Archives For Slacktivist

A recent essay by Jay Michaelson at Religion Dispatches, and a post by fellow Patheos blogger Fred Clark, shone new light into a phenomenon that I’ve pondered for a long time now: the general anxiety over America’s (and more broadly, the West’s) shifting spiritual practices and demographics. Michaelson, taking note of a recent anti-Yoga hit-piece in the New York Times, blasted a certain tendency to “ridicule any non-Western, non-rationalistic, non-neurotic spiritual practice.”

“How ironic to criticize spiritually-minded people for indulging themselves, when what’s really indulgent is to coddle the fear of anything that might disturb the status quo, might actually attack the neurosis and doubt that make a successful reporter tick. Don’t lose your edge, that’s the important part. Don’t ever give in to—dare I say it—opening your heart.”

Michaelson goes on to equate this rationalist prejudice with “the fears of a Santorum or a Bachmann.” Which brings me to Clark’s post, which links to pieces discussing Public Policy Polling’s 3rd annual TV news trust poll. It found, as it did in previous polls, that while liberals and independents trust a wide variety of television news sources, conservatives tend to trust just one: Fox News. While this study says interesting things about political polarization and epistemic closure, I think it also says interesting things about religion and spirituality in the United States. For Fox News also plays on the anxiety concerning the shifting sands of spirituality, but does so in a manner quite different from the snobbish ridicule of a New York Times, for them its about a culture war between Christianity and the forces of secularism. See, for example, their coverage of Buncombe County Board of Education’s policy on distributing religious materials. While most outlets focused on Ginger Strivelli, a local Witch who challenged the distribution of Bibles, the Fox News piece emphasizes cultural change and upheaval.

“Traditionally, that “grand experiment” has involved Judaism and a handful of Christian denominations. But as non-traditional faiths spread into new communities, longstanding customs such as prayer, Christmas plays and Bibles that once went unquestioned in public schools are finding themselves under increased scrutiny. “Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, not on Wiccan principles,” Bobby Honeycutt, who attended public schools in Weaverville during the 1970s, said. “Our children have access to more non-Christian print material in the libraries and online than they really do Christian stuff,” he said.”

For someone who believes a move away from Christian principles is a vital threat to America’s power and stability, passages like that must only reinforce their worry. So in different ways, these mainstream media outlets from across the political spectrum continue to feed this anxiety, one that is then exploited by canny politicians.  So many stories involving non-Christian faiths or practices, when analyzed, just feed into this larger meme.

And on, and on, and on. As religious minorities continue to press for equal treatment, as more and more Americans engage with practices perceived to be outside the accepted cultural boundaries of normalcy, so the anxiety ratchets up. How Pagan is Halloween? How Hindu will Yoga make you? Should you even vote for a non-Christian? Who does this anxiety serve, and why is it being peddled so fiercely by so many? It all comes down to fear of a post-Christian planet, a world where the West is no longer dominated by one religious or cultural context.

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

Back in August of 2011, I wrote about statistical models and studies concerning the slow decline of Christian dominance, and how as the population of religiously non-affiliated individuals grow, their preferences start to become attractive to more and more people. While this shift will hardly see Christianity’s statistical dominance toppled any time soon, it does mean a future where compromise and coexistence will be emphasized over top-down hegemony.

“The future isn’t about dominance, but about coexistence. Many faiths and philosophies sitting at the table, instead of one (or two) faith groups telling everyone else what the agenda is. The numbers are shifting, generational plate tectonics slowly changing the old religious order. The near future will continue to be numerically dominated by Christian adherents, but they’ll soon lose their unified monopoly on social and political agendas. Alongside the accepted Christians-Catholics-Jews tri-faith understanding that emerged in the early 20th century will be the Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, atheists, practitioners of indigenous religions, and yes, Muslims.”

What can we do? While there’s little that can be done to stop the anxieties that come from slow and massive demographic changes, we can demand accountability and balance from our media outlets, engage in outreach and interfaith dialog where it is appropriate, and work to ensure that the boundaries between Church and State hold firm. At the end of the day, we have to understand that this anxiety is really a testament to how influential religious minorities in the United States, and in the West, have become. As trade unionist Nicholas Klein said in 1918: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.” We are no longer being ignored, the time of ridicule and attack is at hand, but as visionaries we know that the time of monuments will come.

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.

Just a few quick notes for you on this Tuesday.

Animal Sacrifice, Factory Farming, and Palo Mayombe: Religion Dispatches has an excellent essay up by Meera Subramanian, senior editor of Killing the Buddha, on the recent case of William Camacho, a practitioner of Palo Mayombe whose barber shop was shut down after sacrificial chickens were found in the basement. Subramanian compares the actions of religions that engage in animal sacrifice to the factory farming industry, and suspects that public discomfort with one and not the other is all down to issues of visibility.

William Camacho. Photo by Peter Pereira/SouthCoastToday.com

“Last year alone, about eight billion chickens were slaughtered in the U.S., according to the USDA. So why does the idea of animal sacrifice so easily fall into the realm of heebie jeebies? Why do stories about people like Camacho and their doomed animals get picked up so quickly, not just by ABC, but also sites with names like Wacky Bastards? [...] Camacho broke the rules. No chickens within city limits. But what shutting down his barbershop and the initial talk of throwing animal cruelty charges at him reveals is really our discomfort and alienation from the animals at the heart of the New Bedford controversy. It lays bare our preference that animal killings, whether as a part of a religious ritual or not, stay hidden out of view. It asks that any connection that animals might have to the spirit world remain tamely leashed to our household pets.”

I recommend reading the entirety of Subramanian’s essay. As for Camacho and Bad Boyz Cutz? The barber shop is open for business once more, and no charges are being filed against him at this time. He’s still seeking advice from attorneys.

Burning Man Celebrates its 25th Anniversary: Burning Man in Nevada is now under way. The temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a ”Rites of Passage” theme. This year marks the first time the event has sold out, and also sees the event transition into a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the festival’s ideology outside the famous once-per-year event. What is that ideology? Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man”, argues for the event being “pagan” at its roots.

“No one I’ve ever spoken to (and I’ve been attending and researching this event since 1996) has ever come right out and called Burning Man a religion–Pagan or otherwise–and the event’s organizers have repeatedly stated as much for years. However, I think in some ways it can be considered to be a pagan (note the lower case) phenomenon. In this meaning, I see the uppercase term “Pagan” as referring to our various Neopagan traditions–that is the sets of practices, beliefs, and communities that are seen as (albeit loosely) constituting our family of religions–while I use the lowercase term “pagan” as a more general adjective.

In this sense, I am thinking of Michael York’s concept of “root religion,” which identifies paganism as a set of shared–yet diversely constituted–primal religious tendencies that broadly underlie all global religions. As he stated, “inasmuch as paganism is the root of religion, it confronts the earliest, the most immediate, and the least processed apprehensions of the sacred. This is the experiential level on which paganism in both its indigenous and contemporary forms wishes to concentrate.” (see York’s Pagan Theology)

Burning Man has a similarly embodied, experiential, and ritualized quality. This feeling is in part engendered by the encounter with nature in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. In the beauty and essential simplicity of this vast dusty arena–as well as in the visceral physical experience of its arid and demanding environment–many participants encounter a sense of the transformative and numinous.”

Recent data suggests that Burning Man is becoming more religious, political, and female as it ages, though critics still contest the event is a “dead-end cult.” For more on how Burning Man is small-p “pagan” check out the rest of Gilmore’s guest post for The Wild Hunt. You may also want to read the interview conducted with her at Religion Dispatches last year.

Debating Dominionism: In final note, the debate and discussion over what Christian Dominionism exactly is, whether its worth talking about, and whether it is or isn’t a threat, continues. At Religion Dispatches Sarah Posner and Anthea Butler have an excellent discussion that digs deep into the subject, and goes beyond the alarmism and denial currently dominating coverage.

Rick Perry hugs NAR "Apostle" Alice Patterson at 'The Response'.

“I view with a jaundiced eye these journalists who think that by the mere act of writing an 800 word op-ed they’re going to wave a wand over people of faith and make their beliefs go away. Not Happening. Yes, not every conservative Christian is a Dominionist, but to say a movement doesn’t exist, without even being able to say what it is in an op-ed is just irresponsible. It also shows what the real issue is.

For the last 30 years, journalists have had an easy time reporting on the religious right, because all they did was pay attention to to white male leaders of big organizations like Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, or Family Research Council. The days when a nice soundbite from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Ted Haggard would suffice are over. If journalists and others want to understand the last 10 years of the religious right movement, they will need to pay attention to the theological, religious, and ethnic diversity among evangelicals, Pentecostals, and non-denominational churches. They will at least need to recognize the old and new leaders of the religious right, and the complex network of leaders, conferences, and teachings if they want a reductionist argument they can spin out in 800 words. As someone who has studied and written about Pentecostalism for over 15 years, their lack of basic knowledge is staggering, and although I don’t expect people to get it like I do, I do expect reporters and journalists to do their homework—like you do, Sarah!”

In addition to that, Fred Clark at Slacktivist points out that Dominionism has been a serious concern within conservative Christian circles for some time now, and certainly not a myth. He also notes that if you don’t want to be seen as a Dominionist, you should probably avoid hiring them. Right Wing Watch echoes Clark by asking why, if Dominionism is a liberal myth used to attack conservative Christians, does it have conservative critics? At Talk To Action Chip Berlet responds to the latest wave of Dominionist coverage backlash from figures like Ross Douthat and Mary Eberstadt (more here). For my run-down of the debate up to this point, check out this post.

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

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 6, 2010 — 3 Comments

Just a few quick items I wanted to share with you today, starting with a post from my favorite Christian blog, Slacktivist, who tackles the sad case of Ali Sibat’s death sentence in Saudi Arabia, and the sensationalist “500 dead animals” Santeria story from Philadelphia in one fell swoop.

“The Supreme Court of the U.S. did not rule that the free exercise of Santeria is “permitted.” It ruled, unambiguously (9-0), that the free exercise of Santeria is protected. This is not a minor distinction. People like Sally Kern — or like Chuck Colson and Robert George and everybody they got to endorse their “Manhattan Declaration” — like to think that their particular religion is protected by the First Amendment while other, less widely held religions are merely “permitted,” merely tolerated out of a benign condescension. But the First Amendment does not make or allow for any such distinction. If it did, then America would require a Saudi-style “religious police” to enforce laws dependent on the content of religious beliefs. A legal category of “heretical, but permitted” could not long exist without realizing the implied additional legal category of “heretical and prohibited,” and neither category is compatible with religious freedom. It is not possible to make legal judgments regarding the content of religious belief without enforcing laws against heresy. And it is not possible to enact and enforce laws against heresy without religious tyranny.”

For those curious about what that “Manhattan Declaration” is that he mentioned, you can find the text of it, here. You can read Slacktivist’s opinion of that declaration, here. While I’m not too surprised to see a Christian blog report on the Sibat case, I’m pleasantly surprised to see one address the Santeria story. Kudos to Fred Clark for addressing the fact that religious freedom means freedom for all religions, not just the ones that are “Judeo-Christian”.

The Smoky Mountain News in North Carolina takes an exhaustive look at the various viewpoints on the matter of public religious invocations before government meetings. Interviewing Christians, atheists, politicians, lawyers, and even Pagans, in the process.

“Lianna Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said prayers that specifically reference Jesus Christ in Haywood, Swain and Macon counties persist simply because the practice has never been challenged. In her opinion, holding any one group above another promotes an atmosphere of intolerance. In Constantino’s view, it will take a long time for major change, somewhat due to the makeup of WNC society. “There hasn’t been a lot of diversity like there has been in other parts of the country,” said Constantino. “As a simple fact, this is a pretty homogenous Christian-entrenched society in the South.” … Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said endorsing Christian prayers before meetings blatantly violates a precious partition between religion and state. “I think it is rude, arrogant and presumptuous to impose any singular religious tradition on a religiously diverse society,” said Constantino.”

The article was prompted by recent successful legal challenges in Forsyth County that ended sectarian prayer before governmental meetings. Now a group of North Carolina counties (Haywood, Macon and Swain) wonder when they’ll be called to court for excluding religious minorities, or making public sectarian invocations. The answer is most likely “eventually”, as religious minorities (and atheists) grow and decide they’ve had enough of a governmental endorsement of Christianity masquerading as “religious freedom”.

In a final note, the Guardian music blog spotlights “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, a film I’ve mentioned here before.

“The result is a new film, Pagan Metal: A Documentary, that features interviews with some of the scene’s big players, including Finnish bands, Finntroll, Korpiklaani and Turisas, as well as Norway’s Leaves Eyes and Ireland’s Primordial. Their dedication to ancient traditions doesn’t quite go as far as carving guitars out of birch and stringing them with the entrails of wild boar, but alongside your typical metal set-up, traditional instruments, such as violins, flutes and Celtic bagpipes, are rife. Lyrics, meanwhile, are steeped in traditional, pre-Christian themes: Finntroll, for instance, draw inspiration from from the epic Finnish poem The Kalevala.”

The post chronicles how film producer Bill Zebub was initially quite skeptical of the genre, but was won over by the “vibe” which called out to “the European” within him. They also tackle how some bands veer into racism and nationalism, though they do add that there is less extremism and sensationalism on the whole than within the more-popular Black Metal genre (a genre that also has a documentary about it coming out).

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