Politics and Paganism

In the United States, we have in our constitution and explicit separation between Church and State. (Unless you’re a strict constructionist, but few reading this blog are likely to have imbibed that particular batch of brown Kool-Aid.) An observer from another planet would likely find this odd. Because, despite the fact that formally we separate religion and politics, very few people seem to do this on a personal level. It is one of the ways in which the ideology of the people who actually wrote the United States Constitution is counterintuitive to the way the average person thinks and feels.

The Pagan community is no exception to this. Historically, at least if Ronald Hutton is to be trusted, most of the founders of our current strains of Paganism were Tories. Today, we are largely identified with either liberal or radical leftist viewpoints. There are even strains of Paganism that overtly incorporate ideology into their theology. Often this last group draws on the most spurious and discredited historical information available, reifying error into their very praxis.

For some reason, people have this notion that a particular political perspective naturally follows from a given religious one. This is because of the common misconception that politics has something to do with morality and that laws have the power to create the world we want to live in. How this notion persists after the age that people have some experience of the world beyond their childhood and adolescent cloister environment baffles me.

The second item is the least arcane and easily refuted. Laws, while they may induce certain behaviors by inflicting punishment for deviation do not, in themselves, constitute social progress of any kind. (I’m not sure how conservatives speak of the sorts of social improvements they aim for. “Progress” seems like a liberal term, which may or may not apply to more traditionalist agendas.) They may indicate the tail end of a phase of improvement, but that improvement has reached critical mass long before the executives signature graces the finished legislation. If this is not the case, then the law will either not be enforced, or there will be such a reaction against it that it cannot be enforced and will be repealed sooner rather than later. Real change in society is a slow, steady process that takes decades to fully manifest. This is, of course, apart from full blown revolution, which is more of a symptom of a long chain of problems and failures than the cure many revolutionaries imagine it to be.

The first idea, that politics has something to do with morality, is tougher to deal with. Most people like to think their public officials stand for something higher than mere personal gain. Privately, folks generally assume that their ideology is the one that every sane person would have if they just thought things through.

Actually, I think politics is mostly about the projection of ones insecurities into the public arena. There is absolutely no reason that any issue shouldn’t be amenable to rational discussion between opposing viewpoints. We of course do not see this. The average political speech contains almost no information and nothing resembling and argument. The political talk show is basically a kind of emotional pornography, the political blogosphere an echo chamber of noise where the talking points of the major parties get recycled over and over.

This is not the way people behave when they actually want to effect enduring change. This is a series of snarling temper tantrums. Many have noted this, and seem to find in it a source of dismay. I no longer do. What I see is the natural result of what happens when you have close to a half billion egomaniacs fighting over mental territory, the physical territory having been devoured over a century ago.

I suspect that the people who wrote the Constitution of the United States knew something about this. They had seen, first hand, what happens when you have two irrational impulses mingle together. You get the Inquisition. The First Amendment is not simply a law, it is a philosophical statement.

The Pagan community is very diverse, and not everyone comes to it from the same set of experiences. To but it bluntly, everyone has a different set of personality disorders working themselves out, and their political ideology is likely to be a part of that. (I have toyed with the idea of figuring out which personality disorders go with which ideologies, but it’s too much work.) So it is not surprising to find Democrats and Libertarians and Republicans and Anarchists under the large umbrella of Paganism.

This is not to say that Pagans do not have rational territorial interests. Voting for a candidate that believes in Third Wave Christianity or has connections to Joel’s Army (overlapping sects that view themselves as at war with anything not fitting their definition of “Christian”) because they promise to lower taxes is probably a bad idea. Kind of like picking up loose change in moving traffic. You’ll end up with a buck or two before the Mack truck vaporizes your brain pan.
But this does not translate into “Republican Pagans are traitors.” Only if they vote for the Mack truck would this be the case. Even then we’re probably dealing more with political naivete than active suicidal impulses.

It is not so much that we are above politics (as long as we’re mammals, we won’t be able to say that) but I think our religions should be. There is too much room for a set of mythical ideas to meet up with an unfortunate circumstance and become an ideology of hatred and violence. This happens often enough on an individual level.

Ultimately, I think religion should be about things that endure, factors which condition rather than those which arise from conditions. The conclusions we draw from these enduring principles are, however, our own.

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