A Distant Thunder: Should You Care?
Article ID: 15909
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: July 2nd. 2017
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I sure hope I am wrong about this. However I’m a student of history, and recent history is looking like an eerie mirror of a process which happened in my parent’s and grand parent’s lifetime. You see, I grew up in the shadow of the holocaust. The family I grew up in saw terrible things done to fellow humanity and the lessons have stuck.
Even though I was lucky enough never had to directly experience the raw hatred and upheaval this period wrought, its lessons resonate across their generations to mine.
Rage. A century ago the world was plunged into a cycle of violence and genocide. It was a process which took nearly 40 years to run its course before a new generation of stability was established. The rise and fall in the 20th century of the statist systems with the holocausts they spawned are now past. There is an old saying however that history repeats itself. Not true really I’d say, but I’d also say I’ve seen that people do tend to repeat themselves when similar forces affect the world they live in.
Rage. There is a movement sweeping the world as I write this. It is a force driven by anger and resentment at a perception the world isn’t the way it should be. There is a need to accept change in a culture with a long and proud history. Resistance to this is a rage rooted in a faith, which finds itself in a crossroads. Those of us in the Neo-Pagan movement are not in the crosshairs yet, but I feel our time is shortly to come. The selective targeting of ancient Pagan heritage is already a fact. I can name many examples, the most recent as I write this being the world heritage site of the ruins of the temple of Bel in Palmyra, erased from its site of over 2000 years simply because it was a Pagan temple and its mere existence spoke of a time when the land around it was different.
Today the world is a much smaller place. With seven billion and counting sharing a world now intimately interconnected the need to live in together and accept that some will not see the world in the same way is a part of our modern world view. However this multicultural world based on inclusive society is causing some to reject any infringement on a set of religious values.
This backlash has names like Islamic fundamentalism or the Caliphate and is using religion as its tool focuses its hatred on cultures who’ve prospered in the face of one who has been stagnant in a vibrant world. The religion going through this process is Islam, and we who are outside of this worldview are frequently bewildered outsiders. I try not to respond to this rage with hatred myself, though when values clash as directly as this it can be hard to put a polite face on the issues. How can I defend a group that throws gay, lesbian and transgender off of buildings as a form of execution merely for being who they are? Who use systematic rape of non-believers as a recruitment tool? Who are brutal to other members of their own faith simply for belonging to a different sect and not willing to follow the same extremist agenda?
My own fears are especially poignant when as a Pagan I know my worldview has no place in theirs. Like I said: it is a profound cultural clash.
What I find myself incredulous about is the world seems to have entered this period where religion is again being used as tool of war and terror. It shouldn’t be this way. We people who live in what is blandly called the first world nations have reached a point where our collective societies have embraced a live and let live, inclusive view towards people from other cultures and religion is supposed to be a private matter not worthy state sponsored terrorism. Yet 24 hours a day of unrelenting propaganda spewed across social media seeks more who would take up the black banner and go to join the Caliphate or launch lone wolf hate attacks on targets of opportunity. They seek the weak, the gullible, the losers amongst our society and tell them they offer them a one time solution as a martyr for their faith. All you have to do is kill and main in its name.
Here in the secularized culture we live in have gotten comfortable. Perhaps we’re even a bit spoiled knowing for whatever prejudices may still exist amongst the ignorant and intolerant minority in our society, we know as a rule our culture defends diversity. While still not perfect in practice, followers of Pagan paths in general are in general benignly tolerated by the majority of civil society. We know that ultimately we Neo-Pagans and Wiccans are afforded the rights and privileges of mainstream religions.
So what should Pagans and other alternative faiths do about this? Well, this is the point of this essay. On one hand being aware there are hostile elements in the world around us is important. On the other I don’t want to say that we need to become paranoid to the potential threat. Being aware of a looming problem is not the same as going into a code red state of mind. However we Pagans collectively should start to think about this issue and what it could mean for us. After all to the Islamic statists we collectively are but another symptom of the source of their anger and the list of enemies they are collecting seems to get longer by the week. Why so much hatred at others, at a world that wants to be more accepting, not less?
Maybe we forget it took us a long time to get to this point where we as a society could be tolerant. What is called western culture had its time of rage: the crusades, reformation and counter reformation, witch hunts and secular social experiments with totalitarian fascist and communist societies. There may always be some on the fringes who will embrace some of these extremisms. However as I write in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, in the large society has moved beyond it.
The larger society we share no longer has a monoculture based on a single root set of religious beliefs defining its core values. The rise and tolerance of Paganism in general is proof of this. However this is still far from a universal view in the world at large and the next century will be a challenge.
Our world is made up of many cultures and societies. Many have lived in relative isolation to outsiders until now. Our secular culture, particularly the North American culture is an overwhelming force with the pervasive powers of music, video and social media, which have swept the world. However in the first generation of a truly global society instead of accepting a more open worldview, reactionaries have rejected the world around them. It has spawned a fanatical statist movement that embraces a misogynistic, violent mindset against everything outside of a narrow vision of a society’s teachings that never were. Even the top teachers of the Islamic faith are shaken as their words are ignored in a rush to replace scholarship with a set of rules based on a cruel and slanted interpretation of an ancient creed. Just Google the phrase “Islamic scholars condemn ISIS” or variations of the same and hundreds of results appear. This is not the mainstream of the Islamic faith, but to no avail.
The road to this point is long and subject to many interpretations as to where it originates, however for whatever reasons we have arrived at this place and it is not a comfortable place to look from. I cannot foretell the future. All I know is that a lot of good people will suffer and many die before this disease burns itself out.
Most people are not historians and never had to live through turbulent times of change. People are at heart hopeful. It is the great grace of the younger generation, but a hindrance to understanding a challenge with no easy answer. Going back to my own grand parents lives and what they experienced could they have ever imagined what their century would bring? If in 1913 you’d asked a Jew in central Europe about the future, could any have foreseen what the next 30 years would bring?
So how does this affect Pagans in our country, our culture? For one, it will be a test of faith. Would you be willing to stand up to a murderer who stares you in the eyes and asks you what your creed is, like the Yazidi people have been made to do?
If people truly are willing to live their beliefs then evil deeds will not triumph over what is right, but that takes courage and sometimes sacrifice.
Would the message of non-violence which Gandhi preached really have any effect against those who believe martyrdom for their religion is the most noble of goal of a follower? Will you or your children be willing to take up whatever means it must in order to prevent more genocides?
Humans can and have done terrible things in the past. For example, seventy years on and the ethical discussion over the one time use of atomic weapons to end the Second World War is still ongoing. One can backseat quarterback an issue from the past from every angle and point of view. What is gained is a hard won perspective and hopefully some wisdom about what to do if a similar situation ever arises again. I take comfort in the subsequent history since 1945 no weapons of this type have been used since then, and the determination to keep it so very strong indeed.
This is humanity’s hope and a thing that makes it obvious that we can do better. People have the capacity to go against their instincts. We know and will do the right thing in spite of whatever it takes. By nature most Pagans want to live in peace. However peaceful people will take up arms to fight in spite of every instinct to the contrary. Warriors also know that there comes a time when their weapons must be put aside even as it goes against their nature. This is indeed what makes humanity great.
So what is ahead and what do we do? My education dealt with understanding the past and I don’t have the powers to see ahead into the next few decades. History however does teach a person to see trends, and the path is trending to a period of large scale conflict right now. I hope and pray the combined forces of climate change, population pressures, old world style imperial posturing, weapons of mass destruction and use of religion to justify hatred won’t find the perfect storm combination to launch other generation of global war. The Pagan movement has had several decades to grown and mature, it may have to grow even more to face this storm. We as a group celebrate rituals and practices so long banned by the fearful as a threat to a religious monopoly. We’ve cultivated veneration of old Gods, delved into rituals and magic as a way of life. In short, we’ve done enough to bring plenty of that rage onto ourselves by the ISIL and their ilk should they find us in their grasp.
The religious angle concerns Pagans because elements of this perfect storm are in place now. Many of us proudly call ourselves things that make us targets: Polytheists, Idol worshipers, Witches. These are all things that radical followers of the so-called Caliphate would want to inflict hurt upon, and dare I say it, even genocide? Some members of the greater Pagan community have already gone into conflict as serving members of the armed forces. As of the time being I haven’t seen anything from those in the armed forces about how their faith has caused them to be singled out. Perhaps at this point those on the other side are so blind in their hatred they don’t even acknowledge there is a difference between one un-believer from another. As pointed out in the US Chaplain’s handbook on Wiccans, many choose to omit a specific religion on their dog tags out of long habit to conceal their true faith. However with thousands of Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans ranging from Druids to Asatru serving in the military this will change. Everything I’ve seen has shown even if driven by rage against the rest of the world to inflict harm, the Islamic Statist people are not stupid and any useful tool to spread hurt will eventually be employed.
It is easy to ignore how something so remote as a conflict in the Middle East could directly affect people living on the far side of the world. We live in the bubble of a safe, secular society where we know we are surrounded by others who likewise cherish normalcy and peace. It takes a lot to truly break the condition. When shocking news comes about an outrageous act of terror and malice, it is sensational news, not an everyday thing. I hope it remains so, however a tipping point can come when least expected.
Right now is a time for vigilance and thoughtful concern. Will a storm come? It is hard to say, but a distant thunder can be heard from time to time. However Peace, like war is a state of being. Either is hard to start, and hard to stop once started. We live in tolerant peace for now. May it stay so.
Data on number of active Neo-Pagans and Wiccans in the USA and Canada.
Accessed August 10th, 2015.
Excepts on US military Chaplain’s handbook on understanding Wiccans in the military.
Accessed August 10, 1015.
Estimates on number of people identifying selves as Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or Heathen.
Accessed August 10, 2015.
One of many articles on the web detailing the resistance within Islam to the Islamic Statist movement.
Accesed August 31, 2015
Public Opinion piece by the Executive Director of Muslim Public Affairs Council making point by point denials of ISIL claims of legitimacy using Koran as basis of its practices.
Accessed September 2, 2015
Information from Wikipedia defining the movement and name.
Accesed August 31, 2015
The destruction of the Temple of Bel confirmed.
Accesed August 31, 2015
One of many articles on the use of rape as a weapon of terror and recruitment tool.
Accesed August 31, 2015
Report of meeting with UN about executions of gay and transgenders by ISIL.
Accesed August 31, 2015
Copyright: c. 2015 A. I. Mychalus,
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