Archives For nones

We likely won’t know until June what the outcomes of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court over California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be, but it does seem clear that a threshold has been crossed. No matter how narrow (or broad) the decisions will ultimately be regarding the rights of same-sex couples in the United States, many will look to 2013 (and the November 2012 elections) as a time when a cultural corner was turned. When marriage equality was now backed by a majority of Americans, when politicians quickly issue statements to be on the right side of history, and when culturally conservative opponents of same-sex marriage are collapsing.

“In 2004, the campaign to prevent gay marriage was in its heyday. The Bush administration had seeded an initiative banning gay marriage in Ohio to mobilize activists and peel off traditionalist Democratic voters. Democrats nationally were running for cover, and even Howard Dean’s pro-civil-unions stance appeared risky. Now the movement is in a state of total collapse, with every day seeming to bring new converts to the gay-marriage cause and the opposition losing all of its courage.”

For many years Pagans have been on the forefront of the marriage equality debate. As a decentralized movement, one that recognizes many different sources of authority and tradition, we have long accepted that same-sex rites (and rights) were a part of our larger tapestry. As thousands gathered in Washington DC to be a part of history of the making, modern Pagans were there too, adding our voices, our support, to the growing movement for full equality.

Pagans in Washington DC, including Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and PNC reporter/author David Salisbury performing a rite for freedom and justice.

Pagans in Washington DC, including Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and PNC reporter/author David Salisbury performing a rite for freedom and justice.

“On March 26th and 27th, two of the most historic cases to ever be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States will begin. One case would overturn Proposition 8, which years ago banned marriage equality for all same-sex California citizens. The second trial would overturn DOMA (the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act”). Depending on how the SCOTUS rules, both of these trials could have major nation-wide effects that would change the course of our movement forever. People from all over the country will be arriving here in the District to rally at the trial on Tuesday. A crew of people (including me) will be sleeping outside on the sidewalk of the Supreme Court on Monday night before the rally on Tuesday. That night I will facilitate a ritual calling upon the guardian Goddess of DC and of the United States, Columbia. We will ask Columbia to bring the sword of victory to our work, leading us in the march to freedom and justice. Before the Tuesday rally, I’ll attend an interfaith service with some of my of my coreligionists and people of other faiths. Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary will be speaking at the service to give a voice from the Pagan perspective. This is all a very big deal.”

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary also took part in a National Interfaith Service, where she and clergy from several other faiths blessed more than 30 same-sex couples.

As we get closer to decisions in these cases I plan to showcase Pagan voices on this issue, including national Pagan organizations, activists on the ground, and the experiences of Pagan same-sex couples. Until then, here’s a selection of past coverage The Wild Hunt has done on marriage equality, which includes many important Pagan voices weighing in on the subject.

DOMA Ruling and Pagan Marriage Rites (October 2012)

“A truly pluralistic and secular government understands that allowing one religious paradigm concerning marriage to trump all others is wrong, and undermines the very rights a free society holds sacred. We no longer live in a solely Christian nation, nor did we ever, really, from the very beginning America was built on a dance of power and privilege that sought to establish dominance for one viewpoint. That can no longer stand, and today’s ruling is not only a positive step forward for the rights of same-sex couples, but is also a step forward for all those who would want to bless those unions.”

Christianity and Marriage Equality (May 2012)

“As a non-Christian I have become increasingly frustrated with the game of theological and political ”hot potato” when it comes to this issue. It’s always “those” Christians over there, not the “good” Christians who are “evolving” on the issue. When the Catholic Pope calls for a grand anti-gay-marriage religious coalition, when our country’s most popular Evangelical leader defends himself from the mere perception of tolerance, you simply can’t pretend that opposition to the basic humanity of LGBTQ individuals is some extremist fringe living in the wilderness. The real, unfortunate, truth is that Christianity is working against the lives of gay men and women, save for a small percentage who have broken away.”

On Faith: Is there a marriage crisis in America today? (December 2010)

“It’s telling that the “solution” provided by many to the marriage problem is to roll back freedoms, and enshrine a trapped-in-amber definition of marriage that is as much an artificial construction as any now criticized by the culture warriors. Just as many “traditional marriage” proponents would blanch at the thought of returning marriage to a time of dowries, land transference, political alliances, and women-as-bargaining-chip; so too do young people today recoil at the thought of marriage being limited to the “proper” genders, a vehicle for reproduction, social stability, and maintaining an illusory status quo. A return to a time when private detectives where required to extricate oneself from an unhappy union, and domestic abuses were glossed over for the sake of social order.”

Pagans and Prop. 8 (August 2012)

“Within modern Pagan communities same-sex marriage is almost wholly uncontroversial. Shortly after Walker’s ruling was handed down, several Pagan organizations and noted figures within the movement reaffirmed their commitment to same-sex marriages and praised the decision. Druid group Ar nDriaocht Fein (ADF) said in a statement they “warmly welcome the decision of the court”, and that their organization has “never believed that the institution of marriage could possibly be threatened by the existence of married people of any gender”. T. Thorn Coyle of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School, speaking to those now recoiling from Prop. 8′s overturn, noted that“we are not trying to change your religious beliefs. We are only saying that we have the same civil rights as you do.” Holli Emore of Osireion and the Pagan Round Table said in a message to The Wild Hunt that we are “living in the last days of the kind of bigotry that would presume to dictate such matters, in my opinion.”

For even more, check out the “LGBTQ” and “marriage” tag categories. You may also be interested in my coverage of Cascadian “nones” in Washington and how they voted for marriage equality.

Here’s to freedom, here’s to love, here’s to equal rights (and rites) for everyone. More on this topic in the coming weeks.

I rarely agree with American Conservative opinion columnist Rod Dreher, not because he’s a “crunchy conservative,” but because his views on religion are so skewed by his evangelical-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian worldview that he often comes off (perhaps inadvertently) as the worst sort of smug, triumphalist, man-of-God. The kind of guy who blames Haiti’s condition on Vodou, right after it’s rocked by a massive natural disaster and humanitarian crisis.

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.

The kind of guy who calls Santeria savage demon worship (just like Vodou), who spreads unproven smears against liberal Catholics involving the taint of Vodou and polytheism, who joined the hilarious-in-retrospect freak-out over Hollywood “pantheism” (ie “Avatar” made a lot of money), and who never misses an opportunity to be “funny” regarding the beliefs of modern Pagans (it’s humorless and like Dungeons & Dragons). However, adversity makes for strange bedfellows and all that, there is stuff going down, a Pope has resigned, and the secular “nones” are rising!

Cue the grudging “I guess Pagans aren’t SO bad” re-evaluation: 

“Personally, I find paganism far more attractive than atheism, because pagans, however mistaken their understanding (from a Christian point of view) nevertheless share with Christians a recognition that there is Something There beyond ourselves, and the material world. I can have (have had) a fruitful, engaging discussion with my friend and commenter Franklin Evans, a pagan, in a way that I just can’t with friends who have no spiritual or religious beliefs, or a sense of the numinous.

My guess, and it’s only that, is that some pagans will fall away from the practice of their faith for the same reason many Christians are: because it doesn’t make sense in our scientistic, materialistic, consumerist world. At the same time, I think that paganism stands to gain overall from the unchristening of the West. If you look at the Asatru site, this neopagan religion speaks to longings that are deep within all of us, and cannot be suppressed forever.”

Yes, in the beauty contest of belief we’re pretty homely, but at lest we’re better looking than the atheists. So, go team Paganism? Yay? Here’s the thing though, while it’s inevitable that some Pagans will leave our umbrella for other pastures in our post-Christian future, modern Paganism as a movement has no trouble embracing both “hard” polytheists and, well, Pagan humanists. Most of the faiths under our umbrella have been fine with all sorts of conceptions of the divine, because our movement isn’t centered on a single correct belief. We, and I use that “we” very loosely here, are not all that threatened by atheism, humanism, or other post-theism “isms.” Our conditions of solidarity are practical, political (in the sense of fighting for our shared rights), social, and festival-based. So it’s amazingly common to see Pagan ecumenical gatherings where polytheists and atheists participate in the same rituals. When transformative (sacred/secular) phenomena like Burning Man appear, we are generally of the “what took you guys so long” school than the “does this threaten us” school.

The “spiritual but not religious” people are, for the most part, just fine with Pagans, are are the nones. As I’ve said before, I think their growth provides fertile ground for Pagan faiths, something Dreher also agrees with. Where he truly goes wrong in his analysis is in holding any one group up as representative of the movement as a whole. Paganism, polytheism, indigenous religions, syncretic diasporic faiths, Dharmic religions, these systems endured the rise of monotheism (and sometimes even thrived) because these faiths are, for the most part, decentralized, free of a binding “Pope” hierarchy, and able to change in ways Catholicism and other top-down systems can’t. Yes, monotheism can, for a time, be brutally effective in spreading and changing culture, but that success has to tie itself to the same colonial/militaristic power structure that early Christians condemned. When that power is slowly removed, a million green religious shoots appear in the paved-over theological parking lot.

Even if the Pagan umbrella crumbles some day and our faiths go our separate ways, it will not ultimately impede the growth of this religious phenomena. Some day we may be so popular that “umbrellas” may no longer be necessary, but the religious shift we are harbingers of will endure so long as we are not actively suppressed. Dreher sees the future as a battle between “something” (theism) and “nothing” (atheism)  and thus includes Pagans in team “theism”; but modern Pagans (and our allies) know that this is a false separation. There is no dualistic battle between “something” and “nothing” and our faiths aren’t playing that game. We don’t “fight” conceptions of the liminal that we don’t agree with, we either let them be (so long as they let us be) or find ways to simply include them. Modern Paganism, and similar religious movements are far more complex, and rich, than I think Dreher can imagine, and we are far more ready for the future than perhaps even we are ready to acknowledge.

As for Dreher, I’m sure he’d make a lovely neighbor, as Chas Clifton attests, and I hope he continues to travel the road he seems to have embarked on. Maybe he’ll find that all the demons he sees are placed there by a worldview invested in seeing our faiths as demonic, that the future to fear is not the growth of atheists, or Pagans, but what the dominant monotheisms might do to retain their power and influence.

Last month AlterNet published an essay by psychologist (and ex-evangelical Christian) Valerie Tarico that posits the Internet as an eroding force on “right-belief” organized religions. According to Tarico, the Internet destabilizes the “defenses that keep outside information away from insiders.”

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

“Tech-savvy mega-churches may have Twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may make viral videos about how Jesus worship isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts: the free flow of information is really, really bad for the product they are selling.”

For those of us who exist in faiths outside the dominant religious paradigms here in the West, this is the sort of message that appeals to our own growth narratives. The notion that free access to information will break the shackles oppressive, narrow-minded, faith communities  have placed on their adherents. However, Elizabeth Drescher at Religion Dispatches refutes this narrative, saying that the Internet hasn’t really done that much damage to communities with well-policed borders.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

Again and again, we see that the promise of ideological cross-pollination and the hope of more robust dialogue through social media participation has not widely been realized. A review of research on political engagement online by Jennifer Brundidge and Ronald E. Rice, for instance, suggests that access to diverse viewpoints and richer information on the internet tends primarily to benefit those of higher socioeconomic status, allowing deeper insight into the political Other without necessarily changing minds. Internet practice among those at lower socioeconomic levels, on the other hand, tends to reinforce like-mindedness. Further, the most religiously active Americans, according to a 2011 Pew study, are no less likely to use new technologies than are their un- or irreligious neighbors.”

As the near-constant stream of image-oriented memes on my Facebook feed tell me, we do a pretty good job of insulating ourselves from opinions we don’t like. We can always “hide” the posts of relatives and friends we don’t agree with, but don’t want to offend by actually un-friending. Drescher also points out that the explosive growth of “nones” mainly comes from the once-robust mainline (liberal) Christian churches that encourage their youth to explore other traditions and viewpoints.

“As I am regularly in the uncomfortable position of announcing to the members of my own declining denomination, progressive churches in many ways form their young people to leave their communities. Teens and young adults of all sorts may well be noodling around on the web encountering new religious ideas and practices. But it seems to be the case that progressive kids—kids whose parents would never for a minute consider taking them on vacation to a creationist theme park, or drill them in apologetic strategies with which to face down atheists—are more likely to be open to new religious perspectives and practices than are conservative young people.”

But what about Pagans? Has it helped us? The Pagan embrace of the Internet has been a much-studied aspect of our modern interconnected communities. Our reliance on social media sites, and the Internet, has become a common feature in many Pagan circles. I would argue that is has allowed us to evolve and grow at rates virtually impossible during the years of letter-writing and searching the bulletin boards of your local occult/New Age shop. It is a tool that is helping us become more visible, and organize in ways that would have been almost impossible 30 years ago.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

As for the “nones” I believe their rise, even if it’s at the expense of “liberal” forms of our dominant monotheisms, is ultimately a boon for our interconnect communities. The rise of “nones” and the “spiritual but not religious” give us a safe space, a cultural buffer to grow and experiment in. It destabilizes the narrative of inevitable Christian power, and opens the door to minority faiths having a stronger voice in discussions around religious rights and moral issues that affect us all. It creates the opportunity to visualize a post-Christian culture.

“What happens is that you start to encounter cultures where “nones” dominate, and where spirituality is often shaped by the landscape, and by the people living in it. This can be very Pagan as in the Pacific Northwest, where the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” note residents are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.”

So the question of whether the Internet will “harm” organized religion might be the wrong one. Perhaps the question should be is if the Internet empowers religions that were usually kept out of the cultural spotlight, and that it is this empowerment  that will ultimately “harm” religions that try to enforce a single cultural moral norm for everyone else.  But what do you think? Is the Internet a boon for Pagans? Does is harm organized religions directly, or does it simply re-create our current world in a virtual feed?

My Life as a “None”

Heather Greene —  February 3, 2013 — 16 Comments

Before I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason suggested that I introduce myself.  I never did and time scurried away.  So today, I’m going to share with you a personal revelation – an admission, of sorts.  I frequently write about my Jewish upbringing.  But now I must confess that I was really only Jew-ish.  In actuality, I was raised a “none.”

antique photograph

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s curtis4x5

As I child, I lived in a wholly secular family environment. We didn’t have a mezuzah.  We didn’t belong to a temple. Religion had no place in our lives. Words like “prayer,” “faith” and “God” were foreign terms used by other people. Existence was explained through science and philosophy. Ethics were harvested from history, art and experience.

And so it was, my life as a “none.”  Before I continue, let me be clear. We were not atheists, agnostics or humanists.  We were nothing.  We just lived in the world as it presented itself; which, as it turns out, was very religiously diverse. While that eclectic environment was fundamentally excellent, the diversity eventually became a problem.

Everyone around me had a religious identity linking them to a community filled with rich tradition and heritage. Through these identities, they had a defined relationship with spirit.  Some kids went to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes and others to Hebrew school. Some missed school for Yom Kippur and others fasted during Ramadan.

While I felt the presence of spirit, I had no means of accessing it. The few Jewish prayers that I knew were spoken in a foreign language; rendering them spiritually useless.  I was left standing alone outside the religious speak-easy with no password to enter.

This void became my burden and my quest.  I clung desperately to the small trickle of Jewish culture that was accessible.  In doing so, I did find my cultural heritage but, unfortunately, I found no suitable relationship to spirit.

Astronomical Clock in Prague Courtesy of Anthony Dodd

Astronomical Clock in Prague
Courtesy of Anthony Dodd

As the wheel turns, life changes. I am no longer nothing.  My quest led me to Wicca and my burden was left at some doorstep long ago. Interestingly enough, I can also now say that I was never nothing.  There is finally a label for what I was: “religiously unaffiliated.”  I was a “none.”  According to Pew Forum, the “unaffiliated” population has now grown from 5-10%, in the 1980s, to today’s 19.8% of the overall population. This growth warranted finally giving the group a name.

What has fuelled this growth?  Harvard Professor, Robert Putnam told NPR, “this young generation has been distancing itself from community institutions…” Putnam goes on to relate this phenomenon to the heavily polarized socio-political landscape with regards to religion. While that may be so, I’d also suggest that this increase coincides with our transformation into an independent “do-it-yourself” society.  (e.g. Home Depot, You Tube, TiVo, eTrade.)  We now have “do-it-yourself” religion.

While that sounds as if I’m mocking the concept, I’m not.  Remember, I was raised a “none.”  As such, I’ve always participated in creative, off-beat religious expression.  One year, we renamed our secular Christmas holiday to “Peacemas,” celebrated with Jewish friends, Kugel and Pictionary. 

Additionally, secular culture is increasingly able to fill the void that plagued me as child – one of connectivity. Of course, the internet plays a big role, but outside of that, “nones” are connecting in the physical world.  Just this month, the First Church of Atheism opened its doors in the U.K.  Founder Sanderson Jones said, “We want all the things that are good about bringing a community together and make us better people, just without God being involved.”

Similarly, Calgary boasts the new Calgary Secular Church.  Founder Korey Peters explained, “We are a small group of a-religious or atheist people who want the community and celebration we used to have in our Christian (or Mormon) churches.”  These “nones” are searching, as I did, for the community connection that only comes through one’s relationship to spirit; whether that spirit be through humanity or other secular modalities.

Reason Rally

Summer Reason Rally in WDC
Courtesy of CNN.com

Now there’s even a movement.  I suppose someone stood up and said, “Hey, wait!  There are a lot of us.  What can we do with that?” Dale McGowan, director of Foundation Beyond Belief , told CNN:

Part of it is trying to consolidate … cultural presence. That has something to do with politics, but it is also more generally cultural…Much as churches and synagogues foster and nurture communities, Atheists can do the same to gain clout and broader acceptance

On January 26th in Atlanta, the eighth annual Heads Meeting took place. It was attended by leaders from various secular organizations such as; The American Humanist Association, Foundations Beyond Belief, The Center for Inquiry, and American Athiests. They met to discuss the socio-political future of the “non-affiliated.”  Dale McGowan explains:

These groups operated separately from each other and sometimes at odds with each other. There was a realization that we should meet once a year and come together on the goals that we have in common.

What makes a “none?”  How do they distill all that diversity into one single word?  What is the defining point?  Simply put, they all check “not affiliated.”  That’s it. That’s what binds them. That’s what makes them “nones.”

I relate this to art. The “nones” are the negative space – the environment around the meticulously drawn picture. Good artists always carefully consider their negative space because in visual imagery, nothing is always something. As a child, I was defined as nothing.  Now, the “nones,” are embracing that definition; being defined by what they are not.  They are the negative space filling 20% of the collective social canvas. They are something.

Many years ago, I left the life of “nothing” and found a spiritual path, a deep connection to humanity through the language of Wicca.  I went from being a “none” to being a Priestess; from the negative space to the positive.  Why are the “nones” important to me now?  Why should they be important to Pagans?

The “nones’” cultural evolution appears to be running almost parallel to the Pagan movement.  Just as they did, many of us looked up one day and said, “Hey, wait! There are a lot of us.  What can do with that?”  We are asking similar questions. Do we need to organize?  Should we build institutions? How can we foster community? Do we need leaders?  And most importantly, how do we define “Pagan?”  Where is the checkbox on the form?  We have much to learn from the “nones.”

BeachGirlAs for my personal journey, I can now better appreciate my childhood.  My parents’ secular path allowed me the freedom to eventually build my own relationship to religion; to become a spiritual artist.  Where once there was angst and frustration, there is now respect and gratitude.

To this day, my life as a “none” colors my Wiccan experience. I enjoy drawing the sacred out of the secular and finding the magick in the mainstream. While I have yet to do a full moon ritual with Broadway music, I can see the creative possibilities. For me, the lines between the secular and the sacred are blurred, colored by the language of Wicca. I do still check “unaffiliated” and will continue to do so until Wicca or Pagan has its own check box.

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.

spirits

 

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

This week the 113th Congress of the United States of America convened, and while this is a routine part of our government’s normal functioning, both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate saw some historic firsts that should appeal to those hoping for a more religiously diverse representative body. Perhaps the most high-profile is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, and the first person to swear their oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.” – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

In addition to Gabbard, Sen. Mazie Hirono, also of Hawaii, became the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate (she had already served in the House), and the first Asian-American female senator.

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

“I don’t have a book [...] But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty [...] It’s about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress…”Sen. Mazie Hirono (in 2007)

A third first comes from Arizona where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also happens to be the first explicitly religious “none” elected to Congress.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Democratic Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was raised a Mormon, is religiously unaffiliated but does not describe herself as an atheist. Her campaign was unavailable for comment to Whispers due to the swearing in, but spokesman Justin Unga told the Religion News Service in November that Sinema favors a “secular approach.” He told the New York Times the same month that Sinema “believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

There are other interesting religious facts about the 113th Congress, but I think these three women are representative of the shifts happening in the United States right now. Specifically the rise of “nones” who aren’t necessarily atheists, but also don’t claim a religious identity,  and the ongoing growth of non-Christian minority religions. We are fast approaching the day where hot-button moral issues in this country can no longer be discussed solely within a Judeo-Christian context, and we are already seeing the end of the “white Christian strategy” in national politics. It’s a new dawn, one that started with the November elections, and is now enacted with this new Congress.

Yesterday the BBC News Magazine posted a look at “spiritual, but not religious” people, cobbling together various studies and perspectives to try and understand this rather nebulous (yet growing) demographic. Interestingly, the lump modern Pagans in as part of the larger “spiritual” trend noting that “the spiritually aligned range from pagans to devotees of healing crystals, among many other sub-groups.”

Mike Stygal, is a secondary school teacher who practises paganism in his private life. He believes in a divine force in nature. “I believe everything is connected, I feel very in touch with nature and the changing seasons. Awe is a very good word for how I feel. It’s a sense of deep respect for nature. I can communicate with the deity.”

They also point to a quote from pop superstar Pink where she talks about her spiritual-but-not-religious makeup.

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

“I love Native American spirituality and paganism, and I’ve studied Buddhism. I think organised religion is one of the top problems of the world actually, so no, I’d say I steer clear of religion and go straight towards spirituality.”

Increasingly, I think more and more people are finding Paganism not as discrete religions, but as a part of an open-sourced kit to build an individualized belief system or practice. They aren’t Wiccans, or Druids, or Asatru, they are practicing “Paganism” as a syncretic and eclectic system in its own right, people like Shirley McMichael a community engagement worker with the Policing Board in Belfast.

“The widow described herself as a pagan rather than a witch — although she does have a small ceremonial broomstick, a wand and casts spells. “Wicca (witchcraft) is more structured than our Pagan Voice group but we have quite a lot in common” she said. For Mrs McMichael, paganism — the worship of natural forces often personified as a god and goddess — is a way of being in tune with the environment.”

I think McMichael’s quote there is important because it highlights that she sees Wicca as a religious system that she chooses to work outside, though finds some affinity with. Likewise, turning back to the BBC News Magazine article, we find a woman reviving “ancient traditions” but with no real interest in labeling herself as a Pagan.

Bridget McKenzie, a cultural learning consultant, does daily walking meditations. “It’s about making time to contemplate the awesomeness of life on earth, the extraordinary luck this planet has in sustaining life.” She is not a pagan but for the summer solstice organises a Garlic Man Parade in south east London to reconnect with ancient traditions. “We all sense changes in the light as the seasons change. It’s important to mark the occasion.”

When the census data for England and Wales was released, I noted that as impressive as Paganism’s growth was, they may have been many more of “us” hidden in other categories.

Bringing to just over 80,000 (or so) Pagans. That number doesn’t count how many Pagans there might be lurking within the category of “Mixed Religon” (23,566), “Own Belief System” (1,949), or “Spiritual” (13,832). Other figures of note in the “Other Religion” category include Vodoun at 208, Traditional African Religion at 588 (both numbers that I think are too low), and New Age at 698 adherents.

The spiritual category might have included the Garlic Man Parade organizer mentioned above, the one who wants to reconnect with ancient traditions, and “mixed religion” would most certainly have encompassed a pop star who loves Native American spirituality, Paganism, and Buddhism. In short, Pagans are indeed much larger that some give us credit for, but our numbers will always be diffused through several categories because Paganism doesn’t demand brand loyalty or exclusive rights to your soul.

People are rejecting “religion” in ever growing numbers, and a growing number of individuals are defining themselves as “spiritual but not religion” even if they claim a religious affiliation. This decline simply speeds the decline further, as it becomes easier and more attractive to jettison religious labels.

Pagans dance in "nonreligious" Estonia. Photo: BBC.

Pagans dance in “nonreligious” Estonia. Photo: BBC.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.”It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. [...]  In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.” The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category. They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

What happens is that you start to encounter cultures where “nones” dominate, and where spirituality is often shaped by the landscape, and by the people living in it. This can be very Pagan as in the Pacific Northwest, where the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” note residents are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

While some Pagans seem to scorn this growing contingent of eclectic, syncretic, label-free, spiritual people, I think it is this growing phenomenon that will deliver vital cultural shifts for those of us who are explicitly members of a Pagan religion. The rise of the unaffiliated in the world weakens the power of the religions that seek to create a homogenous “united” religious identity under their moral guidance. Call them wishy-washy, or unable to commit, or whatever invective you choose, but the “spiritual” people are the buffer that allows for the continued growth of Paganism around the world. Pink’s love of Paganism helps create a future where even more people can learn to love us.

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

 05. Ginger Strivelli, School Bibles, and Buncombe County Schools: The story began at the end of 2011 when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. So began a year of contentious school board meetings, death threats, and mainstream media coverage.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture. - Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

Eventually Buncombe County Schools passed a new religion policy that stressed neutrality, and will allow distribution of religious materials, but only once a year, along with non-religious community groups, and after regular school hours. All of these changes came about because one Pagan mom decided to speak up, and her bravery inspired a community to hold true to the secular and pluralistic principles our country was founded on.

04. Pew Forum’s Landmark Prison Religion Survey (and How That Affects Pagans): In March of this year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the findings of a 50-state survey of prison chaplains.  The survey, which was endorsed by the American Correctional Chaplains Association, interviewed 730 prison chaplains, and has a lot of interesting things to say about religion in the American prison system. At first glance, there are no major bombshell revelations to drive the news cycle, leading to initial headlines like “a lot of religion goes on behind bars.” However, if you start digging into the data, especially the section on what chaplains think about the inmate’s religious lives‘, there’s a lot there that should be of concern to modern Pagans, particularly Pagans engaged in prison outreach and chaplaincy work.

Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights in 2008, was deeply involved in this survey and helped shape some of the survey’s questions, and helped shift “the perspective of the main researcher’s goals in ways that I feel benefited our community and minority faiths in general.”

 

chaplains chp4 5

“The inclusion of Pagan & Earth Based religions as a category in the survey carries several huge benefits for us as a community. First, for many years, correctional systems, courts, and other governmental agencies have been able to deny us our rights, by simply making the argument that we either don’t really exist, or that if we do, we are so insignificant in numbers that there is no need to legislate or accommodate in our favor. Now with the survey, that argument is irrefutably null and void.”Patrick McCollum

The data given to us here by the Pew Forum is a boon. Even taking into account the Christian lens through which most of this data was obtained and filtered through, it gives us needed information is discussing and addressing the needs of Pagan prisoners. It underscores the challenges, and affirms what many already suspected: that the Pagan population in prison is growing, that the institutional chaplaincy is disproportionately Christian and conservative in makeup, that extremism (whatever its true extent) is an ongoing concern, and that we simply don’t have the volunteers or institutional muscle in place to properly address prisoner’s needs. Just as it is on the “outside” our growth continually outstrips the pace in which we can train clergy or build institutions and services. In short, we have a lot of work to do.

03. Chaplaincy for Pagans in Canadian Prisons: The controversial move this Fall by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. In October the CBC reported that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. [...] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.”

Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.” This lead one Sikh chaplain to ask the obvious question: “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

So from this point forth, all non-Christian chaplaincy services to federal prisons must either be provided by volunteers, or the prisoners: Wiccan prisoners, Pagan prisoners, Buddhist prisoners, First Nations prisoners, must all turn to the full-time (Christian) chaplains for spiritual guidance and resources. I wasn’t overly surprised when Toews decided to engage in a little discriminatory Witch-kicking, our community has weathered those slings and arrows for years, but this is something far more audacious. Toews and his office are essentially doubling down, saying that a full-time Christian chaplaincy is enough to handle all faiths, no matter what their history or relationship with Christianity might be. It’s stunning. Whether he’ll be allowed to get away with it is, I suppose, up to the Harper administration and Canadian voters.

02. Census Data From Australia and the UK Show Paganism’s Growth:  In 2011 I reported on efforts in Australia and Britain to encourage more accurate census counts of Pagans by asking respondents to use a uniform Pagan-[tradition/faith] format. This year we got to see the fruits, if any, of these efforts. First, Australia’s numbers came in, with over 32,000 modern Pagans (up from around 29,000 in 2006), then, we got to see the number of England and Wales where over 80,000 individuals identified with some form of modern Paganism (depending on how forgiving you want to be with labels). In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000. This is about double the numbers from the last British census.

sctrfigure1 tcm77 290493

“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

These figures point to some success for the Pagan Dash campaign, though they were not the far larger estimates many were hoping for. Still, this shows encouraging growth for modern Paganism, particularly in England and Wales. The growth of Pagan and minority faiths, along with the rapid increase of those who claim no particular religion point toward an imminent re-alignment of the status quo when it comes to matters of faith and belief in the Western world. The new census data will provide a lot of new information for Pagan activists, and for Pagan scholars, and may have repercussions we haven’t anticipated yet.

01. The Rise of Post-Christian Elections in the United States: After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). [...] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President. For all the analysis focused on race or gender during this election, it’s become clear that it is also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from November can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House. Washington state approved gay marriage by referendum, an initiative that I paid particular attention to because it would be decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority there. In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” 

I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

That wraps up our top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2012. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join us for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2013!

The Pew Forum has released a report on the size and distribution of the world’s religions, based on data collected in 2010, and according to their findings the religiously unaffiliated are the third largest group behind Christians and Muslims.

01 groups

“The “unaffiliated” category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith. ”Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs,” the study stressed. [...] Among the 1.1 billion unaffiliated people around the world, over 700 million, or 62 percent of them, live in China alone, where they make up 52.2 percent of the Chinese population. Japan comes next with the second largest unaffiliated population in the world with 72 million, or 57 percent of the national population. After that comes the United States, 51 million people — 16.4 percent of all Americans — said they have no link to an established faith.”

This analysis comes in the wake of another Pew study that showed the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated, “nones,” on the rise in America,  and making a definite impact on 2012 presidential elections here. Likewise, recently released 2011 census data from the UK shows nones making up 25% of that nation. Meanwhile, Hindus make up 15% of the global population, indigenous and folk religions are at around 6% with 405 million people, and “other” religions (our favorite category here at The Wild Hunt), which includes modern Pagan faiths, and makes up around 58 million (0.8%) of the world’s religious adherents.

16 other map

The largest religious category in the world, Christianity, while still dominant at over 2 billion, has seen a shift towards becoming a truly global faith where “no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.” In addition, Pew noted in a separate look at global Christianity that Europe was rapidly becoming post-Christian in character.

“In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%). A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas (37%). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13%).”

So what’s the take-home of all this data? Well, for one, it’s obvious that news and policy centered on a Christian frame of reference is a distorted lens when you account for the fact that they only account for 31.5% of our planet’s religious adherents. More than 45% of this world view things outside of those confines, yet “religion news” in the West essentially acts as a play-by-play of internal Christian squabbles and their influence on politics. Hinduism, Buddhism, indigenous traditions, “other” religions and the unaffiliated have been treated as a side-note at best, and almost completely shut out of moral conversations that affect non-Christians. This situation, particularly in news dealing with Europe, Asia, and increasingly, the United States, is becoming untenable.

Secondly, it’s important to keep in mind the essential “pagan-ness” of our world today, despite the best efforts of Christianity and Islam to replace all beliefs with their forms of exclusive monotheism. Polytheism, pantheism, henotheism, post-theism, and other theological variants outside the Abrahamic conceptions of divinity continue to thrive and make an impact on our world. The growth of the “nones” provides the Hindus, Buddhists, folk-religionists, and “other” faiths a chance to change the narrative of belief in this world, that Christian and Muslim one-size-fits-all salvation are not guaranteed eternal dominance, and that we can find pluralistic alternatives to the status quo.

The religiously unaffiliated, the “nones,” aren’t exclusively atheistic or agnostic, many of them hold to religious and spiritual conceptions, often quite Christian in conception, but their collective reluctance to be put into a box, and their unprecedented growth, could change everything. Most importantly it could change the perception that we live in a Christian, or Muslim, world. It could give journalists covering religion a new remit to start covering stories outside the Abrahamic paradigm, and it could give increased impetus for politicians across the political spectrum to embrace a real pluralism in their policy and rhetoric.