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I had plans to attend the Wild Goose Festival this weekend. I was supposed to leave today, but then the money got tight.

Carl McColman at the first Wild Goose Festival, June 2011

As I wrote about in my last post I made the decision to forgo my studies at Marylhurst for at least a term or two, in part for financial reasons. In light of that kind of penny-pinching adjustment to plans, I decided to save my plane ticket to Portland for a future trip.

I would not have been the only Druid in attendance. Allison Leigh Lilly is going to be there, and I had a feeling we would have found many opportunities to speak about the pagan side of the conversation. I would also have been traveling with a good friend from Denver, who walks the line between Pagan and Christian quite gracefully.

But the gathering was decidedly Christian. There’s really no getting around that.

What was appealing to me about the Wild Goose Festival was the emphasis placed on social justice and ecological responsibility. Today on the Wild Goose Patheos blog there was an announcement of a number of free e-books, one called, A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good. According to the post:

“Written by authors, theologians, and instructors affiliated with the The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP), A New Evangelical Manifesto discusses many “hot button” issues such as human trafficking, healthcare, race, abortion, nuclear weapons, war, global poverty, Christianity, the church, and theology.”

Can I just tell you how happy I am to hear that my gayness is not one of their hot button issues?

Seriously though — I find that the inclusion of human trafficking, nuclear weapons, global poverty and war in a list of Christian concerns to be quite refreshing. (I’m uncertain of what these authors will have to say about abortion; if they’re more likely to frame the topic as one related to the body of a woman or to the personhood of a fetus. No telling.)

I mention the book only to illustrate the way in which the Wild Goose Festival was appealing to me. I anticipated that I would encounter some real differences of opinion, belief and practice with most in attendance, but I wanted to be there simply to witness a group of religious people engage sincerely in discussions of progressive politics. I was hoping to be witness to Christians taking more stock in the eradication of global poverty than the eradication of homosexuality.

In my subjective opinion, ending poverty trumps keeping marriage straight.

I’ve known a number of Christians whose politics were borderline-radical, leaning quite far to the left. They were working to create safer work environments for trans-people, they were challenging systemic abuse of power in the prison system, they were calling on citizens to be more aware of how their buying habits affect the local economy and the environment.

They are still doing these things to this day.

There’s a quality of conviction that I see from many of my Progressive Christian friends that I deeply respect. For them, their faith is very much rooted in bringing equality and justice to the world. That’s how they understand the call of Jesus.

For them, their Christianity isn’t rooted in an obsession with blood atonement, or a strict adherence to rigid dogma. (We would be wrong to paint all Christians in this light.) Theirs is a more complicated faith, and one very much rooted in their engagement with the world.

Progressive Christian and Pagan communities have very different identities, and very different positions in relationship to mainstream culture. That said, I think it is useful for us to make note that these conversations are taking place at Wild Goose.

There may still be the presence of a Christian voice which is alienating, and we may have fundamental, irreconcilable differences with the predominant theology. But there may also be a conviction and passion for a better world (i.e. one without war, one without poverty, one that is clean and safe for our children) that we can get behind.

I’ve never been to a Pagan festival that was infused with this kind of conviction for social, political or ecological change. (Admittedly, I’ve not been to many Pagan festivals.)

Have you?

I’d like to know if you’ve had an experience at a Pagan gathering that was infused with the kind of conviction I’m describing above. Was there a time when you heard a speaker at a festival who lit a fire in you to take better care of the world, of your community, of your tribe? If so, please share that experience.

Do you think that modern Pagans — especially the young’ins — have it in us to be agents of change in society?

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  • Falcc

    I got a little of this at Pagan Spirit Gathering, but it was all incidental. People I happened to talk to talked about some social justice issues, but it wasn’t a focus.

    I’d love to see Paganism take on a more strongly activist approach. I read Patheos regularly, see people working with OWS, informing and advocating about wealth disparity, or queer issues, or women’s issues in politics, and of course The Wild Hunt does an amazing job of showing why we NEED activists for Paganism in general. However, I don’t see a lot of this kind of passion around me locally. I know a few other Pagans that are very out, I know a few that are big self-advocates, and I know a few that are strongly into social justice both relating to and unrelated to Paganism. Not all of those people are overlapping. I also know far more Pagans that disconnect their religious identity from their political identity and vote for their wallet over their world, or don’t vote or march or keep up with current events at all.

    I cannot imagine my worship not extending into the activist part of my life. I see corrupt corporations as the physical analog of the giants Thor slays (huge, amoral, bent on consuming the world without concern for humanity), and in my worship of Thor I feel the need to express this belief by combating corporate influence on the world around me. I see Ma’at as a social justice goddess, who wants balance and equality between all people and demands justice for the oppressed. I live based on these principles and that’s what my religion is about. I’m still not seeing Paganism as a whole recognize these connections.

    I know we eschew a lot based on our avoidance of being like Christians. That can be understand about in a lot of instances, but as much as I disagree with certain Christian interpretations of social issues being made into political platforms, if we’re willing to leave the gods outside of Walmart to wait for us while we load up on lead and plastics, or set them at the door of our Hummers, or cross the street without them when we pass the homeless shelters, we’re doing ourselves, our world, and our religion a major disservice.

    • This is quite a comment, Falcc. Here’s what I love:

      “I see corrupt corporations as the physical analog of the giants Thor slays (huge, amoral, bent on consuming the world without concern for humanity), and in my worship of Thor I feel the need to express this belief by combating corporate influence on the world around me.”

      — Rarely have I heard these sorts of connections being made.

      “…if we’re willing to leave the gods outside of Walmart to wait for us while we load up on lead and plastics, or set them at the door of our Hummers, or cross the street without them when we pass the homeless shelters, we’re doing ourselves, our world, and our religion a major disservice.”

      — Preach. This is exactly what I’m talking about.

      Thank you for contributing to this conversation.

      • Falcc

        I’ll probably be more rambley than articulate most of the time but I’ll try to participate in more of these discussions. I really love your articles and your willingness to give discussion real consideration.

    • BonnyF.

      Bravo to this comment! Took the words right out of my mouth and made them much better and coherent. I’m so happy to know that you’re out there, Falcc.

  • Kilmrnock

    I agree Teo , we need to be more active in larger groups . Although many pagans, myself included , make a more personal statment , in the way we live . My lifestyle , like many pagans is , more environmentaly responcible . My home is small , a townhouse , that is quite effecient, we recycle, garden , and compost . have smaller less polluting cars , try to make our carbon foot print as small as possible . I am in the process of switching to a wind powered electricity provider , our townhouse itself uses no fossil fuels , altho my current power company does .Unfortunatly most power providers here on the Mid Atlantic East Coast do use coal .As a former hippie i could live no other way , fits in well with a pagan mindset.But as you have said , larger groups will have more political and social clout. Kilm

    • Thanks for the comment, Kilm. Glad you’re a part of the conversation.

      I’m not sure it’s as much about size for me as it is about quality and conviction. True – a larger group may have more social and political clout, but what I’m reaching for is the idea that there might be some kind of meaningful social activism — a deep conviction for a better world — permeating our discussions at gatherings and festivals. Perhaps, as you’ve described, this activism might be best expressed through environmentalism, and I wonder if that is our end-all, or only one of the issues we would focus on. Some may argue it’s the most important.

      • Kilmrnock

        The way i see it , environmentalism , caring for and about our mother earth is just one cause pagans can easily have an impact on . Doing what is right and insisting others do as well .Such ideals are at the heart of most pagan beliefs , is simple to get us onboard due to the fact most of us care about this issue already. But social issues are of concern to most pagans. We.should be involved there as well .Most of us older pagans are Ex Hippies. To us being involved in social issues is a normal thing , i personaly was quite thrilled to see the occupy movement . people letting the establishment know we the common folk are pissed off . was refreshing to see for an old hippie/pagan .i personaly couldn’t understand how people could stand by seeing such injustice and not do anything .The young these days are too complacent .And in many cases too materialistic .If it is what it takes , we pagans must take the lead. The wars we are in , womans issues , social injustice, gay issues , not to mention our own acceptance we pagans need to get involved , young and old .There are many things and ways pagans should be involved in what we as a group believe in . Kilm..

      • Falcc

        There is no social issue that Pagan voices don’t deserve to have their voices heard in. We’ve seen Trans issues arise in our festivals, and we definitely have work to do on our inclusivity, but it’s not enough to include a trans woman in a woman’s ritual if we, her religious community, abandon her and her security when she’s not in circle anymore. My minister is Trans, he does specifically queer ministry. We’re a people with deities of all sexes and genders, and they deserve to have their voices heard through us as much as we as individuals need to be sharing our voices. There are conversations we NEED to have on race, Pagans of color NEED to be heard by our community, and we need to hear not only their religious needs but also what they face in larger society, and they deserve an enthusiastic response to very real problems. We have people facing poverty, we have people facing discrimination for their sex, for their gender, for their sexuality, for a huge number of things and we can be speaking not just to these people but with them to the larger society.

        Paganism is the only religion I’ve found that’s accepting of my Polyamory, even if the extent is debatable. Unitarians won’t even take it on as a cause yet. We’ve even got things to say on the subject of abortion, and they aren’t all going to be the same things, but if Ginette Paris can talk about how Artemis views it, there should be as many views present as gods and goddesses we have. OUR views have value, OUR deities have things to say. We have to be voicing them.

  • JoshthePagan

    I haven’t been an official Pagan for long, but have been working and discussing with family and friends on discussing social, political, and environmental issues. I use them as my Guinea pigs so that I am well practiced when I bring these issues to others I meet in life. I think this is what drew me to Unitarianism, and even they with all the work they have been trying to do of late with immigration and marriage equality issues say they need to do more to be heard in the nation.

  • Sophia Catherine

    This was the kind of Christianity I was involved with – more than borderline radical. My spiritual home was the Greenbelt festival in the UK, which inspired Wild Goose. They have a serious, central focus on social justice. I’d love to see something similar in the Pagan community.

    • Thanks for the comment, Sophia. I’m glad to know a little more about your background!

      Do you feel there is a lack of focus on social justice in the Pagan community?

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  • Kenneth

    “Was there a time when you heard a speaker at a festival who lit a fire in you to take better care of the world, of your community, of your tribe?”………..
    I would venture to say I have never been to a pagan gathering which did not have people infused with conviction and inspiring others to these sorts of things you mention. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration because I’ve been to plenty of small social events which had no lofty agenda beyond hanging out.

    At every major event I’ve attended, these people of conviction were in abundance. The organizers and volunteers of these things dedicate a good portion of their lives to making things happen, and not just the days of the festivals. There’s a hell of a lot of excellent work happening in the areas of interfaith relations, legal advocacy.

    As for the environmental movement, it’s great that progressive Christians and even some not-so-progressive ones are working on that these days, but they’re latecomers to that party. Modern environmentalism was born out of neo-paganism, period.

    ALL of the rationales and precepts of environmentalism, even dating back as far as Teddy Roosevelt’s day, were conceptually, if not theologically, neo-pagan. The entire paradigm of “sustainability” as a primary criteria for economics, agriculture, etc. is a pagan one, deriving both from neo-pagan environmentalism and much older concepts in Native American and other aboriginal nations.

    It’s wonderful that Christians are finding theological underpinnings and inspiration to join us in this work, but I can’t accept the idea that they’re at the forefront of it while we’re sitting on our hands. We’ve been doing the “agent of change” thing since day one, and walking that walk long before it was hip to do so.

    None of this is to say we don’t have plenty of room for improvement, but people who say pagans have no vision larger than themselves are working hard at not seeing it.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kenneth. I’m glad to hear that you’ve had such inspiring experiences at the pagan gatherings you’ve attended.

      I feel like you may have read into my post that I don’t see any valuable social or political work going on in the Pagan community at large, or that I’m unaware of our history as agents of change in the environmental movement. When you say, “people who say pagans have no vision larger than themselves are working hard at not seeing it,” I’m afraid you may be framing me as one of those people.

      To be clear, I’m not making that statement about Pagans. I’m also not saying that they’re at the forefront, or that we’re sitting on our hands.

      (I’m doing my best not to respond defensively to your comment, and I’m not sure I’m succeeding.)

      When I say that, “I’ve never been to a Pagan festival that was infused with this kind of conviction for social, political or ecological change,” that wasn’t meant to imply that there is no such festival, or that there never has been. It just means that, by and large, these messages have not been at the forefront of the gatherings I’ve been to.

      Considering all of what you’ve said, where do you see us having “room for improvement?”

      • kenneth

        The biggest part of my point is that both pagans and outsiders/critics tend to fall into the trap of evaluating our movement with the familiar yardstick of Christianity. It’s clear that we don’t “measure up” by that system because we don’t have (fill in the blank) – permanent church buildings, professional clergy, or in this case, a highly developed infrastructure and zeal for mission work as many Christians understand the concept.

        Because we’re not doing “good works” on the same scale or for the same reasons as Christian groups, it’s easy to suppose that we’re therefore failing as a spirituality, or at least as a spiritual movement. It’s not a useful model to me. If we’re not aspiring to be Christians, it should be no surprise that we’re “failing” at such an endeavor most of the time.

        What we should be doing is discerning what OUR deities and our theology directs us to do as pagans in the world. How does each of our traditions and individual experiences tell us about social justice/other forms of activism or ministry? That’s the yardstick that matters and that’s the area of improvement I see, or rather the work cut out for us as a movement. The answers we come up with are likely to parallel Christian ministries in some ways and be utterly unlike them in others. There are some things the Wild Geese will be more strongly called to do, and will do better than we can, and the reverse is true

        The related overarching debate in paganism is what sorts of group and institutional identities we want to create and maintain. The current generation, myself included, is very ambivalent about organizations and hierarchies.

        Meantime, I think there is plenty of evidence of pagans and pagan groups acting as agents of change and walking their walks.

  • GOPagan

    It seems that you are making the assumption that all pagans are political liberals (or “progressives”). That is most definitely not the case, and the assumption that it is so is quite offensive.

    • Hi @gopagan:disqus. Thanks for your comment, and for being a part of the conversation.

      I’m not sure that I made that assumption. I’m also not sure how being liberal or progressive is any more or less offensive than being conservative; they’re merely perspectives. In any case, I didn’t mean to paint the Pagan community in a single brushstroke by any means.

      As a conservative Pagan (is that how you’d describe yourself?), do you feel that there is a natural bridge between your religious and spiritual life and your political convictions or engagement? Does one inform the other?

      • GOPagan

        My offense was not caused by your holding a liberal position. It was the implicit assumption that all Pagans are liberals, and thus would make the same connections that you do in your article. I don’t necessarily think you did so consciously or maliciously; such is the nature of the liberal mindset that the assumption that everyone must agree because liberal assumptions are somehow objectively “true” is inherent within it. Take for example this paragraph near the bottom:

        “There may still be the presence of a Christian voice which is alienating, and we may have fundamental, irreconcilable differences with the predominant theology. But there may also be a conviction and passion for a better world (i.e. one without war, one without poverty, one that is clean and safe for our children) that we can get behind.”

        Since you were describing a specifically liberal (or “progressive” as you label it) Christian gathering, the implication is that those who do not label themselves as liberals actively want the opposite; war, poverty, pollution, and a world that is unsafe for children. While there are some who may believe that, it is far from true. I like peace, prosperity for all who work for it, clean air and water, and a safe place for my children the same as anyone.

        One of the hardest things is to examine our own prejudices and recognize them. So when you say:

        “I’ve never been to a Pagan festival that was infused with this kind of conviction for social, political or ecological change. (Admittedly, I’ve not been to many Pagan festivals.) Have you?”

        The unspoken judgement is that “this kind of … change” (or, change at all relating to those broad classifications) is good, and that Pagans should embrace them. I disagree. I don’t think “social justice” is a good thing, I don’t think individual aspirations should be limited by “the needs of the many”, and I think that one can embrace economic growth and private property ownership without automatically turning the world into a toxic desert.

        To answer your question, I would consider myself partially conservative and partially libertarian. As a Heathen, I do think there’s a connection between those social/political philosophies and my faith; I think more individual freedom is better, and resist attempts to compel some sort of membership in a social circle that is not of my choosing. A respect for individualism and the fruits of pursuing one’s own path is inherent in Heathenry, and I think the liberal efforts to minimize individual effort are at odds with that.

        As a tribalist, I seek to reserve the right to provide assistance and support to members of my tribe, rather than having such aid being distributed to individuals whom I do not know. Doing so disrupts the “gift-cycle” which is inherent to the Germanic social and religious ethos; “Aye, ever a gift demands a gain”, but in the current welfare state (which liberals not only embrace but seek to enlarge), such gifts are given without any expectation of reciprocation.

        As a Heathen and Republican, on the other hand, I similarly resist efforts by Christians to conflate their faith with my political ideology. I find the assumption that all conservatives are Christians as offensive as the assumption that all Pagans are liberals.

        • You’re right. One of the hardest things is to examine our own prejudices and recognize them.

          • GOPagan

            Just to clarify, were you actually reaching across the aisle to agree with someone who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum (which is so rare in our modern-day hyper-partisan environment), or was that intended to be some sort of pithy and ironic “look in the mirror” thing?

          • @gopagan:disqus, I feel as though I’ve stumbled into a hyper-partisan argument with you, and that was never my intention. Somehow, my language in the post raised a lot of red flags, and I’m willing to look closer at why that happened. You’ve provided me with a good starting point, having listed the quotes that rubbed you wrong.

            I do agree with you that it is difficult to look closely at our prejudices, and to be willing to challenge them. I’m sure you have gone through that process yourself, and we’d both do well (considering how different our ideas seem to be) to keep it in mind while we have this conversation. To be honest, I felt like you were jabbing at me a little when I first read that statement, and perhaps I read it wrong.

            We have different perspectives, GOP, and I’m ok with that. I’m trying my best to show you respect in spite of those differences, and I hope that you will do the same. I work very hard to create a peaceful environment for dialogue on this blog; one in which people of a wide variety of perspectives feel comfortable sharing their views.

            Peace.

          • GOPagan

            “I feel as though I’ve stumbled into a hyper-partisan argument with you, and that was never my intention.”

            I think that might be indicative in and of itself. Could it be that you never imagined anyone would read your post who *didn’t* agree with its inherent political assumptions? That social justice and the rest were objectively “good” stances?

            I don’t deny that when I mentioned that self-evaluation of our prejudices was difficult, it was aimed squarely at you, and it seems to have hit right between the eyes. I frankly think political liberals such as yourself don’t realize your own biases, or recognize that people who disagree with them are not necessarily objectively wrong.

            I don’t think it was particularly disrespectful; pointing out that you seem to have a blind spot when it comes to political assumptions isn’t by definition disrespectful unless one assumes that those political assumptions are themselves beyond question.

            I am happy to enjoy a spirited debate with you, but I don’t think that “spirited” necessarily means “non-peaceful”. If you disagree, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to defer, as it is your pond.

          • Thank you for pointing out that I may have biases worth examining. I myself try never to aim to hit someone squarely between the eyes, but I recognize and respect that you have a point that you want to make.

            I need to respectfully decline your invitation to a debate, as I position my blog more as a place for peaceful dialogue.

            Thanks again for contributing to the conversation, and thank you for sharing some details about what your practice of Heathenry looks like.

            May your kin be blessed.

          • GOPagan

            Very well, and of course I will respect your wishes.

            I will leave you with a single thought, though. Is it really a “dialogue” when everyone agrees?

            Be well.

        • GOPagan: not interested in debating (especially on Teo’s site.) I am, however, interested in what you’ve said and would appreciate some clarification.

          I’ve been fascinated by gift economies for some time, but cannot intuitively grasp how they scale to larger groups. It seems to me that if you don’t know someone, you can’t gift them. If the group grows too large, you can’t keep track of the web of obligations. Can you speak to this?

          I’m also curious how you see tribalism fitting into the larger national infrastructure.

          I can see the marginal niche role, which is what most of us Pagans experience. We have day jobs. We pay rent. We buy food at the supermarket. Our Pagan identity is secondary: a job change, for instance, will rip us out of our “communities,” which makes those communities secondary to, and often at odds with, “survival” within the larger system.

          I’ve also seen self-sufficient religious groups within the national structure, such as the Amish. A friend has moved to Missouri where she and her husband live in a small Mennonite community. There are, of course, the Catholic monastic orders. These communities are largely off-grid: not entirely, but mostly. As a result, they are pretty isolated and marginalized within the larger national structure, but their tribal identity can actually be primary, and that identity contributes directly to their individual “survival.”

          In other words, it seems to me that tribalism and a gift economy are at odds with the larger national structure and advanced barter economy we all live within: so you can “play at” being Pagan/Heathen and keep your day job, or you can be very serious about being Pagan/Heathen and give up your day job — so to speak.

          By calling yourself a “Heathen and Republican,” it seems to me that you see a blending of the two. Can you speak to that?

          I know a lot of us non-Heathen Pagans would be very interested in hearing about a better way to blend the national/civic and the religious.

          • GOPagan

            (Replied to elsewhere)

    • kenneth

      I think Teo’s column has much more to do with “progressive” in the theological or social senses of the words than political liberal/conservative delineations. It is a fair assumption that most pagans, to the extent we find any common cause with Christians, will tend to do so much more with so-called progressive Christians than we will with the Religious Right.

      • GOPagan

        I would point out the following from the original post:

        “I wanted to be there simply to witness a group of religious people engage sincerely in discussions of progressive politics.”

        So yeah, I don’t think I’m at all stretching when I think the post was about liberal/progressive politics, rather than liberal in the theological sense.

  • Teo: this leads me in thought back to an excellent book I read many years ago: Christ and Culture, by H. Richard Neibuhr. I think you could retitle this Gods and Culture and move much of it straight over to the Pagan world.

    As I recall, he lays out five different models of the interaction of Christ (the Gods) and Culture actually adopted during the last seventeen centuries of the Christian church. I’m working from memory (my books are still packed) but as I recall, these were:

    The Gods Above Culture — adopted in many monastic communities.

    The Gods As Culture — the Catholic Church, particularly in the high Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

    The Gods in Paradox with Culture — the Lutheran Church.

    The Gods Against Culture — the Fundamentalist Church.

    The Gods Transforming Culture — the Liberal Church.

    This might make an interesting framework for future discussion….

  • SunDragon

    Actually, over the past 20+ years, I’ve run into lots of pagans who are very committed to social justice issues, etc. In fact, most of them have seemed to put MORE focus on the political issues than the spiritual, and I would say that it’s come to the point now where one’s politics is more of a determinant of one’s spirituality than one’s actual religion is. And I also find in the pagan world a decided shade towards the left (at least in the US) politically speaking. Some of us have views that would be considered “conservative” (like being pro-gun) that many pagans who are more leftist would not agree with.