of December 2000, The Gaia Living Earth Movement Green World Action USA has not given any money to charity. The group claims they are still in the start up phase after a year (that is here in the US, their record is even worse in Europe). I, for one, certainly have been putting items in their boxes for at least 6 months and believed that my donations were going to charity. Now I know I would have likely done more good for the world if I had held a garage sale and sent the proceeds to Greenpeace, the Sierra Club or any number of other environmental concerns that will use the money to benefit the planet. I will admit I have not examined the Gaia movement's books, but from what I have read so far is not encouraging, and is in fact heart breaking. There is a lesson here about caution. However, there is also a lesson of hope. Maybe we, as individuals, cannot start with Pagan thrift stores, but maybe we could start having community/citywide Pagan garage sales with the money going to a list of pre-agreed to charities that do benefit the environment - or even to something like Habitat For Humanity. Why not use a day - like Earth Day - to set up one great big "Gaia garage sale" in cities across the country. We could do our spring-cleaning and do something for the environment all at once. I know it is NOT going to fund the construction of the first Pagan hospital or even a hospital wing, but we must start somewhere. A community wide garage sale is something in which we could all participate (you can always BUY second hand stuff even if you don't have any to donate) and have a good time in the process. We are literally thousands of years behind our Judeo/Christian friends in the charitable organization arena, but that does not mean we should not start somewhere. I know my suggestion is modest, but it is a place we could start. Also, I would like to keep an open mind about the Gaia organization in Europe and now the USA, and if anyone has information to contradict the not so flattering information I have read, I would be happy to hear it. Because if the organization is legitimate it deserves to be touted.

The Gs Know That Pagans Are An Independent Lot, But It Is... Feb 5th. at 2:32:47 pm EST

Jennifer (Columbus, Ohio US) Age: 28 - Email

The Gs know that Pagans are an independent lot, but it is time to put any differences aside and branch out. Most Pagan Chairities I know of are geared towards enviornmental concerns like buying lands and such. I think Pagans should branch out into things like schools and education co-opts, Food Pantrys, homeless, helping the sick and elderly and so forth.

Our commmunity is slowly comming out to the general public and in many areas you can still encounter nastiness. But maybe a good place to start is Pagan Mutual Aid Socities or some sort of social services barter service that give all participants access to programs by a credit barter system. Or Pagan Professionals in a given area can organize to provide free or low cost services to the needy. These as well as the tradtional charity programs might help to build a stronger sense of general community responsiblitity. This seems one area we may want to take some cues from the small community churches who offer a varity of community building social service events.

Actually now that I think of it, maybe a local Pagan Chairity Board or something.

As A Community, We Are Only Slowly Emerging From Decades, Perhaps Centuries... Feb 5th. at 3:57:27 pm EST

Alexandra Bush (Hackensack, New Jersey US) Age: 21 - Email

As a community, we are only slowly emerging from decades, perhaps centuries, of secrecy which was necessary for survival. Up until very recently, we were forced by societal pressure to keep our organizations undergroud and (often) fragmentary.

Most Pagans I know volunteer time, money, or resources as individuals, _not_ as a pagan group. I'm not sure why this is - perhaps the ingrown habit of secrecy - so our charitable works are not as immediately visible as those of a more organized group.

Also, need I point out that in the first fifty years of Christianity, most Christians were too busy hiding in catacombs to worry about community outreach? And that Haddasah, UJA-Federation, and other Jewish charities were not active during the Babylonian Captivity?

ATC just created a scouting group for Pagan youth, in response to the attitudes of certain other scouting organizations. I think this is a great first step, and wish it had happened 20 years ago so I could have avoided the Girl Scout cookies (and beanies). As a group, most Pagans I know are talented, intelligent, giving people with an amazing variety of talents. I think that small-scale group action is the way to go for our community, at least at first. Once we get into the habit of doing charitable work as part of a Pagan group, larger organizations will become necessary -

And while you're about this community outreach project of yours (whether it's an afterschool program, a food/clothing drive, or whatever), get some much-needed good press - talk with secular community leaders and any allies in the press about what you're doing. Call up your local paper/radio station/TV news channel. Post fliers. Learn how to prepare a press release, make a brief statement on TV or radio, etc., etc. - the Gods know we need all the _positive_ media exposure we can get..

It Is Interesting That I Found This Question. Lately I Have Been... Feb 5th. at 6:45:35 pm EST

Jenni Freyermuth (Amana, Iowa US) Age: 16 - Email

It is interesting that I found this question. Lately I have been wondering "Where are the pagan organizations?" I am a volunteer addict. I love watching kids, helping out at soup kitchen, doing drives for the homeles, etc. But all round my christain based community I see Christain organizations. I think we should take the inititive and show society that we care too! I live in the Iowa City/Coralville, IA area and I would be more than happy to help plan and/or do a community help project.

Pagans Tend To Be Good Hearted People And I Can Understand The... Feb 6th. at 4:35:04 am EST

Big John (Old Bridge, New Jersey US) Age: 40

Pagans tend to be good hearted people and I can understand the desire by the pagan community to develop social programs like some of the more high profile religions. It's a noble cause but paganism, by it's very nature, makes this a difficult task. The high profile religions tend to be more like large businesses. They usually have a central authority, fixed locations, organized finances, and a large staff to handle the politics and paperwork associated with social programs.

While some pagan communities are organized I think pagans in general tend towards small groups with no central authority. Most of us have little use for politics and would rather celebrate under a tree than to allow it to be converted into the paperwork which always follows any organized endevor in this part of the world. I think pagans would do best by acting as individuals where charity is concerned. Perhaps it doesn't give the pagan community the recognition it may deserve, but the good deeds still get done.


Yes, We Pagans Should Care About This. We Should Establish Social Programs... Feb 6th. at 10:42:39 am EST

Emerald (Fort Lauderdale, Florida US) Age: 19

Yes, we Pagans should care about this. We should establish social programs and apply for White House funding now that it is available. But, we must never, ever, ever become like those other groups, the ones who would turn our people away from the Meal Line just because they're not Christians or Jews or Muslims or whatever. And as our religion becomes more organized we must remember never to allow our Priesthood to dominate the personal rights of our practitioners to choose the path and interpretation most comfortable to them. The personal freedom and responsibility of seekers of pagan spirituality makes our religion more modern and relevant than most, and that should never change. I believe there are ways we can be extremely active in the community and help to spread positive ethics (by example, not by forcing those ethics down peoples' throats). We can run homeless centers and distribute hot meals, we can hire professionals and run Rehab Clinics (where we can actually help people, rather than just handing out religious texts and prescribing prayer for addiction, as so many Christian-run Rehab Centers are guilty of), we could open private schools that will offer Pagan parents an alternative to the current choice between public school and Christian/Jewish/non-religious pivate shool, a school where the children of witches and magicians and alchemists etc... can learn about spirituality, including their own spiritual heritage, but without being indoctrinated, dogmatized, and threatened into following any particular path other than whatever they feel most comfortable with. Pagan groups can be an active force for positive change within the community, and there is no reason why we shouldn't offer Social Programs if for no other reason than to act as a sociological counterweight to the controlling and oppressive religious-based Social Programs we have become accustomed to, the type of programs where even the Salvation Army--which is one of the best Christian-operated religious charities to be found in America--will turn you away at the door for not being Christian, as if being non-Christian makes you less homeless or less poor and starving. Let's do it, let's bring positive change, let's not sit back and say, "Well if we open religious social programs ourselves, we'll be as bad as Christians, " and let's prove that that's not the case, we can bring positive changes in society without compromising the values of our religion and personal conviction. Good luck to us all.

I Raised A Question About Whether There Really Were Pagan Charitable Organizations... Feb 6th. at 11:21:28 am EST

sphinxring (Snoqualmie, Washington US) Age: 48 - Email

I raised a question about whether there really were pagan charitable organizations in my post last week. I have to say I am gratified to see the responses and find out that there are many and that more are in development. Apologies to anyone who was hurt by my cynicism.
I admitted selfish behavior and wonder what I could do to help.
My talents are in the computer/web realm, and I am a good botanist as well.
Not much for basic charity, but I could help setting up web sites for people who already have a charity idea.
I still think that Bush's money smells like murdered salmon runs, but that's not what this is really about, is it?

I Think Having Pagan Social Programs Would Be A Great Idea. Pagans... Feb 6th. at 6:41:42 pm EST

Kristi McKeown (Arvada, Colorado US) Age: 20 - Email

I think having pagan social programs would be a great idea. Pagans, in general, tend to be less dogmatic than other groups so I think they good help a wider group than say some xtian social programs. Pagans are very accepting of all people and I think alot of people would be more inclined to go somewhere that they don't feel they are being judged. However based on personal experience I think pagans tend to be much more invidualistic and secretive about things. The secretive part is easy to understand. As a minority religion we still face alot of possbile discrimination no matter where you live. As for the indvidualistic part I don't mean that pagans only worry about themselves and not others. If you look at pagan groups they tend just by nature to be very small. We don't do large groups as well as xtians. I think we can expect to see small local groups, but the hierarchy and structure inherent in larger groups is just foriegn to most pagans. We like small groups where everyone gets equal say and weight in the group. I don't think you'll turn the channel any time soon and see a pagan next to a starving child asking for a small monthly donation. But if anyone wants to try I'll help you lobby for every federal dollar possible.

One Of My Intense Dislikes, As A Former Evangellical Christian, Is How... Feb 6th. at 8:03:29 pm EST

Robert Albee (Clarkston, Michigan US) Age: 36 - Email

One of my intense dislikes, as a former evangellical Christian, is how religious groups form a seperatist mentality. I remember, reaching the peak of the madness, I would seek out Christian Book Stores, Christian-owned business,
etc. One of the powerful draws of Paganism is the refreshing lack of pressure to "only support the people like us." Although I agree that Bush will funnel countless billions to a select few "approved" organizations if he gets the chance (and this is sickening), why can't we, as Pagans, continue to put our support and energy into the many organied groups who share many of our views and goals. That may include femenist-oriented services, secular humanist-oriented services, animal and land preservation and rescue organizations, and possibly even some more liberal-leaning Christian & Jewish organizations with the infrastructure and strong track records we lack. Why would we necessarily try to put our limited human and financial resources into our own seperate organizations? To advance our own views? Isn't one of the things that brought many of us here the fact that we don't try to speak with one voice? Drown out dissent? Separate ourselves from the world/make the world conform to our views (the twin agendas of the evangelical right)? If we're Pagan aren't we Pagan everywhere we are in everything we do?

Having Browsed Through The Opinions, Here Is My 2 Cents Worth. I... Feb 6th. at 9:49:48 pm EST

Stephanie (Ripley, New York US) Age: 29

Having browsed through the opinions, here is my 2 cents worth. I think you're all right on track saying that any government monies will go to the select few regardless of the actual work being done. With the President's lack of recognition for Wicca as an affirmed religion, we're climbing a greased pole with buttered hands. Unfortunately, thats the mentality that controls our nation. Pagan based social organizations will really have to fight for any funding that could be available. I would simply be happy with some of the established organizations to recognize and support our pagan beliefs. Before I jumped off the christian bandwagon and walked the pagan path, I was a den mother for my sons' cub scout pack and did a very good job. After the pentacle on my keychain was noticed, the district commisioner phoned me and gave me the third degree, reminding me that he is a retired police detective and had connections implying that being pagan was criminal.Even though I had never tried to incorporate Wicca into cub scouts.(yes, I resigned before a witch hunt was launched) Because of this I can see why many groups would prefer to work quietly and not draw attention to themselves. This is a tough one. Pagans need groups that bless them and their children with loving, not loathing.

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