Quick Notes: Ritual Killing, Burning Man, and Dominionist Debates

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 30, 2011 — 52 Comments

Just a few quick notes for you on this Tuesday.

Animal Sacrifice, Factory Farming, and Palo Mayombe: Religion Dispatches has an excellent essay up by Meera Subramanian, senior editor of Killing the Buddha, on the recent case of William Camacho, a practitioner of Palo Mayombe whose barber shop was shut down after sacrificial chickens were found in the basement. Subramanian compares the actions of religions that engage in animal sacrifice to the factory farming industry, and suspects that public discomfort with one and not the other is all down to issues of visibility.

William Camacho. Photo by Peter Pereira/SouthCoastToday.com

“Last year alone, about eight billion chickens were slaughtered in the U.S., according to the USDA. So why does the idea of animal sacrifice so easily fall into the realm of heebie jeebies? Why do stories about people like Camacho and their doomed animals get picked up so quickly, not just by ABC, but also sites with names like Wacky Bastards? […] Camacho broke the rules. No chickens within city limits. But what shutting down his barbershop and the initial talk of throwing animal cruelty charges at him reveals is really our discomfort and alienation from the animals at the heart of the New Bedford controversy. It lays bare our preference that animal killings, whether as a part of a religious ritual or not, stay hidden out of view. It asks that any connection that animals might have to the spirit world remain tamely leashed to our household pets.”

I recommend reading the entirety of Subramanian’s essay. As for Camacho and Bad Boyz Cutz? The barber shop is open for business once more, and no charges are being filed against him at this time. He’s still seeking advice from attorneys.

Burning Man Celebrates its 25th Anniversary: Burning Man in Nevada is now under way. The temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a “Rites of Passage” theme. This year marks the first time the event has sold out, and also sees the event transition into a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the festival’s ideology outside the famous once-per-year event. What is that ideology? Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man”, argues for the event being “pagan” at its roots.

“No one I’ve ever spoken to (and I’ve been attending and researching this event since 1996) has ever come right out and called Burning Man a religion–Pagan or otherwise–and the event’s organizers have repeatedly stated as much for years. However, I think in some ways it can be considered to be a pagan (note the lower case) phenomenon. In this meaning, I see the uppercase term “Pagan” as referring to our various Neopagan traditions–that is the sets of practices, beliefs, and communities that are seen as (albeit loosely) constituting our family of religions–while I use the lowercase term “pagan” as a more general adjective.

In this sense, I am thinking of Michael York’s concept of “root religion,” which identifies paganism as a set of shared–yet diversely constituted–primal religious tendencies that broadly underlie all global religions. As he stated, “inasmuch as paganism is the root of religion, it confronts the earliest, the most immediate, and the least processed apprehensions of the sacred. This is the experiential level on which paganism in both its indigenous and contemporary forms wishes to concentrate.” (see York’s Pagan Theology)

Burning Man has a similarly embodied, experiential, and ritualized quality. This feeling is in part engendered by the encounter with nature in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. In the beauty and essential simplicity of this vast dusty arena–as well as in the visceral physical experience of its arid and demanding environment–many participants encounter a sense of the transformative and numinous.”

Recent data suggests that Burning Man is becoming more religious, political, and female as it ages, though critics still contest the event is a “dead-end cult.” For more on how Burning Man is small-p “pagan” check out the rest of Gilmore’s guest post for The Wild Hunt. You may also want to read the interview conducted with her at Religion Dispatches last year.

Debating Dominionism: In final note, the debate and discussion over what Christian Dominionism exactly is, whether its worth talking about, and whether it is or isn’t a threat, continues. At Religion Dispatches Sarah Posner and Anthea Butler have an excellent discussion that digs deep into the subject, and goes beyond the alarmism and denial currently dominating coverage.

Rick Perry hugs NAR "Apostle" Alice Patterson at 'The Response'.

“I view with a jaundiced eye these journalists who think that by the mere act of writing an 800 word op-ed they’re going to wave a wand over people of faith and make their beliefs go away. Not Happening. Yes, not every conservative Christian is a Dominionist, but to say a movement doesn’t exist, without even being able to say what it is in an op-ed is just irresponsible. It also shows what the real issue is.

For the last 30 years, journalists have had an easy time reporting on the religious right, because all they did was pay attention to to white male leaders of big organizations like Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, or Family Research Council. The days when a nice soundbite from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Ted Haggard would suffice are over. If journalists and others want to understand the last 10 years of the religious right movement, they will need to pay attention to the theological, religious, and ethnic diversity among evangelicals, Pentecostals, and non-denominational churches. They will at least need to recognize the old and new leaders of the religious right, and the complex network of leaders, conferences, and teachings if they want a reductionist argument they can spin out in 800 words. As someone who has studied and written about Pentecostalism for over 15 years, their lack of basic knowledge is staggering, and although I don’t expect people to get it like I do, I do expect reporters and journalists to do their homework—like you do, Sarah!”

In addition to that, Fred Clark at Slacktivist points out that Dominionism has been a serious concern within conservative Christian circles for some time now, and certainly not a myth. He also notes that if you don’t want to be seen as a Dominionist, you should probably avoid hiring them. Right Wing Watch echoes Clark by asking why, if Dominionism is a liberal myth used to attack conservative Christians, does it have conservative critics? At Talk To Action Chip Berlet responds to the latest wave of Dominionist coverage backlash from figures like Ross Douthat and Mary Eberstadt (more here). For my run-down of the debate up to this point, check out this post.

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • David Metcalfe

    One of the most detailed critiques of the Dominionist movement from a Conservative Christian standpoint comes from http://herescope.blogspot.com/ They are very thorough in their research, and try to stick to academic standards of evidence.

  • Disappointing about Camacho. His shop should be shut down and he should have charges brought against him. He broke the law and should really be held accountable for that. Its not a matter of religious freedom so much as it is about him needing to abide by the laws of his local jurisdiction.

    • Lori F – MN

      Oh good grief. The law he broke was having poultry in the city. Not murder. There’s no reason his business needed to be shut down except to satisfy someone with egg on their face.

      • He killed animals illegally. That is murder under the law. If the local authorities saw fit that his establishment (where it happened) be fined in such a way, then that certainly makes sense to me. I am a Pagan who is all for religious pluralism, but religion is no excuse for murder.

        • For the record: Camacho maintains that he has never killed a chicken/rooster at his barber shop. The chickens removed were alive, except for one who had died. That chicken was taken to a lab to be analyzed. No charges resulted from that autopsy. According to him, the animals were there temporarily while he relocated his home.

          • Hbuchy

            His shop was closed by licensing. Barber shops and hair salons are under the jurisdiction of the health department. Anyone who had livestock in the basement of their salon/shop would have been closed. Of course there wouldn’t have been such a fuss made if it weren’t for his religion, but that seems to me more due to the press reporting, and certian stereotypes for sure.
            We used to have chickens here, but due to zoning we had to move them.Should it had been the same case with us, as far as religious matters, would that exempt me from zoning laws? Licensing laws? Wouldn’t that be a species of religious privilege?

          • Thanks for clarifying that point Jason! Appreciate it.

          • I still don’t want livestock, and their manure, in a place where cosmetology is performed, Eeeeyuck! As a small time farmer, the idea of chickens living in any building used by humans makes me cringe. Sanitation hazard.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Killing chickens illegally is not murder. That term is reserved for killing humans illegally.

          • According to Salisbury’s Google Profile (which he used to post here), he worked at PETA from June 2007 to October 2009. I’m sure that according to his viewpoint, any destruction of non-plant or microbial life is murder.

          • anon

            thanks for the info
            explains a lot

          • My employment history has little to do with my personal ethical opinions as a Pagan. Many Pagans (vegan or not) disagree with animal sacrifice in modern times, especially when the media is always use it to defame followers of Pagan and Afro-Caribbean paths.

        • anon

          “He killed animals illegally. That is murder under the law.”

          Wait wait…what?
          you know what, i think everybody should read the book pagans and the law by eilers and inform ourselves about the law and religious rights a tad bit more, as religious minorities, we owe this to ourselves….

          • Acidqueen

            He’s a PETArd. To him, the death of any non-plant life is “murder”.

            And on that note, I am going to enjoy a pork bbq sammich. If it’s good enough for the Aesir and Vanir, it’s good enough for me. 😉

        • Anonymous

          David wrote:
          He killed animals illegally. That is murder under the law.


          Noun: The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.

        • …What. *Irrespective of what beliefs you may have*, “murder” only applies *legally* to human beings. At this time, nowhere has this definition been extended to include chickens and other livestock. Chickens are not human beings. If you want to say “the law is the law”, at least know what it does and does not apply to.

          *I’m saying “*legally*” because you may believe that slaughtering a chicken is murder, and that is your belief to hold, but that does not make it the law.

        • since when was killing an animal murder? Especially one used for food?

        • David, this is in response to your post below:
          “My employment history has little to do with my personal ethical opinions as a Pagan. Many Pagans (vegan or not) disagree with animal sacrifice in modern times, especially when the media is always use it to defame followers of Pagan and Afro-Caribbean paths.”

          Many Pagans may disagree with animal sacrifice, but there are many who do not. Animal sacrifice is far more humane than the treatment an animal would have from a factory farm, and far more ethical for those who would eat meat. The media as it exists is grasping for reasons to fan enough flames to burn us; animal sacrifice is merely one way, and I find it foolish if Pagans are protesting animal sacrifice merely on those grounds. If you have an ideological point of animals not suffering, so be it.

          However, if you’re protesting animal sacrifice as though it is some horrible thing to be brushed with, then I remind you of Dhabiha and Sechita, Muslim and Jewish methods of slaughtering animals for their religious traditions. These are not looked upon as evil, they are accepted and protected within mainstream society. That, even if you disagree with the act of sacrifice itself, should be something to fight for rather than denigrate.

          • anon

            “Many Pagans may disagree with animal sacrifice, but there are many who do not.”

            thank you. i was wondering if he had any data that showed that many pagans disagree with this practice. most of the pagans ive talked to in my area respect this practice, some….even do it themselves…so please, keep your generalizations to yourself….

        • I highly doubt killing animals in a nonapproved manner really falls under the murder statutes. Michael Vick was not charged with being a serial killer.

          Maybe felony cruelty to animals, improper handling of biowaste, zoning regulations, or criminal littering.

    • Anonymous

      The only law he broke was having livestock within city limits. Please explain why that merits having his business shut down.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of Dominionists, Jason, I’m guessing you’ve seen this?

    If registries of atheists are being compiled, are Pagans far behind?

    • They are already doing it. Google “spiritual mapping” and take a look at what comes up. Or check out the Wikipedia article. Excerpt:

      In the version of spiritual warfare of Wagner and his associates and followers, “spiritual mapping”, or “Mapping” involves research and prayer to locate specific individuals who are then accused of witchcraft, or individuals, groups, or locations that are thought to be victims of witchcraft or possessed by demons, against which spiritual warfare is then waged.[9] Peter Wagner claims that this type of spiritual warfare was “virtually unknown to the majority of Christians before the 1990s”.[10] According to Wagner, the basic methodology is to use “spiritual mapping”[9] to locate areas,[6] demon-possessed persons, occult practitioners such as witches and FreeMasons, or occult idol objects like statues of Catholic saints,[11] which are then named and fought, using methods ranging from intensive prayer to burning with fire, “they must burn the idols… the kinds of material things that might be bringing honor to the spirits of darkness: pictures, statues, Catholic saints, Books of Mormon… and what have you…. the witches and warlocks had surrounded the area … When the flames shot up, a woman right behind Doris [Wagner’s wife] screamed and manifested a demon, which Doris immediately cast out!” [12]

      • Anonymous

        I grew up in a Catholic household. I have never understood why some Protestants have the idea that Catholics worship the statues. My sister’s MIL, a conservative Christian and tea-partier (and a retiree on social security, no less), said as much to her. My sister, a staunch atheist, tried to explain that no one worships the statues, but her MIL didn’t believe her.

        • Crystal Kendrick

          Dominionists: bringing Atheists, Agnostics, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, UU’s, Jews, Quakers, Methodists, Muslims, etc., etc., etc., together for 30 yrs.

          • Crystal Kendrick

            That would make for a huge de-motivational poster.

        • One must stop and savor the irony of Catholics complaining about being accused of idolatry, and whinging about how such an accusation is a complete misrepresentation of their religion. This is chickens coming home to roost.

          • Anonymous

            I just looked up the definition of “whinging.” Ouch! Didn’t mean to commit a faux pas here.

    • Lori F – MN

      This Pastor Mike is weird. If he wants to preach to someone, how about standing outside the local synagog?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Re: Subramanian’s essay: Alas, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was overturned by the US Supreme Court as it applies to the states.

    But speaking of the byways of religious freedom, I’m waiting for recognition that banning shamanic pychotropic drugs is a violation of the Free Exercise clause. The First Amendment says nothing that limits it to religions drawn from books.

    • Crystal Kendrick

      Hear, hear!

    • Baruch – the recognition that banning shamanic psychotropic drugs is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause already exists, although the rulings are limited to Brazilian-based churches who use ayahuasca as their sacrament. Both the Uniao do Vegetal and the Santo Daime churches have successfully litigated this issue under RFRA.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        That’s good; I hadn’t heard of that. But, like peyote, it’s restricted to people of color and does not extend to the most commonly used psychotropes in the American population, still subject to the “war on drugs.” (Yes, I’m aware of medicinal marijuana, which I applaud, but it’s for illness, not opening the mind.)

        • The Peyote Way Church of God aggressively defends the religious use of Peyote by all people regardless of “race”. According to their website “Non-Indian Peyote use is protected in five states : AZ, NM, CO, NV, and OR.” Link: http://www.peyoteway.org/

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Well, that’s progress. Thanks for the link.

        • Its actually not restricted to people of color, but it is restricted to sincere members of those churches. Peyote is restricted to people of color in as far as one has to be a member of the NAC and have a tribal affiliation that is federally recognized. I agree with you that such rulings should be extended to the more commonly used psychotropes, but its worth noting that the fact that ayahuasca is not a commonly used substance was one of the main factors in the success of those cases. RFRA cases come down to a balancing test between the right of the citizen to engage in a practice and the “compelling interest” of the government in prohibiting the practice, and the government couldn’t assert a compelling interest precisely because ayahuasca is so seldom used among the general population.

  • WhiteBirch

    As I understood it there was a health code violation in there somewhere, which businesses can and do get shut down for. So in that case, sure. Health codes are good, I like to see them enforced. However, if that was the case, of course it should be reopened now that the chickens are gone!

    • WhiteBirch

      Bah, the reply feature hates me, that should have been directed to Lori F’s comment!

  • AMH

    I hate to say it, b ut the following comment from the article sounded just like pagan rhetoric and ass covering and a true intent to blame shift: namely such pithy aphorisms as ‘Which Witch is Which’ that seems to be common currency in English programs across academia. This is the quote “Yes, not every conservative Christian is a Dominionist, but to say a movement doesn’t exist, without even being able to say what it is in an op-ed is just irresponsible.” Sounds like people are still smarting and playing on former Pres Bush’s opinion that Witchcraft isn’t a real religion, and failing to do more than move homosexuals into the Republican party to cover up for the Democrats actual homophobia and all in the presumed name of egalitarianism, Pagans are still hiding from themselves. The Dominionists are just the latest target. Perhaps a few good ‘Witch’ wars will shut those pagans up.

    • Anonymous

      Was that in English?

      • Crystal Kendrick

        “Was that in English?” So I’m not the only one who was a bit confused? That’s a relief.

        • Really? I’ll admit the run on sentence was a bit difficult, but that sounded/read like English to me. I had no trouble understanding it.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      AMH, I trust you’ll pardon a smile at your screen name. To me those initials mean “anatomically modern human.”

      Why should we forget Dubya’s opinion of Witchcraft? The evidence is that it materially impeded the Headstone Quest. The Executive Branch needs to show signs of progress before we can let that memory fade without failing our duty to our community.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “mov[ing] homosexuals into the Republican party.” Log Cabin Republicans are Republicans who are gay and decided not to lurk in the closet any more. They didn’t get a very welcoming response but nobody *moved* them into the GOP; they were there already, just like they are everywhere else already.

      And I’m sincerely baffled by the claim that this in any way covers up actual homophobia on the part of Democrats. Maybe you’d like a do-over on that one.

      • Wait, Log Cabin Republicans is the name for Gay Republicans? Oo Okay…I suppose it works as a pun, but I always thought the LCR’s were Lincolnists…shows how much attention I pay to the Republicans these days 😛

        • From “Log Cabin Republicans” website:

          “The name of the organization is a reference to the first Republican President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a Log Cabin. President Lincoln built the Republican Party on the principles of liberty and equality. The party should return to its roots. When the organization was founded, the name, “Lincoln Club” was already taken by another GOP group, so organizers settled on the name Log Cabin Republicans.”

          link: http://www.logcabin.org/site/c.nsKSL7PMLpF/b.6417383/k.B012/Our_History.htm

          • Anonymous

            And let’s face it: The “Radical Republicans,” led by Uber-Leftist Thaddeus Stevens, were about as Far Left as you could get. This whole idea that “Republican=Conservative/Liberal=Democrat” is a recent concept, only having begun to take root after the late 1960s, and the lack of many people understanding this is a huge impediment against them knowing or understanding anything about politics and history.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I turned 70 this week, and Republicans have been more conservative than Democrats for as long as I can remember.

            But conservatism did not mean the same thing then, and the absolute equation that you cite is indeed something that only got expressed as a goal (by William F Buckley, Jr) around the 1960s and did not really gell until ca 1980.

          • Anonymous

            Baruch: Up until the “Southern Strategy” of the late 1960s, the GOP had a strong Left-Wing contingent…and the Democratic Party had a strong Right-Wing contingent (especially in the South…).

            For example, MLK was a Liberal Republican who often called Right-Wingers “Fascists,” and spoke derisively of Conservatism on many occasions…while many of the Conservatives who opposed Civil Rights legislation in the South were Democrats.

            The Southern Strategy was a ploy by the GOP (well-documented, and even apologized for by later GOP leaders) to exploit white fears of African-Americans. Up until that point, most African-Americans were Republicans, owing to the hardcore Left-Wingers known as the “Radical Republicans,” who were the most uncompromising foes of slavery…and most Southern Conservatives were Democrats. As a result of the Southern Strategy, these Southern Democrats became Republicans…and most African-Americans and Liberal Republicans switched to the Democratic Party.

            All of this is easily verified by Googling or picking up a history book.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Need I remind you of my age? You’re abstracting the newpaper reading I did through my adulthood.

          • Baruch, congrats on the bday! 😀

  • I found it quite interesting that Anthea Butler frequently refers to the NAR in terms of “heresy” and “heretics”. The roundabout way in which she makes these references is also revealing: it shows that she is not completely unaware of the cognitive dissonance involved in posing as a voice of tolerance and liberality while attacking people she disagrees with as “heretics”, and it simultaneously shows that as someone steeped for decades in Christian theology she simply cannot resist labeling people she disagrees with as heretics.

    The analysis of the NAR given in this article is completely worthless. One example: Posner states that “the alliance between non-charismatic evangelicals and the neo-Pentecostals dates back to the late 1970s.” But everyone knows that it goes back at two decades earlier than that to Billy Graham et al in the 50s. At that time anti-Communism provided both a personal motivation for the individuals who made up an army of missionaries ready to sally forth in Africa, Latin America and Asia to do spiritual combat against the spread of godless Communism, and it also provided an incentive for massive support for those efforts from Western corporations and governments. United against the common enemy of Marxism-Leninism, fanatical Christians became less concerned about who spoke in tongues and who didn’t and more focused on harvesting souls for Samael.

    Butler and Posner also try to dismiss the theology of the NAR as unsophisticated and unsystematic. This presupposes that other Christian theologies exist that are less of an insult to the intelligence of a rational human being than the mish-mash peddled by the NAR. Which is presupposing a lot.