For those of you in the Facebook world, who may have noticed my absence this week? I was “name reported” to FB, suspiciously near in timing to taking a stand in a discussion on the subject of New Atheism, which I have spoken and written about extensively in the past. In short, I was advocating — as I always do, being the good social justice warrior that I am — for culturally progressive and mature understandings of different groups of people still having value and rights to respect and dignity and freedom, even if another person disagrees with them.

This led to one particularly astute participant comparing minority religions to cancer cells and suggesting that they needed to be cured. In the name of science, rational thought, and, well, New Atheism.

Which is, of course, my point: many of these people are closeted supremacists who haven’t, as one gentler Pagan in the discussion phrased it, “had time to work it through, yet”. Meaning that they need “time” to arrive at the realization that their stances and positions are identical in mechanics to the eugenics-inspired activities of the Third Reich. (The cancer analogy followed a fruitless ramble about baskets of rotten apples and no time to sort the good from the bad, so they all needed to be treated with “equal” regard; except that this equality didn’t call for equal respect but instead equal rejection.) Apparently these rational New Atheists “need time” to “work through” what cultural supremacy is, and what the language of erasure and eradication (read: cultural genocide, culture-and-thought policing, extermination) sound and look like at the end of the day.

Anyway, for having the audacity to call it out, some very sophisticated and obviously terribly rational fellow “reported my name” to Facebook. Because, yeah, that’s and equation of action that makes completely logical sense. Start another fucking name-report-war. Way to go, idiots.

So, anyway, I’ve been silent on this because I don’t want my supporters to go off  name reporting all of these supremacist New Atheists, the way that happened with another set of communities some months ago. Denying somebody their own name is an act of unforgivable dishonor, disgrace, and degradation of human rights.

This kind of action is done in detainment scenarios as an act of psychological warfare. Now, I know that statement gets used a lot in this discussion, and people cite Guantanamo Bay or the Stanford Prison Experiment to justify the comparison, but these grandiose suggestions get writtn off by nearly everyone not making them, because they can’t see a parallel between “reporting a name on Facebook” and “illegal detaining somebody and stripping them of their name”.

So, here’s the thing:

I have been illegally detained and stripped of my name, for a period of years, and tortured through both physical and psychological means. (Please respect my privacy on this, if you do not already know this part of my history, and do not pry for more information than that.) I suffer PTSD as a result of these, and related/intersecting life circumstances. As such I feel uniquely qualified to state the following:

Having my name reported and “stolen” through this process? It feels identical to what was done to me in those darker times, at the psychological and emotional level. It feels identical because it is in actuality identical: helpless against an overwhelming structure I am stripped of my identity — my name, which is real and authentic and used in day to day life — for the specific purposes of communicating to me just how powerless I can be rendered with such minimal effort by an oppressor. That is what happens when somebody reports another’s name on Facebook: they are showing that person, for the purposes of harm, an experience of powerlessness. Accusations of cowardice aside, this is an act of psychological torture by definition.

And it feels identical. Even though this is just Facebook, it doesn’t “feel” like something trivial. It feels, and is experienced, as a literal stripping of identity and name… the same way that it did while I was enduring literal torture and detainment. My “review” process with Facebook’s operations division, to verify that this is my real and authentic name — which it is — even assigns me a “number”. You know what happens in detainees? They are assigned numbers, to strip them of their identity, and reenforce their removal from human consideration. So, yeah, this? This feels like that.

Thankfully I prepared myself for this eventuality last September when the first rounds of “name reporting” began on Facebook, and assembled a docket of legitimate identity verifying documentation as per Facebook’s name and identity form policies, familiarized myself with their protocols and process, and was neither shocked nor surprised when this happened. I am four days into the review process, and I anticipate another four-to-ten days before resolution happens.

However, my preparation does not diminish the psychological impact of being stripped of my name. Of being stripped of my identity. By somebody who I cannot see or touch.

And so I say: do not do this to anyone, no matter who they are, or what they have done. If you have issues with somebody, sack up and settle it like an adult: with fists, tooth, claw or law. Torture of this kind? This is the tool of the small, the weak, the literally powerless, who are seeking through manipulative guile to feel as though they have power by projecting their own experience of smallness onto somebody else.

Suffice it to say, I am not powerless. (In fact, these four days off from Facebook have allowed me to continue packing my house for my upcoming move with less distraction, and work on an upcoming article for publication, as well as fine-tune some language in a Human Rights document.) That said? I still have PTSD, which is a permanent synaptic and neuro-chemical rewiring of my brain, and when it flares — as it presently is — I am crushed by it. Sometimes for days at a time, sometimes for fleeting waves of paralysis and flashback and muscle-locking white-knuckled count-to-ten-and-breathe-and-pray. But this is merely the experience of powerlessness, not the reality of it.

To those who have reached out in panic, concern, or confusion, through email, phone and text: thank you. I am alive, I am relatively unscathed, and I’ll be back before too long. In the meantime, you can continue to reach me by those means, or comment here.

The Ancients

Posted: May 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

Originally posted here:

The statement that “we are not the ancients” is one that gets brought up a LOT [by detractors to the Polytheist Movement]. It has been stated to me a dozen [times]. This statement is used to [suggest] that somehow Polytheists do not know this, and it is used to belittle, satirize, and literally describe our religions as “devolved”. Nobody in Polytheism believes that “we are the ancients”; we are not advocating for enslaving our enemies or neighbors, warring with other nations, dismembering those who dishonor us, or blinding those who infringe upon our hospitality. We are, however, advocating for lived understandings of things like honor and hospitality, which include thousands of years of developed philosophies around ethical and moral conduct, from around the world. We are also using iPads, smart-phones, writing scholarly books, discussing the environment and our modern impact upon it, engaging in civil rights activism and education, sponsoring and fund-raising for indigenous rights and freedom-of-religion issues (not just our own, mind you!).

The branch of Paganism which seems so trigger-happy in attacking us in this way, using this kind of language, also seems to enjoy speaking from a kind of “post-culture” standpoint, where people who still have a cultural identity just haven’t evolved yet, and people who are actively trying to reclaim, restore, or rebuild a culture are participating in harmful “devolutions”. This is the living definition of ethnocentricism and dominant-culture privilege and entitlement: it has no place in our communities or in interfaith, cross-cultural dialog. Further, statements are often made by, or draw language from, fields of academic study which suggest that only “old and ongoing” cultures or religions are “real”, and that anyone else is effectively just pretending… and yet, to my knowledge the field of anthropology is only about a century old, and yet cultures and cultural movements have developed and come to life in lived authenticity throughout time for a great deal longer than that. Apparently humans don’t need academic permission to exist a certain way; it is not the purpose of academic fields of anthropology (or theology, or religious studies) to define what a person who group can or cannot do, but rather to study and understand those things that are done. The key word there is “understand”.

As Polytheists we do not think that “we are the ancients”. We are modern people who are Polytheists, and we belong to many cultural backgrounds, with many religious backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and ethnic backgrounds. We honor our ancestors, and the ancestors of others. That includes ancestors who came up with and refined systems of justice, and education. Which is why some of us are lawyers, and others are police officers, and other are soldiers serving their country. We represent demographics from across all levels of the political spectrum, from so far left they fell off the edge to so far right they looped back around again into an awkward leftist camp, and aren’t sure what to do with themselves. We have college professors and college students, white people and people of color, men and women of cisgender identity and a gauntlet of amazing people from all over the gender spectrum, all over the sexual-preference spectrum, all over the global national and cultural identity spectrum. Some of our priests have sat at summits or participated in engagements with the United Nations on issues of world religion and indigenous rights. We are apparently not just a bunch of play-actors after all, eh?

The purpose of differentiating things is to provide a measured placement for respect of the different needs that different things have. The reason, for example, that a parent with four children does not equate all of those children as one child is that each of those children requires their own clothes, food selections, nutritional considerations based on their own age and health particulars, and so forth. See? Differentiations between things allow for specific considerations and the establishment, collectively, of methodologies to serve the actual specific needs of those things, without upsetting or upending the structures of other things to whom those needs are not relevant. If all the children were treated the same, and one of them was diabetic, either the other three would be forced to receive unnecessary-for-them interventions or the other would suffer for lack of their own medical needs being met.

When a minority group — say, a religious group — is seeking differentiation from another group (whether another larger category of spiritual considerations, or a social force perhaps affiliated with rights and justice work), it is best to understand this not as a rejection of that group but instead as an expression of mutual and shared respect for the individual needs of each, and a desire to see those needs met and satisfied in an efficient manner which honors each respective identity or state. Once these distinctions are honored, differentiated identity groups can work together or toward mutually beneficial (or at least non-hostile or competitive) ends, as their efforts can be put into satisfying needs rather than fighting over resources inaccurately perceived as finite and scarce.

Differentiations are cool.

Religious Regard

Posted: May 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

Just a mid-week quickie:

Polytheists do not merely acknowledge the reality of many gods, but further, we hold them in religious regard. As an Evangelical Christian author recently pointed out in an article somewhere less awesome than here, it is entirely possible to view the gods as real, and also not worship them, value them, or respect them in any way. He explained that “the polytheists are right: those gods are real”, but went on to say that they were wicked vile and inferior beings who represented more or less the worst of the world. It is therefore not enough to affirm the existence of the gods, but to hold them in religious regard: as Polytheists we worship the many gods, and hold them in pious praise. Whether we do this in the structure of informal household cultus or more formally within a structured tradition or regional cultus, it is our devotional religious regard for the many gods which defines us in this way.

Haven’t had my coffee yet. That said, I am writing this (probably in an ill-advised state of cognition, but anyway, that’s what the edit button is for, as well as the humility to recognize I may not be perfect in the delivery of what follows), because I just read an article about a father’s response to his five year old daughter’s situation involving a sundress and a school that made her change her clothes. In this story a TARDIS-shirt wearing father sends his daughter to school in an appropriate-to-the-season-and-age-and-setting dress, and she is forced to change it for sexist and arbitrary reasons. He teaches her to ask “why?”, and that it is OK to ask “why?”. I am in total favor of this. He goes on to say that “many rules are later determined to be wrong.”, and notes that this is sort of the history of how society works. Pretty fundamentally.

But I’m not writing about sexism or sundresses or five-year-olds or TARDIS-shirt-wearing dads. I’m writing about rules, and revolutions. (So, please, let’s not get hung up on that original lead-in story. It was just the proverbial road-flare that set the pine forest of thoughts ablaze; it burns at a different temperature and with an entirely different thermodynamic than the ensuing arson, which has things like wind-currents and backdraft and birds to account for.)

The idea of rules is an important one right now. So let’s make with shifting from a discussion of sexism in school dress codes, and to greater societal and certainly meta considerations.

Polytheist religion, and the Polytheist Movement, are composed of what constitutes a set of radical and contemporarily revolutionary ideas, which call for extreme paradigm shifts and changes in how information, thoughts, and relationships (to gods, to the universe, to the world, to each other) are structured and considered. What follows is related most specifically to these: the radical and essential needs and discussions of change which are inherent in embracing Polytheist religions in the 21st Century West, a society with a terrible trail of atrocities behind it, which we must in some way reconcile in our movement forward as religions and communities.

Yesterday I wrote about piety, purity, impiety, impurity, and purification rites. I did so because this topic comes up a lot in conversations about religion, generally from people who’ve had an (understandably) bad time with mainstream religions (you know, those ones which are in some way connected to centuries of genocides and cultural erasures and slavery and murdermachine colonialisms) and have a bad relationship to the idea of “religious rules”, which invariably on some level are taken to mean “rule of religion” in their interpretation, or something close to it. I wrote it because I’m interested in assembling and probably authoring a “101” series of foundational texts which are mean to help with some basic concepts, upon which more specific structures and practices can be built to precision state.

One of the things that I sought to restore meaning to in my “101” writing topic yesterday was the idea that rules and “lines” are not meant to be “NEVER BROKEN”, but rather, they are mean to communicate to a person WHERE THEY ARE with regard to those lines, so that they can have fully consented to any transgressions (willful anything is way hotter than ignorant blundering, protip) and bring a little intentionality to their daily disobedience. Transgression is essential to any transformation, which I think everyone can agree is a pretty fucking basic part of nature, energy, physics, and… well, you know, religion. And stuff. Butterflies and initiations and physical development and puberty and artistic process and so forth are all full of examples of this.

Being in favor of transgressing rules, structures, or lines is not the same as being AGAINST the idea of rules and lines, or even against those rules. For example, an artist who transgresses conventional contemporary art ethos actually requires the structure of that ethos in order to provide the counter “weight” to the catapulting of their own work and vision, for their ideas certainly do not live in isolation from that which they are sizing up for revolt. Transgression REQUIRES lines or there is nothing to cross. In attempting to go about erasing all the lines, one does not provide freedom (despite their probable stated interest in this), they instead provide a prison absent any meaningful guides to map and articulate where anyone is standing… a sea of ignorance, and literally the absence of freedom. Freedom which cannot be defined is not freedom, but the worst kind of prison of all, for it holds no meaning and provides no mobility in any direction.

Freedom is not a thing without walls or doors or boundaries, it is the right to write on those walls or occasionally put a righteous fist through them or just shimmy up the drain pipe and drop down on the other side for some hot midnight fucking under the moon in the old castle ruins beyond the hillside.

Freedom is not about burning all the walls down, it is about burning down the specific walls that prohibit specific expressions of freedom. Even if the specific walls chosen are many and huge and giant, there is literally no way to “burn it all down” and so trying to promote this is just silly: you can’t burn down gravity or emotion or neurochemistry or the necessity of oxytocin or the heartache of loss or the process of grief or the structures of hope, or even the hunger of greed. Walls, boundaries, lines, rules: these things are a part of the cosmos and a part of any system or any dynamic. Systems and dynamics do not just exist in formal capacity (e.g. “Organization X” with its “Manual of Operations and Terms of Compliance”) but also in literally EVERY informal exchange relating to two or more beings: the most common norms and guidelines and rules never get written down or spoken after childhood (refer to my piece yesterday, re: going into a library while dripping wet from an exploded sprinkler and covered in mud). It would actually be anti-freedom (for others..) by NOT having the norms (like those discussed in yesterday’s piece) that prevent a mud-covered dripping person from going on into the library (as they would then be imposing a certain thing on others, such as people who might slip in the mud or the janitorial staff that must then bend knee to scrub it up).

Rules are not about controlling and coercing, they are about allowing for permission and consent. Some rules that were once useful might need to be changed or brought down. Some rules were never useful and were inherently crafted in some wicked, evil, insecure or harmful fashion. Those are not good rules. But being against the idea of all rules because some rules were evil is like being against the idea of all sex, because some sex is lousy or coercive or unsatisfying. It is way easier to be AGAINST something, I know, but wouldn’t it be better to be FOR something usefully, than AGAINST something wastefully? Being against the idea of rules is just meaningless, because the universe is rules. So are, you know, the gods.

I would love to see conversations around rules and guidelines move past a 5-year old’s level of black-and-white “comply” v. “deny”: we NEED to have named and navigated rule structures, not because we need to always abide them (whoever told you that was their purpose was wrong) but because they are there anyway. I would much rather have intentional rules (or at least those that come from gods and serve divine purpose) than unintentional rules that are going to happen anyway but develop in ignorance and blindness of some mob in the mud.

Transgression is wonderful and essential. Revolution is the currency of the buying into the future. Revolt against rules that, as the dad in this story points out, “will be proven wrong, later” is essential to any society, to any system.

But the immature idea that we don’t have rules and that we shouldn’t have rules and that rules are bad is just silly and unsexy and it makes me sad for the human species, and for our VERY necessary social changes, and for our essential religious systems. (P.S. I consider being pro-religion to be a human-rights stance, and I consider positions of anti-religious intent and statement to be in violation of human rights. Violating human rights is unsexy. This doesn’t mean I’m in favor of the corrupt organizations which have committed atrocities in the name of religion. It means that I’m not throwing out all religion, and in fact will fiercely defend it, because of the actions of some wicked ones who weren’t even really acting “as religions” so much as “disease spreading economic superpowers” wearing the disguises of religion. In the same way that I am not going to be anti-sex just because some sex is awful; I’m also wickedly pro-sex. Ask around. I talk about it an awful lot.)

So, this “anti-rules” thing. Yes, this is happening. And no, I’m not commenting on any specific movement or process when I say this. I’m talking about the fact that as soon as “rules” or — here’s another one from this week — “responsibilities” come up, somebody provides some kind of testimony about how those are wrong or bad or not-real or unnecessary, and in ways that I’m sure sound really earnest and clever to them at the time, try to convince me that we’d all be better off without those (or that somehow I’m operating at a loss for acknowledging them).

Uhm. Right. I’m “operating at a loss” for being aware of the dynamics that naturally and invisibly transpire between two or more beings. That’s like saying that a bird is “operating at a loss” when it start to figure out how gravity and wind-currents work in those fledgling days of taking leaps from nest, feeling that air in the primaries and — hopefully — not tumbling down to the ground. In the really-real world, gravity and wind and trees and big fucking predators exist alongside other things like disease and doubt and cantankerous calamity, and clinging to some flag or banner of ignorance to these ideas is NOT a sound survival strategy, and while it may work great for you at a personal philosophy level, it is NOT a decent architectural blueprint for building something involving other people or systems or inter-dependent social structures.

It would be great if we could get our manic discussions of rules and guidelines (which are the subject we’re talking circles around when discussing “change” and “revolution” and “reform” and “reconstitution”, which are all words that Polytheist religionists are calling for every day by merely existing in the radical state of affirming the differentiated identity of our many, many gods in the 21st century’s hostility to any real -theism of any kind*) to the point where we could talk intelligently and meaningfully about transgression, ignorance, and renovating the walls (whether through burning them down on purpose because these ones have got to go, or because somebody accidentally drove a horse-and-buggy through them because they got drunk at the farm) for a collaboratively constructed and collectively celebrated tomorrow.

I am exhausted by all of this well-intentioned zeal and youthful enthusiasm, which is dressed up in the costumery of philosophical foundation, but without the critical footing to not fall to face the second an opposing idea or counter-point is brought up. I am all for debate and collision of counter ideas; this is the place that truth is found. But it is useful when the “counter ideas” are actually critically thought out and factored to some level of precision, rather than just flung around like fortune-cookie platitudes and self-righteous emotionally derived scarcity-driven playground-set heel-dragging complaint. Those aren’t counter-arguments, those are emotions, which may or may not be valid, but probably aren’t necessarily related to a critical understanding of the idea that is meant to be countered. It is weakly held rhetoric that falls to circular mud-wrestling the second it is questioned. And, further, in the discussions of rules and of distinctions and of these structural systems, it would be awesome to see people RESPONDING instead of REACTING.

Sometimes reactions save lives: in the field, when bullets or tear-gas-cannisters or riot-bags are flying, reactions can mean the difference between life and loss of limb or worse. But the time for reactions is THERE, not here on platforms of dialog and of discussion and of occasional “stately” debate, for the purposes of pointing out and hashing out the actual structures that we’re all living within whether we want to name them or not. Reflection is way hotter than reaction, which is why hanging mirrors near beds and billiards tables adds so much fucking ambiance to the sexy-times that follow. Intentionality and purpose are pretty cool ideas, whereas random barbaric wild haymakers whose ultimate justification is, “well, because!”, against the very basic idea of rules or distinctions and lines, is just juvenile. And it really shouldn’t fall on a barbarian to point this out.

In conclusion, it would be super cool if people deciding to join adult progressive dialogs or leading social reformations and revolutions (of society or mind or spirits!) or build religious structures, were operating with at least as much a mind for the physics and realities of things — you know, rules and guidelines, at least at a hypothetical algebraic variable level until more information is gained to assign solved values to those — as fucking fledgling birds, flinging themselves out of nests and branches in the hopes that they get the hang of it before their clutch-mates literally push them off the edge in their own eagerness for a shot at the heights and glories of flight. Somewhere in there is an Icarus metaphor, except, fratricidal avian lunacy that STILL has a better mind for critical process than at least some Pagan and Polytheist conversations about the nature of change, transformation, transgression in the structural reality of our… well… reality.

Endnotes and such:

* – in the above I mention hostility against “any real -theism of any kind”, and I want to footnote this with clarification: I have previously stated that I basically do not believe, critically, that most of the terms for discussing religion are adequate. I challenge them. (Revolution! Revolt! But not burning down the rules and walls altogether; just challenging some that are wrong!)

Nearly everyone who identifies as a “Monotheist” is either 1) an atheist who doesn’t really affirm the literal existence of any god or gods; 2) a confused henotheist, or 3) an other-than-theist such as a pleromist gnostic or a “pantheist” or an absolute-monist, in other words not a “theist” at all. I am not interested in participating in the erasure of the religious identities of Monotheists, I am debating the linguistic soundness of a word and its relationship to both meaning and practice.

(The fun and complex part about identity is that one’s claimed identity does not need to actually align with their practical values, ethics, or affirmed stances: case in point, a lot of people with left-leaning socially progressive views and values identify as being right-leaning because that is who they feel more confident voting for or being led by, even when their actual personal views aren’t being honored by that person’s platforms. This is the difference between a political identity being informed by how one votes in the political process of their world versus how one actually feels or views their world. This is true of all kinds of things. So, I’m not in any way insinuating or suggesting that people with a given chosen-identity should change that, nor invalidating their right to that self-identification in the first place, but rather discussing the very terms and systems by which we identify. Similarly I could challenge the right-vs-left language of global politics, and talk about the inefficient and false-affirmations within it, all without challenging a person’s right to identify as one or the other. I’m not erasing anyone’s rights to identity, I’m discussing the nature of the very words we use to define those identities.)

Words that refer to things that do not involve gods — differentiated beings (deities) of divine and supernatural force, which are in some way bigger than spirits and can be understood as part of a larger system of beings including lesser-deities, deified heroes, ancestors and a whole unfathomably large system of beings without any central relation to humans at all — should not have the suffix “-theism” in them, except to exclude -theism from consideration. For example, “pantheism” is NOT theistic, so why the fuck does it have “theism” in the name? This is silly. It does not actually mean “all gods”, it means “no gods, but all of everything else”. The equation between “theism” and “transcendent source of meaning or matter” is fucking post-Christian bullshit and has NO RELATIONSHIP to classical pre-Christian religion, theology, or anything of that sort. These terms make sense for secular academics or monotheists to distinguish between philosophies and ideas, but not for anyone whose religious identity affirms literal gods and forces outside of human reckoning.

So I challenge this shit. I do NOT challenge people’s right to identify their religious identities under certain terms, but I do challenge words, which were unfortunately and poorly conceived by people whose world-views did not include any of the nuances needed to accurately and evenly discuss these considerations.

“Pantheism” and “Panentheism” are important concepts in what they MEAN, but they are NOT theistic metrics, and therefore the “-theism” should not be present in the language or naming conventions related to them. “Monotheism” basically isn’t real either, for the same reasons: the thing being called a -theos in Monotheist religions either isn’t a god (it’s something else, such as an impersonal monistic substance or source) or is part of a plethora of deific considerations (including pantheons of angels, demons, and OTHER GODS, which monotheist scriptures are full of) which make them by definition Polytheist or Henotheisms (e.g. the worship of a single being within a sea of many, based on individually negotiated covenant or the like).

The above is an example of challenging rules, lines and conventions that don’t make sense and are basically wrong, without condemning all rules and structures like some cranky five year old that wants cake with spaghetti straps on it right now, because because because.

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P.S. – If you think I am talking to you specifically here: 

I am not. The above is not about you. I promise. Seriously and genuinely. However, if you found yourself feeling like maybe I am, perhaps some of what I am saying applies to your displayed approach to “flying” in these “waters” of change-and-structures. But I am not writing to, about, or even for you, or any other specific person.

The problem with most people’s definitions of piety, purity, impurity, purification and so forth, is that they don’t understand that a system which includes a structure of piety does not necessarily exclude or ban impiety. It is just understood as a transgression. The purpose of the structures isn’t to force constant all-the-time compliance. That is not actually what rules and guidelines are for, and whoever keeps suggesting that they are, is wrong.

For example, the word itself comes from Hellenic polytheist religion and philosophy. And yet, so does Dionysian religion. Dionysian religion is inherently transgressive by Hellenic standards!

But even within those transgressions, there is acknowledgement of piety and pious structures, even if those structures are being transgressed.

Without “lines” of piety (or lines of any kind), there is no such thing as transgression, and therefore also no such thing as catharsis, or differentiated identity. Without a system of purity, there is no understanding of impurity, and therefore no rites of purification… which are essential to nearly every world religion, ever!

It isn’t about dogmatic “mono-answer” orders-and-authority-and-forced-compliance, it is about affirming that stepping over a line has consequences. That doesn’t mean don’t step over the line, and even often means that you MUST step over the line, for that line isn’t meant to keep you from doing so in all cases, but instead to indicate when additional actions — e.g. purification rites — are called for.

Think about it this way:

If you are out doing yard work in a library’s small outdoor garden area and the sprinkler system explodes, and you are covered in both soaking water and mud (after slipping and falling into the now very wet dirt), you’re “not clean” anymore. Pretty obviously and visibly.

Basic common sense suggests that you probably shouldn’t walk into the library dripping and sloshing mud all over the place, or for that matter start hugging people as they come out of business meetings or the like. You’re “unclean”. You’re dirty. Literally.

So, the lines — conventions, customs — that prevent you from rubbing that water-and-mud off on others are there to also suggest that maybe you should resolve this state by becoming clean, through certain customary actions (washing your hands, taking off your shoes, patting-dry your clothes with a towel and wiping off the mud) so as to not “contaminate” other spaces (thereby making more work for somebody else, communicating disrespect for the library, or for the janitorial staff, etc). Neither you, nor the mud, should be considered morally judged as wrong for this state of uncleanliness, or the need for actions to make one’s self clean: the only judgment would come in disregarding this state and harming others in the doing. Neither you nor the mud is “in the wrong”; mud isn’t “bad”, but it is definitely messy.

The customary lines of cleanliness and acceptability are here in our world, even in our most anarchic world: they’re customs we just don’t call by a name, because our society autopilots through this shit. Piety is like that, but for religious/spiritual considerations around actions, words, or regards. Within Polytheist religions, we have various systems (as per our individual traditions and cults) for navigating these topics, but in most cases, these considerations are not considered symbolic, but literal. The spiritual may be invisible to us at a human optical level, but it is not without impact and effect, nor is it without consequence and consideration. These “lines” which some would attempt to argue are there to control or coerce or moralize are actually there to empower.

These considerations — piety and purity, impiety and impurity, and resolving rites of purification — are not lines to control, they are lines to conduct in orderly and respectful fashion even transgressions, so that the transgressors have the ability to know that they are transgressing, and thereby at least be able to consent to such rather than do so in ignorance. Because transgression is way more satisfying when it is intentional, right? Fuck yeah.

Every traditional religious or spiritual practice in the world that I have ever encountered, heard of, seen, or read about which has transgressive acts, even acts which are essential to their holiest of works, also have systems of purification to precede or follow such things. Which is to say, every religious tradition, because there is no religion without some level of guidelines and therefore an implied set of transgressive actions, views, or considerations. See? Transgression is a part of religion!

The modern idea of being “anti-purification” as a default comes from reactions to certain dominant world-power religions (e.g. corrupt edifices doing fucked up shit) who have spent centuries misrepresenting what these concepts mean in order to control people. That’s shitty and disempowering. Fuck disempowerment. (Unless it’s consensual, in which case it isn’t disempowering, but consented power exchange, which is totally different. And hot. Because consent is sexy.)

However, again, these systems of lines, correctly applied in Polytheist religions are NOT systems of “control”; they are instead systems designed literally to maximize consent. And that’s sexy. Right? Because consent is sexy. (We’ve already established that.)

A person who is not provided the systems of understanding these “lines” who then therefore transgresses them in ignorance is actually disempowered by this lack of awareness of the lines and structures, because such lines and structures still exist even without their awareness. Being ignorant of them prevents them from having the chance to choose whether to cross them or not. Every time a choice is taken from us, we are disempowered; our consent is prevented from joining the world as an expression of our agency. This is a violation of consent. This is a violation of will. Violations of agency and will and consent are the opposite of sexy, and not the kind of transgressions that should ever be tolerated, encouraged, or permitted.

Piety, purity, etc, are not lines to prevent transgression (except transgressions which violate agency, will and consent!), but instead to provide the opportunities for critically applied consent to one’s own reality and expressions, transgressive or not.

For example:

It is transgressive to enter my Temple while wearing shoes; this is an act of great disrespect and impiety (and also impurity, because ew, you wear those in public toilets). However there are times where it MUST happen, such as a medical emergency with one of the Temple serpents, or in the event of a fire: the “piety structure” that governs the dynamics of that misdeed does not prevent me from responding in necessary way to the emergency (shoes on!), but instead provides me the rubric for resolving the transgression, specifically because I know I have transgressed. The system includes a “gradient of transgression” in fact, providing a selection of transgressive options which have progressive deeper implications of offense, and therefore more invested procedures for resolving (purification!) later.

Polytheists affirm not only that the gods are real, but that the gods have power and effect: transgressions, therefore, are not merely symbolic. Ever. (Neither are symbols, for that matter, but shh. That’s too meta for a Wednesday.)

Neither is purity, or impurity, or contagion merely symbolic. Nor are they “moralized” in the way that other groups have tried to present, in order to gain control oriented compliance.

These are the very systems whereby consent is made possible. And consent is sexy.

Piety is sexy.

Lines are sexy.

(So are circles, and all other kinds of shapes. Religion is sexy. Sexy is good.)

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There is a lot of conversation right now in the circles making up the Polytheist Movement, about differentiating polytheist religion (and its affiliated aforementioned movement, which must be understood as a human-rights movement organized around the premise of religious freedoms and identity dynamics) from other unrelated-but-intersecting social justice considerations and activisms. When Polytheist writers make the request that people make a firm differentiation between “religion” and “social justice work”, we are clear to state that we are in active support of social justice work, our own religious rights movement BEING a social justice pursuit itself, and that we are not trying to “stop” any of these other movements or political and civic engagements. We’re not speaking against anything. We’re speaking in favor of differentiating religion from social justice. And chances are pretty good that we’re not talking about you, or any other individual person or practice, when we say this.

Many of us who are pointing this our are doing so because we are directly observing a popular misunderstanding of “polytheist religion” with certain political movements, not only in our own reading but in the emails or messages that we are sent. There are people contacting us who are concerned that when they supported the Polytheist Movement’s religious rights pursuits, they were somehow “tricked” into being part of a political movement that they do not understand, or may not agree with, or aren’t even sure how to identify. In other words, some people are feeling like their consent of affiliation was not honored. So how do we know that people are confusing polytheist religion with social justice work? Because people are telling us that they are confusing these two things.

Which is why we’re asking for people to avoid confusing the people who they are influencing with their activist or religious writings and statements by clarifying that, in fact, these are not the same pursuits. Even when religious people are engaging in social justice work, and even when a person’s religion is the driving force in their social justice work. Doing social justice work because of your religion is awesome. It also means that you are doing two or more things, which is called “multi-tasking”, which is an awesome thing to do. It does not make them the same thing.

Here is a set of (extreme) examples, from outside of these immediate issues:

If a Christian group decides to shut down a Planned Parenthood clinic, that is not an expression of religion, it is pro-life activism, (which I and everyone I know and care about are FIERCELY against, by the by: no misogynistic “pro-lifers” in this camp, motherfuckers, but it’s a damn convenient example of my point). It may be argued and presented as an expression of their religious beliefs or values, and may even involve religious actions, but is not itself “religion” in the proper and formal sense. Just like extremists from the middle east are not at all reasonably “practicing Islam” when they attack polytheist temples or abduct adolescent girls for sexual assault and slavery atrocities. That is not Islam, that is radicalized terrorism and evil, and is not an expression of “religion”, it is an expression of a radical political agenda with massive casualties and atrocities. Because these are examples of political movements that we do not like or approve of, because they’re fucked up and evil, it is easy to differentiate them from the religions that they claim affiliation with. It would be unfair and unreasonable and uninformed and uncritical to merge these things together.

These above are extreme examples which are obvious ones in our current political environment here in the US, flipping through the news feeds. We have lots and lots of voices saying all kinds of things that they seem to earnestly believe, but it would be an act of great ignorance and radical harm to assume that those political actions were “religion”, rather than “social politics” being expressed with a religious name-tag. These are examples of objectively negative movements (e.g. things defined by their active harm and force dynamics) being executed erroneously in the “name of religion”, but the same holds true for positive movements (e.g. things defined by their active empowerment and advocacy and consent/rights dynamics).

It is harder to make that same differentiation when the political and social movements discussed are ones that that we do favor as incredibly positive and necessary human rights pursuits. Discussing economic disparity, corruption, and police-state-murder-sprees and systemic racism? These are fucking vital, and every Polytheist voice that I know is in favor of examining and supporting the disruption of these terrible social realities, and often directly involved in supporting them in some way. But just because I support #BlackLivesMatter and #YesAllWomen and dismantling economic corruption, doesn’t mean that these things are religion, even if it is my religion which informs, flavors, or literally drives my methodology of solidarity and activism. That we live in a time where these issues need to be addressed is a thing of anguished grief and stupefying rage, and likewise that we live in an age where there rise from amongst use voices and movements who will face these issues on and lead the charge for change and growth and is beautiful and awe-some.

It is critically essential that these differentiations be made, to avoid confusion, to avoid possible collisions or calamities and so forth: in addition to basic critical thinking and, well, “what things mean”, these differentiations just make sense from the standpoint of ensuring everything’s ability to mutually survive. It is so important to differentiate these things specifically because failure to do so communicates that that which is not acknowledged as its own consideration is not worth considering, and has no value other than in conjunction with some other thing. This is not how social justice works, and runs the risk of sending the absolute wrong messages in otherwise absolutely right movements, the long-term (and immediate) effects of which are unfathomably damaging and poisonous to those movements or needs which get the short-end of that stick.

What I mean by that is this:

Conflating two things which are not the same, but might have shared or overlapping or intersecting populations, can prove disastrous by tethering everything to one anchor or to one floatation device when the waters rise and the storms roll in. Better to have a collective of multiple vessels, who can help each other out, than to have one structure that can sink if it hits a fucking rock or is taken by krakenous touch from the wakened depths. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, little bunnies. That’s not intelligent or remotely strategically sound.

I am making a single big assumption in all of this reasoning, and that assumption is this: everybody involved in social justice work is in favor of social justice actually working. You know. For everyone. So that everyone’s needs are being met, and every group has a fair chance and a voice and mutual support and aid and, you know, collective opportunities. To breathe. To speak. To be.

The Polytheists that I know and hold dearest are marching or writing or funding and otherwise supporting human rights and social justice work of all different kinds. I’m proud as fuck to be a part of such a vibrantly involved and concerned population of people. And, our own movement is one of religious rights.

Religion is not a popular topic, amongst “progressives”. It’s way sexier to make bold and mob-inciting anti-religion statements to a roaring, anti-authoritarian crowd, who aren’t doing much of their own independent reading or critical process, because they’re turning to you to tell them what they need to know. That’s how “the people” works. “The people” are not thriving masses of well-read and culturally informed and nuanced critical thinkers, and that isn’t because of corrupt power-dynamics or societies stacked against them in the ivory-tower systems of information control — although all of those conditions exist — but instead because “the people” are at a standard level (meaning statistically) inherently disinterested in that level of engagement, which is why it is so important for individuals who do think and process in that way to do so, and provide solid influence and role-modeling and leadership in their engagement approaches.

I’m not “against the people” nor deriding the masses for being less scholarly than others, or any of that shit: I’m pointing out that just as there are many gods, there are many people, and amongst those there are many types of people and many ways to be a person in one’s society and civically unfolding environment. Not everyone is given to thinking in the critically necessary ways to process these nuances, which is why confusion. Not because they’re stupid, or less valuable, but because what makes sense to one person may be outside another person’s frame of reference or intended purpose within society. Which is why we support one another, by knowing what our own skills and strengths are. It is why those in our society who are leaders must then lend themselves to critically differentiating and strategically navigating these issues, to do just that: lead.

So, the call by Polytheist voices to differentiate social justice issues from religion is not anti-social-justice. It is a call for leadership to step up and do a better job of leading people who are not privileged with the level of education and critical training to differentiate these things, because it is way easy to confuse these things when they’re intersected at the personal and emotional or cultural level. But intersection is not equation.

And, the reality is that people are getting confused and lost in the shuffle forward in terms of progressive social justice work. Let’s not leave people in the dust, or render them blind to what is happening or needed, yeah? That’s not actually helpful to any of the causes in question.

Having differentiated movements allows for each of those movements to have differentiated needs. What nurtures religious rights movements (and the practices and developments of those individual religions!) is probably not the same as what is needed in issues of systemic racism or transphobia. So by identifying the issues as being different from one another, their individual needs can be sussed out and satisfied, through some level of collective and collaborative and cooperative support… and nobody needs to be left out in the cold, due to confusion or forced coercive involvement in something that they do not understand.

These statements probably aren’t about you, or about your individual practices. Because that isn’t how collectives and movements and masses work. We’re putting the call out respectfully, because the confusion lies not in the individual, but in the collective. And we know this, because, well, we’re listening to it — and to the people who are asking for help. It should be the agenda of all who would embrace social justice to endeavor to see it enacted consensually for all, in an expression of “justice holism”: holism, being the system of understanding the systemic whole as it is made up of assemblage of parts, is not about reducing a thing down to being “one thing”. “Whole” does not mean “one”, it means “intact”… as in an intact system of differentiated things, working collaborative partnered relationship.

It all comes down to relationships. Which, by the very definition of the idea, require an acknowledged and affirmed differentiation between the parts which relate to one another.

CH