Culture and Community: Exploring The Pathology of Reactivity in Modern Paganism

Crystal Blanton —  July 18, 2014 — 90 Comments

This past week ­ several pieces hit the internet that focused attention on Paganism and gathered a response from Pagans. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest and blogger on Patheos, wrote two pieces discussing views about Paganism and judgments about those who follow the path. Many Pagans interpreted Longenecker’s writing to be an attempt to poke fun at Paganism, which has led to the discussions, comments and angst often seen when misinformation is published about the community.  The Huffington Post also posted an article this week about Pagans; it was a small piece about Pat Robinson’s most recent blaming of Witchcraft, or the Occult, for a child’s painful stomach pains on a recent episode of the 700 Club.

kick computer

courtesy of pixabay.com

The internet has a way of broadcasting many different types of drama far and wide. Anyone’s opinion can become the talk of a community, an “expert opinion,” and it sometimes travels far beyond the boundaries it was originally intending to reach. The internet has it’s perks; it has greatly increased access to information. Yet it has also contributed greatly to spreading misinformation as well. The Pagan community is no stranger to being on the receiving end of misinformation, and the challenges of being a minority religious group can be exacerbated as a result.

While the content of articles like those mentioned are not really the focus of my discussion, the effect that they have on the tone of the Pagan community are. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog, Standing On My Head, received in excess of 150 comments between the two posts on Paganism, and many of them exhibited what we see happen when this type of issue arises on the interwebs. Posts and incidents like these are not new for the Pagan community; yet they gather the same level of intensity in response repeatedly. What happens for marginalized communities when they feel disrespected, misrepresented, undervalued or intentionally called out? Are the responses we see coming from a place of anger, worry, fear, anxiety, or even hyper-vigilance?

The functioning of the internet can act much like a vacuum, making it hard to conceptualize the range of responses and feelings that are triggered when all we can see is what is on the screen. In light of this understanding, the responses and chaos generated on the internet may not be the only response but it is often the predominant one in the community for those who choose to engage.  It appears that a large majority of those who do respond to these types of posts come from a position of frustration. It is important to explore how feelings of marginalization challenge healthy and productive relationships that further connectivity within greater society, and how it impacts community sustainability.

There were many responses on the recent blog posts at Standing on My Head that appeared more informational than emotional in nature, but a large majority of the comments were what we often see during these types of triggering events. Here are some examples of the range of responses posted on one of the pieces.

This post is unworthy of someone who calls himself a priest. That a religion doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of respect and protection for its followers. – John Beckett

Your mistake is that you assume you understand the motivation of a pagan, and you are sure it can’t be an actual spiritual belief. It must be attention-seeking behavior. This is just ignorance on your part. Ignorance CAN be fixed, if you’re willing. – Michael Hardy

I am disappointed in the tone of this article, its lack of tolerance, and its complete lack of research and fact-checking. hardly a great contribution to interfaith dialogue. – Yewtree

It seems that you are under some misconceptions regarding Neo-Paganism. Neo-Paganism (Or just plain Paganism, if you will) is not something practiced by those “looking for attention”. In fact, what we do, we do simply because it seems right to us – in very much the same way that going to confession once seemed normal to a Catholic. – Deirdre Hebert

How do these types of attention-arousing incidents harm the overall tone of the Pagan community and why do we feel that they garner so much momentum on the web? David Dashifen Kees was one of the bloggers from the Patheos Pagan channel who engaged in the comment sections of the post. He took a different approach to the dialog. I reached out and asked David some questions on why he was inspired to approach the discussion the way he did.

Crystal Blanton:  It appeared from your comment on the recent Catholic blog that you chose to take the educational route with the blogger. Is this your normal approach when responding to inaccurate information published on the web?

David Dashifen Kees: Inaccurate information is just that:  inaccurate.  The people who believe it are simply wrong.  Further, inaccuracies can, and should, be corrected and so my response is always to reach toward education before denigration.  This is actually why I like the Patheos model of allowing posts like the ones in the past week that caused such a stir; they create a teachable moment and every visitor to those articles, and others like them, might learn from it.  The key is to try and identify when a person is deliberately, willfully choosing to remain misinformed. In these cases, I’ve found that there’s little you accomplish via direct, verbal communication and appeals to reason.  Instead, experiential education — what the Interfaith Youth Corps calls common action for the common good — usually works better but obviously the Internet cannot facilitate that sort of thing.

CB:  Why do you feel that the Pagan community often reacts to such information with anger? Do you think this is similar to the way that other marginalized groups respond within greater society?

DDK: This is a harder question for me to answer because, other than my religious community, I’m not really a part of a marginalized group in society.  I guess, back when nerds weren’t cool, that was a thing, but these days even my profession and hobbies have a certain cachet.  That being said, I think that it’s perfectly natural to react defensively, with anger or not, when facing intolerant or objectionable behavior.  In fact, I think to stand up against such behavior is at least as important as trying to educate those who are performing it.  My only worry related to this sort of interaction is that it might simply dissolve into a series of ad hominem declarations rather than focusing on the situation at hand.

CB: What do you often want to see when responding to pieces that give out misinformation about Paganism? Do you have an objective in mind that informs your response tactics?

DDK: My objective, whenever I try to engage someone else a topic I care deeply about — religious or otherwise, is simply to be able to state my case.  I can’t really control whether or not they believe me or find my points compelling, though I do spend a lot of time online crafting my responses to try and make them as appealing as possible.  Especially in situations like the ones that arose from the Patheos Catholic channel in the last week, I know that my comments are going to be attached to that article for as long as that content remains online.  They, therefore, stand as a testimony not just to my points, but all the moments when Pagan and others stood up to the not just the author of the posts, but also the others who, frankly, said far worse things in the comments about non-Catholic religious communities than even the author.

courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/wavyday/4557938166/

courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/wavyday/4557938166/

David gives interesting insight into what motivates many people when facing broadcasted inaccuracies: a chance to tell the story. It is quite common for marginalized groups to have a collective response to triggering things, and a shared experience of being “othered,” stripping the chance to feel heard and a part of the actual conversations that need to happen. Is this the same type of hyper-vigilance and response that we see in populations of people who have a history of marginalization, oppression and engagement in protective measures as a part of their cultural experience? It is quite possible that the pattern of responding to intolerance within the Pagan community correlates with many other groups that find themselves in similar positions within the greater societal framework.

The Pagan community goes through periods of recycling the many different ways that collective harm has been perpetuated onto its members from the overculture of society and from within the Pagan community itself. Yet, we do not often look collectively at how patterns and cultures are developed, in part, by being continuously subjected to environmental factors. In social work we refer to what is called “PIE”, Person In Environment, illustrating how behavior, response, thought process, beliefs and culture are co-created by the environment in which people live. It is much like a pressure cooker, and the internet has the ability to create concentrated environments that perpetuate hostility and can be quite triggering.

Jason Mankey, author of Raise the Horns on the Patheos, wrote a rebuttal to the Catholic blogger’s article, and this is not unheard of in the pattern of community response when said incidents occur. In his piece he stated:

Catholicism is not my faith, but I don’t feel any animosity towards it. People should be feel free to choose whatever faith works for them as long as it it’s not harmful to anyone around them. I’d love to live in a world where everyone respected the choices of others, and barring that I’d be happy just to be left alone. Right now I mostly feel sorry for Mr. Longenecker, who knows what sort of wonderful things he’s missing out on by making unwarranted judgments?

While many Pagans express wanting to be left alone, we see behavior within our community that might suggest something altogether different. Validation, respect, acceptance and inclusivity are something that our collective behavior shows we are willing to engage in with others to obtain, and even fight for among ourselves. Yet we struggle in stopping to ask the very questions that might be the most important.

What do we want and why? And who are we willing to fight to get it? When do things become a part of the pathology of a certain culture? Is it a part of the collective Pagan pathology to ride the momentum of reaction to support something we feel is done unjustly to us? What does our behavior suggest?

In Mr. Longenecker assessment of our behavior, he states:

There’s the same kind of ‘Look at me. What are you staring at??’ double think within not only the neo pagans, but also among all the radical, revolutionary types.  They love to be revolutionary, challenge the status quo, shock people, scandalize ordinary folks and do crazy stuff, then they turn around and blame everyone else for marginalizing them, making them feel persecuted and not granting them equal rights. Like a petulant teenager they do everything they can to be weird, then when normal people raise eyebrows they get all surprised like a house dropped on them or something.

Maybe it is time to ask ourselves how much of this quite unfair assessment is laced with big pieces of truth.

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Crystal Blanton

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Crystal Blanton is an activist, writer, priestess, mother, wife and social worker in the Bay Area. She has published two books ("Bridging the Gap" and "Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World"), and was the editor of the anthology "Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism." She is a writer for Sage Woman and Patheos' Daughters of Eve blog. She is passionate about the integration of community, spirituality and healing from our ancestral past, and is an advocate for true diversity and multiculturalism within the Pagan community.
  • Cayce

    who decides “weird”?

  • Cayce

    sorry, not so web savvy, my question is “who decides what’s weird?” the author seems to think that we should count what folks who seldom care about us or our beliefs think over what spirit asks of us. while admittedly, some among us will try to push the envelope, many of us are stable, intelligent souls who aren’t afraid to be who we are. if that also translates into a unique personal style, what’s wrong with that ? I don’t think one needs to be just another cookie-cutter human to be taken seriously or have one’s beliefs respected. I also don’t see that the examples of the responding emails as only coming out of anger. the points raised(the intolerance, etc on the part of the catholic priest) are valid and should be addressed. I’m a witch because I’m a witch. it has nothing to do with “attention”. most of us have paid the price of being out in one way or another. the last thing I want is attention. I’m honoring my gods and goddesses. it isn’t called attention when christians do it. why would anyone assume it is for me.
    here in the rural south, most of us would simply like to live our lives without the fear of having our vehicles defaced(happened to me), losing jobs or our children(happened to me). the attitude of the priest and his article don’t help.

  • Deporodh

    Marginalization. A fancy way of saying, “back of the bus, Gus!”

    One week ago today, my bankruptcy attorney recommended re-wording the line item in my personal budget which listed the monthly expenses involved with my being priestess of my coven. I had carefully NOT used the word coven, nor witch, nor Wicca, because I did not want any red flags, so I spoke of the “expenses of clerical duties as priestess of my group.”

    And the attorney felt that the word “priestess” itself was a potential red flag. In discussing it, I mentioned that I was a “Seated Elder” of the New Wiccan Church. So…that line item in my budget for the bankruptcy petition as filed reads, “expenses of clerical duties as seated elder of my group.”

    In other words, for my clergy expenses to qualify as legit, it is a whole helluva lot safer for ME and my bankruptcy if I don’t trigger any bigotry on the part of the bankruptcy Trustees for Western Washington.

    Marginalized!

  • Elysia

    When I read the original piece by Longenecker, this line made me pause: “They
    love to be revolutionary, challenge the status quo, shock people, scandalize
    ordinary folks and do crazy stuff.”

    I honestly feel that there may have been that kind of motivation in the early days of Wicca. They viewed themselves as special and outside of society; just the mere notion of identifying with the archetype of the witch shows how they thought of themselves, as special, magical, outside the boundaries of normal acceptable society. Nude practices also served to reinforce that “this is not your mother’s spirituality.” This was something extreme, a statement about rejecting society’s hierarchies and expected behaviors.

    Nowadays, though? Pagans (I’m over-generalizing, but so be it) are trying so hard to fit in to gain mainstream acceptance and recognition I sometimes wonder how it changed so much. Now we’re trying to be part of interfaith dialogue, build lasting structures (whether physical or virtual), and magic is something that anyone can do because it’s natural and nope, not weird at all! Now we have our 501(c)3s and no one seems to ask: should we? What are we turning into? Are we codifying the one thing that can’t be codified, our personal spiritual experiences? Anyway, just my thoughts this Friday morning. :)

    • Gus diZerega

      In the early days most Witches met secretly.

      • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

        Agreed, Gus. And they also did many activities that were on “the fringe” of society, such as nudism and more. I think we do ourselves a disservice to history and to early practitioners of Wicca to skip over their “eccentricities”.

        • Gus diZerega

          Yes indeed. And in almost every case they had nothing to do with seeing oneself as a revolutionary. I know/knew some of those folks and am a Gardnerian, and for the most part the discussion of their motivations rings false to me. They mostly sought to be left alone. Even Gardner, who could be a showman at times, had different motivations. Check out Philip Heselton’s “Wiccan Roots.”

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

            Philip Heselton is awesome. Also check out Witchfather: http://www.thoth.co.uk/witchfather.html

          • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

            I thoroughly enjoyed “Witchfather” (both volumes) and it made me feel closer to GBG than ever before. I have yet to get a copy of “Wiccan Roots”, which is now on my list.

    • Crystal Hope Kendrick

      My thoughts very much echo yours, Elysia. I’m torn really. I love that we’re moving up in the world. I love that we have the beginnings of infrastructure and institutions. But then another part of me longs for the esoterica of my youth, when information was hard to come by, when you had to develop physical relationships. I get a feeling sometimes that appealing to larger groups of people might end up shifting us to a watered down spirituality. I fear that Paganisms will end up like the mainline churches that people attend just for the potlucks.

      • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

        Reminds me of the time I brought sushi to a Pagan picnic. How “mainstream” is that?

        • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

          Now, I want sushi….

      • Northern_Light_27

        I have to wonder if people attending “just for the potlucks” is so bad, really. I guess it depends on the Pagan religion in question, but from the standpoint of one that centers community-building, I’d rather hear “I came for the cookouts, because I really like this group of people and its ethics and think it’s a good place to bring my children” than “I came because god X called me in my dreams to be a priest and magic-worker (insert a bunch of completely ahistorical stuff here)”. People forming larger community around a more-involved spiritual core of people can mean watered down spirituality, but doesn’t have to– it can also mean the group is successful enough to putting its practice into, well, practice that not everyone feels they have to be exceptionally spiritually involved, a ritualist, a leader, etc.

        • Deborah Bender

          I sit firmly right on top of the fence about this :-)

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I think Northern Light nails it. Even those who just show up for the potlucks, show up for our potlucks. At my UU church the minister has started an adult religious education project that dangles digestible spiritual growth before the folks. I’m part of the cohort supporting it.

          • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

            I’m on a list that started out discussing women in religion, religious feminism, and the like. Too few students and ministers in our group these days, and we miss that. We’ve been in a “and stay for the pie” phase for a rather longer time than I could wish. Those that remain have no problem with other religions than theirs and maintain a lively interest in matters spiritual.

          • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

            is it a comfortable fence, padded and wide? ;-}

        • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

          My son has been raised in a pagan family, but has been exposed to people of other religions (how could he escape it here?). He’s not sure if Wicca is his spiritual path, but he’s with the “I came for the cookouts and festivals, because I really like this group of people and its ethics”, and he feels he fits in.

          One PCon he got out of the car, and there was a young man standing tall and upright and walking instead of schlumping. He was going to be with his kind of people.

        • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

          So true. Not everyone needs to be a priest. Until there is a decent form of infrastructure in place, I feel that the laity of Heathenry, Paganism and similar religions are being ignored.

          Too little importance is given to the concept of community.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            There has been a strong dose of “every man/woman a priest/ess” (actually an old radical Christian meme) and that’s the spirit in which I was trained in the 1980s, which I think was conservative even then. But today there is certainly a clergy/laity divide, and I agree that we don’t give enough attention to the latter.

          • Deborah Bender

            Contemporary neopaganism has taken a while to disentangle itself from occultism, with which it overlapped to a great degree in its formative period. IMO there has been a failure to distinguish between exoteric religion, which is supposed to be accessible and beneficial to everyone who wants it, regardless of age, circumstance or ability, and esoteric spiritual paths and sects, which are more like the Navy Seals.

            Esotericism is intended for a small number of people who are highly motivated, have time and particular talents, and are emotionally mature enough not to be harmed by the practices. Judaism is an almost entirely exoteric and laity-directed religion, but people are advised not to study Kabbalah until they have had some life experience.

            Wicca has always wavered between thinking of itself as a complete religion or as a set of esoteric studies and practices within a broader pagan religion. Because Wicca is one of the oldest and most popular varieties of neopaganism, it has propagated this confusion far and wide.

          • Northern_Light_27

            I agree completely. I was thinking in part of Wicca when I said “depends on the Pagan religion you’re in”, because “I came for the potlucks” isn’t something you want to hear if you’re trad Wiccan. But cultural reconstructionist religions, if they’re going to be viable for many generations, can’t afford to sneer at people who came for something other than personal spirituality. When you’re building a folkway you want to still be there for your great-grandchildren, it’s all about real community-building.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            I can get the logic when a religion is small and its adherents are scattered but, as numbers have increased, it seems sensible to move beyond it.

          • Northern_Light_27

            /nod Even among hard recons this is sometimes true. I recently saw someone post “and if you feel you’re someone who will never sacrifice an animal, why not?” in a Heathen group and my gut reaction (that I didn’t post) is “because I’m not a priest, don’t want to be a priest, and don’t think that’s ever going to change”. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be incredibly honored to be able to see a proper blot someday, but priesthood is just not my calling in life and that’s okay.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            I think it is a two way street, really. Someone who is called to priesthood has to expect to be, in part, a teacher. Some who the laity will come to when they have questions. That said, the laity also have to allow the priest the ability to answer.

          • Crystal Hope Kendrick

            That wasn’t really what I meant, though upon re-reading my comment I realize I wasn’t particularly clear. It’s not the difference between clergy and laity but a wishy-washy laity. I consider myself laity but many groups I’ve been around have been…(sigh) rather disinterested in spirit, I guess. I just don’t understand the social club aspect of religion, I guess. I always thought it a bonus, not the main offering.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            I was raised in the Church of England. As in, my stepfather is a priest and I took an active part in the church until my conversion/crisis of faith.

            From that angle, I saw a great variation in attitude to religion between the various attendees.

            On the one hand, you had my stepfather – his entire life was devoted to his faith (caused more than a few family arguments, I can tell you), then you had the church wardens, lay readers, NSMs and the like – people who dedicate a lot of their spare time to their faith, and the running of the church.

            On the other hand, there are the people who turn up for Midnight Mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals. People who are nominally religious, but not particularly devout.

            In the middle, there is the congregation. People who regularly attend services, turn up for social days (such as fêtes, beetle drives and so on) and make regular donations to the church coffers. The kind of person who makes up the typical “church-goer” demographic. Quite likely say grace before the family meal and try to do the right thing, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their lives.

            I have no doubt the same spectrum can be found in any religion because, regardless of specifics, people look for different things in religion and will give correspondingly different amounts.

            The only ones I don’t get are the ones who don’t actually believe, but turn up anyway.

          • Deborah Bender

            People who don’t believe may turn up because being a member provides social advantages, or to keep peace in the family, or as an expression of communal solidarity.

            Another possibility is that they think any organized religion that fits within a range of characteristics (such as teaching a standard of behavior to the young) is good for society and should be supported, and that the actual doctrines and beliefs of the particular religion don’t matter, since all of that is complete horse apples. Our President Eisenhower was quoted once as saying something about how all Americans should belong to a religion, “and I don’t care what it is.”

            Some people come for the music, or because of pleasant associations from earlier in life, or to see their friends.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            If they are just there for the tea, then maybe Heathens,Pagans and should start buying the good stuff? I never realised evangelism could be so easy.

            To go further with that, a commonality with that environment is physical structure – very few Christian congregations lack a building. A place that is open to all, every day and often has a sign outside saying “All welcome, come in for a chat”.

            That is the hallmark of a community oriented religion, in my book.

          • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

            Interesting. Here most churches are closed outside the hours of mass services. It would be very hard to just hop in.

          • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

            hmm. One could pop round to the office, rather than the sanctuary. Ought to be able to find someone there most business hours, and possibly a number to call. I know, it’s not the same as popping round to a pub.

          • Deborah Bender

            That’s the rule for Reform and Conservative synagogues. One doesn’t just drop in to the sanctuary any old time to pray alone.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Obviously different locations have different practices, and I can only talk from my own experiences.

          • Deborah Bender

            Keeping a building open to the public for extended hours is simply too expensive to do without at least one of the following: government support, a committed dues-paying membership, endowment from a wealthy benefactor, donations collected from many people too geographically distant to visit (i.e., a mission) or some kind of high pressure money-making scam/operation/business to cover the bills. Even if the building and the land it stands on are donated, the costs of upkeep, utilities and a caretaker or beadle for security are not insignificant.

            In the absence of any of the income streams listed above, IMHO it’s more realistic to start with a meeting place less ambitious that a full-time use building. A house church (as most covens effectively are) won’t do if you wish to be truly open to the public. Small Jewish congregations in the U.S. sometimes rent meeting space for services from churches, since Xtian and Jewish holiday schedules rarely overlap. Small Protestant congregations rent or buy storefronts or disused movie theaters in blighted neighborhoods where real estate is cheap.

            Something modest that might work in urban/suburban areas that are socially tolerant would be to create a garden on a small lot with a shrine that includes a fountain or other water feature (to collect coins) and some partly roofed meeting space with a fire pit in one corner–the meeting space should be designed so it can be rented out for modest weddings. Since classical statuary and fountains with animals are accepted part of public decor, one could easily design an installation that reads as a shrine to pagans and as a garden ornament to the general public (lest it be vandalized).

            In San Francisco, there is a public park on the grounds of what was once the mansion of a local mining magnate, Adolph Sutro. One of the surviving garden statues is a small copy of the Diana of Versailles on a tall pedestal. The Diana has been a shrine and meeting place for local pagans for decades.

            A possibly viable combination of paying business and income stream for a consortium might be to buy a patch of land with the proper zoning and operate a non-denominational cemetery and columbarium. Lay out the grave site portion so that it includes a round, flat open space that any earth religions that don’t have a purity taboo against contact with the dead could meet in. Nineteenth century public graveyards were like city parks and people would picnic in them–Park Slope in Brooklyn is an example.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            A Goth friend of mine recently tried to organise a picnic in the local cemetery (there are some lovely mausoleums), but the local authorities turned them down.

            To combine some of what you’ve listed, the Church of England is the state church (giving it certain advantages over other religions) and also one of the biggest landowners in the UK. Land ownership can be quite lucrative in its own right.

            Of course, it is a long established religion with significant resources. That said, it is also very clever in that it looks at certain things (such as revenue streams) in a very business-like way.

            The cornerstone of a church will always be its congregation. people who volunteer time and expertise or simply donate financially. People who feel that their building is worth the sacrifice.

  • Gus diZerega

    Depends very much on the individual Pagan. Just as similar comments can be made about individuals in other groups, like Christians who are theocrats.

  • E.Rosiel

    Nicely elucidated on all points. There I s a lot going on here in both the general public’s perception of identity, and our response as a community to that perception. As a deeply felt and personal response to a religious landscape that I have never found nourishing, I feel quite defensive of my Paganism. As a feminist, I similarly value these practices that value and validate women and the Goddess in way no other modern spiritual practice does. In our response to the feminine, in our response to Nature, and in our acceptance of queerness and diversity in general at least in principle, I think what we offer is quite valuable and unique in the religious and spiritual landscape. That said, amongst a handful of close friends each of who has been in this practice for 20 to 30 years or more, we’ve had many discussions about what we’re beginning to call “weirdo privilege”. That’s only half in jest. Let me think were observing is a phenomenon of people choosing to claim her carve out space with identities that are evermore diversion from the mainstream. Which with an paganism is pretty damn divergently indeed. And that’s all fine, but it’s not entirely without merit that some of this is attention seeking. If you want to be understood you have to at least attempts to meet the person you want to have understand you partway. In the petulant demand to have others outside of your own very small circle understand and identity that perhaps hasn’t even existed until 15 minutes ago there’s some merit to what our critics are lobbying at us. At some point we have to grow up and become adults. Which includes seeking to understand others who don’t understand us so that we can communicate with them. I see far too little of this within our community. It’s wonderful that this is a refuge for the weird. I’m weird. I’m attracted to the strange, unique & different (as I suspect many of us are). I have no problem with that. But what I do have a problem with is the weird insisting that everyone understand them when they’ve made no effort whatsoever to explain themselves to others. To be seen, you must also see. To be heard, you must understand, and, at least to some degree command some of the language of those to whom you seek to speak. Without that, those who claim “weirdo privilege” really are just squalling two-year-olds. It’s unattractive. To put it mildly. One of the reasons I returned to school late in life, to become a clinician, was because I saw so many brands of crazy in my own religious community. I’d like to grow some adults and to make resources available for those who need to heal but don’t feel safe going to an outside therapist. I’d sure like to see a hell of a lot less crazy, reactive “weirder than you” attention-seeking behavior. We have spiritually mature individuals within our community (some of whom are QUITE different from mainstream culture, even within Paganism), but I’ve found that they rarely call attention to themselves, they’ve generally “been in” the practice 20 years or more, people generally don’t seek them out, and we rarely pay attention to them as a community. I think, if we want respect as a mature religion, we really ought to start doing that. Flash-in the-pan sexy is fun, but it is neither mature, nor enduring.

    • E.Rosiel

      Forgive the typos. Typing a long response on an iphone prior to going out, is probably not recommended

      • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

        I hate typing on mine. Drives me nuts, but trying to remember the tiny keyboard would make it worse, somehow.

        • E.Rosiel

          I was using the dictation program, which sucks. Which is why there’s a lot of “sounds like” words in there that make no sense. I should have used Dictate, which would have been accurate, but I was in a hurry (& frustrated by my many attempts to post, which failed to complete). Since I posted as “guest” I also can’t edit & replace. So, stuck with the mess. Sigh.

  • Daniel FitzGerald

    This is a really well written piece and I enjoyed reading it. I have to say that the final point raised is a good one (and very well put). Part of the problem with having to be defensive all the time is that it risks becoming a part of the overall culture of our religions. Take for instance, the Burning Times Myth (note the capital “M” myth). The scale of the burning times has been debunked by historians and the oft-cited “nine million women” number has been attributed to some pretty egregious data extrapolation done by Gottfried Christian Voigt back in 1784. Yet it persists as a capitial-M Myth among many Neo-Pagans because it plays out to the feelings many of us have felt of being persecuted, shunned by their families and communities, and forced into practicing in the dark. But as a community, I believe we should be having a discussion on how much of that kind of mentality is healthy. Building up such a persecution complex runs the risk of us developing the kind of “us vs. them” mentality that causes so much inter-religious strife in the world. I think that we need to fight, with all of our strength, to keep such a persecution mentality from becoming an ingrained aspect of our religions.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Daniel, I agree with everything you say, but feel the need to add more. The sad fact is that we are indeed persecuted on an individual basis, more in some places than others, and we need to be ready to deal with that as a community. So we need institutions like Lady Liberty League and Earth Religion Assistance League to help the community support targeted individuals. It’s hard to keep both hats on the head at once, and some of us are better at one than the other. I hope the defense-minded Pagans go on being inspired by healthy-attitude Pagans like you.

  • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

    What disturbs me most is Fr. Longnecker’s assumption that religion is something on the outside of a person, rather than something that comes from within. Perhaps that is the reason he doesn’t understand Paganism and makes me wonder if he understands his own faith all that well.

    His belittling and misunderstanding of marginalization is also disturbing, but not all that surprising since he is a leader of a privileged majority faith. He can be educated about this latter part, but I am not sure he can be of the former, ie, that of makick or faith coming from within.

    • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

      Can you elaborate on what you mean by faith coming from within? I’m not sure I’m grasping at what your trying to put into words.

      • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

        His focus on appearance and on observable cultural norms runs counter to the Wiccan concept of “if you do not find it within you, you will never find it without” found in the Charge by Valiente.

    • Daikan

      Actually, it’s pretty consistent with catholic rethoric regarding all other faiths in this “argument-baits”:
      1- First a bit of humor related to the targeted belief system.
      2- Then a poorly veiled attack denigrating said targeted system (often using arguments that can just as easily be used against them), ad hominem attacks, critiques from a “hollier-than-thou point of view”, etc. All written in a language specifically thought to denigrate and offend.
      3- Followed by an “ambiguous” “conciliation” somewhere in the lines of “but I mean it in the nicest possible way”.

      (This one comes after the comments and demands of respect start to appear from the followers of the targeted system)

      4- A follow-up “appology” in which the writer/lecturer states how “it was an attempt to humor” or a “misunderstood/misinformed opinion in no way trying to offend” and then followed by more attacks ad hominem, fallcies, veiled provocations and hypocritic attempts to conciliate (all written in the same condescending “but i’m right and you are wrong” language). Both of Longnecker’s articles and his responses follow that model, as well as many of the other christian supporters like defiant12314.

      • Daikan

        What I say can be ilustrated with the following image: http://9gag.com/gag/aOqgVj2

      • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

        “I was only teasing/joking” and “it was just sarcasm”.
        Yeah, right. Whatever you say, but I’m not trusting you anymore.

        • Obsidia

          The “I was only teasing/joking” and “it was just sarcasm” often comes after Verbal Abuse. Which is the real Pathology? The Abuse or the defensive posture?

          • Feathers

            This nails it. He’s gaslighting. He behaved disrespectfully then tried to turn it around to make other people think they’re crazy for feeling offended. You’re right, it’s abuse.

          • Charles Cosimano

            Actually it is pretty easy to when the bulk of your readers really do think the other folks are crazy.

          • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

            Yes, it is called spiritual abuse.

      • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

        Daikan, you know I’ve heard this from priests so many times but never recognized that it was old fashioned rhetoric. Thanks for this.

    • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

      the sort of assumption about religion being external is why anthropologists had so much trouble trying to describe Navajo (at least; it’s what I know about) religion. It was neither external nor separate from their lives. Neither is it external nor separate for most of us: spirituality generally isn’t.

  • Northern_Light_27

    I wrote a reply that disqus ate. Vaguely shorter form…

    -150 comments isn’t really that much, and there keep being these tempests-in-teapots that don’t go much past the Patheos/W&P blogosphere that probably feel like huge deals to people mixed up in them, but your average Pagan on the street has never heard about. Contrast to something like the MZB molestation that did go truly viral.

    -not everyone who replies to a troll is trying to talk to the troll. Most are either aiming for the audience, either potentially-persuadable lurkers or other marginalized people reading the trolly post. This is not inherently a bad thing, sometimes it’s a truly invaluable thing (e.g. I will always have a special place in my heart for people who call out victim-blaming in posts about rape).

    -otoh, responding to every offense with the exact same level and pitch of indignation is counterproductive and stupid (e.g. not all mentions of the word “witch” are talking about Wiccans. Complaining that Halloween witch depictions are anti-Wiccan makes the complainers look ridiculous and petty). If it’s the passing thoughts of some dude with a minor blog, is it worth giving the blog more hits by passing along “OMG SOMEONE SAID SOMETHING MEAN ABOUT PAGANS OVER HERE!”?

    -being part of the marginalized group side in an internet debate over something relatively trivial is exhilarating for a lot of people. So exhilarating that often people don’t notice when they passed the line between righteous indignation and looking silly. As many Pagans are otherwise privileged and online dustups about Pagans are often relatively trivial, this happens perhaps more than it should.

    And finally… if you’re Pagan, there’s a significant way in which you are not societally-conforming. Even if you are in every other respect. This guy is a Catholic priest, part of a hierarchy that has a history of labeling things that are actually quite ordinary (including medical terminology, particularly medical terminology related to women) as unduly frightful to the horses. He probably finds piercing your ears more than once (or at all, if male) to be something nonconforming and horse-frightening. Saying that Pagans aren’t all doing it for attention, particularly given how many seem to be doing just that, to this particular audience is unlikely to be very fruitful. (And come on, he’s a Catholic blogger on a site with a Pagan channel. It’s clickbait.)

  • http://quakerpagan.org Cat C-B

    I’m confused. This piece presents a number of Pagan comments as representative of what Longenecker describes as “‘Look at me. What are you staring at??’ double think,” but which read to me as simply direct; confrontational, but hardly inflammatory or sensation-seeking.

    “What does our behavior suggest?” the article asks. I’m not convinced the comments chosen here suggest anything in particular, beyond assertiveness. While the sheer volume of the comments on the Longenecker piece might be disproportionate to its importance, I’m not sure I see anything in the particular comments quoted here that suggests that “we struggle in stopping to ask the very questions that might be the most important.”

    I’m not sure why these commenters have been singled out, either for approval or disapproval. Maybe someone can explain that to me?

    • Crystal Blanton

      The line prior to the statements says “Here are some examples of the range of responses posted on one of the pieces.” This is showing a range of different kinds of responses in one of the pieces.

      • http://quakerpagan.org Cat C-B

        Ah, thanks. Sorry to be dense… Though proud of my community if we didn’t offer stronger language to the troll than these!

  • Dana Wiyninger

    I thought most of the Pagan responses to Longenecker’s ‘House
    Falls on Teen Witch’ article were not angry, especially by the standards of the
    internet or in our culture today. In contrast to the article itself, I thought
    the Pagan comments met Patheos’ goal of “responsible, moderated discussion”.

    I believe that contrary to what Longenecker responded with in the comments, he was writing about Pagans – and not adolescents- in his ‘Teen Witch’ article. That’s because I found an earlier article by him (referred by Patheos) that clearly shows his ignorance and long antipathy towards witches: http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/16367/ . In this 2008 article he also talks about his time as an Anglican priest in England, but more seriously about the ‘demon-possessed’ pagans and the sinister witches there.

    So, why are we not asking other questions? Patheos’ states it want to be a “safe and welcoming environment”, but given Longenecker’s clear issues with Pagans why did Patheos allow the article? I don’t believe a similar article putting down other traditions would have been published there in the first place, but I might be wrong about that. (I don’t often follow Patheos.)

    For me, I do not frequent or support sites that provide obviously divisive articles like the ‘Teen Witch’ one. (No triggers involved- I just don’t want then to gain hits and ad revenue.) I also don’t have a problem with members of our community writing articles to educate others, or intelligently calling out trolls – of whatever rank or tradition- when they find them.

    • http://dashifen.com/ David Dashifen Kees

      There’s regularly antipathy between channels at Patheos. Usually it flies under the radar but this one didn’t. I subscribe to all of the faith channel feeds over there (I know, I have a problem) and there’s often a lot of interplace between the various Christian channels (Catholic, Evangelical, and Progressive) and there’s a lot of ignorance tossed around about Islam and, to a lesser extend, Sikh and Hindu communities (usually, people assume these are Islam *sigh*). Even if you just look at the Logenecker pieces in question, you see a lot of anti-Protestant rhetoric in the comments.

      I actually think it’s to Patheos’s benefit that it allows these sorts of things. Firstly, if it didn’t then we’d have to hope that moderators (aka censors) would be impartial and wise enough to know what is an is not appropriate. Second, it would remove the opportunity for conversation via comments with those who disagree. I’ve had fantastic conversations on the Atheist and Hindu channels usually on points where I disagree with or need clarification on their points. Thirdly, there’s like five people that are full-time Patheos staff. Each channel gets an editor with varying levels of commitment and availability, but they’d need more staff if they wanted to act as moderators across the full site.

      There’s a difference between calling out a group of people in a way that simply reveals your own ignorance and creating a dangerous space. If Longenecker had tracked down the Witch from the HuffPo interview and published her address or other contact information instructing his readers to work toward saving her soul or those of her children, I’d have been singing a different tune!

  • kenofken

    “Maybe it is time to ask ourselves how much of this quite unfair assessment is laced with big pieces of truth.”……..

    I’m sorry, but I’m not having it. It’s a line of thinking that buys into the blame-the-victim mentality and plays right into the little passive-aggressive game Longenecker and others like him use. His piece was not some honest well-meaning blunder and it certainly wasn’t done in a light-hearted humorous manner. It was the classic baiting game. He dangles this hateful stereotype of us out in the wind in the guise of a well-meaning Socratic inquiry “are Pagans really the dysfunctional freaks they seem to be”? When people see through the ruse and respond to the insult for what it is, why, then, they’re the bullies for jumping down his throat for asking an “honest question.” Then the tone is “hey, I was just poking a little fun, but whoa, I guess you guys are kinda psycho.”

    This tactic is grounded in one of the core assumptions that privileged majorities hold: The idea that they’re entitled to define how others should feel and what is offensive to them. I’m a little surprised that someone whose work is rooted in concerns of multiculturalism and diversity didn’t see this dynamic a mile away.

    We can debate how much time and effort is worth spending responding to people like Longenecker, but giving serious credence to his proposition that we’re hypersensitive is just doing his work for him. Sure, it’s great when we can turn the conversation to a teaching moment, and it’s great that some of us have the temperament or Vulcan-like detachment to do that all the time. On the other hand, we are under absolutely no obligation to “turn the other cheek” or stand for insult and I refuse to de-legitimize the feelings or responses of those who return ill treatment in kind.

    • Crystal Blanton

      You make a lot of assumptions about what I might have seen or not. Exploring the pathology of Pagan response is more important than anything Longnenecker said. This time him, next time someone else, times before there were others…. it is about us as a collective community exploring how we cope and shape culture…. that is the point. And that is a collective exploration, not my own individual one.

      • Northern_Light_27

        I see the point I think you might be making. If I read it right, basically, “do we have something of a chip on our shoulder and a hair-trigger response when people provoke us?” Is that close?

        But you use “pathology”. That’s a heavy word and I’m not sure your article earns it. You don’t lay out what specifically you think is pathological and why. You give a “range” of responses, are some “pathological”? Which ones? Why? Are we really a “collective culture” even though we don’t all rise to the same bait in the same ways? Do you ever consider that people who respond to troll posts aren’t talking to the troll, and does that matter? Do you see a difference, when it comes to people who rise to troll bait, between people who are otherwise privileged and people who aren’t? I think there are important questions to be asked when it comes to how we respond to attempts to provoke us, but I don’t think this article makes the case for what they are– I can’t even tell which responses you think are problematic, beyond that you especially laud the “patient educator” type response (which some people are more in a position to do than others).

        • Crystal Blanton

          All of those are good questions that the collective community should be asking ourselves. Questioning our own pathology is important, and how our behavior creates culture. It is not about one response, one person…. but a culture that becomes the norm for our community. And thus the question is… IS it is a part of our pathology? That is a thing to be explored more and more as we continue to do this work.

          Personally, (which is not the point) I don’t think it is about having a chip on our shoulders collectively. I think there is something to be explored in the feelings of marginalization, perceptions of oppression, current cultural tones of the greater community, the internet age, and the intersection of all of those things. (not to include a fast growing community)…. there is a lot to be explored and why we find ourselves in a pattern of situations where we are riding the momentum of the most recent situation and how that has contributed to our pattern of response from the things happening around us and to us. There are a lot of questions but we have not done a lot of work yet to uncover clear answers.

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Segregation. That is the simple answer to the feelings of marginalisation.

            How many Heathens, Pagans and others actually practice openly? How many actually engage with their wider society?

            For whatever reason, people hide their beliefs from their neighbours, etc. And then, they go away for festivals, convocations and conferences. They other themselves.

            A typical mentality in most Western societies is to be suspicious of that which is “other”.

            Until the “mystery” is dropped, there will be barriers to understanding.

          • http://quakerpagan.org Cat C-B

            Granted, I’m in New England, and in a relatively tolerant part of that relatively tolerant region. But not only have I been “out of the broom closet” since 1988, almost all of my friends have been out for years as well.

            In my case, at least, its for just that reason: what is hidden is seen with suspicion. I realized that was important to me when the a neighbor in small town Vermont reacted to my Pagan group’s small photocopied ‘zine, “I never take seriously writing that doesn’t have a person’s name on it.” I’ve been out ever since–though I do use my initials alone on blog comments, so as not to have comments on others’ writing be the first thing folks see if they Google my name.

            I’m not dissing those who feel that they can’t dispense with secrecy just yet. But there’s a sizable number of us who are open about our identities in every part of their lives. I find them good company, too: practical, grounded, and unpretentious on the whole. Not that there’s no ignorance to contend with. But for those of us who can, it’s good to let those barriers fall.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I can wholly agree in principle that it’s better to be out than closeted, but must still recognize circumstances in which only the broom closet is prudent. My wife is in a sensitive profession that depends on voluntary clientele and referrals. Were she to come out, her practice would dry up overnight. And since we’re in a small town, that means I must be beside her in the closet. We are quite open in our UU church and, indeed, lead the occasional service with Pagan themes, and we run a coven that meets in the same church and (as it happens) consists of church members. But that’s it; no letters to the editor, no Pagan Pride exercises.

          • Northern_Light_27

            I engage with my wider community but not specifically as a Pagan or Heathen. I used to be very out in every way, including having a Wiccan bumper sticker. This led to harassment from neighbors at our last house, including trash thrown on our property and a couple of very frightening letters in our mailbox telling us to sell and move “or else”. I think this came from a couple of people, but (with one exception) those who weren’t harassing were chilly.

            I now have no stickers, and don’t talk about it with my new neighbors, with whom I have much better relations. I would probably talk about if it asked directly, but I know they wouldn’t get it and, well, I like getting along with my neighbors.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Of course some of us have a chips on our shoulder and some don’t. And it varies; I was a lot bristlier about this stuff when I was brand new to Paganism. (I don’t know if I mellowed with age or my wife is a good influence, probably a bit of both). We benefit enormously from someone with the open friendliness of Selena Fox but we still need bristly types like Sam Webster. That’s what you get in a population of individuals.

          • Northern_Light_27

            But personally is the point, though. I feel like in both this comment and your article you’ve got a clear point to make on what you think is “pathology”, but for some reason you’re not making it. You’ve got both personal commentary and distant reportage in there and for me at least trying to do both is producing a muddle. You want us to question our own “pathology”, but you don’t tell us what you think is pathological. Is “it” part of our pathology? Is WHAT part of our pathology? Do we even have a pathology? I’m still left unclear on what your article’s main point actually is.

            IMO this wants to be a blog post, where you can be personal and specific without trying to hold the reporter’s distance. It’d be easier to respond to a blog post, because then we’d at least better understand the argument you’re making. All of the things you put in “personally”– that’s the post this article wants to be, the one that explores those questions in greater depth. (And I would especially love to see the “perceptions of oppression” teased out in finer detail.)

          • http://saffronrose.livejournal.com/ A. Marina Fournier

            Crystal, I’d like to see a blog post on this as well.

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      As I recall, turning the other cheek and tolerance are the province of that little middle eastern Messianic cult.

      Not so much something I’ve found in my particular form of religion…

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Word!

  • Alyxander M Folmer

    I’m more disturbed by Longenecker’s blatant lies and accusations. In his second article he shares a “quote” from a Pagan who he claims is threatening him.
    That “quote” was edited together from MY RESPONSES to three completely different conversations, with the singular purpose of turning me into a villain for his follow-up article and allowing him to play the victim. This from a PRIEST.
    I expect those kind of inept lies from some random blogger on the internet, but this is a man of the cloth who supposedly backs a set of commandments which include “thou shalt not lie”.
    That’s not OK, and I feel perfectly justified in calling him out for trying to turn me into some kind of hyper violent Neanderthal…

    • Northern_Light_27

      All I can say to that is YHBT. Apparently Father Flamebait doesn’t think his commandments preclude some old-skool trolling, and in the future I’d treat all random dudes with blogs as just random dudes with blogs, regardless of their RL profession. That he thinks he should have one standard of conduct IRL and a different one online makes him no different than quite a lot of other people being annoying on the internet b/c they think the internet is Magical Wild West Rule-Free Fairyland.

  • Maya

    I am sorry, but this seems like a classic case of blaming the victimized for their victimization. Doesn’t matter if someone seems weird, we live in a secular society where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are guaranteed by the Constitution and so we are all challenged to be tolerant i.e. to be respectful of others no matter how different they are. It may be easy for others to joke about us and decry our “thin green skins”, but anyone who day in and day out is confronted with false and demeaning images about their beliefs and lifestyles is going to be prickly. Catholics and others need to be conscious of our history of oppression through centuries of murderous persecution and propaganda, just as white folks need to be aware of the history of slavery and straight folks of the history of discrimination against the LGBT people . . . It should not be surprising that we are sensitive to judgment and ridicule, and for those who “poke fun” and then further ridicule us for our reactions to that is just further expressions of oppression. True, respectful, interfaith dialogue is needed. It is appropriate for the priest to express his views on a Catholic website, but such views in the context of interfaith discussion on pantheos doesn’t seem appropriate. However, the priest has a right to his own beliefs, too! We have to find respectful ways to talk to each other, it is what the world needs now –and this has been the ongoing challenge of humanity’s evolution of consciousness throughout time.

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

    “Maybe it is time to ask ourselves how much of this quite unfair assessment is laced with big pieces of truth.”

    This ridiculous statement is a very good example of the phenomenon of Pagan-Self-Loathing.

    • Genexs

      Heh, yeah. Been seeing more and more of that lately.

  • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

    If there had been good faith dialog on Fr. Longenecker’s behalf I could see the posts linked to as being more useful to the overarching conversation. As it stands, I would like to see more radicalism from the Pagan, polytheist, and similarly aligned communities. Radicalism in taking care of the Earth, our communities, ourselves, and living our beliefs. Radicalism in embodying, as well as defending our beliefs. I don’t think we should have to settle down the rhetoric; if anything, I wonder if there’s not too much complacency.

    I’m not saying “Hey, let’s be on emotional hair-triggers” or “Anything that *looks* like an insult deserves the nuclear option”. I do deeply believe in the power and use of discernment. I think that defending your religion, spirituality, way of life, etc. does deserve every ounce of attention and passion if/when you are called to speak out, especially if it is being wrongly accused, insulted, or denigrated. I also understand some people cannot speak as free as I or others without their livelihood being affected, if not put in danger.

    A given tactic in response to these feelings may be more or less effective in getting your point across, swaying opinion, or getting to the goal you seek. In standing up and/or speaking out, that is a powerful, empowering act. Even if I completely disagree with the means or points you make, I can still generally support people expressing their anger, frustration, and the like. I can’t really tell you “Your emotions are wrong” with accuracy or truth; I can tell you “Writing in all caps will turn people off to the points that you are making” or “Putting things this way may help people see your point”.

  • mountainwind

    Long time lurker here who has long admired your posts, Crystal, and I wanted to de-lurk to commend you for this excellent piece, especially since you appear to be receiving some flack for it.

    It’s very very hard not to react defensively if we feel we are being attacked unfairly by an ignorant person coming from a position of privilege we don’t share. I totally get that because I’ve been there many times.

    But it doesn’t strengthen anyone’s position to have kneejerk defensive reactions. If someone yanks our chain and we attack, we’ve only confirmed the negative stereotype. We’ve actually reinforced their behavior pattern and played directly into their hands.

    Instead I commend your approach for responding from a centered place, a place spiritual maturity. Calmly refuting misinformation, but not resorting to insults or hyper-defensiveness. This is a position that commands respect, even if the person we address chooses to remain in ignorance.

    An example might be the hilarious musical “The Book of Mormon.” Instead of reacting in a visibly upset way to this satire when it was the hit on the West London stage, the Mormons actually advertized in the program to show that they could laugh along with it and take it in stride.

    It’s not a matter of “turning the other cheek” but of dignity and maturity. Of not reacting like a baying mob. Of having nuanced discussions. Of avoiding insults and ad hominem attacks.

    What would the Dalai Lama do? What would Buddha do? What would Starhawk do? What would Selena Fox do?

    • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

      “Of having nuanced discussions. Of avoiding insults and ad hominem attacks.”

      The Book of Mormon was a satirical piece intended to be humorous. It was not a piece insulting Pagans on a public forum that is supposed to be dedicated to respectful interfaith dialog by a man from an institution that, historically, dedicated to wiping out other religions and asserting itself as the one true religion. The Book of Mormon’s creators, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, aren’t on such a forum, and are well known for their satire, especially where religion is concerned. Fr. Longenecker is not.

      If we’re being attacked with insults and ad hominem, why ask what the Buddha, Starhawk, the Dalai Llama or Selena Fox would do? These questions are only pertinent if we follow any of these people.

      Why do we ask these questions and not “What would Athena do?”, “What would Odin do?” or “What would Brighid do?” Is it because such a question is too uncomfortable?

      Equating being calm with spiritual maturity is also a false dichotomy. Being upset when insulted is a normal reaction.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        What would Óðinn do?

        I’d cite Grímnismál as a likely example.

        • mountainwind

          Odin is crafty, intelligent, sees the big picture, and never loses his cool!

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            Doesn’t let a slight pass, though.

          • mountainwind

            Doesn’t it also say in the Havamal that the wise don’t waste their time arguing with fools? A pithy one, Odin. :)

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            It also mentions not leaving home without a weapon.

            One could extrapolate that it promoted the ideal of “active Daewinism”… ;)

      • mountainwind

        But does that not play into the offender’s hand, reinforcing the very stereotypes (“these people are thin-skinned attention-seekers”) the offender has projected on the Pagan community?

        My concern is that if we “take the bait,” we’re just puppets dancing on someone else’s strings.

        “What would Athena/Brighid/Odin do” are excellent questions.

        Of course we get upset when faced with ignorance and unfair accusation. But responding to these accusations might be more effective if we can *communicate* calmly. Put our righteous anger to one side while we’re typing out our response.

        • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

          I do not agree; if our anger is righteous, why censor it?

          Sometimes rising to the bait is a useful tactic. I would not say “Odin never loses His cool”; He is a God if berserkers, after all. Rather, He is a God that does His utmost to take advantage of every situation. I think the better question, is:
          Is being calm useful to our ends, or are we accepting another cowing us without a strong response?

          Like I said above, I do deeply believe in discernment. If we *are* going to use or have the examples of others’ leaders, religious figures, Gods, Divine Beings, heroes, etc. pointed out to us or to them, it is worth remembering why many of them/Them are renowned.

          The Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama, began walking his path because he had been lied to, and walked from his home, angry and afraid. He used that to remake himself and found the religion that came after him.

          Starhawk has used her outrage and ferocity and inspired quite a number of people with her many years of activism on a range of topics , as well as other ongoing work, and her books born from that.

          Because we occasionally get asked “What would Jesus do?” I think, when asked, making a point to remind them how Jesus looked out for others *as well* as used His anger when the temple was defiled, is useful.

          Sometimes reminding folks their God, let alone our Gods can get angry, that They are not serene all the time and rejecting the narrative that calm = having the high ground can be a powerful statement in and of itself. Besides, keeping calm and trying to claim a moral high ground doesn’t work if the other side thinks you’re damned and/or wrong, deluded, and so on from the outset.

          The point I am making is that our anger is a tool for change as surely as our calm. I do not believe in taking away tools from ourselves.

          • mountainwind

            You have made many excellent points. I certainly agree with this:

            “The point I am making is that our anger is a tool for change as surely as our calm. I do not believe in taking away tools from ourselves.”

            But I still believe that flame wars are not a great strategy to command respect in interfaith discussion.

            In fact I got the impression that Father Flamebait and his cronies were rather chuffed to see how many feathers they ruffled. Now all he has to do to drive traffic to his previously obscure blog is insult Pagans. Instant attention and controversy! Not all Patheos blogs are created equal. Maybe that’s where the discernment needs to come in.

            What greater issues are at stake and how are these bigger issues best served and addressed? Do Pagans benefit as a community by paying so much attention to one ignorant blogger?

            Thank you for debating with me. I enjoyed your comments and your passionate commitment to nurturing change.

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            I can agree in reference to Fr. Longenecker and your points about discernment. Targeting him with anger may not be a useful use of our time or that resource. I think the questions you raise are good ones, and apply equally well regardless of the rhetorical or emotional tool at hand.

            All of that said, especially in regards to religious bullies and antagonists, sometimes the only thing that is effective is to stand up and plant your feet. I think this can be an effective way of asserting our right to be free of harassment, lies, and bullying. At this point what is part of my cost-benefit analysis is “Who controls and/or provides the most weight in the dialog here?”, “Will this tactic be likely to produce the desired effect?”, and “If I keep my silence, am I condoning or leaving unchallenged or unchanged something I should be voicing/showing/demonstrating opposition to?”

            Thank you for debating with me as well; I have enjoyed it!

            Blessings to you and yours.