Every religion is both a product of its times and, to the degree its vision takes hold of practitioners, transforms those times.  Ours is no exception. I think Pagans interested in our larger significance within American society as a whole will want to take a look at my new book, Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine, published last month by Quest. 

It was as a guest at a NROOGD Midsummer Sabbat many years ago that I had my first and most powerful encounter with the Wiccan Goddess. After that encounter my life existed in a context I had not even imagined possible. It would be years before I began to grasp how different.

At first the Pagan world differed only in the most obvious ways.  We dealt with different deities, and more of them and had different sacred days.  Often we had more fun and were rarely on time. But the longer I lived within our world the more I realized it opened me to insights far deeper than these relatively minor ones.

In the Pagan world Spirit is immanent and not just transcendent. The sacred exists in and through the world and not just “up there.”  The feminine is as sacred as the masculine, for many more so, which means that spiritual messages emphasizing separation and distance make no sense.  Similarly, if Spirit is in the world and we are not separate from it, messages of religious exclusivity are mistaken, messages of religious inclusion are true. In science there is no “God of the gaps”  because there are no gaps. Spirit is everywhere if we but have the capacity to see it.

Even American secularism thinks in terms given credence by centuries of transcendental monotheism.  Most do not realize how little a distance they have traveled from its assumptions about us and the world. 

Faultlines argues that this alternative Pagan perspective is particularly appropriate for modern men and women. Further, American Christianity as well as Judaism and Buddhism is moving closer to views in harmony with these.  From this perspective we Pagans are in the forefront of a spiritual transformation taking place across many religions to the degree they have not been polluted by the demonic spirituality of the religious right and equivalent movements elsewhere.  We are in the midst of a struggle between a new spiritual sensibility in harmony with the needs of the modern world and an old one rooted in the hierarchy and domination and spiritual isolation that long characterized agricultural civilizations, a position that has lost what truth it once had and so focuses solely on issues of power. This struggle defines the spiritual crisis of our time, and underlies the more visible secular political and cultural struggles we are living through.

In the late 50s the prominent Sufi writer, Idris Shah  became friends with Gerald Gardner.  Beginning in 1959 he interviewed Gardner for a projected biography because, he told Fred Lamond, he had it “on the highest authority” that Wicca would be the “dominant spiritual current” in the next century.  Ultimately Shaw admitted he just could not see it. No biography appeared under his name.

Perhaps Shah jumped to his conclusions prematurely. Let us jump forward ourselves a decade or two more.

It was in the 70s and 80s that women religious thinkers in Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism began exploring the role of the sacred feminine within their own traditions. Male theologians did as well.   As I read many of their writings while researching this book I repeatedly encountered them giving credit to Starhawk and her workshops for inspiring them.

Many of these same religions today emphasize “caring for creation” and our duty to protect the environment.  Major Christian denominations emphasize the importance of ecological protection, including the highest levels of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

“Spiritual current” does not mean “religion.” It refers to the basic themes within a spiritual tradition. For we Wiccans the main themes are the role of the sacred feminine and masculine and the spiritual importance of the cycles in nature we honor in the Wheel of the Year and phases of the moon. Shah’s “highest authority” may well be right.

If the modern world survives.

Spiritual transformations of this depth do not happen easily. They are too disruptive to those who have benefited from the older paths. But what we most value about the modern world is ultimately dependent on this spiritual transformation to succeed. 

My argument explains why the right wing movement, secular and spiritual alike, is against anything remotely ‘liberal’ yet is completely devoid of alternative policy proposals of their own. At root they are against modernity itself because the logic of modernity undermines their own values.   Any attempt to deal positively with the problems confronting modern societies strengthens these values.  So they attack in every way they can.

           •  They oppose women’s independence and power.

  They oppose religious tolerance.

  They oppose environmental policies.

           •  They oppose anything reducing the power of existing hierarchies of domination.

  They oppose making education easily available.

  They oppose peaceful approaches to international problems.

  They oppose making health care more easily available to all.

  They oppose aiding poor children live better lives.

  They oppose cities. 

  They oppose science.

And they call what they do ‘religion.’

          What are they for? Whatever strengthens hierarchy and power religiously, economically, politically, and in terms of human relationships in general. For all their talk of values they believe only in domination.  Two examples demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of these right wing churches.  The easiest way to tell whether an American supports torture  is to ask whether they go to church.  The highest percentage of those supporting it go to church, and we know which ones. The highest divorce rates are in states that have outlawed gay marriage in their constitutions, the lowest divorce rates are in states which permit it. The highest rates of all are in states which ban gay marriage constitutionally.  These statistics and many many others fly in the face of their claims to religious substance.

In secular terms they are the party of authoritarian nihilism. In spiritual terms they are the party of domination for its own sake, from a demon deity to the most arbitrary boss or husband. It is this powerful spiritual division that is tearing our country apart.

          These are powerful claims on my part, claims that cannot be explored in the depth to really understand them in the context of American history in a short internet column.  It is to make the case for these claims that I have written Faultlines. I believe that on the larger spiritual stage for humanity as a whole the resurgence of Pagan spirituality is significant far beyond our own small communities.  Like yeast, we can influence the spiritual life of a larger nation to offer an attractive alternative to the spiritual nihilism of the religious right and secular nihilism of their allies.