Losing My / Your Religion
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Article ID: 10827
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,839
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Author: Patricia Telesco
Posted: July 9th. 2006
Times Viewed: 8,835
It has been approximately 20 years since I dove into the Neo-Pagan ideological pool. Of that, the last fifteen years have been dedicated to writing and teaching about various aspects of our faith. Like any Path, things have changed over the years. Some changes have been positive. For example, a lot of us can be more open with our faith without people hiding their children and seeking out torches, and the media is starting to realize we are more than happy to "educate" them when they portray our beliefs inaccurately.
Some changes, on the other hand, have been negative. The current trend toward even more separatism in our community, returning to the comfort of our broom closets, and the lack of energy toward truly establishing ourselves as a viable, recognized religious group qualifies. I'm honestly discouraged. Many leaders and facilitators are discouraged. They look at dwindling festivals, publishers closing down entire lines of New Age books, and the seemingly never-ending petty infighting and ask: why bother? Why continue? I think we're in danger of losing our religion to apathy, to a budget crisis, to weariness, to stubborn egos, and to the conservative trend in this country that is neatly chipping away at the Church-State barrier.
Let's consider some facts. First, I know several well-established elders and teachers who were trying to serve our supposed "community" close to full time. Now they, and/or their spouses, are either looking for or starting mundane jobs because they can no longer support their families with any dependability. Meanwhile folks complain that we have no clergy who can attend to our needs as they arise. Well, which is it? Do we want clergy and teachers dedicated to our growth and community building? Then we need to support them! If we don't support them, we have no one but ourselves to blame when they're at the office during the next crisis of faith! I have personally gone to work full time, meaning there's a lot less festival travel and teaching in my future. It breaks my heart because I /want/ to serve, but my priority has to be hearthside, ethically and morally. We're in danger of losing more and more of our religious leaders to these types of situations. Until something, somewhere gives this is a huge Neo-Pagan reality check.
Second, it’s estimated that some 70 percent of our community practices as a solitary. What does that say in terms of our ability to present a unified front? It feels as if people are standing miles apart with bullhorns trying to share information and build "community" -- that's never going to work. Our stubborn independence and individual vision may be our worst enemy in the long haul. While this site has miraculously managed to represent the whole umbrella of Neo-Paganism without politics or bias, and without commercial breaks, a site is not "community." We need buildings or meeting spots where the public as a whole can come and learn -- places that people can point to and say "that's them!" But that would mean getting past our differences and focusing on the things upon which we all agree. Nonetheless in my travels I see more and more separatism, splinter groups, lost newbies (who don't know what to do while their leaders are fighting) , and overall lacking cooperation. Silly me, here I thought religion was supposed to bring people together, not push them apart! We're losing our religion to trite bickering over things that usually aren't really that important! Worse, whole groups are losing their spiritual focus over these things for weeks, months, and sometimes years!
With so many localized battles afoot, accomplishing a national community or international community is even more difficult. Additionally, many among us run from the word "organization" as if it were sinful. Somehow this word is equated with losing personal vision, and nothing could be further from the truth. Organization provides the black and white outlines -- you can still bring your own crayons, and even color outside the lines, but at least there's someplace to begin cohesively. Organization (or the lack thereof) will inevitably lead to Neo-Paganism either having a firmer public face and presence, or our continuing to wither away, becoming little more than background noise. We're in serious danger of losing our religion to the everyday hustle and bustle, to societal expectations, to the 90 percent who gripe (while only 10 percent DO) , and to an internal culture that wants drive-through enlightenment (with fries to go, please) without any need to work at it, commit, step out or step up.
Perhaps Neo-Paganism was never meant to be a recognized religion. Maybe we can continue to practice quietly alone or in small groups and quietly go about our ways with none being the wiser. But I suspect that most people reading this don't want to nail the broom closet door shut. They want their children to be able to worship freely, and talk about their faith as they choose. So now we're back to square one: creating viable community that the public can FIND and IDENTIFY. I honor individual diversity and vision, but we can't continue sheltering ourselves away with that vision thinking that somehow community will just "happen" and that public recognition/establishment will "happen." A truly healthy community is one in which each individual is making efforts to benefit the greater whole, not just the self. A healthy community has a vision for the whole as well. We're in danger of losing our religion due to the lack of true community!
Can we save our religion from being relegated to some historical footnote as a fad? The answer to that depends on what each of us determines in our heart to do today, tomorrow and everyday hereafter. Actions still speak louder than words. Rather than lose our religion we could FIND something truly wonderful if we're willing to try. My challenge today is asking all of us to examine one question very seriously: *how important is your faith? How much are you willing to do personally, locally and globally to see that faith thrive? Don't wait too long to answer.
Copyright: Patricia Telesco 5/06
Location: Amherst, New York
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