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Getting Dirty: or why I can't keep my mouth shut about politics

Most of my friends are Pagan. If I were a member of a majority religion, this would be quite average. I go out of my way to find such friends, and this has served me well. Pagans don't judge me for what would be odd and quirky in average American culture: talking to land spirits, a fondness for discussing theology, and a willingness to embrace difference. All of these have been instrumental in my growth and healing, and in becoming a better person. I love my community and am deeply grateful.

And yet, I often find myself feeling frustrated when talk turns to politics.* This is not shocking I’m sure. And it would be easy to do what we so often do with our relatives, and just not talk about that particular subject. What is hard for me about this is that within the Pagan community, I have felt safe enough to allow my deepest wounds and secret places to be seen, and yet I may still be lambasted for holding an opinion that runs contrary to the majority. Should I do what I do with my family and set aside that part of myself? That would be hard. As with my spiritual path, my understanding of human behavior and history continues to grow. These are insights and understandings that I want to share and mull over with others, especially people who might not agree with my position. If my ideas will fall under the first challenge then they are not worth maintaining. But I don’t usually get to do that.

But why bring it up at all? What does politics have to do with religion anyway? In the USA, we have as the basis for government a document that contains the statement that government shall not endorse any religion. I think all of us who were born here take that for granted - even being part of a minority religion - until we run up against some petty local tyrant that knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that Pagans are evil. It would be nice to ignore it. Politics is messy. One might even say filthy in the most spiritual sense.Read More

I use the term "filthy" with deliberation. In our spiritual communities, we can practice our ethics as we see fit. We try to be the best people we can and stretch ourselves to keep calm, apologize, offer more, and do those things that grow our humanity. As Pagans we may practice inclusivity, respect for differences, honoring the feminine and so forth. Politics on the other hand is about dealing with people who not only don’t agree with you, but who might just think you are evil. And once someone decides you are evil, it’s pretty easy to find reasons to feel the same way about them. That’s what humans do. But religion is about moving past that. Well, sort of.

There are very good scientific arguments that religion evolved because it helped us build coalitions between differing groups. Pagans often used the concept of tribe to denote chosen extended family within our spiritual traditions. But the flipside of tribe is that it excludes. Historically, tribal societies didn’t think much of their neighbors. Among the native peoples of the Americas, as well as in New Guinea, what ever tribe you lived in referred to itself as "the people," while the neighbors were others, or maybe even monsters. It was a part of our survival and is ingrained in our biology. This attitude is part of our ethical array in the form of in-group loyalty.

Politics is about dealing with monsters, or at best, others. And while we are most comfortable in our own tribe, the grime of politics is necessary to our survival as well. To paraphrase Charles Krathhammer in the introduction to his book Things that Matter, while the gods – or nature – are more destructive than humanity, nothing matches humans for cruelty. The massacre of innocents is the work of humans organizing to gain power. The most destructive regimes - those that have killed the most people - are those that have sought to undo the bonds of family, religion, and ethics and all happened in the 20th century.

John Adams said "I must study politics and war so that my sons may have the liberty to mathematics, philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children the right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain." Without the right politics, there is no religious choice, or even no religion at all.

Pagans as a group are too small to risk such a fate. So no, I won’t stop talking about politics.

*I discuss some of my political views here and here and in my other blog.

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Tagged in: ethics Politics
Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


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