The Dream of Pagan Unity and Why It's So Hard to Achieve
Article ID: 14414
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: February 6th. 2011
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I've been thinking a lot lately about ecumenism among Pagan groups; maybe its the recent flurry of Pagan Pride Day planning, maybe its the common refrain that so many people love to sing about wanting the community to all get along. Either way it's been on my mind a lot, because it seems like, if everyone who wants unity among the various groups meant what they said, then we would already have it; yet as a community we are divided in many different ways.
Some people are limited by their own views of those outside of their particular group or tradition, some are stuck in old feuds or in personality conflicts, and some are simply stuck in the idea that their way is the only "real" way. So how do we overcome this? It seems easy enough, if we could only get everyone to acknowledge their own hang-ups and issues with unity we could all pull together - but realistically can it be done? Should it be done? Are there compromises that simply should not be made, not even for so often dreamed of a goal as this one?
When I started writing this I began by thinking of my own biggest block, a particular local leader that I have a small laundry list of issues with. And I asked myself, can I let these go? Some of them, I can answer yes for even though it would take effort. I am capable of letting the past go if I really put some energy into it, especially when he never did me, personally, any direct harm. It wouldn't be easy but it could be done; however if I am honest with myself there are other issues as well that I don't know if I could move past, ongoing things relating to integrity, truth in teaching - or I should say deception in teaching - and intentional perpetuation of ignorance that touch on areas where I have a much harder time looking the other way. And the bottom line of all this soul searching is that even when I try to put my personal feelings for this person aside, I am still left in a place where I do not want to be associated with him in any way.
How do we build community unity from that? And there is no other way; unity is not the same as tolerance. To be united as a community we must all stand together, and that is more than problematic when - in my own case - I have to always fight the urge to speak out against this person. How do we let go of the desire to let personal conflict and dislike interfere? How do we embrace community members that we simply do not like on a personal level?
How do we define our community? Who is in and who is out? Even within Paganism, in the subgroups of traditions and religions, this is a massive issue. How do we define "us"? We cannot hope to unite as a larger group of Pagans until we figure out who we are as smaller individual groups and that seems an impossible task when every sub-group is fractured by inner disputes. Group self-definition is like the Holy Grail, everyone is searching for it but no one can really find it. Do we include or exclude people convicted of crimes? All crimes, or only some?
Do we push out the snake oil salesman and false prophets that are selling lies while proclaiming it the only "real" Witchcraft/Heathenry/Druidism/etc., or would that very attempt put us on the same level of the more-pagan-than-thou types who cause so much dissention already? We must set boundaries for the safety of the community if nothing else, but how do we decide what those boundaries are and how do we enforce them?
One thing that needs to happen to start is that as a group Pagans need to stop nitpicking each other; if another tradition has a different way of doing things that you disagree with on purely theological or personal grounds let it go. If it's not your group, why do you really care how they are doing things? If a group is engaging in dangerous, illegal, or manipulative practices that’s a whole different issue, but differences in approach shouldn't matter. We waste way too much energy fighting over how other people do things, instead of looking for the common ground.
So at the beginning of this I asked if Pagan unity can be achieved, and I think the answer is yes, and no. We can form a stronger, larger community if we find a way to put aside the differences that can be put aside, like letting go of the ideas that any one particular way is "the" way, or “the” tradition. As soon as people start saying that they are the "true" Witches (Heathens/Druids/etc., ) they have set up a rigid dichotomy of us against them, and if you aren't with them then you aren't "real" and therefore aren't legitimate; that attitude has to go right from the start.
I may not agree with someone, I may even hate everything about what he or she does and how he or she does it, but that doesn't make them less "real". Of course acknowledging that they are really Pagan, or whatever they are identifying as, does not mean that anything they are saying is true or accurate. (There is also a deeper argument about people claiming to be part of initiatory traditions when they aren't - that isn't what I'm talking about here, I simply mean the broad labels that are largely matters of self-identification) .
The flip side of that coin, and this is where the "no" part of the answer comes in, is that some things can never be compromised and we as a community need to stop acting as if anyone calling themselves pagan is automatically a good person. People are people no matter what their faith and some pagans are good people and others are pretty crappy people, just like everyone else. It's okay for us to say, "no I won't be associated with that person" if the reason is legitimate and we have really looked at whether we can compromise on this.
That means that true, complete unity will never be possible because there will always be people identifying as Pagans who contribute nothing but dissention to the community. There are online "trolls" and there are real life ones, there mentally unstable people, there are pedophiles and violent people, and there always will be, and these are issues that the community will always have to contend with. Being pagan does not mean that all the bad in the world and in people just disappears, but we can acknowledge this fact and deal with it. So unity is a utopian idea, but building a strong ecumenical community isn't. That dream could be possible.
Building a larger community depends on putting aside the little things like personality conflicts, pride, and mistrust of other traditions, and embracing the things we have in common. It means working together to build a larger sense of community, not to homogenize all the traditions into one, but to respect the differences and the similarities; it's our diversity that makes us such an interesting group. Pagan community can be built and made strong, but not without real effort and soul searching from all of us - and that's why it remains a dream and not a reality.
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