Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pagan Intolerance




Over the course of the past few years I have observed an emerging pattern of Pagan intolerance of divergent viewpoints on issues of importance to the community.  Again and again writers expressing their opinions are subjected to being called names, shamed for their views and subjected to “othering” as a result of expressing a simple personal viewpoint.

What is most alarming about this pattern is the communities’ relative acceptance of these behaviors. The most recent manifestation of this dynamic is the current editorial in Witches & Pagans magazine.  Individuals are threatening to discontinue their long-standing subscriptions to the publication due to an editorial, expressing a personal view.

Instead of taking the opportunity to openly enter into discourse of the presented topic a few in the community jump at the opportunity to take offence, make threats and “other” the author. 

The communities acceptance of such behavior has the consequence of encouraging those who write to avoid any topic that could stir controversy, which if given credence will result in a  “Pagan lite” approach that will leave us with nothing more than a new age, white washed writing ethic that will feature “goodness and light”.

Those individuals willing to tackle topics that call the community to introspection deserve not only our support but deep gratitude for providing us an opportunity to process important trends, develop deeper understanding of issues and acknowledge the importance of free and open discourse.

As part of my personal practice I hold those opinions and individuals with whom I disagree in what I call “Sacred Regard”. They provide me the opportunity to dig deeper, develop compassion and understanding, acknowledge the diversity in community and more clearly define my own understanding of the nature of the divine and my relationship to the Goddess.

Today I am calling for the community to stand for reasonable and respectful discourse. Engage in debates with a clear focus on the spark of the divine that exists within those with whom we debate. Confront those that engage in name-calling or threats. Most of all to relinquish the tendency to take offence in recognition that such behaviors have negative consequences for our community.

My experience is that those with whom I disagree are some of my most valued teachers, friends and guides. Blessings upon all those who are willing state their truth in a respectful manor.

 It is those who are willing to stand at the center of controversy and debate whom I most respect and whom manifest the most positive change in our community.


33 comments:

  1. Excellent thoughts, Peter. Acceptance of our differences have been the cornerstone that gives the Pagan community its strength. May the Pagan community always enjoy, acknowledge and embrace diversity of thought and practice.

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  2. We've had our moments of respectful disagreement, Peter, but on this one we are 100% walking the same course. In my own ways, I've been on the receiving end of this sort of thing. Granted, in some cases, I'm prepared for it due to my advocacy for unpopular goals, but at other times I think I'm simply making a comment on an article or sharing an alternate point of view and I find myself on the receiving end of some fairly hostile language.

    Worse: sometimes it seems like the people who are using this sort of language and employing this sort of Othering don't even realize they're doing so. I've called people on it a few times -- mostly outside the public eye since it seems more respectful to do so -- and usually the perpetrator doubles-down on their language and starts up with the personal attacks.

    It often leaves me wondering if I'm the one in the wrong or if I should be thinking and doing things differently simply because others are out-shouting me with respect to a given idea or situation.

    Interestingly, in my conversations with UK and Australian Pagans, this seems like something that we in America struggle with moreso then they do.

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    1. Dash, it would seem that Americans have lost the skill of respectful and civil debate. We see it all the time, online and in face-to-face interactions. We are ill equipped, on average, to to understand the purpose of debate, how to conduct ourselves in a respectful manner. We can speculate on why, but we all have our own opinions on why that is.

      As many Americans seem to depend on social networking and other text based interactions, almost over and beyond that of face-to-face, we have begun to lose what little ability we may have in civil discourse. Look around at the nasty arguments people have on Facebook over memes and simple grammar or spelling errors. Look at the political mudslinging each election season. Look at the violence that all too often comes about during debate (or demonstration) on either side of an issue like marriage equality or abortion.

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  3. As the writer of the editorial in question, I fully accept responsibility and apologize for the "othering" and condescending tone of the editorial. I foolishly indulging myself in putting forth a tone that I would never have tolerated from one of our writers, and thus I fully deserve the opprobrium heaped upon me for that tone of arrogance and pride.

    That said, I still hold to my opinion that defending supernatural creatures (aka "Hollywood witches") is not in our long-term interests as Pagans, and furthermore, that being super-sensitive about insults and slights by mainstream media is strategically unsound.

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  4. While I respect your statement here Ann, those who had an issues with your writing have a responsibility to disagree respectfuly, It is not with those who chose to do so that I have an issue. It those few who took offence and engaged in disrespectful diologue that I have an issue. The community should be able to provide feedback, but not attack.

    This issue also goes way beyond your situation, the pattern has affected more than a dozen writers I know, we need to establish a Pagan value of respectful discourse.

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  5. Hey Peter, I can't form an informed opinion on this unless you post a link to said editorial. :) The W&P site is huge, where the heck is it?

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  6. Nicole,

    I chose to not address the issue being debated at W&P because I did not want to engage in that debate. The issue I bring to the table is the nature of Pagan debate and those who take offence and engage in attacking. This pattern is rife on pagan sites.

    To see the W&P etidortoril you need a subscription, good Mag, but it is not really about the point I am making.

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    1. Hmmm. I don't think that's very effective...what I'm reading you saying is "I'm going to say that this happened and that it never should have happened, and I will vaguely allude to it having happened elsewhere, but I won't give anyone any actual concrete information about it that might help us assess the extent and nature of the problem."

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    2. The specific incident that inspired this essay is not really relevant, its symptomatic of the issue being addressed. Confining to the specificity of this particular incident would serve no one

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  7. Sacred regard notwithstanding , that is such a cop out , either link to the debate or forget it . What good is it to ask for civility and then avoid a debate ? What is your fear there ?
    Also , you have not mentioned one of the main causes for such attacks , cliques . Anyone who expresses a thought outside of the current group think of any group is viewed as an attack .

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  8. First, I do not have the ability or right to post content from a publication that requires a subscription. To do so would violate copywrite laws. Second Swannie, no opposing views should not be viewed as an attack, this is a call for respectful diologue, we need to disagree, debate and discuss. What we don't need is name calling, threats, and "othering" as part of debate.

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    1. Ok, I agree the concern with copyright laws is valid. Some quotes could have been appropriate and useful though.

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    2. To help clarify, the editorial is in the print magazine of W&P, not the website. You can subscribe or purchase individual copies through the website.

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  9. Peter, I haven't read the W&P piece and don't even think the particulars matter.

    There is a pattern in many groups - not just Paganism - to forget that we can disagree and even argue with one another without tearing one another down. Sometimes the arguing or disagreement is how we learn new things, gain clarity, or simply exist together.

    Most of us have made the mistake of othering - I certainly have. There is always a chance to come back to center and try to do better next time. Respectful disagreement requires some amount of self-observation and reflection. It also requires that we treat one another in Good Faith rather than always seeing one another as acting from Bad Faith, to use philosophical terms.

    Can we assume good intentions and ask more questions in the midst of disagreement? That is what I try to do, even though I may not always succeed. Trying shows we want to be present with one another, and that we acknowledge the sacred that flows through each of us.

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  10. T. Thorn Coyle, You remind me that I need a like button on my blog comment section!

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  11. 10% rule in copyright law

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  12. Damn, that didn't take long.

    Peter, put me down for an endorsement that you can, in fact, address an idea without having to make it's presentation all about a critique of the source of the idea's inspiration. The point is made well enough without turning it into a pissing contest, which as far as I can tell WAS the idea to start with.

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  13. More mouthyness:

    What I'd like to see more of is what Thorn mentions - simply agreeing to disagree. It's like every element or item has to be a hyper-politicized statement, and agreeing to disagree with someone means you're either being horrifically divisive or guilty of a loss of integrity, or meeeeeeeaaaannnn! Pifflesnot.

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  14. I did not witness the kerfuffle in question, but I'm sure I didn't need to. I feel that those who want to are probably missing the point. They are wondering what was said in the first place, and whether they agree or disagree with it. (Or maybe they just want to witness a good dust up.)

    Yes, we see this a lot on Pagan blogs and forums. I think some may even be courting it a bit -- after all, nothing increases site traffic like a bit of controversy. However, we have to consider the times and wider culture in which this is happening. From the news media to social media to the debating floors of government, there has rarely been a time of greater polarisation or less civility and tolerance. It seems to be the case that every point of disagreement is now considered to be a personal affront, to which it is perfectly acceptable to respond with any bad behaviour one chooses.

    While I agree that the Pagan community should strive to be better than that, there is no surprise that the behaviour of many in our relatively small community will reflect that of the wider community. To change THAT is a tall order. Until then, articles like this help, but it's really each of us exercising self control that makes the difference.

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  15. I really applaud this, Peter. And I agree with one of your readers that this is becoming endemic in our culture as a whole. I moderate discussion boards as part of my job, and I have noted in recent years the tone of discussion has changed, as have peoples' general respect for me and others in an online space. People so easily forget that there are real people at the end of these keyboards and producing these words. I also think we aren't always that great at enforcing and supporting standards of mature, polite communication. I think these nasty responses are also impacted by poor information literacy, the ways in which people read and interpret authority, and how people evaluate arguments that they read online, but that's clearly a much larger kettle of fish.

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  16. I read Anne's editorial in this months issue. I actually understand where she is coming from, and I will not be so quick to judge the Hollywood portrayal of witches so swiftly in the future.

    We know what we are and what we all stand for is very personalized. The bigger issues are rocks being thrown through a families house in Florida, because they are Pagan. Or a child being told in a public school they cannot wear their pentacle.

    Everyone has a right to his/her own opinions. I've considered starting a podcast/blog of sorts, but after seeing the Witch Flame Wars and other negative energy strewn about on the internet-I've refrained.

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  17. I have to agree with the idea that I don't need to see this debate to know what is going on...its a phenomenon that I have seen happening for as long as I've been Pagan--about 20 years now. Not quite two years ago, due to one of these sorts of incidents, I felt compelled to write a list of "rules" for "Interfaith Etiquette", and a year ago, in response to another of these sorts of incidents I felt compelled to follow it up with a guide to "Netiquette" for discussions on religion. Nothing has really changed...the only place I've found this attitude to not be the norm was on one of the forums I've been a member of for years (although it happens occasionally and is squashed out pretty fast) and when I was in the military, participating in an unabashedly multi-tradition group.

    I think that the realizing of this as a problem is pretty much played out though--the people that *don't* realize this is a problem already, aren't going to without it being pointed out to them directly. At some point we need to stop talking about how stuff is broken and start fixing stuff (or at least talking about how to fix stuff). So, being a pragmatic sort-of idealist--how the heck do we hold one another accountable?

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  18. I also commend you for your point of view on this, it's in line with my own. I believe that if a community as diverse as "Pagans" are not having these crucial debates and taking advantage of the opportunities from growth and understanding which come out of them, then we stagnate, and become even less relevant to the larger world, in which we're working to be taken seriously.

    The one thing exemplified by the type of behavior prompting this article is people making a conscious choice to be blindly offended without then taking the next, rational step because that's where the real work starts, and too many Pagans shy away from the responsibility of that type of work.

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  19. Deep gratitude to all those commenting, The best part of having this blog is how much I learn from those who comment here!

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  20. I *love* having a difference of opinion with people. I'm not a fighter, but a good discussion hearing different points of view will help me re-examine my own viewpoints in different ways, and I think it's a marvelous way to grow. When it turns into a dominance struggle and the negative communication starts flowing, it's not really productive for me anymore. Respectfully disagreeing with cheerful enthusiasm and a merry, insightful dialogue is awesome.

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  21. I think part of the problem is that we sometimes become personally attached to our point of view, to the point that disagreement itself is seen as attack, when it is no more than disagreement. I have a family member I disagree with much of the time. But then he knows when I do agree is is true agreement. No doubt on certain subjects we will disagree aways. [Grin]

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  22. Since I didn't read the editorial on which you speak I can't comment on the "othering" expressed there. I do have say I have seen it in my immediate Pagan community - not just among Pagans, but with our own neighbors. One example that stands out in my mind is a woman who went on about how fascinated she is by Islamic women. But when I asked her if she interviewed a Muslimmah, she admitted she had not. Our community has literally thousands of Muslims and several outreach programs - she had every opportunity to step across the "other" line to understand a person on that person's own terms and did not. While likely not what you're talking about, I think it signifies a growing mentality I've seen more of in recent years that I didn't encounter as much when I first became Wiccan.

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  23. Peter, thank you for taking a stand about this. It's important for us to speak up against communicating with others in ways that are, quite simply, abusive. I would only add that I don't think knee-jerk shaming and othering is a Pagan problem. It appears to me to be a broader social and cultural problem -- an infection that seems to be spreading. It's probably best addressed on a grass-roots, call them on it when it happens level. So, yeah. Let's try to heal it in our own community first.

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  24. One of my first reactions to this post was: "examples please." I find that I am not reading through the same material as others are, and I am at a loss from time to time to find examples that clarify the topic at hand. This has happened a number of times over the past 8 months.

    I too would like to see less reactive discourse and less of what I refer to as high school clique behavior.

    Of course, I do not imagine I am exempt from being reactive ~ I am at times ~ and, I do hope my own contributions on the web inspire thought rather than offense.

    Regardless of examples or their absence, I do have basic agreement with the principle being extolled above, i.e. effective and civil discourse, (sometimes more impassioned, sometimes less) is a good thing for us to embrace.

    In addition to that, however, I make a simple observation. I feel there is a difficult meme out there that results in wording such as this (in the above) popping up in our conversations:

    '...will result in a “Pagan lite” approach
    that will leave us with nothing more than
    a new age, white washed writing ethic
    that will feature “goodness and light”.'

    Many use the term "new age" as a pejorative, and "goodness and light" as a sort of character flaw or the like ~ I am not entirely sure. Regardless of what people mean, I have seen this usage when people want to express things like "we are more real", so to speak. More real than what?

    It is a form of name calling, in my view ~ e.g. "those people, who are not as real as we are; those new age, goodness and light people." I honestly do not think I could use the meme to express any insight clearly; not even my regular attempts to convince people the wisdom of avoiding its use.

    Anyhow … Ironically, in the same paragraph in which the meme I discourage appears, what I feel is the most important point made in the original post also appears; which we all need to grasp, in my view: " … has the consequence of encouraging those who write to avoid any topic that could stir controversy, …"

    In my view, the list of avoided topics is a long one. Anyone have that list?

    I certainly avoid certain topics. :o/

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  25. Sad to say this trend isn't all that recent. I've experienced this kind of intolerance from the beginning of my writing career (ten years ago) and even before then. People get awful defensive or upset if you upset the status quo or offer a perspective that runs counter to their beliefs.

    Teaching people how to dialogue is a good step. More importantly teaching people that there isn't a one true path and that diversity in practice and spirituality is a good thing is much needed, less we emulate more mainstream religions.

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  26. Hi. Lovely blog, I just found it. :)

    I agree that if a debate is done with respect it can lead to personal and spiritual growth. Sadly a respectful debate rarely happens, especially on the Internet.

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  27. There are many different kinds of Pagans... usually I agree or disagree based on my own understanding of what a pagan is and based on their behavior.

    When I returned to the US in 1966 after being initiated in Wales, I thought I knew it all. Of course I didn't, but I watched the international pagan community grow and prosper...and I watched "leaders" make mistakes and I watched others become excellent pagan teachers.

    As I watched an International Pagan Movement begin to form and become rich because of differences and controversy I also I noticed one thing.

    To Quote: "But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole-shrine he came,
    And he told me in a vision of the night: — "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, "And every single one of them is right!" from The Works of Rudyard Kipling Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994

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  28. I forgot to include the following comments about writing which I believe apply: In a poem entitled "In the Neolithic Age" published in 1892, Rhudyard Kipling reflects on the violent debates that story-tellers have engaged in over the many thousand years of man's existence, and concludes that there are no absolute standards—no 'right' or 'wrong'—in literary endeavor, no grounds on which one writer is entitled to savage another or anther's work.

    As in the poems "The Story of Ung", and "When 'omer smote 'is bloomin' lyre", Just So Stories which include "The Cat that Walked by Himself" and his speech in 1919 "The First Sailor", Kipling is harking back to ancient or prehistoric times to express a modern message.

    Background

    Ever since his 'teens at United Services College he had experimented joyfully with forms and styles, borrowing from many earlier poets. In his mature years he remained a poet of many different voices. This piece was published while the Kiplings were establishing themselves in Brattleboro Vermont to accompany his article "My First Book".

    In the two previous years, in which he had taken literary London by storm, he had resolutely refused to criticize other writers, and the principle that there are many different 'ways of constructing tribal lays' was deeply held.

    I believe Pagan writers could do well by following his example. My grandfather said "If you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all." I try to follow that axiom although not always succeeding.

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