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Article ID: 6251
Age Group: Adult
Posted: April 5th. 2003
The Elephant In Our Circles: Pagans, Tolerance And The War In Iraq.
"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've got to want it bad, because it's going to put up a fight....You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."
-- From An American President by Aaron Sorkin.
There is an elephant dancing in many of our Circles; it's huge, it's beginning to trash the house and many people are pretending that it's not there. That elephant is conflict; both the one overseas and the one here at home.
Lately, I've noticed a tendency on the part of some Pagans to assume that all Pagans are in agreement on the war and that they all think X. When certain people discover that opinions differ, they take the stance that we all should be in agreement about the war. By that, of course, they mean that we should all agree with them. I've even seen Pagans take the position that you can't be Pagan unless you agree with their particular views on this issue.
It seems to me that the old joke still applies: If you put 6 Pagans in a room, you'll get 7 opinions. Since that is true about matters pertaining to ritual tools and casting deosil, how can it not be true about other things?
We have all heard a great deal of self righteous bombast from people on opposite sides of this issue. To our credit as a tribe, we have many, many intelligent, good hearted people, right, left and center, struggling to make sense of this thing and to walk their spiritual path with best intent and highest good for all.
Speaking of people in the center; I receive emails on a daily basis from Pagan people who currently sit in the middle ground and who are wondering when we're going to have the sort of informed debate and fact based, balanced media coverage we expect to have in a free country. These people are numerous and they have opinions on this issue that range all over the map, but they aren't screaming at one another so no one is taking any notice.
To tell the truth, a great many of our folks are keeping quiet because they don't want to loose friends or Circle mates over this thing. Thus, the elephant. Meanwhile, the hot heads among us rave at each other and nobody is really talking about the problem, which is tolerance. Theirs and ours, yours and mine.
You see, it is easy to be tolerant with people who agree with you. And it is pleasant to think that all Pagans can agree. It's pleasant, but it isn't very practical.
The hard part of citizenship, the important part, the part our Founders wrote the Constitution to protect, comes in when someone's opinion differs from yours... a lot.
So I wanted to take a moment and say this: Do not choke off debate in our community. Do not pretend that it doesn't (or shouldn't) exist. We can and will disagree with one another. We will debate this and other issues passionately and with great conviction and, I hope, intelligently.
Here are some things to keep in mind in the coming months:
Right now, courageous people in every country are working for the highest good of all. Each will do so in their own way. If we believe that different spiritual paths can lead to enlightenment, then we also must acknowledge that individuals can and will contribute in different ways while We, The People share a common vision of peace and freedom for all. (1)
- It is possible to support our troops and still be against the war.
- It is possible to protest this war using the tactics of peaceful, civil disobedience and still love one's country. As Molly Ivans and others have pointed out, dissent is not unpatriotic, even during wartime. The history of civil disobedience and public protest runs the gamut from Ghandi to Martin Luther King, and from Emily Pankhust and Margaret Sanger to the students in Tiananmen Square. All of these people loved their country while disagreeing strongly with the actions taken by their government.
- It is possible to support military action and still work within viable & ancient traditions of Pagan practice. The Code of the Honorable Warrior; who in the words of T.H. White is one who believes in "might for right", teaches its followers to protect the innocent and to defend liberty. This path is thousands of years old and can be found within Celtic, Nordic, Native American and Asian traditions, just to name a few.
- Citizenship is an on-going process. It requires that we show up, pay attention and tell the truth. So while it's easy to be against something it is much, much harder to be a positive force for change. Active citizens will decry injustice, but they will also educate themselves on the issues, decide what they are for and support that.
- History has shown us that it is possible to win a war and loose the peace. This will happen again if good hearted men and women can't reach out to one another and work together to make a better world for all our children.
So, let's acknowledge the elephant, and in doing so, let us honor those men and women who serve during wartime, support free speech and civil liberties here at home, lead by example, gather food and medical supplies for those in need, raise their children with love and tolerance, and work for peace and freedom worldwide. In closing, I will ask that we make our views known to one another in ways that are respectful, truthful, compassionate and honorable.
Toward that end, I will leave you with this Meditation:
I am mindful this morning of those among us who hold the lives of the men and women serving our country in their prayers, seeking the safe return of all who have been deployed; Sia
I am mindful this morning of those among us who hold the lives of the civilian women and men and children of Iraq in their prayers, seeking their safety amidst the conflict;
I am mindful this morning of those among us who are filled with emotions - of sadness, of anger, of resolve, of doubt, of uncertainty - which seem to overwhelm them, as they seek a balance of spirit;
I am mindful this morning of those among us who feel disconnected, through their passionate understanding of either support or opposition, but who would welcome inclusive arms to embrace them even in their differences;
I am mindful this morning of our duty as a congregation to hold, in thoughts and prayers and hugs, all those who choose to walk with us along the path of life, not only those with whom we agree but even more so those with whom we differ.
So, this is my prayer for the morning: that in our own community we find the wisdom, the courage, the connection, the acceptance - ah, yes, the all- encompassing love which is the essence and source of peace - that none be afraid.
Amen and Blessed Be.
(from the Rev. Dr. Randolph W.B. Becker of the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists. Written on March 23rd, 2003.)
April 5th, 2003
Sia is the Council Leader for Full Circle, a non-profit Neo-Pagan organization based in California: http://www.fullcircleevents.org. She can be reached for comment at email@example.com
(1) When I speak of freedom, I refer to the "Four Freedoms" outlined by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941:
Freedom of Speech and Expression
Freedom of Worship
Freedom from Want
Freedom from Fear
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