Archives For Dr. Barbara McGraw

Pagans and Obamacare

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2012 — 18 Comments

[The following is a post from The Wild Hunt archivesThe Wild Hunt is on hiatus through Labor Day weekend and will return with new posts on Tuesday, September 4th.]

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

 

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article:

Top Story: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a new study, entitled “Religion Among the Millennials”, that tracks the beliefs and views of the generation born after 1981 (and who largely came of age in the year 2000, hence the name).  The report asserts that Millenials are far more “unaffiliated”, religiously speaking, than the previous two generations, and less concerned about “culture war” issues like gay marriage and abortion than their predecessors.

“Young people are more accepting of homosexuality and evolution than are older people. They are also more comfortable with having a bigger government, and they are less concerned about Hollywood threatening their values. But when asked generally about morality and religion, young adults are just as convinced as older people that there are absolute standards of right and wrong that apply to everyone. Young adults are also slightly more supportive of government efforts to protect morality and of efforts by houses of worship to express their social and political views.”

As for Millenials and modern Paganism, 2% of adults aged 18-29 adhere to a Pagan, New Age, Unitarian-Universalist, or “eclectic” faith (the “other faiths”). Outstripping adherence to Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and roughly tied with Judaism and Mormonism. Further, Millenials are about tied with Baby Boomers in adherence to an “other” faith, with Generation X making up the demographically largest grouping. You can download the entire report, here. You may also want to take a look at Pew’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey, something I’ve covered in depth here, which much this data is culled from.

What does it all mean? It could certainly mean a more tolerant world, as an overwhelming majority of this generation believe there is more than “one true way”, and that the Bible isn’t the literal word of God. Less than half even believe that religion is important. Millenials, along with Generation X, represent a sea-change in attitudes that have so bitterly divided previous generations. A “post-Christian” future, one where Christianity is only one voice among many, seems ever more likely. A world where religion may be female-dominated and largely private. Sounds like a future I’d like to stick around for.

In Other News:

Did the Founders Mean Pagans Too? The Newsweek/Washington Post religion site On Faith features an editorial from Dr. Barbara McGraw, Director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism at Saint Mary’s College of California. In it she addresses the now-infamous WallBuilders amicus brief in McCollum v. California that argues the Constitutional religion clauses only applied to monotheists.

“…perhaps Richard Henry Lee put it best when he said in 1787: “It is true, we are not disposed to differ much, at present, about religion; but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn . . . .” In other words, those who differ about religion in ages and among millions yet unborn are included in the protections of the Constitution. What is especially sad about the narrow way that Barton wants to interpret the founding era is that Barton’s approach obscures the real contribution of Christianity to America: support for a political system that protects the individual’s relationship with the Divine (however understood) … genuine Christianity supports religious rights for all. Christianity was not at the founding, nor is it now a monolithic “ism” that justifies the domination and suppression of others–not even Wiccan/Pagans.”

I’d recommend reading all the various quotes she offers, building the case that the founders meant for religious freedom to apply to all Americans, at all stages of its existence, no matter what that future may bring. You can expect to hear a lot more about Patrick McCollum’s case in the near future, when I spoke to him at Pantheacon it was clear that a lot of attention and interest is building in this case. Expect things to break out into the mainstream media very soon.

Anti-Pagan Smears: WorldNetDaily, where no nutty conspiracy theory goes unloved, touts the new book by its managing editor David Kupelian, entitled “How Evil Works: Understanding and Overcoming the Destructive Forces That Are Transforming America”. Along with the usual stuff, Obama is a Marxist, Hollywood is bad, public schools are turning boys into big sissies, mental illness is a scam, etc, we get a whole section on the dangers of Paganism and the “New Age”.

“Why are neo-pagan and New Age religions like Wicca becoming so popular? (America’s increasing disillusionment with Christianity has created a giant cultural and spiritual vacuum, into which alternative religions are being drawn.)”

Now, I’ve covered WND’s anti-Pagan stuff before, but I usually just ignore it nowadays. However, since Kupelian’s new book is being promoted by a major publisher, and he’s making the publicity rounds with conservative heavyweights like Sean Hannity, I thought this deserved a bit of attention. It matters in this instance, because the folks who like to gobble up those pop-journalism partisan books (from the left and right) that burn up the bestsellers lists will be getting a bit more than political opinion. They’ll also be getting anti-Pagan talking points. It’s not very pretty when political populism starts mixing with intolerant religious ideologies, so we should keep our eyes open.

Bob Barr Recants Recanting His Anti-Pagan Views: If you all were wondering what conservative/libertarian politician-turned-pundit Bob Barr thinks about the Air Force Academy building a Pagan worship area, wonder no longer!

“A few years back, when I was in the US Congress, I took the Army to task for permitting the practice of Wicca on its bases, including at Ft. Hood in Texas.  After speaking with a number of officers and military leaders, and meeting with several former military who adhere to the practice of Wicca, I was convinced that a belief in or practice of witchcraft, was not necessarily incompatible with the good order and discipline essential to a military lifestyle.  However, one might legitimately wonder just how far such tolerance should extend … the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, has taken the notion of religious tolerance to a new level, in creating an outdoor worship area for pagans.  The site, apparently sacred to pagans, consists of an inner and an outer circle of large stones.  I’m sorry, but this truly is hilarious … if I were in the Air Force and was being commanded by an officer who practices hedonism as a religion (another part of the definition of “pagan”), and who dances around a circle of stones in the woods carrying a lighted candle, I would be more than a little worried about following him into battle.

I like how he talks out of both sides of his mouth there, saying he doesn’t think Paganism isn’t “necessarily” incompatible with military discipline, but then saying he would be worried about following a Pagan soldier into battle (note: Bob Barr has never been in battle, or served in the military). Barr, of course, is famous in our communities for his attempts to get Pagans banned from military service, a position he kinda-sorta recanted while running for president (as a Libertarian) in 2008. Looks like he’s reverting back to his full-throated anti-Pagan ways now that he doesn’t have to woo the libertarians any longer.

Gatesville Muder-Suicide Involves a Pagan? On monday, outside the Gatesville, Texas County Courthouse, David Louis Henry shot and killed his ex-girlfriend Carrie Dean Stroope, then preceded to shoot himself. While that’s tragedy enough, expect the story to soon be adding a Pagan angle, as commenters who claim to know the shooter are alleging he’s Wiccan.

“I have read some things I know to be true about the killer. I have also read he was a wonderful father. Really because I don’t think “wonderful fathers” kill someone’s mommy in cold blood. The guy gave me the creeps and talked about the Wiccan religion at work. Frankly his act of cowardness doesn’t surprise me at all. To bad for the kids they never had a chance with a parent like him.”

“First off, he WAS MARRIED, he ans his wife were swingers and they were open Wican Worshippers. This is in my opinion VERY sad, and “Kay” says did she push him to this? Please, Why is it a woman has to be at fault of pushing because a crazy non Christain man snaps? His religion would not ever condem him for murder. His Myspace page comments from his wife ask him to shoot her in the head, the man was a nut case and society is better off without him sad but true…”

If these comments are showing up in my news feeds, you can bet local journalists are also reading them. With lurid accusations of “swinging” and Witchcraft, you can expect things are going to get ugly, and the press sensationalist, real soon. I’ll be keeping track of this story as it develops.

Thorn has Moved! In a quick final note, T. Thorn Coyle’s blog has migrated to a new home.

http://www.thorncoyle.com/musings/

Be sure to update your links and RSS subscriptions.

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