A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 27, 2009 — 15 Comments

I just have a few small items to share this Sunday before we gear up for the year-end count-downs and retrospectives, starting with SF Gate columnist Mark Morford, who argues that all the discussions about pantheism in “Avatar” are besides the point, what it’s really about is “alien porn”.

“But wait, we haven’t hit the best part yet. Because in this movie, you don’t merely get to fantasize about the Other from afar or even just indulge in interspecies sex. You get to literally become one of them … Behold, the ultimate in guilty colonialist fetish fantasy epic porn filmmaking, ever. Flawed, broken white man can, with his righteous modern technology, fuse his DNA with super-hot exotic sexually flawless alien species and become the Other and save the world and then score the hot chick from Star Trek.”

Somehow, I don’t think this new angle is going to please Ross Douthat and other conservative commentators much more than the “Hollywood is pantheist” one. For that matter, I doubt it will please the folks who’ve seen “Avatar” and found it to be a deeply transcendent/meaningful experience. As an aside, since we’re talking about movies, I saw “Sherlock Holmes” last night, and was surprised that the entire plot centered on a Freemason/Golden Dawn-ish occult order. By “centered on”, I mean it provided some sort of plot when things weren’t blowing up. It was quite the romp if you turn your expectations down a few notches.

The clinically obsessed folks at the Christian Civic League of Maine continue to stalk Rita Moran, Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, who was one of two openly Pagan delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Not content with trespassing on private property, or trying to make her book store sound sinister by listing titles found at any Barnes & Noble, they are now engaging in their own sad form of “deep background” looking for some sort of controversy. First it was misquoting a podcast interview she did in 2007, now they are combing through her past involvement with the EarthTides Pagan Network.

“The identities of the members of these organizations are often kept secret. Moran is active in the EarthTides Pagan Network under the pseudonym “Arwen Evenstar.” Under this pseudonym, Moran has written a book review column in the group’s newsletter for the past several years.”

This situation is so sad and pathological, all in an attempt to ruin Moran’s standing with local Democrats.

“It is a sad commentary on politics in Maine that the highest levels of the Democrat Party rely on an occultist whose political prudence consists of Tarot Card reading and crystal-ball gazing; and whose leadership effectiveness is a matter of casting the right spell.”

This one-man “staff” of the Christian Civic League really needs to get a life. It just goes to show you how bothered some Christians get when any other religious perspective dares to seek political power instead of staying silently in the shadows. They try to make sinister activities that would be seen as sanctified and proper if done in a Christian context. This strife only underlines how important our involvement in the public sphere is, and why the “broom closet” must become a thing of the past.

In a final note, the Pagans at the Parliament project seems to be winding down. The last of the video and audio has been posted to the blog, and we have had several post-Parliament missives from attendees, including a statement from Angie Buchanan, one of the Pagan Executive Board members of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Buchanan addresses the recent flurry of discussion and controversy regarding definitions, and what was (and wasn’t ) said and done in Paganism’s name at the Parliament.

“In my personal participation and my observation of what happened at the Parliament, there was no attempt to “legitimize” anything, nor was there an effort to ostracize anything. There were many very successful attempts to explain concepts, terms and belief structures in ways and using vocabulary understood by those either unfamiliar with or frightened by our practices — by providing them with a frame of reference.”

Despite the flare-up over definition, and who said what at the Parliament, a situation that I take some responsibility in spreading, I do think this event will be seen as pivotal in modern Paganism’s history. Never before have we been so visible and vocal on the world stage, and I believe some paradigm-shifting happened that may greatly benefit all modern Pagans in the long run. I genuinely thank all the Pagans who took the time and effort to be involved with this event, and made our varied voices and viewpoints heard in the context of the global interfaith movement. What happened was important, I believe that we will ultimately experience more signal than noise as we process our involvement there in the coming year.

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • I've never held out much hope for these "interfaith" projects to do much good for Pagandom, except perhaps obliquely through increased exposure. Frankly, I don't think organized Abrahamic religions have much interest in talking to us – certainly the fundamentalist types don't.

    And in fact, I'm not interested in talking to them much either, except to say, "please stop punching me." The problem is that they think we're evil, so why would they want to treat with us?

    The other problem is that I think they're insane. How can you negotiate when some of the parties at the table are insane people? How do your argue with people who deny the evolutionary basis of biology or the demonstrable age of the Universe, much less argue with them about metaphysics?

    Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with a group of people, and everybody can agree on Italian, except a faction who would prefer a meal of glass shards with anthrax sauce. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can figure how this "interfaith" thing is supposed to work.

    • the way to do that is to allow each person to make their order of Italian or glass with anthrax sauce, and don't worry about the other guy's decision. the discussion comes in when the people with the Italian learn to not wrinkle their noses and ostracize the guy with the glass and anthrax, and that guy learns to stop being afraid of the opinions of the others regarding his meals all the time.

      • I think you're missing the point of the jest: not just finding a restaurant that serves both, but finding a restaurant that serves anthrax sauce. Because it's crazy. You're trying to make common ground with crazy people, which is usually unprofitable.

        We're getting included alright: as I type this, there's a fundamentalist preacher in the TV claiming how wonderful it is that he knows of so many Wiccans and Pagans who are "coming to Jesus" and turning away from Satan. American evangelicals are fostering "witch" hunting in African countries. A US Vice-Presidential candidate gets video taped having "witchcraft curses" removed by a preacher. What do I possibly have to say to these people? They're insane. I doubt explaining to them that we don't sacrifice babies in our rituals is going to bring them around to accepting us. (More likely they'll just think we're lying anyway.)

        I think the increased exposure and attempts at "mainstreaming" Paganism are worthy goals worth pursuing – and I notice that's the reason offered by people as to why it's worth having Pagans show up at these events. But I haven't read any reports of successful negotiations with Abrahamic fundamentalists to stop demonizing Pagans, and I don't expect to. Ever.

        • no, we probably won't find any such amazing negotiations. but fundamentalists, Abrahamic or otherwise, aren't the only people around, you know. because people simplify the religious landscape into "two religions enter, one religion leaves" or some other similarly ludicrous dualistic idea is precisely the value of these interfaith efforts – they tend to minimize that silliness in favor of real understanding of those with whom we don't completely agree. it is possible, i've heard, to disagree with someone without wanting to see them hunted, oppressed, or otherwise denied human decency, but it seems much more likely to happen that way if both parties have some sort of understanding of each other.

          • Of course they aren't the only people around, but the ones who would accept us as we are the ones already accepting us anyway (eg. Buddhists). Efforts to "mainstream" modern Paganism are all to the good, but I think we get more mileage out of working the popular culture angle, or getting visibly involved in social causes or even politics, so the general public sees us more and more as being just human beings like everyone else regardless of our religion.

            But we are just so far divided in our intentions when faced with Christian religious leaders that I don't put much hope in the effort. Certainly *we* aren't the ones trying to hunt, oppress, or deny anyone their religious liberty, but that is not the attitude on the other side of the table. It's not just fundamentalist Protestants. Go read the Encyclopedia Catholica entry on "paganism". Here's some gems:

            "Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God…"

            "…in proportion as a pagan religion caught glimpses of high spiritual flights, of ecstacy, penance, otherworldliness, the "heroic", it also opened the gates of all sorts of moral cataclysms."

            "'Pure nature', historically, has never existed. The soul is naturally Christian. The truest man is the Christian. Thus the "human spirit" we have so often mentioned, is no human spirit left to itself, but solicited by, yielding to a resisting grace."

            This isn't just an expression of "different strokes for different folks." They believe they are all good and pure and right, and we are all evil and corrupt and wrong. QED.

            Now, for the most part, in the West, they don't get to burn witches anymore. But this isn't a result of the mainstreaming of Paganism, or engaging in dialogue with anti-Pagan religionists, but rather due to the rise of the Enlightenment and secular governments based on the rule of law. But if their religion defines us, in no uncertain terms, as a "moral cataclysm", and holds as a basic, nonnegotiable tenet that we MUST be converted to their religion by whatever means possible, what do we have to actually discuss with them? Don't kill and oppress us? They're already prohibited from doing that, whether they like it or not (and they don't.)

            Showing up to interfaith gatherings has the positive effect of "we're here, we're Pagan, get used to it!", and that's a good thing, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking there's any way in a million years we will get Christians, Muslims and Jews to accept us as equal partners at the table. IMHO, it's a waste of time.

          • Heather

            On the subject of 'Avatar,' it does my Pagan heart good to see such a spiritually environmental film become such a huge blockbuster.

            'Avatar' is impacting the American mainstream in the way I wished 'Princess Mononoke' was able to.

      • Ananta Androscoggin

        At the very least, it will be nice when finally (but when?) Rome gives up the attitude that "interfaith activity" means the re-absorption of the Protestant denominations (for a beginning) back into the church of Roman Catholicism.

  • In truth, the Parliament was bound to happen with all of the changes in spirituality in the past 5-10 years. I don't believe that it will have all that much effect due to the audience that actually pays attention to it. Regardless, the fact that Pagans had a place there is a good sign. There is forward motion in the values of the average citizen and that's the key point. The Abrahamic religions place very little emphasis on the green movements while it is a keypoint in Pagan values, the New Age movement is commonplace with people focusing on spirituality in the every day, and even Oprah has pushed many New Age thoughts.

    While the Parliament is a good idea and a great start, the fact of the matter is that Paganism is in motion and will continue to move in this direction regardless of any criticism from other religions. Whether they're "insane" or not will not matter in the least. From the trends I see, it's inevitable that Paganism will stay under the radar much more than 5 more years.

    • This is great stuff, Joseph. I agree with you wholeheartedly about wondering if Parliament meetings are ultimately useless.

      From a psychological point of view, I find Christianity highly toxic to the human animal, so it would be disingenuous for me to go there with an open hand. My list of dislikes begins begins with the idea that people are fallen "sheep" in need of a shepherd, and gets worse from there.

      Sometimes Pagans remind me of that dorky kid who wants so badly for people to like him, he is friendly to everyone – even when the joke is on him. They steal his lunch money and he thinks he has friends*.

      I'm happy for the Pagans who find value and pleasure in sitting down with other faiths, but I could never do it. it seems to me that Hindu, Native-American and Abrahamic leaders have all sung the old Police cover song – "don't stand, don't stand, don't stand so close to me."

      Okay, so I won't. I'll hang out with the other dorks in the tree house with the secret password. That's where the faeries are anyways.

      ~ Tenosce

      * not unlike a certain "news reporter" who wanted to film our Samhain ritual this year.

      • You're correct to include the Hindus and Native Americans – there's a bit of a fad around Wicca in India of late, and the Hindu religious authorities are none too happy about it.

        So what is the point? What's the goal? Getting respect? I don't think respect is forthcoming, not for going to these interfaith gatherings with an "open hand."

        The only way to get their respect is the change the dominant culture's perceptions of Pagans, which is also the Magical approach to the problem. They'll give us respect when *they have no choice* but to do so, because we are so "mainstream" that we can't be brushed aside as weird, evil cultists. Buddhists managed to do this in the West (but remember they started on the project over 100 years ago.) Gays and lesbians have managed, through great effort, to alter the general perception of them in the greater society. The task is hardly finished, of course, but in living memory homosexuality was a crime in most countries and classified as a mental illness. Now we're seeing the battles over gay marriage, and in many places gay folks ARE married. Twenty years ago I'd have thought it would have never happened so soon. This change has come about because society's perceptions about gays and lesbians changed.

        They caused change to occur in accordance with their will. Now even those who despise them have no choice but to respect them and their rights.

        Now *that's* what I call MAGIC!