This is a post that seems poorly timed. There’s so much going on right now with respect to the upheaval in the Middle East that I’d like to speak further on that topic. However, I’m not sure I fully understand the situation, and therefore, don’t want to give a false impression of an ongoing and extremely complicated situation. Thus, I’m going to fall back on my original plan from last month which was to speak a bit about why I think it’s necessary for Pagans to become involved in interfaith work insofar as any individual is willing and able to do so.
The reason is simple: we are diverse. Even more, we continue to seek to work together within our own religious community despite this diversity. Consider this month’s many Pagan Pride Days. I visited Southeastern Massachusetts Pagan Pride Day for a few hours and specifically for their ritual. The ritual was Wiccan in structure with the casting of circles, calling of quarters and deities, etc. There were those like myself, who don’t tend to work within that structure regularly, who took part anyway to work with others while still others stood apart and watched. Even within the circle, there were those who raised their hands to greet the elemental quarters and some who bowed. In short: whatever our individual religious proclivities, we worked together — even if only for that one hour — toward a common goal. And, those who did not take part were not ridiculed for their choice.
Consider this, too: how often do you think of a religious community where each individual person can claim to have their own individual way of practicing, worshiping, and thinking about their faith without the others in that community even raising an eyebrow? It doesn’t happen often. Sure, if we consider other religious there are differences in style or tradition, but at their core, most faith communities can come together around a shared core of both dogma and practice and that’s not something that I think we can claim to have.
And, that’s what makes us valuable.
The modern world doesn’t have a lot of human monocultures anymore. We’ve expanded to fill most of the habitable areas on this planet and even when you encounter a culture which honors their traditional ways and practices, many may still live surrounded by others with whom they must interact. As such, we are finding ourselves increasingly in relationship with people who do not see the world in the same way that we do. Urban life as we know it today almost necessitates encountering people of different cultural, political, and socioeconomic status and it’s not appropriate to ghettoize those with whom we disagree nor is it acceptable to stick our heads in the sand and pretend they don’t exist.
Pagans don’t do this. Sure, we have a variety of larger subcultures, for lack of a better term, within our community. I’m thinking, for example, of Heathens, many of whom eschew the term “pagan” for a variety of reasons. And not only do we accept that, in many cases we continue to include these diverse paths within our community and invite them to work with us rather than stand separately from us. Jumping back to the Pagan Pride Day I attended, there was at least one booth, if not more set up and staffed, entirely by Heathens — I believe they used the term Odinists — despite the fact that the next stall over sold Afro-Caribbean poppets and the one prior was selling gemstones and pendulums.
Our community is not a monoculture. And, when we consider religious communities, they often are. Or, at least they are when it comes to a solidarity of belief within the community even if the members thereof might be of diverse backgrounds. I attended Catholic Mass with my wife this morning and was struck by the Nicene Creed and how it clearly defines the belief structure of her faith. I was further struck but the fact that I don’t think that we could ever articulate such a thing for Paganism in so concise a fashion.
And that, I think, is what we can bring to interfaith work. We know what it means to struggle with difference and to try to build something through it and with it. We know what it means to have to look at someone across the room who thinks differently about faith and the gods and still work with them. Further, we tend to try to accept these differences and approach them openly and non-critically. Which is not to say that we may come to an impasse over some question of thought and practice now and again, but when we do we tend to at least try to talk it out and work through it.
Not every faith group can say the same. When Catholics, for example, get together to discuss what it means to raise their children and teach them their faith, there’s likely going to be some fairly solid agreement regarding the results of those discussions. Will they necessarily agree with, for example, Anglicans or Methodists? Perhaps not, but the again it might be rare for a group of Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists to sit down and discuss such things. For us, it is common. I was a part of that discussion between Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Eclectics, and one Shinto practitioner.
It is the pluralism inherent within our community which makes us unique and the skills we’ve chosen to hone in order to work together despite that pluralism are skills that this world desperately needs right now. That need is part of what calls me to interfaith work and why, I think, it suits Pagans to act as moderators and administrators within these events when we can. And, when we can’t, I think it’s important that we bring our skills, and our faith, out and into the world to share with others.