Resolving in 2013 to do more writing (online and potentially off-), I’ve decided to take a few measures to help ensure that I do so. First is to be a part of the Pagan Blog Project for 2013. This project asks Pagan bloggers to make posts throughout the year organized chronologically and alphabetically (i.e. we start with “A” and two weeks later move on to “B” and, by the end of the year, we’re at “Z”).
And, thus do I begin this journey with Autonomy.
Paganism gives us a lot of autonomy — that is the ability to choose for ourselves, to be independent of others, and to be a diverse community. Especially for solitaries, there’s no one to whom Pagans must answer with respect to our faith, no standard to which we are compared. Even our structure, so different from the top-down hierarchies that we’re familiar with in the rest of the world, is more bottom-up and comprised smaller autonomous groups that only need internal consistency to function. This autonomy leads to the vast diversity we see within the Pagan community.
And that diversity is something that makes us beautiful. Too many other communities — communities surrounding faith or politics or even sports — lack diversity or diversity has been bled out of them through a process of self-selection. This selection isn’t always conscious; many grow up in the religious community of their parents and many remain there for the rest of their lives and an allegiance to a sports team is often as likely dependent on one’s geographic proximity to that team’s home field than any thing else. But, in other cases the choice is specifically conscious: the choice of many conservatives to use FOX as their primary source of news and the similar choice by many liberals to use MSNBC, for example.
When we find ourselves in a culture that lacks diversity, our own ideas are not challenged. If everyone around us always agrees with our point of view, then we never get a chance to walk a mile in the shoes of another. While I’m not a scientist, I suspect that this sort of environment leads people into polarizing attitudes of a zero sum, us-versus-them mentality. In such a mentality, the evident rightness of a shared idea, based on the lack of any challenging concept, leads a person to believe that the Other is not simply different but also wrong.
Paganism, on the other hand, is a culture rife with diversity. The downside is that we have people with whom we disagree within our religious family, but on the upside it means that our ideas and practices are constantly tempered in the fires of debate and dialog. Consider Teo Bishop’s post on circles in public Pagan ritual. That post generated 182 comments from readers on his site and spawned a number of articles by other bloggers, including my own. For another example, remember the dust-up involving gender identity at PantheaCon 2012?
These examples show a community of difference, at least online, rather than one of strict similarity. They help to represent that we don’t always agree and, perhaps more importantly, the autonomy that we all have to be Pagan in a way that is true to ourselves. The discussion on circles was perhaps more congenial than the one on gender identity, but the freedom to be diverse means that we’re going to have to struggle with the others who think differently. This challenges us to strengthen our own ideas or to throw them aside in favor of something that resonates more harmoniously.
I do fear, however, that the diversity of our community and the debates and dialogs that it creates will eventually produce something very different from what we have today. I fear this because I worry that it won’t be something that I like as much as I like what we have (but I guess that’s always the danger of change). Imagine this scenario: over years and decades we continue to debate the merits of various beliefs and practices within Paganism. These debates result in some people tossing aside those ideas in favor of the ones shared by others. Eventually, we could see a far more homogeneous community than we do now and, should that happen, I think we will have lost something that makes us unique.
On the other hand, I think that as long as we continue to value the work of solitary practitioners — perhaps the most overt example of autonomy within our community — we’re likely to continue to see different ideas. The solitary person is free to be as creative as he or she wishes to be and there’s quite literally no one there to tell them how things must be done differently. It falls upon us as a community to continue to give solitaries a voice and to continue to provide the space that they (and we all) need to be different as we are also Pagan. And, we have to give that voice a listen. What it says might be just as important to us as it is to them.