Paganism and Politics

Mixing religion and politics isn’t comfortable. Every pagan I’ve ever spoken to on the subject has expressed deep discomfort with how various right wing monotheistic politicians use their religion to justify hatred and oppression. Political thinking should be based on human need, above all else, not religious ideology. The trouble is that you can’t separate how someone thinks religiously from how they think the rest of the time. If your beliefs are deeply held, they are your world view.

So I wonder what overtly pagan politics would look like? Imagine we had a sufficiency of pagan politicians to wield influence. How would paganism manifest in government? I like to think we’d hold to our aversion to oppressing folk, that pagans in power would support diversity, starting from a premise that looks a bit like ‘an it harm none, do what you will’. If you aren’t hurting or compromising someone else, what you do really ought to be your own business. Given that paganism is green spirituality, we’d have to have environmental awareness and responsibility at the heart of every policy.

Now, the more I look at things, the more convinced I become that green politics and social justice go hand in hand. War is bad for the environment. Poverty leads to environmental degradation and hunting rare animals for food, or killing them as competition. Social justice means not polluting other people’s drinking water, not using humans as cogs in your machine, not permitting big business to buy land, freedom and political influence at will.

Pagans don’t like being told what to do, so pagan politics would be minimal, avoiding micro-managing people’s lives, encouraging freedom, and responsibility. Many pagans are anarchists – not in a ‘trash the state’ sense, but in thinking that we should all try and take responsibility for ourselves as far as is possible. We believe in freedom of choice, and we don’t believe that’s about picking which brand labels to wear on your clothes. But there’s also a strong ethos of compassion, caring for those in genuine need or distress. We’d have health services that did more to encourage wellbeing in the first place.

Druidry has a somewhat clearer history as a political force. I get the impression it was the political clout of the Druids that inspired the Romans to take them out, when usually they let people get on with their local religions. Druids of old counselled leaders, but did not lead directly themselves. They could go out onto battlefields and halt wars. Traditionally, Druids are peacemakers and negotiators. Druidry is also supposed to be very much about justice. Less the punitive justice currently favoured, more a restorative justice, where the idea is to fix what’s gone wrong, to heal it, resolve, compensate and restore. The kind of justice that enables people to learn, to deal with the broken relationship that underpins wrong behaviour, to rebuild respect, trust and community. Punishment doesn’t really achieve that.

Would I want pagans to rule the world? No. There’s this old thing about what power does to people, and I wouldn’t want to see that happen to us. Politicians become smug and complacent all too easily. It’s better to be on the outside, voicing challenges, trying to keep the people on the inside honest and on track. Pagans can achieve wonderful things in terms of organising events, protests, groups and so forth. We have some tremendous organisations, we might be chaotic, but we can do structure when we need to, and only as much structure as we need (although I can think of one notable exception). But on the other hand, when we gather, we argue. Many a discussion board online testifies to this. For every pagan, there is a unique opinion. We wouldn’t herd naturally into party groups, we don’t have a ‘party line’ just a broad ethos, a tendency to look at the world in certain ways. Pagans are idealists, frequently. In the current climate, few politicians seem to be. But that doesn’t mean we should keep quiet. When politicians say ‘there is no choice’ we need to be there to shout ‘yes there bloody well is’ because there always is. When government tries to feed us restricted visions of the world, short term, suicidal, disrespectful, ill considered money making schemes, we need to make our voices heard. I’d love to see politics get a bit more pagan, without the necessity for pagans to make themselves entirely political.

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