Archives For Democracy

It’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies.  Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” 

So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

  • The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!”
  • A Witch-Doctor from the Kenyan village where Barack Obama’s father is buried says his reading predicts our current president will win in a landslide. Quote: “Mr Dimo, who claims to be 105, says that the mystical items dispute news that the election will be a close call.  Pointing to a white shell, he declared: ‘Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.’” I’m sure Nate Silver won’t argue too much with that prediction.
  • AlterNet digs up some rather embarrassing assertions from Republican Massachusetts State Senate candidate  Sandi Martinez, including how popular children’s shows of the 1980s will turn you towards Witchcraft. Quote: “On her cable access show in 2004, Martinez warned that trick-or-treating, Harry Potter books, and the “new age images” presented in 1980s-era programming such as “The Smurfs” and “The Care Bears” could destigmatize the occult and leave children vulnerable to the lure of witchcraft.” Awesome. Well, good thing there aren’t any Witches in Massachusetts … oh, wait.
  • An activist is trying to engage the Buddhist-derived mindfulness movement in politics, and voting. Quote: “If meditation can calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts and tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, it can surely help a stressed-out and polarized country choose a president, says the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. An artist and veteran activist from Berkeley, Williams is the force behind MindfulVOTES, a nonpartisan campaign that she believes is the first attempt to mobilize mindfulness meditators.” Here’s the MindfulVOTES website.
  • It looks very likely that Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd district, will win her race and become the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Quote: “It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” How exciting!
  • Meanwhile, you do know there’s a Heathen running for Congress this election, right? New York’s Dan Halloran, a conservative, Republican, Tea Party politician, is facing off against Grace Meng in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. There hasn’t been too much non-partisan polling for this race, so each are holding up their internal polls to claim the race is will be won by their campaign. Odds are long for Halloran in this Democratic-leaning district, but who knows for sure? You can read my pretty extensive coverage of Dan Halloran here.
  • Let’s not forget the same sex marriage-related initiatives being voted on today, and the role “nones” might play in how those races turn out. However, Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu and Vodou priestess, reminds us that nobodies vote on gay marriage should matter. Quote: “American is not a religion; it is a nation. We claim to hold certain truths to be self-evident. That means some truths should be a given — not debated, not voted on. Given. By virtue of being a citizen of this country, each American should have access to the same rights. Instead, we have created, in America, in the year 2012, a priestly caste of people who believe that their interpretation of certain Scriptures should be used to decide others’ fate.”
  • Americans United is fed up with the IRS not enforcing the ban on partisan endorsements from the pulpit, exclaiming “enforce the law already!” Quote: “This is a critically important issue for our democracy. We already have serious problems with vast amounts of money being dropped into campaigns. Imagine how much more devastating it would be if every house of worship jumped into elections, too.”
  • Finally, Jason Mankey over at Patheos reminds everyone that voting is “ours.” Quote: “Voting is one of the great legacies of ancient paganism. All democracies have a bit of classical paganism in their DNA, even when they don’t want to admit it. Want to make your Evangelical uncle’s head explode today? Remind him that democracy began in a town dedicated to the Goddess Athena! Democracy and the vote are our legacy as Pagans!”

No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to vote, and honor the struggles, and origins, of our political system. We’ll check in post-Election Day to what the results might mean for modern Pagans.

Oh, and yes, I already voted. Oregon has a mail-in system that’s quite convenient.

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.

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.

A few quick news notes for you today.

Trademarking the Gods: Video game company Nintendo just received permission from the Japanese Patent Office to trademark the name “Amaterasu” in relation to video games.

And you thought it was bad when Nintendo filed to trademark the phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong.” The Japanese Patent Office recently revealed that Nintendo trademarked the kanji “Amaterasu” as well as the katakana form in relation to video games. ”Amaterasu” certainly seems to refer to the Shinto goddess, but the full name for the deity is Amaterasu Omikami. This name was not trademarked, as it’s unlikely that the Japanese Patent Office would allow Nintendo to copyright an actual god or goddess.

While this may seem like no big deal to some, it could set a troubling precedent. If corporations and private businesses start grabbing trademarks to the names of deities within different contexts, what will that mean for the religions that worship and revere those figures? This is especially true as video games, art, and social interactions start to blur within contexts like Second Life. If someone can trademark a god’s name in one context, there’s little to stop them from doing it in others.

The Birth of Freedom: City Journal features an essay by Andre Glucksmann concerning the birth of the idea of freedom, and the differences between the “epic freedom” of Hegel or Marx and the “tragic freedom” of Athens and Socrates. Glucksmann notes that polytheism creates a more “radical” idea of freedom than most monotheistic conceptions.

With the Athenians, however—and this is an important difference—the gods are as imperfect as human beings, and the divine words are consequently doubtful and impure. In this sense, the Greek experience seems more radical than that of the monotheisms, since it presupposes no adherence to a unique word that would dominate the thought and freedom of men and women. For the Greeks, there was no way around the permanent crisis that constitutes the existence of a free human being.

Glucksmann also credits ancient Greek thinkers with providing the framework for the separation of church and state, and our modern ideas of “human rights.” The whole text is worth a look.

Telltale Signs of Santeria? What happens when you mix “occult experts” with animal parts? You get assertions that the dead animals are a “telltale sign” of Santeria.

“Don Rimer, who spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer and now provides training in the fields of ritual crimes and the occult, said the decapitated animals are telltale evidence of people who practice a faith known as Santeria. Followers brought the faith with them to the New World when they were taken from Africa during the slave trade, first establishing themselves in the Caribbean region, he said. Santeria is a blend of ancient African religion and Catholicism, Rimer said. A Utah state agency alerted Rimer to the Park City cases, he said. Rimer, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., said the circumstances of the Park City discoveries resemble those of Santeria practices elsewhere. Rimer said people who adhere to the faith sacrifice animals and then place the carcasses close to transportation corridors like pathways, railroad tracks and streams in honor of the means slaves used to move about.”

Yes, you read that right. The expert was Don Rimer, who also happens to be an expert on Paganism, Satanic crime, and vampires. One wonders where he gets the time to become so knowledgeable when he’s so busy traveling the country giving talks. No doubt Rimer thinks his influence was positive because he asserted that animal sacrifice was legal and the alleged practitioners of Santeria meant no harm, but instead he verified the for many the idea that leaving dead bodies lying around is a normal practice for Santeria (instead of acknowledging that there could be other explanations).

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

President Obama’s 10-day Asia trip includes visits to India and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country.  The president chose not to visit the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar during his time in India because it required a head covering that his advisers feared would fuel speculation about his faith. A Pew study showed that nearly 20% of Americans believe falsely that the president is a Muslim.

The more Obama reaches out to Muslims, the more his critics are likely to slander him,implying that he is not a Christian.  An example is his April 2009 speech in Turkey, in which he said, “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation, we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” The president’s critics have seized on that statement, insisting that he rejects the Christian foundations of America.  Is Obama stuck between a rock and a hard place? If you were the president, how would you handle this dilemma?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

“When Obama says we aren’t a Christian nation, he isn’t negating Christianity’s role, for good or ill, in shaping our country’s history. Instead, he is acknowledging that we live in a secular, multi-religious society, where Wiccans, Buddhists, Hindus, Humanists, and Christians must all learn to coexist and work together to face our nation’s problems. That secular democracy can work in a country teeming with religious diversity, with no one group (in theory) imposing its moral will on another. The kind of democracy some would like to see “exported” to the Middle East. The moment we abandon our secular democracy so we can call ourselves “Christian America” is the moment we lose any moral higher ground we might have on the world stage when it comes to negotiating with or combating theocracy. In India, where the president just visited, some want to officially make the country a “Hindu Nation” a prospect that worries many Christians and Muslims living there. If we cast off our secular robes, whats to stop India, or Turkey for that matter, from following suit?”

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke both recently characterized voting as a moral act with spiritual consequences. The pope said that “decriminalizing abortion is a betrayal to democracy,” since he believes the procedure denies rights to the unborn. Burke called voting a “serious moral obligation” and added that Catholics “can never vote for someone who favors absolutely what’s called the ‘right to choice.’”

If Catholics largely disregard the church’s teaching (the 2008 Catholic vote for president went to pro-choice Obama), does what the pope says matter? Is voting a religious act or purely political?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

“Most Pagans love democracy and voting, why shouldn’t we? Pagans invented it! Whether you place the start of “people power” (Demos Kratos) with ancient Athens, or cast further back to parts of India, Mesopotamia, or various indigenous societies, few can deny that the concept and practice of democracy originated in pre-Christian minds and societies (just ask the Founding Fathers). By contrast, the Catholic state of Vatican City is a sacerdotal-monarchical state, with the Bishop of Rome at its head. The president of the Pontifical Commission, the leader of the city-state’s legislative body, is appointed by the Pope, not elected by citizens or chosen by representatives. Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, was able to thrive and become the world religion it is today thanks to the rulers of an ever-increasingly less republican Roman Empire in decline and the patronage of European monarchies after the Empire’s collapse. I say this not to demonize Christians or Catholics, only to point out the current irony of the Pope deciding what a “betrayal to democracy” is when he himself does not participate in one.”

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.