I am not much of a news watcher, especially after the way the news agencies have devolved from news platforms into opinion launching platforms. I always had bright light shining out of that darkness. That would be Brooke Baldwin. When Brooke took the anchor chair for the mid-to-late afternoon broadcast section on CNN, I was hooked. A pretty smile coupled with a “facts only” manner of presenting the news, she became my go-to option for the news. During these times of COVID, where I have basically lived within the house and rarely head outside, I always found comfort in watching her broadcast times. As CNN has devolved into the center-left version of MSNBC and Fox News, Brooke always held to her “just the facts” broadcast style. Brooke’s broadcasts wound up being my comfort food for the news. After nearly eleven years in her position, last week marked Brooke’s last on CNN. She wasn’t fired or let go. She resigned, leaving on her own terms. With her last three minutes on the air, she said goodbye, which you can watch here.
In that goodbye, Brooke makes the final comment that we need to get uncomfortable. Her challenge was aimed towards women rising to the challenge of being equals in the workplace – finding their collective voices, and not being afraid to speak up. I sat and thought through what Brooke had said and realized that her challenge was something I could incorporate into my own Spirituality going forward. Not just from a perspective of raising the voices of women throughout Paganism, but also raising our own voices on difficult topics. That it was beyond time to start having the uncomfortable discussions here on the blog – and elsewhere. So, with that in mind, a cup of coffee to one side of the laptop, a bag of mixed nuts on the other, and Pat Metheny playing on the Bluetooth speaker; I set out on that journey.
Within Paganism we have a lot of issues that we simply gloss over. There are a few people who have stepped out into the open to initiate the discussions. Some have been more successful than others. Me? I have stayed in the shadows. My movement towards such subjects has been tepid at best. My approach to Paganism has been that what I do within Paganism is my business. How others approach Paganism is theirs. That still applies. However, I do have some hard lines I just cannot cross. Some of what I will see through this exploration will come off as a bit judgmental. That’s not the point. Rather, in doing these types of explorations, I am trying to find where my own boundaries get drawn. In setting much of this out here on the blog, the idea is to stimulate conversation and thought. And not necessarily even conversation between me and someone else. But conversation. Some of what I will write over the long point of exploration will not be hard and fast boundaries for me either. I change and grow like anyone else does. My perspective can be altered on some topics.
So, I’m about five-hundred words in at this point. Where do I start? There are so many different directions to go. Well, let’s start off a little simple, at first. Acceptance of other beliefs.
Over thirty-plus years, I have watched many, many Pagans rail against Christianity. Some of it is rightful anger. Some of it comes across as a knee-jerk reaction to becoming a Pagan. You know. Paganism is right because I practice it. Christianity is wrong because they want to destroy all other faiths. This is a convenient “Us verses Them” dichotomy that plays out nearly everywhere in our lives. When the United States is in a war with another country, people of that country are evil. Those people are hell-bent on destroying the American way of life. That kind of rhetoric makes whipping up the winds of war very easy. Particularly when linked with Patriotism towards the country. I saw a lot of it when I was in Desert Shield/Storm. I see a lot of it in today’s Left/Right political dichotomy.
The paradigm of “Us versus Them” is an easy one to embrace. We have had paraded throughout our lives. Sports rivalries. Race issues. Politics. Nationalistic pride. There is nothing wrong with this perspective, so long as it is balanced against the perspective that the folks on the other side are human beings and deserve the same dignity and respect that we ask for. After all, if you are looking for dignity and respect, you must provide it just as much as you ask for it. Demand dignity and respect, but not provide it from those you demand it from…well, we have watched wars erupt over such differences.
We Pagans are no different from the Christians. We all breathe air the same way. We live our lives very similarly. We love others in much the same manner. We just disagree on our approach to Spirituality and the Divine. Christians cling to a particular passage in their Bible that states that Christians must convert others to the Christian faith. Their doctrine teaches that those that are not Christian will be sent to their idealized perspective of a “bad place” when their God calls them back to Heaven. To that degree it is hard to deal directly with the idea that Christians want to destroy all the other faiths. I can grok where others would see that. But not every Christian is that way. Certainly, the loud and aggressive ones are, but not all Christians are like that.
Over my time as a Pagan, I cannot count the number of times I have dealt with aggressive and loud Christians. You know, the kind that want to take their beliefs and shove those straight up your ass. As if forcing a stubborn, independent-minded individual such as myself will have positive results. However, I have seen the other side of all this as well. The rabid, foaming-at-the-mount, fundamentalist Pagan. The one that wants to shove the Burning Times down the throat of every Christian that they meet or hang it around their necks like a scarlet letter. If you go back to my very earliest days of being a Pagan, I was one of those. I demanded respect from those of other beliefs. My beliefs were just as valid as theirs. However, practitioners of my belief had to stay hidden because the Christians out there would set the police and the justice system on to us, like a pack of rapid dogs at the hunt. I still cringe inwardly when remembering that part of me.
Shouting my beliefs does not make those beliefs any more valid than if I quietly had my say, and then walked away. In fact, shouting my beliefs would likely be a major turn-off to anyone that I was trying to convey my message to. I know that I stop listening to those Christians who have a need to shout their beliefs at me or make physical threats to me. Or even threatening me with eternal damnation. All I wanted to do was find some common ground from which we could have a discussion, not a debate.
I have many friends within the Pagan community who have come out of abusive situations from within the Christian church. I am not going to out any one of these individuals by telling their stories. Besides, those are not my stories to tell. But they are my friends, and I will stand right next to them whenever they need me to be there. My support does not need to be loud and angry. My support needs to be gentle, kind, and take whatever form they need at that moment. They have a right to their anger towards their former faith. I do cringe when they start into their venting at what had been done to them. I feel their pain. I feel their anger. I feel their sorrow. I feel their sense of betrayal. Likewise, I have friends who have left Paganism because of the same issues. Rest assured, Paganism has much the same issues of abuse of authority as the Christians do. Much like the Christians, we have a lot of internal cleanup to do.
So, what do we do? How should we do it? When should we do it? Well, a lot of those answers are going to depend on you, and what you are willing/capable of doing. For me, the start of everything comes from an open, honest, and sometimes brutal discussion. How do we deal with the abuse of power within our communities? How do we handle those of other faiths that proselytize against us? How do we handle such issues as sexual abuse, pedophilia, and even illicit drug use within our communities? All sub-trails leading off from where I stand at this moment. All items that are likely to be dealt with in different ways by different people. Believe me, there are many more things to look at. This is only the springboard for me.
Now, am I trying to build some sort of rigid dogma for Paganism? Hardly. I only have control over what I do, think, and believe. I cannot, and categorically, will not do any of that for anyone else. I am, however, willing to talk, listen, and discuss issues. As I have said before, my preference for those discussions is around a fire, under a glorious starry night. In my experience, such a setting makes for ideal conversation periods over meaty topics such as these. Plus, the darkness allows us to hide our uncomfortable nature, circling back to Brooke’s original point.
I do offer one more piece of caution. Don’t get your feelings hurt when you find others who completely disagree with your perspective. Instead, tuck your feelings back a bit, and listen to their perspective. They may provide a piece of knowledge you might not have encountered, or a perspective you may have dismissed out of hand. That’s learning.
I understand the outrage over supposed Christian perspectives that can turn many Pagans from knowledge-seeking, fun-loving folks into rabid, angry individuals. However, I have come to realize that much of what is believed about Christian beliefs by many Pagans are broad-brushed strokes that are derived from much smaller groups within Christianity. Just like many Pagans are painted over with the broad-brushed strokes derived from Wicca. Perhaps, we might be better served to take a step back, and attempt to understand the perspective and motives of the Christians before we begin to condemn them outright. We might also try to remember that they are human beings too. They just happen to see things from a different perspective around the great bonfire that we call Spirituality.
Much of what I have written here comes from my heart. It also comes from thirty-plus years of scars provided to me by being a public, open Pagan. I don’t hide who I am or what I am. I am always open for a discussion about any aspect of those things. To be brutally honest, I am not engaged on topics of my Spirituality by others very often. Thus, my ability to discuss these openly with others is not always the best. Furthermore, I don’t study theology, so I am thoroughly confused by some of the terminology that grows from that area of academic study. I am not a theologian of any sort. I might be considered a Priest of some kind, or even an Elder because of the number of years I have been on this Spiritual Path. I’m just me. No different than anyone else. I have the same unanswered questions as many. I desire to explore the world around me and experience as much as I can before I shuffle off this mortal coil and on into whatever lies beyond. But above all, I prefer to find a way to co-exist on this planet with everyone. Even the hardcore Trump supporters. Because we are all people. And to understand one another, we really do need to find a way to discuss our differences, not debate the right or wrong about them. As Brooke said, we need to get uncomfortable.