Archives For civil disobedience

In his book “Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America” Pagan scholar Chas Clifton notes that the environmental awakening of 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, “was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became “nature religion,” as opposed to the “mystery religion” or “metaphorical fertility religion” labels that it had brought from England.” Since then, modern Pagans of many stripes, particularly Wiccans and Druids, have placed a special emphasis on being religions that care for, and have concern about, our natural environment. A who’s who of Pagans, both high-profile and not, have told the press, and the world, that we give special concern to problems facing our natural world, and further, that our faiths represent a positive shift away from abuse and towards sustainability.

“I think only spiritualities of sacred immanence are capable of doing earth justice, and I think that we, as Pagans, have a responsibility to act and speak in defense of this planet that has blessed us into existence.  If anyone can it is we who can argue for and sometimes introduce others to a direct experience of the sacrality of the earth. […]  Far from being anti-human, we need only enlarge that part of us which may be most unique, our hearts, to embrace what [Aldo Leopold] terms a “land ethic.” Such an ethic: ‘simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.’” - Gus diZerega, Patheos.com

As Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum continues his historic visit to the Kumbh Mela in India, one of his primary messages to our Hindu cousins has been ecological awareness and restoration. From mucking trash in the Ganges river, to leading and blessing a march of Indian school children who are pledging to preserve the planet.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

Patrick McCollum leads a march in India for preserving the Ganges and the planet.

“Today I led a march of 5,000 school children along the banks of the Ganges to both clean up the sacred river, but also to call for world peace and the preservation of our environment generally. All of these things have been quite spontaneous, and our single act of mucking trash in front of all of the pilgrims has gone viral across the world.  There were TV stations from many countries and newspaper reporters everywhere.  The Governor and Minister and many other officials have joined with us, and banners and such are literally being created in the moment.  One TV station said this is the most significant event toward saving our planet in modern history. Swamiji got this idea to have the kids take a pledge to clean and preserve the planet, and it turned into a huge gathering.  I sat up in front with 5,000 children behind me and we all took the pledge together.”

Bron Taylor, author of “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”, believes that religions which embrace an ethos of environmentalism, or ecological sustainability, will thrive as our world’s climate troubles worsen.

“The forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings. This is because most contemporary nature spiritualities are sensory (based on what we perceive with our senses, sometimes enhanced by clever gadgets), and thus sensible. They also tend to promote ecologically adaptive behaviors, which enhances the survival prospects of their carriers, and thus their own long-term survival prospects.”

But how far are Pagans, collectively, willing to go in defense of an Earth they call sacred? In a guest review of John Michael Greer’s new book “The Blood of the Earth” (Scarlet Imprint, 2012) from last year, UK Pagan Paracelsian wonders how deep our commitment to being “nature religions” actually goes.

“I’m not suggesting that individual Pagans are never involved with environmental activism, but I am convinced that this is not a priority for the vast majority of individuals who would identify as being Pagan. Greer’s work (and that of other authors who seek to engage contemporary Pagans with these issues: Emma Restall Orr, for example) should at least be encouraging members of the Pagan community to be asking some questions about what it means, in practice, to espouse a nature-based spirituality. This discussion is long overdue, and needed now more than ever, or Paganism will be never be any more than the “virtual religion” critiqued by Andy Letcher. How many self-identified Pagans can honestly live up to Chas Clifton’s challenge to “live so that someone ignorant about Paganism would know from watching your life or visiting your home that you followed an ‘earth religion”. It seems obvious to me that thinking about these questions is imperative if Paganism is not only going to survive, but also to make a positive contribution to the way that humanity relates to Nature in the future.”

It is from this lens that I think we should view the news that the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and largest environmental organization, founded by famed conservationist John Muir, has for the first time advocated civil disobedience to its membership.

Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune

Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune

“For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the United States might surrender any hope of stabilizing our planet’s climate.” 

The first test of this new call for civil disobedience will be at a Washington DC rally this February in opposition to the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline. However, even if no arrests are made at this rally, it marks a major shift for the Sierra Club, which has preferred lobbying, deal-making, and advocacy over the more direct methods of groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. It erodes the idea that mere advocacy, or being ideologically behind better environmental policy, is sufficient in the current environment. It means that support for the Sierra Club implicitly means supporting civil disobedience for the environment.

This is a moment of challenge for those Pagans who espouse an eco-spirituality, who want to practice an Earth or nature religion. If the “safe” moderate environmental group says it’s now time for civil disobedience, do we follow suit? Do our leaders also say “enough” and call for civil disobedience? For direct action in the face of climate crisis? Such calls have usually come from “activist” Pagans like Starhawk, and her critics have often accused her of politicizing Paganism, but are we now at a different moment? Is this the moment where we move beyond recycling and buying the Sierra Club calendar, into advocating for direct action? Not just prayers and spells, but our bodies on the front lines? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but perhaps it’s time we had a renewed discussion about what, exactly, Wiccans, Druids, and other Pagan faiths that espouse the natural world as sacred and alive, should do in the face of a now impossible to ignore climate crisis. The Sierra Club has made a decision, and perhaps that should press us to collectively make one too.

Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend. Here are a few updates on previously reported stories to ease you back into the work week.

Winnemem Wintu War Dance: This past weekend, as I reported here previously, the Winnemem Wintu tribe blocked off a 400-yard stretch of the McCloud River, an area central to their coming of age ceremonies. The reason for the blockade is due to the Forest Service’s ongoing refusal to grant mandatory closures for these ceremonies, resulting in teenage girls being heckled and abused by boating tourists. The direct action happened peacefully, with the Forest Service only requesting that their banner be taken down.

Winnemem Wintu Tribe members blockading the river.

Winnemem Wintu Tribe members blockading the river.

“I arrived at the ceremony just as the banner was being strung up on a cable over the river. Members of the Winnemem, Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Pit River, Miwok and other Tribes and activists from Earth First!, Klamath Justice Coalition, Klamath Riverkeeper, Occupy Oakland and the American Indian Movement worked together to erect the banner and to keep boaters from going up the river. […] After the closure banner had been in place for over an hour, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Coast Guard officials demanded that the banner be taken down. To avoid arrests, the Tribal members and activists complied with the request; this was a “practice run” for the upcoming Coming of Age ceremony.”

Not everything was peaceful, however. On Sunday, after most supporters had left, and the blockade taken down, several boaters buzzed through the waters in a show of defiance. Aware that they were being taped, one can be heard on camera advising his friends to not “flip them off.” Another made the sign of the cross at them, a move that some tribe members saw as an act of hostility. Video coverage of the entire weekend can be found, here. This war dance was a “practice run” for the tribe’s coming of age ceremony, where it seems defenders will risk arrest to ensure the ceremony is undisturbed. I’ll post future updates as I receive them.

U.S. Religion Census and the Least Religious Places: At the beginning of May I noted the release of the 2010 U.S. Religion Census by the Association of Religion Data Archives. At the time I noted that the data showed the growth of non-Christian denominations and houses of worship with “Buddhist congregations were reported in all 50 states, and Hindu houses of worship in 49 states.” Another data-set that has folks talking is the ongoing drop in church attendance in the United States, and that some states, Maine in particular, less than 30% of residents belong to a church or religious organization.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

“Maine has fewer residents who claim a religious affiliation than any other state in the union. The Pine Tree State is the only one in the country in which less than 30 percent of the population belong to a religious denomination or independent Christian church, according to a census conducted every 10 years by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. This follows a Pew study that found 40 percent of Mainers pray daily — the lowest percentage in the nation. “What’s alarming about those numbers is that more than 300 years after the country was founded by people seeking religious freedom, the large numbers of nonaffiliated folks out here is just the norm,” the Rev. Steve Lewis, academic dean of Bangor Theological Seminary, said earlier this month.”

I happen to live in the second-least Christian state, Oregon, which hovers right around 30%. Much has been written about the lack of formal, congregational, religion in Cascadia, and of the rise of the “nones”in general, with little in the way of a decisive consensus on what these trends ultimately mean for religion in America. The question I have is why, when there are now several American states where formal Christian adherence is in the minority, do we still insist on the fiction of “Christian America” or even “Judeo-Christian America.” Where are the “spiritual but not religious” politicians who do away with a Christian identity entirely? Shouldn’t states like Oregon and Maine be ready to elect non-Christians to high office, so long as their policy stances line up with a majority of voters?

Want to See Dan Halloran’s Scar? Speaking of non-Christian politicians, New York City Councilman, congressional candidate, and Theodish Heathen Dan Halloran recently underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. By all accounts the procedure was a success, and Halloran is already active on social media, sending out a picture of his scar.

Ouch! (Dan Halloran's surgery scar.)

Ouch! (Dan Halloran's surgery scar.)

“So I’m home and trying to adjust- my balance isn’t at 100% but I have my health otherwise in tact. The doctors are still somewhat at a loss to explain the rapid progress, lucky circumstances, and I’m not taking it for granted. I can’t push any harder or faster but am doing everything I can. I started using a voldyne 2500 to improve my lung capacity…. but that’s gonna leave a mark.”

We’ll have plenty to say about Halloran here at The Wild Hunt once he’s back on the trail, but for now we simply wish him a speedy recovery.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Happy World Tarot Day!

Happy World Tarot Day!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers in New Delhi, India, February 10, 1959. (AP Images)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when we celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. King, who helped wage several successful challenges to the racist and segregationist policies of America during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s. King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and  shortly before his assassination in 1968 he began to broaden his scope of activism, working for an “economic bill of rights” to address the underlying causes of poverty. Throughout his career, King espoused the principles of nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring change.

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.“Letter From Birmingham Jail”

I want to make a special point of honoring King on this day, as a Pagan, because I think too many of us conceive of him as only a Christian hero. A great voice for social justice, but someone who is operating outside our religious context. In reality, King’s methods of nonviolence and civil disobedience were deeply influenced by thinkers outside of his faith, and he was quick to give credit to those voices. The two most obvious were leading transcendentalist and author Henry David Thoreau, whose teachings, according to King, “came alive in our civil rights movement,” and Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi, pioneer of satyagraha. In 1959 King made a month-long pilgrimage to India where he met with disciples and confidants of Gandhi, and ended up using many of Gandhi’s methods as a model in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social-contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau. the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”Martin Luther King, Jr., “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”

Even in King’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” he twice mentions Socrates as a practitioner of civil disobedience to be honored and emulated.

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. […] To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.”

The ethos of King: nonviolence, social justice, and civil disobedience in the face of injustice, is not isolated to Christianity. These values can be found in most cultures and faiths throughout history. The first recorded labor strike happened in ancient Egypt, and in 494 BCE plebeians effected a shutdown of Rome to guarantee more economic and political rights. These tools are picked up again and again in different contexts and situations, and continue to find new life in today’s protest movements. While King was an ardent Christian, he was also a man who saw beyond the boundaries of his own faith, who acknowledged the wisdom and knowledge that can come from other cultures and philosophies. In this, as in many other things, we should emulate the great man. King was not afraid to enrich himself with the wisdom of others, and always strove for  justice, two qualities that any Pagan should be proud to embrace.