Tolerance Within Paganism

A 2016 Gallup Poll exploring “Free Expression on Campus,” found that even in the supposedly accepting atmosphere of college, 54% of the students surveyed stated that the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying what they believe because others might find it offensive. 50% also believe that Americans do a poor job of seeking out and listening to different views. One result of this has been the creation on campus of “safe spaces” (a place where students can go where they won’t be exposed to topics that make them uncomfortable) and “trigger warnings” (when a professor cautions students that upcoming material could be distressing).

So here you go. This article is not a “safe space.” And it comes with a “trigger warning” that you might extremely disagree some of my views.

I am very proud to be a Pagan. But sometimes I catch myself being embarrassed by others who call themselves Pagan. I am proud to call myself Pagan and of my own beliefs and convictions, but I do find myself uncomfortable when I am grouped with other Pagans that have views very different than my own. When I identify myself as a Pagan to others, I often feel the need to add qualifiers so that my beliefs are not confused with those they may have been seen in the movies, heard in their church, read in a fantasy novel, or even seen practiced by others at a hate-group rally.

I have never been one to tolerate absolutism from any camp, so I have never reacted well to anyone who refuses to consider new ideas and perspectives. But I definitely have been guilty of rolling my eyes upon hearing a viewpoint that I feel naïve, willfully ignorant, unjustifiably arrogant, or just wrong. I find it difficult to accept “Pagan Standard Time” as an explanation for rituals starting 30 minutes late, personal gnosis dismissing scholarly research, Pagan leaders describing their organizational skills as “herding cats”, the practice of cultural appropriation to the extent of disrespect, and the claim of eclecticism without the understanding of the practices they integrate.

When we compare Paganism to other religions that have a strongly unified set of beliefs, our independent spirit is often seen as problematic. I have often engaged in the “not my Paganism” discussions and wondered whether Paganism would be better off organized under a more consistent thought or theology. Does Paganism just need to resign itself to a religion of solitary practitioners and such diverse beliefs that defining Paganism to others is difficult, if not impossible?

Some within Paganism are quick to just dismiss those with different views than their own as “not really Pagan.” Sometimes these views may be more philosophical such as gender roles, eclecticism, Reconstructionist versus new religious movements, traditional versus progressive practices, ceremonial versus folk magic, and hard versus soft polytheism. Sometimes we find Pagans that have even more extreme views such as the belief in the marginalizing practices of racism, misogyny, misandry, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia or transphobia

Our Pagan community reacts to those that have a different view in a number of ways. Sometimes that are simply ignored. Other times we label them with terms meaning to demean them such as fluffy bunnies, hippies, new agers, white lighters, insta-witches, book Pagans, extremists, or we simply place them on the “flake-o-meter” scale. In some cases, we will even take active action against these groups to disrupt their practice or prevent them from sharing their views.

Our community often emulates our current political environment which is rife with intolerance and wall building on all sides, even from those that would classify themselves as tolerant, progressive or liberal. At public events all over the United States, we have seen it demonstrated that many find it more acceptable to interrupt or prevent the free speech rather than create an environment where we can question or even challenge another’s beliefs with tough questions. We create confrontations that comprise mostly of emotional exchanges and physical violence that do nothing more than creating more polarization.

As a host of several local Pagan get-togethers, I try to create a safe environment where each person can express their views. I also have the reputation of asking challenging and provocative questions during these events. To me, Paganism has always been a camaraderie of spirit, not necessarily one of ideas. We must accept that we are a community that encompasses a wide range of views. I hope to encourage polite and reasonable discussion and debate without rudeness, sarcasm, or insults. The intent of these discussions it to not change minds, but to open minds and expand our view of reality. We do not have to acknowledge the view of others as valid or even correct, but we do have to recognize that they exist and they do influence our reality. Shutting them down and not allowing them to be expressed only leads to your own ignorance.

Further reading:
A War of Words on College, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-war-of-words-on-college-campuses/. January 21, 2018
Being embarrassed by Paganism, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/11/16/being-ashamed-of-paganism/
My Love/Hate Relationship with Neo-Paganism http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2011/10/21/my-lovehate-relationship-with-neopaganism-part-1/

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About Sam Shryock

I am a resident of Kansas City metro area and have practiced Pagan Spirituality since 2007. I am a third-degree Wiccan with the Correllian-Nativist tradition, the local coordinator for Kansas City Pagan Pride Day, and the host of the monthly Kansas Coffee Coven. I currently work full-time in the Computer Industry. I am a retired Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel and have a Masters Degree in Computer Resource and Information Management. Most importantly I am a proud husband, father, and grandfather.
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