Ogmios holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, and realized about 2 years ago that the beliefs and intuition that he has had since childhood are, in fact, pagan views. He has been practicing as a solitary for just over two years – adhering to a Continental Celtic path.
Politically Correct Religion
The Pagan Movement is often criticized in the secular and traditional religious media for its adherence to a belief in the efficacy of magic, the strange rituals that are practiced, and the fact that it is not a "monotheistic" religion. But, magic has had a long history within the traditional religious structures, the rituals bear remarkable resemblance to those of other religions, and most religions are, in truth, polytheistic. So, why the criticisms?
Magic is clearly visible in most religions even today - although often masquerading under a more "politically correct" name. An excellent and succinct definition of magic comes from The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, who states that "magic is the art of effecting change through an external and supernatural force." Considering the source, this definition should be "comfortable" to members of the Wiccan community; but, what of the population at large? The American Heritage Dictionary defines magic as "the art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural." One would be hard pressed to find a more secular source in America than a main-stream dictionary.
So, is the attempt "to control ... natural events ... by invoking the supernatural" something restricted to pagans? Hardly. Although more generally recognized as being a phenomenon of Brazil or the Philippines, there are actually an estimated 8,000 spiritual healers in the British Isles And, this is clearly through invocation of the supernatural, as the same source states that "healing seems to involve a transfer of energy from one person to the other." [A Book of Beliefs; Allan et al]
In the United States, Christian Scientists evince healing by understanding God as "Truth". "Christian healing ... employ[s] no other remedy than [God], understood, to heal all ills that flesh is heir to... it reposes all faith ... in spiritual power divinely directed." [Christian Healing, Mary Baker Eddy]. However, this is not limited to the several hundred thousand Christian Scientists. Roman Catholics and fundamentalist Protestant sects often hold "healing services" where they 'invoke the power of God (i.e. supernatural) to control natural events' (e.g. illness). What better example could one give of a religious group calling upon the supernatural to alter the natural course of events than Lourdes? On a more esoteric front, the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosæ Crucis (Rosicrucians) as well as the Masons base much of their ceremony and teachings on the premise of magic.
What are the "strange" rituals practiced by Pagans? Consider a typical sabbat process:
* An altar is set up in space designated for the ritual;
* The area is swept clear of any negativity;
* Incense is lit; candles are lit representing the God and/or Goddess; perhaps a bell is rung.
* The elementals, often perceived as spiritual helpers to the God and Goddess, are called and invited (never ordered) to participate;
* The sacred circle is cast to provide 'holy space' in which to work;
* Salt is often used to purify water that it may be used in the circle;
* The priest(ess) dips the tip of their finger (on their right hand) into altar oil and anoints their forehead with the sign of the "solar cross";
* The Lord and Lady are invited to be present with the priest(ess);
* A chalice is used to hold wine, and the priest(ess) takes a drink of the wine;
* A special dish holds cakes (bread) - the priest(ess) takes a piece and eats it;
* Following specific seasonal activities, the sabbat is ended, the circle cleared, the God and Goddess are often thanked for their participation, and the ceremony is closed with "blessed be" or "so mote it be".
There is obviously no "standard" sabbat ritual; there are as many variations as there are pagan paths and solitary practitioners. But, this is fairly representative.
Now, let's consider a ritual from a typically Christian service. As with paganism, there is no "standard" service ritual; there are as many variations as there are Christian paths. But, this also is fairly representative:
* An altar is established within the church (usually, permanent);
* The altar area is kept clean and pure;
* Incense is carried around to cleanse the site; candles are lit which represent Christ, the "light and life of grace"; perhaps a bell is rung;
* Saints, often perceived as spiritual helpers to God, is called and invited (never ordered) to intercede with God on behalf of those present;
* A vial of "holy water" that has been specially prepared and blessed is often used to sanctify and purify the altar area;
* The priest dips the tip of his finger (on his right hand) into either altar oil or the holy water and anoints his forehead with the sign of the cross;
* Christ (as the incarnation of God) is called upon by the priest;
* A chalice is used to hold wine, and the priest takes a drink of the wine which will also be offered to participants as part of the Eucharist;
* A special dish (paten) holds bread - the priest takes a piece and eats it, as will participants during the Eucharist;
* Following specific seasonal activities, the service is ended, the priest leaves the altar area, the congregation is blessed in the name of Christ, and the ceremony is closed with a blessing or "amen" (a Hebrew term which literally means "confirmation", "truly", or "so mote it be").
Christians often look askance at the pagan tradition of basing their sabbats on the moon, or lunar cycle. And yet, Easter (cf. Ostara, Eostre) is set by tradition as 'the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox'. The date for Christmas was set to coincide with Yule, or the Saturnalia. Meanwhile, several other major religions rely nearly entirely on a lunar calendar (e.g. Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism).
This is one of the most often used, and most unjustified, anti-pagan positions. The assumption in the disagreement is that, whereas paganism is clearly polytheistic in behavior (although most pagans see the Goddess, God, and other gods as manifestations of a single unified spiritual presence), all "reasonable" religions are monotheistic. This is so often quoted that it is virtually never questioned. And yet, the "three great monotheisms" (as they are often called) of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are anything but.
There are numerous quotations from the Hebrew Pentateuch (known to Christians as the first five books of the Old Testament) that show that Judaism, rather than being the 'source' of monotheistic thought in the western religions, was actually monolatrous - not monotheistic. Abraham (founder of Judaism) "met the Canaanite supreme god, El, and adopted him, but only partially and nominally, bestowing upon him qualities destined to distinguish him and to assure his preeminence over all other gods &ldots; This was not monotheism, but monolatry (the worship of one among many gods)." [Abraham, The New Encyclopedia Britannica]
Christianity has had a number of internal differences with regard to the concept known as the "Trinity". This is the concept "that God is one in substance but three in 'person'. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." [[Trinity, The New Encyclopedia Britannica] Although there have been sects that have denied the Trinity (e.g. Unitarian), most Christians consider this "modalism" to be an essential Christian belief. To those who don't accept the explanation that it is a "mystery", it certainly looks like polytheism. When one adds the existence of Satan (the progenitor of evil) and angels such as Michael and Gabriel, Christianity's monotheistic heavenly abode begins to look more and more crowded.
Hinduism makes no pretense of being what it is not. Traditional Hindu faith recognizes the existence of 33,000 gods!!! These are seen by most educated Hindus as manifestations, representations, or aspects of a single spiritual source. But, historically (and to the less educated, rural Hindu of today) they are "gods" nonetheless.
In The Zoroastrian Tradition, Farhang Mehr maintains that "theological monotheism &ldots; form[s] the religion's backbone". Others have summarized the faith as believing that "there is only one God, God of Subtle Wisdom, Ahura Mazda". However, Mehr also outlines moral dualism, and quotes the Zoroastrian holy books as saying: "In the beginning, there were two Spirits" (Gathas: Yasna 30-3). Yet Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest of the western faiths, teaches the existence of Ahura Mazda (the "good" god) as a monotheistic concept, while admitting the existence of evil in the form of Ahriman. And, in large parts of the faith, Mithra appears as the "son" of God - i.e. another god. So, although it may be politically correct to refer to Zoroastrianism as monotheistic, when the same standards are applied that are applied to pagan faiths are applied to Zoroastrianism, it doesn't even come close. In fact, this is a good reference point for modern pagans. If the academic and theological standards and tests that are applied to Zoroastrianism are applied to Wicca and other pagan faiths, they too would be considered monotheistic. However, there is no political correctness factor that encourages the population to want to do so.
Confucianism is often regarded by theologians as an ethical and philosophical system rather than a true religion. This is in part because it pays minimal attention to the metaphysical. Nevertheless, the term Hsiao which Confucius is reported to have used throughout the Analects appears to have originally meant a form of piety or worship toward ancestral spirits. This certainly allows for multiple metaphysical entities, even if not truly "gods".
Shinto is clearly polytheistic, and Taoism (in its theological expression) also refers to multiple gods. In essence, only three of the world religions should probably be considered to be truly monotheistic. And, interestingly, two of these three are often branded as "atheistic" by the west. Buddhism and Jainism, both Indian religious branches that were cultivated from Hindu roots, are often accused of being atheistic. Buddhism clearly refers to the "Ultimate Reality", but consciously refrains from using the term "God". This is due to the connotations of personality that others have attached to the name. So Westerners often simply prefer to accuse Buddhism of being atheistic. In the case of Jainism, the charge is at least somewhat closer to the truth. Jains are not atheists; but, they are agnostic. Jainism teaches that all that is required for the creation of the universe as we experience it is 'a single human soul'. They do not deny that God exists. They merely claim that - if God exists - She is both unknowable and impossible to prove (or disprove). So, there may be a God; they just don't know.
PC, or Political Correctness, has usually been a tool employed by the Liberal wing of American politics. In fact, in a 1998 address to the annual Accuracy in Academia summer conference, Bill Lind labeled it as "cultural Marxism". Lind attacked the very existence of PC as a cultural arm of Marxist thought. Although speaking from a politically conservative position, Lind makes some points that are virtually undeniable from either side of the political spectrum.
Lind claims that "all ideologies are totalitarian because the essence of an ideology &ldots; is to take some philosophy and say on the basis of this philosophy certain things must be true". [Lind; The Origins of Political Correctness]. The ellipsis in this quotation replaces an important point. It was at this point that he parenthetically claimed that "conservatism correctly understood is not an ideology". And, why not?
The dictionary definition for ideology is "the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture." Since conservatism is, by definition, "the disposition in politics or culture to maintain the existing order and to resist or oppose change or innovation", it most certainly is an ideology. It is, in fact, that body of ideas reflecting the need of our culture to maintain the existing order and to oppose change. Furthermore, Lind claims that "Political Correctness says that all history is determined by power, by which groups ... have power over which other groups. Nothing else matters."
So, although Political Correctness may historically have been wielded more often in the hands of the "New Left", by those of Liberal political beliefs, and perhaps even by Marxists, it is not exclusively their cultural weapon. Americans have used the atomic bomb in war; no other nation has. But, it is certainly not the American weapon. We invented it; but, it is not exclusively ours. This is also true of the cultural weapon of Political Correctness. It may have been a liberal invention, but it is not exclusively a liberal weapon. Conservatives also have the means to employ it - when circumstances enable them to do so.
In the United States, it is the traditional Western religions that hold all of the power. That, In fact, is what makes them "traditional". Roman Catholics may be concerned over the intrusion of Southern fundamentalism into the political arena; and, Southern fundamentalists may have feared the Catholic penetration of American politics that occurred with the presidential nomination of Al Smith (1928) or the election of John F. Kennedy (1960). But, both of these are Christian, and thereby have a number of common political views.
Essentially, their disagreements become "internal squabbles" when compared to a threat from "the outside". The Judeo-Christian belief system, which is a main-stay of the conservative American ideology:
* has been "in power" since the initial colonization of North America;
* naturally seeks to "maintain the existing order";
* maintains that, based on their religious beliefs, "certain things must be true"; and
* attempts "to resist or oppose change or innovation."
Christianity has universally accepted that monotheism is the proper theological position, and has developed a rather convoluted definition of monotheism in order to be able then to define Christianity as monotheistic. To be anything else is not "politically correct". Many Christians have even accused Islam of being "pagan", "polytheistic", or "backwards". Nothing could be further from the truth, but this has not deterred the accusers. Muslims, however, who do not subscribe to the same convoluted definition of monotheism as Christianity, could easily find valid grounds on which to accuse Christianity of the very same things.
So, despite the fact that Paganism is predominantly peopled by those who identify themselves as "liberal"; and, despite the fact that Political Correctness has clearly been most often a tool employed by those at the liberal end of the political spectrum: Pagans are not politically correct. This may at first seem oxymoronic, but PC has been appropriated by the Conservative power base and is being used effectively by them to ostracize those whose beliefs would challenge the Judeo-Christian hegemony.