Pagan Voices: Nels Linde, Gus diZerega, Shauna Aura Knight, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 12, 2013 — 34 Comments

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Nels Linde

Nels Linde

“Discussion of Paganism often centers around what a Pagan  is. Terms like “nature-centered” always come up, and occasionally reference to the spirituality of the countryside is spoken. I like to think of Pagans as people of the land. It is a vague term and many people can be considered people of the land without having any particular spiritual belief. I take some pride in the term Pagan. I am a Pagan connected to a piece of land. I realized recently what a rare relationship I have with land. I have lived on and had an intimate relationship with the same piece of land for thirty eight years. It is not so rare in rural areas where people often reside in the same location for generations. For people who associate their spiritual beliefs with the land, and for  Pagans, the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours in total solitude on an individual piece land is uncommon. I am not referring to the casual acts of living, work, and recreation, but time spent in meditation and direct observation of the land, its plants, and creatures.” – Nels Linde, on being ‘People of the Land.’

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“I think it is probably a much better idea to make sure that everything in interfaith work is contextualized and specific, even to the point of repeatedly emphasizing “This is how it works for my tradition; others do differ, and often widely.” The more of this kind of specific, authentic, and contextualized interfaith work that occurs, the better the understanding of our diverse religious viewpoints there will be in the wider landscape of modern religious people of all varieties. Likewise, the more that pagan interfaith work ends up being a rehash of Wicca (or, at best, Wicca-like practices) to the detriment of any other possibility, and the more that individuals who have no intention of representing viewpoints other than their own, and who have no interest in nor even respect for such viewpoints, go about speaking on behalf of everyone and are not called out for doing so, the worse off we’ll all be for these supposed efforts that such individuals get praised for and have made their own brand-name. I find myself in the position of not finding it possible to praise the work, or the individuals responsible for it, when the work in question is actively marginalizing some groups (including my own) and is misinforming others. I therefore cannot approve of this type of “pagan interfaith” work unless it is done in an actual spirit of informed understanding and respect for the diversity within modern paganism (including polytheism!), rather than simply giving the thoughts of a majority for convenience’s sake and representing that majority as the only worthwhile viewpoint to take seriously in an interfaith context.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, responding to  Don Frew’s article ‘The Rudiments of Neopagan Spiritual Practice,’ and stressing the need for better interfaith and intrafaith communication. 

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“These books stressed a background in ritual and practice.  They came out of what was primarily, in the Western world, a Protestant Christian culture.  So much of their training (and mine) focused on breaking the conditioning of that culture.  We concentrated on releasing “either, or” thinking and learning “yes, and” thinking.  We fought long, hard battles with ourselves and others about whether or not Witchcraft was evil and wrong because the Bible objected to it.  We were products of our time, fighting for recognition, fighting over feminism, fighting over gender and issues of sexuality.  All of these were results of breaking our conditioning. Well guys, the battle is over.  Millennials did not grow up in a Protestant Christian culture.  Instead, many of them are lotus-eaters lulled by the Cult of Mammon, who are used to being acted upon rather than acting, often apathetic towards the issues that the previous generation fought so passionately about. The books that have informed their Craft were written by Christopher PenczakRaven Grimassi and T. Thorn Coyle, who are all about experience and transcendence.  They grew up with feminism, with Gay Pride, and with a sense of entitlement to all forms of equality.  They don’t need to break their “either, or” conditioning; they’ve already been raised to understand “yes, and.”  They are used to high-speed internet and instant gratification.  They are interested in direct, personal gnosis, and they don’t want to waste a lot of time to get it.” – Sable Aradia, on reaching a new generation of Witches, a response of sorts to the Sarah Lawless article on breaking tradition.

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“The tolerant Christian views of men like John Locke gave moral energy to liberalism, but in the eyes of many, the science that liberalism generated wiped out those views’ biblical foundations. If those ethics were a kind of moral social capital, by now they have been largely used up, which is why liberals of all sorts seem so frustratingly passive when attacked by authoritarian nihilism. This is why Pagans engaging in interfaith work can contribute well beyond our numbers to the spiritual well-being of humanity. A transition to a world emphasizing sacred Immanence and the sacred Feminine holds open the promise of rooting modernity in spiritual traditions that are in harmony with such a society, rather than hostile to it. Ironically, such a shift is also in harmony with what scientists are discovering about thegenuinely moral behavior arising within the natural world: that the working out of logic itself in the long run advantages the good guys, and that cooperating in society is by far the most successful evolutionary strategy for success. But of course, that is what we would expect of Spirit if it were immanent.” – Gus diZerega, on why Pagans should work with other religions.

Lance Parkin

Lance Parkin

“When Moore says ‘magic’ he usually means something most people would call ‘creativity’, or a gift of expression, of art affecting the way we experience the world. He’s summed it up as saying that art does all the things magic spells are meant to – want someone to fall in love with you? Write them a love poem. Want to conjure up a million pounds? Write Watchmen. I find it very easy to gloss ‘magic’ as a strategy for Moore to shake up his writing techniques. Writing’s all about finding new ways to say things, or it should be, and it’s easy to fall into self-parody, to find yourself repeating yourself. Moore’s got a system to avoid that. At the same time, there’s clearly more to it. Like Philip K Dick and others before him, Moore’s had mystical experiences that he can’t get his mind around, least of all describe in words. There’s something deeply personal – unique – in his head, it’s clearly something he believes. He, more than anyone, appreciates how silly it sounds. I do not have the gift of telepathy, and I’m humble enough to admit that if Alan Moore can’t find the words, it would be a fool’s errand for me to try. My arch rationalist side looks at the stuff he’s produced under the influence, and concludes that whatever he’s on, it seems to be working. Promethea is gaudy, convoluted and based on a philosophy that seems to be the direct opposite of the way the real world functions to the point at times it insults reason? Well, yes, but if we’re counting so’s Captain America.” – Lance Parkin, author of a new biography of Alan Moore, on Moore’s belief in magic, and how he (as a staunch rationalist) approached that chapter of the book.

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

“Our brains are wired to run on the power of story, the power of myth. I could go on a big bender about Joseph Campbell and myth and the hero’s journey, but I’ll just sum up. Myth is powerful. Myths will tell you a lot about the culture that created them. And myths can change a culture too. Myths–stories–tell a culture what’s important, who’s in power, how we should act. The problem is, our popular myths these days are largely funded by corporate interests. Ultimately, the most pervasive stories out there are the stories like the American Dream, which gets bent and twisted into, “You are not successful until you have brand new shiny things.” It creates one of the primary dysfunctions of our dominant culture–the culture of want. I want, I want, I want. We are always wanting that “big shiny” that is just out of reach. We are being advertised to and marketed to to feel that we are “less than” if we don’t have the coolest (whatever it is). A new couch. A new car.” – Shauna Aura Knight, on media, myth, and mind control.

Niki Whiting

Niki Whiting

“I started this blog two and half years ago while living in Wales. At the time I was debating whether or not quit the PhD program I was enrolled in. I had a 3 year old and a 5 month old. I wanted to write outside of academia and I felt I needed some structure to help me focus. I ended up quitting my program and never looked back. My family moved back to the United States, and I am now pregnant with my third child (due in May). Through the explorations I started in my first year of blogging I found practices that spoke to my spirit and produced the kinds of results I had been hoping to find. A Witch’s Ashram runs with what worked: my continuing study and practice of Anderson Feri witchcraft and tantric Hinduism. I have teachers for the former tradition and am self-taught for the latter one, so far. I consider myself dually observant. You’ll find discussions of both practices here, as well as topics that relate to the wider Pagan community. I use my theological background and former experience as a Christian to explore topics and review books that tilt toward the Christian side of things. I often look at the intersection of being a mystic and Pagan and a parent.” - Niki Whiting, who gives a welcome from her new blog home at the Patheos Pagan Channel.

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“My point is that, in my experience and observations, those who over-indulge in (the idea or even facade of) relativistic outlooks basically hide behind a sense of faux-tolerance, as if having judgments or opinions different from the mainstream would be earth-shattering. Similarly in my experience, it WOULD be earth-shattering for a great many people: unresolved personal issues and areas of self-ignorance would come to light, judgments that we cast upon ourselves and then disjointedly project outward at others would rise up and boil stinkily over into the fires of self-evaluation. But I’m all about uprisings and shaking the earth. What is the point of relationship if everything remains static? And that’s the thing about relativism as it is popularly practiced: its deployment seeks to establish a “static” (artificial) understanding of things. “Tolerance” is in this context and my estimation just another way of saying “Hey everybody, let’s try really hard not to rock the boat, because then we might have to actually do the real work of bringing about change and an increase in knowledge!”. Relativism is a toolset for suspending one’s own judgment in the pursuit of understanding others; it is a FIRST look, a FIRST step, not the whole damn process.” - Anomalous Thracian, on relativism, tolerance, and acceptance.

Macha

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

“Let’s face it: established religions such as Christianity in its many forms, were created and gained ascendency in other times and places.  There was no threat of nuclear annihilation, no looming environmental degradation, no water shortage, no organ transplants, no vaccinations against such diseases as smallpox and polio.  Those religions addressed the concerns of the peoples in other times and places.  Further, few of these religious institutions adapted to changing circumstances.  Nowadays some are trying to be more relevant, often by adopting practices, such as involving lay people in their rituals and dancing during worship. In the years since Paganism has become visible, particularly in academia and interfaith, we have gained credibility in the wider world, and although we remain a religious minority, we have not done much in the way of establishing lasting institutions. There was a time when I was still too close to that against which I was rebelling and too chafed by the institutions I was escaping that I resisted any talk of Pagan institutions.  Sam Webster has convinced me that by creating institutions, we will have a lasting legacy that will survive our individual lives.  The institution to which I’ve devoted the most time and energy for the last 12 years or so is Cherry Hill Seminary, for many reasons, not the least of which is that I find intellectual discernment to be in short supply, drowned out by the noises of UPG (unverified/unverifiable personal gnosis) woowoo.”- Aline “Macha” O’Brien, on building Pagan institutions.

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

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Great round-up. Thanks especially for Nels Linde’s excellent piece; I’d love to have him and Wendell Berry at the same table!

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Good collection.

    I heartily agree with Nels Linde, being Landisc myself. I feel it is not the most popular stance, though, as connection with the land and the local Wihta does somewhat go against the concept of omnipresence.

    I also find myself strongly agreeing with P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and his stance on interfaith. Too many people are treating Paganism as a monolithic entity, whilst it really is not. In Don Frew’s article, to which P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is responding, we see “Heathenism” included in the Pagan umbrella. More and more I see Heathens distancing themselves from Paganism, yet Pagans still claim to represent them. Before the Pagan, and related, communities can engage in interfaith with the other, established religions, should there not be interfaith between the different religions currently crowding under the umbrella?

    • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

      But isn’t it a bit of a false dilemma to suggest that all beings can only be grounded in local geography or be omnipresent? Can’t both types of beings, or many that fall somewhere in the middle, exist? Wouldn’t the existence of all types of beings be well attested in most polytheistic cultures?

      • Franklin_Evans

        I see a different angle, but I want to start with stating a strong sympathy with your questions, Kauko.

        I see it as almost completely subjective, even to the extent that a belief system has a pantheon like the one you describe: both types and those who fall in between.

        I can only offer a personal comparison point, not meaning it to be argumentative: I am a non-theist, meaning I reject explicit anthropomorphism in favor of a sort of Platonic approach. The symbols, names and labels I use are conveniences, not definitional. For me, there is one entity immanent in my world, and I describe it in different ways under differing circumstances.

        I have a conceit that this gives me some valid claim to understanding how monotheists approach this. The rest is, as they say, commentary. YMMV.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          It is not about saying that “This is how it is!”, but merely respectfully disagreeing about differing stances.

          For example, you are a non-theist, whilst I am an alatristic geographical (hard) polytheist. We have different ways of viewing the Wihta, but we can still be civil about our differences. It is belief, not knowledge, after all. (Regardless of how strong one’s personal convictions may be.)

          • Franklin_Evans

            Would you mind posting a brief explanation of “Wihta”? Google search is pointless, with nothing remotely relevant to your context here and mostly search-engine decisions that I’m misspelling “with a” or don’t know how to spell “Wichita”. Thanks.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Plural of “Wiht” Ænglisc. Modern English has “Wight”. Essentially means “Being”.

            Gods, monsters, giants, elves and everything else. to use a term I really dislike “Supernatural entities”.

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            I believe it’s an older form of the word ‘wight’.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Well, I guess you could call Ymir omnipresent…

        • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

          I’m thinking more in terms of the middle here, though. I, for example, am obviously not omnipresent. I’m currently limited to where I presently am, although I can extend my awareness farther via technology. But, I’m also not stuck where I am. If I choose to, I can get up and go over to the next county, state, country, continent etc. As gods are more powerful beings than I am, I don’t see why they couldn’t have the same, or greater, capacity. For me, polytheism is not just worshiping many beings, but also acknowledging many types of beings: that can include local spirits of nearby trees, mountains, rivers etc as well as gods who can move beyond the local.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Whilst Wōden, Thunor and others often went wandering across the lands, I would not call them omnipresent, as that denotes being everywhere all the time. The gods have heartlands, they are just larger than some.

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            That’s why I said I’m thinking in terms of the middle, i.e. the middle of complete localization and omnipresence.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’m one of those annoying people who sees the omni- claims as binary. They are either all-present or they are not.

            Wōden, for example, has the potential to be all-seeing, when he uses Hēahsetl. But seeing and being are different things.

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            Woden has a palantír?!

          • Franklin_Evans

            Well, sort of. Tolkien kinda borrowed a lot. Look up the historical references for the name “Gandalf”. :-D

            Oh, and “mordor” appears in the OED entry for the word “murder”.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            In Gylfaginning, of the Prose Edda, we can read:

            “There is one abode called Hlidskjálf, and when Allfather sat in
            the high-seat there, he looked out over the whole world and saw every man’s acts, and knew all things which he
            saw.”

            (Trans. Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur)

          • kenofken

            He did, but I’m pretty sure the NSA has it now!

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        And then there is the whole problem of migration. And this is actually a rather huge problem.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Not that huge a problem, if you consider gods of place and gods of people. Some peoples were nomadic, and their Wihta would go with them, or they would see different (but similar) Wihta in different places.

          • Jo Lynx

            Sounds like you agree with at least some of the concepts explored in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, as I do

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Not read it.

          • Franklin_Evans

            Like any author, Gaiman is not going to be liked by everyone. I read the Thomas Covenant trilogy by Stephen R. Donaldson when it came out, and when I finished I dubbed it the all-time best work of literature I’d ever read that I would never re-read.

            Gaiman’s “American Gods” can strike the reader in that way. I believe every Pagan and Heathen should read it once, if only to offer opinions about how he treated some deities as characters or otherwise told their story in his way.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’ll get round to it, eventually, no doubt. I seldom read fiction any more, and I prefer Gaiman’s work with comics to his novels (both of which are far superior to his bastardising of Bēoƿulf).

    • Deborah Bender

      Both conversations can go on at the same time, and are in fact do go on. When the Pagan community was smaller, leaders and teachers of various groups knew each other and carried on such conversations by letter or face to face, and had time to read the publications of many groups other than their own. Many witches are dual practitioners of some other pagan path.

      The community has grown in size and diversity to the point where mutual understanding takes more effort on all sides. Witches have been doing this. Glenn Turner, who is a witch, puts on Pantheacon, a huge annual event that regularly includes presenters from various recon groups, Lucumi and Voudon, several varieties of ceremonial magic, etc. As for Heathenry, I’m looking at one evening’s programming from the 2012 Pantheacon and it includes a talk by Steve Abel and a session of oracular Seidh. Don Frew was one of the organizers of an intrafaith day last year in San Francisco called People of the Earth. It was attended by practitioners of a couple of dozen different pagan religions, including Maya and other indigenous practitioners. I believe there is a report on this event in the Covenant of the Goddess Interfaith blog at http://www.cog.org (look for the link at the very top of the home page.)

      If the majority of Heathens want to leave the Pagan big tent, of course they will. If they want to stay, they are welcome to stay. No one is stopping adherents of the northern traditions from speaking for themselves.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Good roundup, Jason. Though guided to Paganism by a UPG I’ve never let go of my Unitarian Universalist-nurtured intellectual discernment. Though a practitioner of Boilerplate Wicca — mostly because I need some structure — and though irked by some attitudes shown by Recons on TWH, I certainly don’t want to see their presence marginalized in pan-Pagan venues.

  • Don Frew

    Since P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ piece is an excerpt from his longer article on his blog, I would like to share the response to that article I posted there…
    —————————

    I appreciate the opportunity to respond to some the statements made above.

    First, if I gave offense at that PantheaCon program, I sincerely apologize. As I remember that panel – which I thought went very well – I was mobbed afterward with people asking questions and making comments. I was very aware of the PantheaCon folks trying to get us all out of the room to prep for the next program. I was trying to move us all along to continue the discussion out in the hall. If I was short with you, I am very sorry. Such was not my intent.

    My response to your question about “intrafaith” goes to the issues of language that seem to have plagued this discussion. In the wider interfaith world, “intrafaith” specifically refers to efforts to find common belief and practice. In many ways it is synonymous with ecumenicism. Intrafaith discussions are on topics like finding theological agreement on language for the Lord’s Prayer. As such, I don’t really think it applies to “Earth Religions (using that as the most inclusive term I can think of for this particular context). We tend to use “intrafaith” more to refer to networking and education between various neo-Earth Religion groups. So, when an “Earth Religionist” asks me about “intrafaith” I always do a double-take and try to think about what the person means in the immediate discussion. THAT is what you were seeing, not a lack of interest on my part. I wish we had had more time to follow up on this.

    Interfaith work means preparing to discuss one’s spirituality in everything form long discussions to short sound-bites. The assignment for the article in The Interfaith Observer was “1200 words addressing interfaith prayer from the indigenous perspective.” In my cover letter to the editor I stressed my usual concerns: 1200 words is enough when one is writing from the perspective of one, well-known denomination, but NOT when you have to explain a whole multitude of “denominations” that are virtually unknown to most of the readers. Interfaith prayer is not common in many of our paths, since many of us don’t do interfaith work. Prayer is not universal in our paths. There is not ONE “indigenous perspective”. etc. The result was to either have no article at all or to do the best I could to address the topic as I understand it. I chose the latter.

    As anyone who has attended any of my workshops on doing interfaith work knows, I always tell people to stress that there many kinds of Neopagans. (Sorry, but “Pagans” and “Neopagans” are the words they know. I have been working of getting them to understand “Heathens” for several years now. It took years to get them to understand that Druids weren’t male Witches.) Fortunately, ever since the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions and the advent of “Interfaith 2.0″ the focus has moved away from official representatives speaking as diplomats for their religious groups to individual practitioners speaking for themselves and their own experiences. The readers of The Interfaith Observer come from that context. Readers will assume that I am speaking for my own experience and not giving the official theological view of any group.

    And speaking of my own experience… I ran my article by two different Heathens before submitting it. Neither had any complaints. I have discussed the ideas in my article at great length with Shinto priests from Japan & the US, Hindu priests from India & the US, African shamans from several sub-Saharan countries, a Maori Elder Council spokesperson from New Zealand, a Taoist priest in the US, an Aymara shaman from Bolivia, a Maya priest from Guatemala, tribal elders from across Latin & North America, revered teachers of Chinese folk religion from Taiwan & Hong Kong, Afro-diasporic spiritual leaders from Brazil & Nigeria, and many more. Every single one of these teachers believed that the Gods & Goddess (by whatever names were used in their traditions) were our most direct link to the spiritual unity that underlies everything. Based on this and my own study of ancient Paganisms as a Religious Studies major at UC Berkeley, it is clear to me that polytheistic panentheistic monism is far and away the most common (nearly universal) understanding of the cosmos found in “Pagan” (in the broadest sense) religions. I have no problem speaking from this position, while always acknowledging that there are always groups with other views.

    I like to say that as religions seeing the Divine manifest in and as the material world, we have to expect that the Divine is both as unified and at the same time at least as diverse as is the natural world. There is one Earth, but innumerable climates and geographies, flora and fauna. It should be no surprise that our spiritualities reflect this.

    Yes, it appears that Wicca dominates the interfaith scene. But please understand a few things…

    1) You wince at the word “Pagan”, but as a Gardnerian, I wince every time “Wicca” is used synonymously with modern Witchcraft, but I accept that this has become the common usage and don’t waste precious time trying to explain the differences between Trads unless I have the time to spend. You have to pick your opportunities for education as much as you pick your battles.

    2) Witches have been actively involved in interfaith work – by which I mean working in meetings at least weekly – for over 28 years. Of course the interfaith community is going to equate “Pagan” with “Wiccan”, no matter how much we try to explain that they are using both words incorrectly. The ONLY way that is going to change is for more people of different Trads (or whatever) to get involved. I have been trying for years. I host an annual gathering of People of the Earth through the interfaith Center at the Presidio, but only the “palaeo-Pagan” groups stay connect with the interfaith community (the Taoists, the Hindus, the African and American indigenous people, etc.). On our side, there are more and more Witches getting involved. We would LOVE to have a wider diversity present, but we can’t force you to show up.

    3) When Jason posted the link to my article in the Wild Hunt, there were 50 mostly-angry responses in the comments section. There are still NO comments in the comments section in The Interfaith Observer. If you disagree, speak up! I request that you do so in the spirit of education and increased understanding and not make us look like a bunch of back-biters, but by all means, express your point of view as a different take on what it means to be Pagan / Heathen. I don’t understand why people care enough about what I said to complain about my articles to audiences that will already agree with the complaints, but take no time to educate the people who are – supposedly – being so misinformed.

    Witches have made the advancements we have had by sticking our necks out to educate a public that believed we were all baby-murdering Devil-worshipers. We are now experiencing the reward of all that effort and have made things much easier for the next group that wants to emerge. If any other traditions want to do the same thing and are seriously interested in engaging in interfaith work (and make no mistake, it IS work), we are eager to help. The more of us speaking up, the more influence each of us will have.

    When the United Religions Initiative held its first Global Assembly in Rio de Janeiro in 2002, at one point I suddenly found myself on a stage with a camera and microphone in my face. “Why is interfaith important?”, the guy with the mic asked. I said: “We all want to see change in the world – an end to violence, increased care and respect for the planet, equality between men and women, an end to hunger and poverty. Well, the only true change comes about through changing people’s minds. Nothing has more influence over people’s minds than religion. Religions coming together to work cooperatively for the betterment of humanity and the Earth has the potential to be the most powerful force for positive change in the history of the world. As a person with a deep spiritual connection with the Earth – with a responsibility to help my family, my friends, my community – how can I not be involved?”

    How can WE not be involved? Mikhail Gorbachev said that “For all that divides us, we have but one planet.” This should speak even more profoundly to US. I invite you to do some serious investigation and reading on what is already going on in the world of national and global interfaith work. Check out The Interfaith Observer, the United Religions Initiative, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and if this work inspires you – as it does so many of us – get involved locally. Find your local interfaith group. We can help make connections. If there isn’t a group, start one. The URI makes it very easy to create a Cooperation Circle.

    Thanks & Blessed Be,
    Don Frew

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    In my opinion diZerega is wrong to refer to Locke’s “tolerant Christian views”. Locke’s views on religious tolerance had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, Locke’s views on religious tolerance represented a complete break with the entire history of Christianity up to that time. There is absolutely no evidence of any conception of religious tolerance anywhere in all of the New Testament, the early church “fathers”, or later theologians up through the early modern period.

    Locke was a true son of the Enlightenment. The liberal and tolerant views associated with the Enlightenment are directly correlated to the precipitous decline in the power and influence of Christianity.

    Although Locke himself was never inclined to publicly reject Christianity, his views on tolerance were so significant precisely because Locke explicitly extended his conception of religious freedom to all religions, not just to approved forms of Protestant Christianity, which was the more usual case at the time.

    “No private person has any right in any manner to prejudice another person in his civil enjoyments because he is of anotherchurch or religion. All the rights and franchises that belong to him as a man, or as a denizen, are inviolably to be preserved to him. These are not the business of religion. No violence nor injury is to be offered him, whether he be Christian or Pagan.”

    John Locke

    • Gus diZerega

      Perhaps Apuleius should read some history rather than using favorite quotes (and it IS a great quote). Locke wrote his Letter Concerning Toleration after living in exile in the very Christian Netherlands. Due to the chaos of the Thirty Years War most of Europe was plunged into disaster, but not the Netherlands because the country was sufficiently diverse religiously that many otherwise hostile Christian groups were tolerated. Before emigration to America many minority sects went there. Anyway, his essay had a big impact in English society, which goes against Apuleius’s argument.

      For those interested, here is the text. http://www.constitution.org/jl/tolerati.htm Anyone able to read will see it is put in explicitly Christian terms but focused on civil society, not who is right or wrong religiously. Millions died from that concern and the Netherlands prospered because they were not much concerned.

      From his experience Locke got his idea of a wider religious toleration and developed ideas James Madison would make central parts of Federalist 10, when defending the Constitution. Locke is using secular reasoning in the quotation, but he himself was a Christian. Indeed, his doctrine of human rights on which his political philosophy was based had a liberal Christian foundation, and it is the erosion of that foundation that has precipitated the current nihilism that is the defining moral characteristic of American society. (My new book goes into this at length.)

      Locke always spoke of himself as a Christian and made his influential arguments in a Christian society. Locke was a pretty systematic thinker and he would be well acquainted with the problem that if you tolerated only Christianity people would start killing one another over not being the right Christians. Better to make a simple principle- God is in charge of His stuff, governments only should care if you are a good citizen. Period. Further, he argued government arose from peaceful people coming together to create it- making it subject to them, not God. It would be inconsistent for him not to tolerate Muslims and Pagans given his arguments.

      As the Quakers also prove, Locke was hardly alone. Had he been he would have had little impact. It was possible for principled toleration to emerge among Christians in a Christian setting. Look at how William Penn wanted Pennsylvania run. Due to Christianity’s claims of being the only way, this position will always be an unstable principle in a Christian context, in my view, (Penn’s view for example did not much outlast his death in the strong sense.) But this claim, which I have made for many years, is far different from Apuleius’s claims.

      • Gus diZerega

        I am intrigued by the vote downs. I gave many historical counter examples as well as Locke’s own life to suggest Apuleius was mistaken and did not think very deeply about the issue. No one has suggested a rebuttal. But three have as of this time voted my reply “down.” It seems elements in our community are acting like the worst of Christian and political commentators- picking sides on tribal lines rather than due to arguments. Sad, really.

        • kenofken

          I don’t know that you and Apuleius really have a fundamental or irreconcilable difference of opinion. He seems to be saying tolerance did not arise from Christianity. You say it arose from within Christianity. Both are true, in a very real sense. Prior to the Enlightenment, Christianity certainly had no tradition of tolerance or freedom of religion, with the possible asterisk of the very earliest days before doctrine was standardized by force. Institutional Christianity was not at all tolerant. It was about a confessional state, if not outright theocracy, and it held itself to have Heaven’s mandate to purify the souls and society with red hot irons if that’s what it took.

          Men such as Locke were able to articulate how tolerance can and should work in a Christian context, but their ideas were not organic to Christian theology. They were heretical to them. They were able to succeed only because the forces of protestantism had laid a foundation of anti-clericalism (though certainly not tolerance), and because of the economic advancements of the age. By Locke’s time, the Netherlands was about making serious bank in trade and venture capital and speculation. In cities like Amsterdam, people lived on top of each other, and toleration made a lot of sense. You can’t make money if the place is constantly on fire from religious strife, and you can’t spend it if your head is on a pike someplace for being on the “wrong” side of Christianity.

          In a very real sense, the tolerant values of Locke, and Penn, and certainly the Baptists, were self-serving. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Most innovations happen that way, but tolerant strains of Christianity sprang not from some inherent benevolence within the religion, but because the values of “mo’ money” trumped enforced piety. As you note yourself, this value of tolerance remains alien to much of that religion to this day. It will persist only so long as it is nurtured through the values of plural democracy, an educated populace and functional secular institutions.

          • Franklin_Evans

            Kenofken, your post and especially that final paragraph are a perfect rebuttal to the core Christian tenet of proselytism (evangelism, the Great Commission, whatever). I see it as the single worst obstacle to trusting Christian tolerance.

            No brooms were injured in the previous sweeping generalization. There are plenty of individual Christians in my life who’ve earned my complete trust. That’s beside my point.

          • Gus diZerega

            Well said and mostly we agree.

            The central weakness in almost all Christianity vis-à-vis other spiritual traditions is its claim to exclusivity. When
            different people interpret scripture differently, given the opportunity, many Christians will seek to suppress ‘error.’ This is so even absent the addiction to power and domination thatgrows from having power.

            Roman and Byzantine history exemplify this point. But once a universal empire breaks down, as happily did Rome, alternative interpretations using the same reasoning can establish other centers for spiritual suppression, but choosing different interpretations to
            honor. The result is war, as happened repeatedly for centuries and reached a climax in the Thirty Years War.

            My argument differs from how I read Apuleius because out of this, with no enlightenment reasoning at all, can come the argument for tolerating other Christians or “people of the book”, because as any honest observer could see after a while, the alternative is catastrophic.

            Once this shift takes place and people are free to decide for themselves the range of ideas that can be extracted from Scripture balloons. Some, Locke apparently among them, saw ‘Caesar’ and ‘God’ as two distinct realms best left unmixed. There is plenty of scriptural support for this. As such government should be based on consent and good behavior alone. Forced belief is not genuine belief. Out of this falls Locke’s writings on government and toleration.

            Remember, ‘toleration’ does NOT imply approval. I tolerate a lot of things I wish were otherwise. In my view spiritually we should celebrate diversity, not toleration, a Christian concept.

            To Apuleius’s argument I add one important player: Power. When power can be concentrated interpretations of scripture in favor of totalitarian domination apparently have the edge. It is too valuable a prize for the intolerant to abandon. But when Power is not concentrated readings of scripture emphasizing toleration can get a hearing and, importantly, are as much in keeping with its message as alternative interpretations. I deny that a definitive interpretation of a complex, and possibly even a simple, sacred script is possible, in any religion.

            Apuleius seems to say Locke was not a Christian. We will never know. Locke described himself as an Anglican, but he was hardly orthodox if that was true. Some friends of
            his thought he was a Christian, but he assisted Newton who was apparently a secret Arian. But Arians while heretical at the time, considered themselves Christians. We get to the endless argument of who is or is not a Christian, one I prefer to avoid.

            Hence the importance of other examples beyond Locke.

            That’s why I mentioned the Quakers. Voltaire admired
            them. He was hardly a Christian and about as big an Enlightenment figure as you can find. Their founder, George Fox, was in NO sense an Enlightenment figure. He represents what can emerge from a spiritual tradition once Power and Domination are removed and people begin to think for themselves.

            To me the bottom line here is that Apuleius argues ideas for toleration came from extra-Christian Enlightenment thinking. I argue this was not so. We agree that Christianity is intrinsically biased towards intolerance, but I argue that wise and intelligent Christians can support toleration, even for non-Christians, on Lockean terms as understood from a more liberal understanding of scripture. Or as Quakers show, even without Lockean reasoning.

        • Franklin_Evans

          I appreciate the functionality of expressing a basic opinion with the click of an icon. It prevents the major clutter of a slew of “me, too” posts, at the least. I also find it rather… odd that the down vote icon doesn’t display the user names when the cursor is over it.

          I’d prefer to withold judgment absent an explanation for that, but I can’t help asking the question: Why is it considered safe to publicly vote a post up, but not to publicly vote it down?

          • Nick Ritter

            The possibility of retribution, perhaps? Even though (perhaps explicitly because) that retribution might be limited to this forum?

            As I play through different scenarios in my head – and as much as I have sincerely wanted to know who is downvoting my posts and others’ in the past – it seems like protecting the anonymity of those who disagree enough with a post to click an icon registering their disagreement might mitigate against some fairly tiresome arguments.