Tag Archives: political

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.

Doing nothing

A wise man of my acquaintance once said that sometimes, doing nothing is the most subversive thing you can do. At the time I wanted to argue, because I was all keyed up for action and doing, wanting to take on the world and change everything. But he was having none of it, which made for a very one sided conversation. That’s perhaps a hazard when talking to people who have it all figured out, and who know how simple the answers are.

Do nothing.

By this, he did not mean ignore the state of the world, watch television, drink beer and let your brain turn to cheese. Those all count as doing something. Nothing is a far more precise activity. One of its key features is that it neither uses nor consumes.

Our whole system is built around use and consumption. They underpin all of our economic activity. Pretty much every wrong thing I can think or politically, boils down to use and consumption. If we, as a species, could figure out how to consume less, we’d have a fighting chance of not destroying our habitat, and ourselves along with it.

Doing nothing means using no energy – turn off the electric, the gas, the mobile phone and do not get anywhere near the car. You can go further by using as little bodily energy as you can. Sit, or lie down someplace, in the quiet. Look at the sky. Gaze out of the window. Listen to the birds. Don’t even meditate, that would be doing something. Do nothing. Don’t be useful to anyone, don’t seek personal growth or enlightenment. Be still, use nothing. Just be alive for a few moments, and have being alive feel like it’s entirely enough. Because it is.

How much energy would we save if we all undertook to spend ten minutes doing nothing on a daily basis? And how much calmer and more at peace would we be for making the time to just sit, or lie. Not rushing, not trying to be useful, not cogs in the great economic machine or servants of the system. Doing nothing. Try it. Revel in the beautiful subversion that is your own refusal to participate. Let it put all the frantic rushing around into perspective. Move into the slow lane. Why run when you can walk, and enjoy the view?

Try it. We could start a revolution this way. It would be quiet, inoffensive, and radically effective. We could take over the world, by doing nothing, and getting other people to do nothing. Think of the resources we can save, the positive environmental benefit, the challenge to sick government systems based on impossible growth and the constant abuse of our planet.

Is Paganism Dangerous?

The Daily Wail piece provoked a few interesting responses. On facebook a chap expressed fear that it would make us look dangerous. I posted a smiley back. According to one school of popular thought, Pagans are a bunch of tree hugging, hippy vegetarians – minor nutters and fringe lunatics, amusing but not dangerous at all. Then there’s the right wing fascist-christian (which is NOT mainstream Christian) view that paints us as Satan worshipping baby sacrificers out to pillage your children and molest your goats.

Who do we think we are? There are pagans who want us to stop talking about magic and fairies so that people will stop thinking we are nutters and start taking us seriously. Damh the Bard wrote a beautiful response to that point here. (More Daily Wail issues, and an excellent post). I agree wholeheartedly with him. I don’t want to water my beliefs down to make ‘normal’ people comfortable.

If the wrong folk consider us dangerous, we’ll be back to the bad old days of persecution, when you could lose your job for being pagan, and social services might want to take your children away. If the Daily Wail brigade seize power, we’ll be nailed up alongside the immigrants, gays environmentalists, academics and other hate figures. So by making it very clear that we’re not dangerous at all, that we won’t rock the boat or cause offence, we are protecting our interests and our way of life. Come the revolution, we will not all be shot.

Bollocks to that, I say!

When I think about my pagan ancestors, I think about Boudicca standing up to the Romans, and the Druids who would not submit to Roman authority. When I think about my Gods, and the heroes of myth, I am short of examples of people who ‘heroically’ kept their heads down and didn’t make a fuss.

Being a Pagan means having values. Anyone who has no values is not, as far as I am concerned, any kind of Pagan at all. We might not have a book of rules, but we have honour, we have ethics. The wiccans have ‘an it harm none, do what you will’ which is a complex, powerful tenet. The Heathens have their nine noble virtues to guide them – and damn fine virtues they are too. Druids have all the values of their Celtic ancestors to look back at, and some fine modern writers as well – Brendan Myers on Pagan Virtues and Emma Restall Orr’s book on Pagan Ethics are fabulous texts. We are a people with values, ethics, and a sense of honour. Sure, there will be exceptions, and any pagan who wants to self identify as having no values is very welcome to go ahead and post a comment. I’m prepared to bet there won’t be many.

We chose Paganism to some degree because we are free thinkers. We chose it conscious that it would not be easy and that we’d be out on the edges for so doing. We found our paths in courage and in trust, in hope of making something better than we had. We may disagree about what is best, but I’ve yet to meet a Pagan who doesn’t care passionately about a range of issues.

In any kind of decent society, all of the above means we’re a bunch of hippy tree huggers who the mainstream is slightly puzzled by. Not dangerous, but a bit weird, in a ‘makes a good filler story for the news’ kind of sense. In America, the government is trying to crack down on free speech. In the UK, the government is poised to sell off nationally owned forests and keep poor people out of higher education. In a society that throws away its values for the sake of short term political convenience, someone with principles is highly inconvenient. A whole community who will not shut up and submit to the ‘necessary evils’ others feel entitled to inflict. Yes, in that situation we could choose to be very dangerous and make ourselves unpopular.

It’ll be a matter of personal choice. If the going gets tough and basic human rights are threatened, if the environment is further put at risk, do we go quietly and keep ourselves safe by saying nothing? Perhaps we should all pretend to be agnostic and hide our opinions until it’s safe to come out again?

If it’s a choice between safety and honour, I see no choice at all.

Why normal is dangerous

Perhaps not ‘normal’ itself, but the way that so often, normal is treated as interchangeable with acceptable, or reasonable. There’s also the issue of expecting people should aspire to being normal.

Our cultures and governments pay a lot of attention to statistics. What does the average person earn? How much exercise does the average person get? How well does the average child do at school? For governments, averages seem to form a basis for deciding what is acceptable. We might speak of the normal working week, the normal weight for your height. It tends to be a bit ‘one size fits all’ as a mindset. When did ‘normal’ start to equate with ‘best’? When did we start aspiring to be average?

Consumerism is normal. Depression is normal. Child obesity is increasingly normal. Waste and pollution are normal. I could go on with the list. We don’t challenge ‘normal’ enough. When things become familiar, we accept them. We find it hard to collectively imagine something different.

Just because something is familiar, doesn’t make it right. Just because most people do a thing, doesn’t make it right either. All ‘normal’ is a measure of, is what the majority do. Democracy is all about what the majority do, but that does not mean that it’s always the best call, in all situations. If a majority pursue lifestyle choices likely to result in diabetes and heart failure, that doesn’t make it the ideal choice for everyone, after all.

‘Normal’ is a dangerous way of assessing value and deciding what is desirable. It is very much about maintaining things as they are – progress defies normal, so does improvement. It’s an easy option to wheel out when you don’t have any actual values to basis decisions on.