This past weekend I noticed a thread on tumblr circulating about a new post over on Gods & Radicals about extreme-Right politics and it’s appearance in Paganism/polytheism. When I first saw the thread, I skimmed through the post, shrugged my shoulders and moved on. To me, there wasn’t anything particularly earth-shattering written in said post. It discusses some of the hallmarks of authoritarianism, and how it can manifest in people’s ideals, and then goes over some people and groups that have been shown to have these ideals and/or purport them. It then discusses how the New Right might be influencing certain groups, which groups are possibly more at risk than others, and then discusses some ways to (possibly) combat Fascism in our communities.
I don’t know that I agree with all aspects of the post and I don’t know that I would have written about the topic in the same way, but there was nothing that was particularly interesting in said post to me so I closed my browser and moved on. (ETA: There has been an update to the original post called “The Uncomfortable Mirror”)
But then I realized that everyone seemed to be in a huff over this post. Some people are calling to boycott G&R. Some people want to even boycott people who support G&R. I was so confused by the backlash that I had to go and read the post again. And again. And again. And then I had to ask some other people to read the post as well because I honestly couldn’t see what the big deal is. The only problematic thing I could find was that HUAR was listed as a resource when it’s been proven to be a problematic place in the past.
I then logged into WP and found that several people have also written responses to this post (links at the bottom), and only through reading those posts have I begun to get an idea of why everyone is so worked up. To put it very succinctly, the overall reason why people are upset is basically this: “How dare you lump People Like Me in with people like that!” With a hint of “hierarchies are not always bad” and “quit mixing your politics with my religion”.
That’s it. That’s all it seems to come down to. Here are a few snippets to highlight this if you don’t feel like reading the posts in their entirety:
This article associates many of our most meaningful and vibrant traditions with some of the most vile ideologies lurking at the edges of our community. It’s no wonder many Pagans and polytheists who have read this piece are upset. (Beckett)
It’s also not ok to claim that those who do not automatically share political ideology in common with those particular individual religions are somehow flirting with some form of light fascism—this is a silencing tactic. Given the current climate of anger and fear (both in the US and abroad), it’s a powerful silencing tactic. And it’s wrong, devastatingly wrong. It’s a wrong thing to do to associate others with different political or economic ideologies with vile things such as racism, sexism, and totalitarianism, and a destruction of diversity. (Dawson)
I guess my point here is that I too am concerned about right-wing influences creeping into devotional polytheism, but the way that Gods & Radicals has chosen to express this sentiment is extremely problematic. Making sweeping statements like the one I quoted above will only serve to alienate those devotional polytheists who, like me, side with the Left. (Marian)
Now I can sorta get where people are coming from. It’s frustrating when you feel like you and your co-religionists are not really a Thing, and someone is claiming that you are all this Thing. Trust me when I say that I know exactly how that feels as it is a very constant problem over on Tumblr. It can be frustrating and invalidating, especially if you are trying very hard not to endorse or be the Thing that someone is saying or insinuating you are participating in. This is further compounded by the possibility that someone could read the list on the original post and ignore the disclaimer, and instantly assume that everyone in that group is Bad News (which would encompass nearly every part of the Pagan/polytheist community, since the groups listed pretty much includes all of us in some way or another).
However, if you are so put out by the notion that other people in your religion and/or community are not exactly like you, and may not be supporting the best of ideals, then that is an issue and you really need to look closer at your religious community. Every group has problematic members. Every single one. Quite honestly, I consider the list that was placed in the G&R post a little useless, because nearly every. single. religious community has problematic people- including those who are very right leaning. Even in cases where a religion is set up to be equality-driven and very left leaning (such as Kemeticism and Shinto), you’ll find folks who manage to skew it to serve more extreme agendas and needs. Hell, even the cultures who practiced these religions had a tendency of doing so. You can find ways to make any religion be extremist, and/or extremely damaging to its people.
The more responses to the G&R post that I read, the more I felt like I was trapped in a #notallmen discussion, or even an #allivesmatter discussion. That is to say, it felt like people were blatantly missing the point because they were too wrapped up in their personal discomfort to even consider if the points being raised were valid or useful. If all you got from the article is “how dare you lump me in with them”, I feel like you’re missing the point. I get that some people believe that their religious category or community shouldn’t be lumped in with Fascism (this seems to be especially true of those who are from the Devotional Polytheist group/community), but the truth still remains that every group has problems and we should be having discussions on how to combat these problems. Even if you haven’t seen the problematic members, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there or that they don’t exist. I feel that when someone is raising concerns about a community or group, the answer isn’t to put your hands up and say “don’t look at me!” because you don’t think you’re part of the problem. This is such an important conversation to have, and it’s all of our responsibilities to keep our communities safe, and to make them unwelcome to people who are hurtful to other community members.
I had made a post a few years ago about how branding is everything, and I feel that it’s relevant and apt for this conversation. If your community has shitty people in it, even if they’re fringe, give them enough time and they will begin to effect whether people want to join your religious community or not. We can’t combat these issues and problems by sticking our fingers in our ears and screaming “that’s not me, quit lumping my group in with that other group that has nothing to do with me” because eventually that fringe group can and will become too loud to ignore, which in turn means that they will eventually become your problem, too (as can be seen in US politics right now). The act of calling attention to problematic behaviours and trends within the larger community is not the same as saying everyone in the community is bad. We need to learn to understand that calling attention to a problem (even if the wording or method leaves some of us wanting), and stating that there is a problem isn’t the same as saying that everyone is problematic. Just like with women raising awareness about how sexism makes them uncomfortable around men doesn’t inherently mean that all men are horrible. Just like when the black community says that black lives matter doesn’t necessarily or even inherently mean that other lives don’t matter either.
Now don’t get me wrong, as I said above I don’t necessarily agree with all aspects of the G&R post (the wording isn’t the best, I don’t think that the list of possible vulnerable groups was useful because we’re all vulnerable in some way or another, the inability to comment and discuss on the page is not helpful and can give the wrong idea about the nature of the post, and the lack of author, date, etc. is confusing and frustrating), and quite frankly I find that this article does a much better job at explaining how modern authoritarianism takes form and how otherwise ordinary people can turn towards authoritarianism under certain circumstances. It also goes over what people who tend to learn towards authoritarianism tend to look for in ideologies (whether political or religious, hint: reconstructionism would be a huge draw to authoritarianism types based off of the findings in this article). I also don’t necessarily disagree with every point raised in the counter posts that I pulled quotes from above (f’ex: I don’t find hierarchies inherently bad, depending on how they’re used, which was a concern raised by Beckett. I agree that the wording in the listing wasn’t the best, and the disclaimers might not be enough in some situations). The truth is that I’m rather ambivalent about the G&R post all together, and I thought it was common knowledge that we’ve got problematic people in every community (hence my confusion at why people are so worked up). However, I still can’t agree with the idea that the G&R post is entirely out of line simply based off of the notion of “how dare you lump me in with them.” We can’t fix the problems we won’t acknowledge. We can’t acknowledge problems if we can’t get past our own discomfort long enough to even consider that there is a problem. And we can’t fix the problems we acknowledge if we don’t actively work against said problems.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to help make our communities safe for everyone, and if we’re all too busy going “that’s not me, don’t lump me in with them” instead of discussing how to actually deal with the problem at hand, how on earth are we going to get anywhere? Instead of wasting time going back and forth on “who is really the Fascist here because it’s not me”, how about we focus on ways to get crappy people or ideologies out of our communities so that more people can safely enjoy the religions that we all support and love?
- On Misrepresenting Devotional Polytheists
- Thanking Rhyd Wildermuth
- Btwn Broad and Narrow
- Guilt by Association
- Gods & Radicals & New Right Debacle
- The Rise of American Authoritarianism