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.