(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 1, 2009 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Should you be judged by your graduate thesis? That very issue is heating up the Virginia governor’s race where Republican candidate Robert F. McDonnell is fielding questions concerning a 1989 thesis he submitted to Regent University in Virginia Beach. In it, McDonnell rails against feminism, homosexuality, contraceptives, and “occult” television shows damaging children. The solution to these problems? The government must empower the (Christian) church.

“…government at all levels must help create the legal and financial conditions to unleash the power of the church to restore broken families and create the safety net of pastoral care for families … every level of government should statutorily and procedurally prefer married couples over cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators.”

The local Democrats are jumping all over this while McDonnell claims that he’s “moderated” his views since that “academic exercise” in 1989 and shouldn’t be judged by it. However, as Wendy Kaminer at the Atlantic explained in a recent editorial, the thesis does bring up some deeper questions about McDonnell, such as what role he now believes sectarian religious beliefs should have within government. Can non-Christians in Virginia trust that he’s “moderated” enough to treat all religions fairly once in office?

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in their Fall 2009 Intelligence Report, focuses on the growth of Odinist and Asatru prison groups in the wake of court decisions granting them “certain rights” that prisons must accommodate. This being the SPLC, the majority of their focus is on racist manifestations of Norse Paganism behind bars, though they do admit that Asatru is largely “benign” in the free world.

“As practiced by Owen and others outside prison, Odinism tends to be a benign form of paganism, tolerant of others and close to nature. Behind the walls, however, it is likely to take on a more sinister cast, and many prison wardens have long regarded Odinism as the religious arm of white supremacist prison gangs. The U.S. Supreme Court has nonetheless ruled that Odinist inmates have certain rights that prisons must recognize. So while a decade ago a pagan volunteer like Owen would have been dismissed as a kook or, at worst, a gang liaison, Odinist inmates today can wear Thor’s Hammer pendants under their jumpsuits and request visits from outside leaders.”

The piece also debates what percentage of incarcerated Norse Pagans/Odinists/Asatru are racists. While one Asatru chaplain (Valgard Murray of the Asatru Alliance) says the number is as low as ten percent nationally, the Texas prison system says that racists are 90% of their Odinist/Asatru population. They also touch on a case where Murray testified against incarcerated Odinists in an ongoing lawsuit, garnering the ire of other Odinist groups. On the whole, this is a fairly even-handed report for a hate-groups watchdog and they should be commended for seeking out and interviewing Asatru/Odinist prison chaplains.

The New York Times gives a rather critical review to the new travel series “Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World” for not being all that, well, bizarre.

“He’s kept “Bizarre” in the title for branding purposes, but based on the Cuba episode, it now barely applies. In the course of an hour his most extreme activities are eating barbecued tree rat and taking part in a Santeria ceremony. The sight of his bald scalp covered in chicken blood is a bit unsettling, but he undercuts it with some all-American mugging and a big thumb’s up for the camera.”

Oooh chicken blood! Santeria! How bizarre! Nothing like exploiting a local religion to amuse your audience. The New York Times also dings Zimmern for conveniently overlooking the politics that led to all the “bizarre” idiosyncrasies of Cuban life (the fishing is great for tourists because Cubans aren’t allowed on boats, people eat tree-rats, all the cars are super-old), after all, we wouldn’t want to get too bizarre and upset the Cuban government now would we?

The Boston Globe reports on the increasing demand for hospital chaplains as patients admitted to hospitals now tend to be sicker and need spiritual guidance in dealing with life-or-death issues.

“Since 2004, requests for chaplains at the Brigham have jumped 23 percent. At Massachusetts General Hospital, requests have grown 30 percent since the hospital began tracking visits in 2006. And at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which expanded its pastoral care program last year, monthly visits are expected to rise to at least 540 this month, a 10-fold increase over the same time last year.”

It remains unsaid in this article, but if demand for priests, ministers, rabbis and imams are growing, it stands to reason that requests for minority-religion chaplains are also increasing. This makes credible and thorough training for Pagan chaplains an increasingly important issue, one that growing organizations like Cherry Hill Seminary (disclosure: I’m on their BOD) are trying to address in their curriculum. As Paganism’s second wave hits retirement and deals with the illnesses that often come with old age, will our movement be ready to meet their spiritual needs?

In a final note, congratulations to Pagan blogger Betsy Phillips at Tiny Cat Pants and Pith in the Wind who is starting a guest-stint at the major-league feminist blog Feministe.

“I’m a heathen, though not a very formal one. I hope we can talk about that, too, why I, the daughter of a Methodist minister, left Christianity and became a polytheist. I know paganism, broadly, is loaded with feminists, and yet, it seems to me, we rarely talk openly about what we pagans believe and why to other feminists.  And for good reasons. I know I feel like a damn fool when I talk about it, but it’s important to me and a lot of the reason I left Christianity had to do with being a woman, so maybe we can just try it and see how it goes.”

You can read all of her guest-posts, here.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • http://apaganheart.blogspot.com embreis

    Regent's motto is "Christian leadership to change the world." So what did anyone expect?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/wc_AEthelfrith wc_AEthelfrith


  • http://ThePaganTemple.Blogspot.com/ PatrickKelley

    Oh, I'm sorry Embreis, I thought he was a Republican. My bad.