Arguments, Debates, Definitions, Labels

Over the last month-plus, I have watched a few of the online debates over what this means, what constitutes that, how do the following aspects of Paganism work or don’t work. Or to put it in a more appropriate context, the (seemingly) endless debate/battle/war of words/terms/labels within the over-arching Pagan blogosphere.

Now, I am not a fan of debate, argument or in-fighting, particularly where points are rehashed over and over in an endless cycle of descriptives. Or when an individual’s points are picked apart over small perspectives. or even worse, when personal insults begin to take over the field of battle. For me, as a singular individual, none of this is helpful or informative. In fact, its the fastest way to turn me off to even contemplating your point whatsoever.

Granted, there will be folks who will follow onto my statement with a loud: “Who really gives a fsck about you being turned off?” Fair point. Except, I would point out, that when something is posted online, you are making your point to a much wider audience than you might understand or perceive. And if you are trying to make a particular relevant notation to a particular point being made – you would certainly hope to have clarification for a wider audience. Claiming to be offended by a particular adjective or label that is ensconced onto a group that you self-identify with is perfectly fine and understandable. But merely griping that the term was utilized, without provide the context as to why, can be confusing to the casual reader that comes across your statement. Especially those individuals that do not self-identify with your particular group, and cannot understand why the terminology is insulting.

Yes, it really is about context. And in an online debate, where textual context is all your are provided…it is certainly best to be clear. And before anyone states anything – I am far more guilty of that particular aspect than some may suspect. I am an amateur writer. HUGE emphasis on the amateur part. I tend to write off the cuff – though I am trying to do a far better job and editing and proofing what I write than I did in the past – and there were many times I would jump from topic to topic without any connector. There was a connector in my mind when I was writing, I just didn’t articulate that connector well enough in my writing – or sometimes not at all. I would think faster than I could type, and leave critical words out of sentences, which would change the context of what I was trying to say. I needed to really pause, re-read what I wrote, and make sure of what I was saying before I hit “send”, “reply” or “post”. In other words, I needed to take the time to THINK about what I was writing and how well it did (or didn’t) come across in the context of a conversation.

Perhaps, that’s what is wrong with online debates. Its very tempting to type and hit “send” without taking a few moments to look through what was written, the context (there’s that fscking word again) of what is attempting to be conveyed, and whether there is a personal slur or insult veiled within it. Come on, I’m just as guilty as the next person of muttering “what a dickhead” at the screen when reading posts and comments on the internet. But typing it in the open? Ok, I’ve done that a few times too. And regretted it almost as soon as I had hit the “send” button. But its easy to hurl insults around on the internet. After all, as a Cincinnati Reds fan, its highly unlikely I will run across that St. Louis Cardinals’ fan that I just hurled a textual epithet at. After all, maybe his mother really is like that.

I’ve also seen requests for “calm” and “respect” in these same online conversations. Where people reading the back-and-forth grow weary of a handful of folks being insulting to one another. And with the anonymity that the internet provides us, its highly unlikely that any call for such peace may ever be heeded. And while I think its doubtful that any advice would ever be heeded by those who seemingly find offense with anything that another person posts…take a step back, and breathe. Try to remember how you would have responded to the same statement in a coffee shop, with your invisible internet opponent sitting directly across from you. You might use some sharp retort, possibly even raising your voice a little. But would you really stand up, push your chair back, and bellow at the top of your lungs about the foul that the statement raised?

The internet has certainly opened up a lot of contact with other people. We are able to communicate our ideas through text, photo, video, and even audio with others. But it seems that the instantaneous and wide-open aspect of communications doesn’t extend to the other side of the communications equation: reading, hearing, understanding, analyzing, preparing a response – rather, we allow our emotions to take control, and find offense where offense may not even reside. In the essays we write online, most writers tend to take the time to define their terminology, in order to establish similar footing with their audience. And for me, I appreciate this, particularly when its a topic I am not that familiar with. And in many cases, where offense has been taken, that statement of definition is implied by the writer. But before the reader/receiver can leap to a position of offense…perhaps a more sanguine approach would be to inquire as to what was meant by the usage of these terms, rather than to assume.

Just sayin’….

 

I was THAT Pagan Before…

Mornings are a special time for me. Watching the sun peek over the horizon, and then softly illuminate the world around me, its just a magnificent scene to behold. Plus, there’s the feeling of the sun’s rays as the warmth touches your skin – a concept I have heard termed as “sun-kissed”. For me, its just a moment of bliss that I cannot explain in words, but “sun-kissed” certainly makes the point seem more romantic.

My last post was an odd little piece for me – discussing my moral compass is not something that I do often. However, it certainly got a lot of views, and over on Facebook it got quite a few likes. So I am guessing that a lot of people seemed to like what I was trying to get across. Or at least I hope they managed to understand what I was trying to get across. Some of the secondary comments on Facebook tended to focus on the manner in which my friend was juxtaposing his beliefs against mine. I understand where they may have been going with that, but to be honest, it was not where I was trying to take my conversation with him. A lot of other folks have mentioned that I should have argued more vigorously with him over the point. After all, by “giving up” on the “debate” I was essentially allowing him to “win the point.” Which brings me around to where I am headed with this particular blog post.

Professing, Preaching and Chaos – the Vortex

One of the things I cherish about most of the Pagan community is a lack of desire to proselytize or profess one’s faith to others. Very rarely, have I encountered a Pagan with the need to tell everyone within earshot about their faith – and how all of mankind can benefit from it. There is nothing that is more of a “turn-off” for me than when I see/hear a Pagan doing this. And there’s a few reasons behind that….

If only the past was as easy to pull together....
If only the past was as easy to pull together….

In my teen-aged years, I searched from Christian faith to Christian faith before settling into the Southern Baptist realm. The first worship days I ever attended, I sat up in the front — only to experience the heavy duty turbulence that comes from a preacher that shouts his message of fire, brimstone and hell-fire. That drove me to the back pews, where I found all the other folk that were my age. Here, I found young folks that would occasionally wave their hands in the air and hollar out “hallelujah” in much the same vein as some of the older church members who sat much further up. After church services were over, I would hang out with a few of these folks, where they would do the very things that the preacher had mentioned were to be avoided. But when other Christian kids from other churches were around, the prim and proper behavior was placed back onto their faces – and they would loudly profess how much more Christian they were than the other kids from the other churches. Honestly, the last place I ever wanted to be was in a church where it was a contest to see who could out-Godly the other kids.

When I became a Pagan, I found Pagans that did much the same thing. Pretending a possession by a God and spouting out orders and such nonsense to the rest of the folks there. I was told by this individual that I needed to “protect and clean the forested area near Kindsbach, Germany. Quite an interesting feat – if I had not just taken this individual up to that same area, where he observed me picking up trash along the forested trail there. While his “possession” may have been authentic, it was far too convenient and timely for me to really believe he was doing nothing more than to try and pull me into his group under his “control”. Even then, some twenty years ago, I had spent enough time working with Spirits of the Land to know that this was typically not the way one made communication with them or even with the Gods. Every event that we both attended jointly, he spent time with anyone who would take the time to listen, in order to try and sway them to his Path. It was, for me, a nauseating sight to behold.

But, perhaps the strongest example of a pushy, proselytizing Pagan that I can provide comes from one of the oddest places:  myself. That’s right.  I was THAT Pagan in my earliest of footsteps on a Pagan Path. Not to make excuses, but I really had very little guidance when I stumbled upon Wicca. And what guidance I initially was given was Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon“, Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance“, and Raymond Buckland’s “The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft” — along with the single statement:  “read”. I was working at the Data Processing Center at the Air Force base, and with plenty of downtime on the weekend – I was reading. The subject matter was something no one in my duty section had any knowledge of – and the vast majority of them equated it with Satanism. Added on top of that, it was the height of the late 1980s “Satanic Panic” here in the United States. I found something that fit very well into my own personal world view, and I embraced the concepts and ideas within the books. I bristled at the notion that I was “filling my head with crap” and took every opportunity to voice my disagreement along with knowledge of just “why” from the books I was reading. I took the offense on some of the debates and arguments, by purposefully opening up discussions that I knew would lead to long, protracted arguments. All of which created a very chaotic and antagonistic environment – and I reveled in it. In a manner of speaking, I was at the center of the vortex I was creating – and yes, there is a certain energy that goes with situations like this. Very seductive, very destructive. Looking back, I can see that I was not a very pleasant person to be around when these situations were being orchestrated.

Calming the Winds of Chaos

Perhaps the best thing that could have happened to me was being transferred overseas. I left behind people that I dealt with on a daily basis – people that I found myself in contextual combat over personal spirituality. I wound up in another Pagan community that was filled with strife, anger, and a lot of misunderstanding. As an outsider, I found myself on the outside of the debates. And when I did manage to find a group to integrate with, I found an individual playing the part of leader for personal power (see second paragraph in previous section). In short (no height jokes here!), I do believe that the Gods placed me in this spot so that I could see the Path I had set myself on. Arguing contextual semantics to try and prove that one was holier than another. That my Pagan path was far more pure than anyone else’s. That everyone should hang on my every word. I watched all of that with a very close, up-front seat. I even partook in some of the political aspects of the group and managed to work my way into the Vice Director’s role of the local Pagan group. And when I was enmeshed in this place, I realized that it wasn’t where I needed to be. It did not happen overnight, but over the course of a single year. I watched as experienced Pagans with years of being within a Pagan community came to our gatherings, and left shortly after. I watched new Pagans – people interested in Paganism but had never had a group of others to question and talk with their Spirituality – come to the same gatherings and be easily swept up into the whirlwind of the personalities there. And I saw these same personalities abuse that trust for favors that should never be utilized in the manner in which they were. And I knew I did not want to be that way.

I was there in Germany for three years. The first year, I worked my way into the whirlwind. The second year, I watched what went on from the inside, saw the Pagan versus Pagan arguments and debates that mirrored the same arguments and debates I had had with my Christian co-workers from the duty station previous to this one. I listened to the ramped up rhetoric, heard the rhetoric turn to personal insults, felt the battle lines being drawn, and was appalled to see others step to one side or another of that line. And yes, I felt that pull as well – the raw, sensual energy that the chaotic vortex offered.

The last year I was there, I spent nearly every single day in the woods just south of Kindsbach. The woods are filled with walking trails that the locals have stamped down in their numerous treks through the trees. I spent a lot of time walking, stopping, listening to the wind in the trees… A few times, I communed with the Spirits of these woods – when they offered such solace to me. And I slowly learned how powerful peace and quiet could be as well.

Yes, I was THAT kind of Pagan. I’m not any longer. I stopped seeking out arguments and debates. I will hold a conversation – until it gets contentious. Then I back off and let things go. Particularly when there is nothing that really can be gained from the conversation. I want to discuss and explore for knowledge – not to prove that my religion has more power or is more correct than yours. But at one time…I was THAT Pagan…

Screaming at the Virtual Wall

Its “interesting” to watch the gyrations of the Pagan blogosphere, particularly over the recent debates on Polytheism and Anthropocentrism. People who have normally discussed topics in other veins, suddenly became agitated and enraged over these two areas…simply because their opinions did not match up. Words – and in a few cases hand-drawn cartoons – were flung back and forth like salvos of arrows launched prior to the meetings of two grand hosts on a battlefield. And all over a few simple words.

I have my own personal stance on the issues – or a somewhat stance, as I documented in a few posts a while back. I have a very distinct way of seeing the Gods, but I actually dislike the usage of terms like “Hard-Polytheist” or “Soft-Polytheist”…seriously, what’s the freaking point? I’m a Polytheist…plain and simple. Then comes the back and forth over who is or isn’t using the correct terminology and definitions of Animism and who is further away from having an anthropocentric perspective. Again, who really cares?? If you can understand that you are looking at life through the jaded eyes of a human being – then you tend to understand that your perspective is a little geared towards an anthropocentric position. I try my best not to put that tint into how I perceive the world around me…but I am, after all, a human being. Sort of difficult to remove that from my thinking….

But really…what is the primary point here? Debating over the differences in a manner that suggests “winners” and “losers” as the primary point – that’s not going to be useful, in my opinion. There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path – as Morpheus reminds Neo in the movie “The Matrix”. There is also a difference between debate and discussion. Drawing that distinction by etching it in the sand with a stick is one manner of distinction…blurring it by rubbing the sand until the line disappears does not remove it…it just makes it more difficult to discern where the distinction is.

We communicate everyday. We use the anonymous distinction of the internet to allow for that distinct between discourse and debate to be blurred, and utilize our words as weapons of blunt force. And to be completely honest, I am doing just that here with my commentary on this. I am not a well known blogger. Fuck, I am not even a well known podcaster – and I have been podcasting for quite some time. In the reality of things, I am more on the edges of the Pagan blogosphere and podosphere (to borrow from the other descriptive term). I am comfortable out here on the edges. But perhaps life is not meant for me to be comfortable anymore.

I grow weary of the bickering, fighting, finger-pointing, and hurled descriptives within the Pagan blogo- and podospheres. It has nothing to do with the topical positions, but rather the manner in which everyone moves forward with their positions. I know the Pagan community can get along, respect one another, and have uncomfortable discussions in a respectful manner. It happened here in the DFW area in early October of last year – Pagan Pride Day. I came away from that day with a feeling of immense pride – people of very divergent perspectives within the Pagan community came together – learned about one another – respected one another – and left at the end of the day with smiles on their faces. But that was face-to-face….

Do internet communications really mean that we cannot bring that same respect online? Does the measure of anonymity really empower us to say things to one another that we would most likely not say in face-to-face communications? Is there really same measure of online “face” that we lose if we cannot “win” an online debate? Do we really have to win an online debate?

In the words of Rage Against the Machine….”How long? Not long. Because what you reap, is what you sow.”

Your Mileage Will Vary….

I am an individual that handles Life more as an experience than as a theory. Its a really simple formula for me. I do not really understand or comprehend until I can experience what is being discussed or brought up in conversation. For instance, a friend of mine started to discuss how she loves to skydive. Apparently thinking that me – as an individual who is terrified of heights – had not done such a task, she started telling me that I would not understand the feeling of hurtling through the emptiness of thousands of feet. Her assumption was wrong, the United States military provided me with the opportunities (six total) of doing just that. I hated all six of those jumps. However, her point was right on target. Without experiencing those jumps, I certainly would not understand her feeling of joyful experience that she gets from those jumps – though my experience was far different: absolute terror. I’ll come to this in a short bit.

For the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of banter in the Pagan blogosphere over the manner in which one may/may not or should/should not experience the Gods. There have been plenty of comments, points, counter-points, and even (sadly) insults fired around the virtual room of the internet, sometimes coming in swarms resembling the attack of bowmen on the Scottish forces in a few of the battle scenes in the movie Braveheart. I have plenty of thoughts on the commentary, none of which would be helpful or insightful, so I will keep those in my pocket. However, there was plenty of hay made over the difference of experiencing the Gods.

Some viewed them as archetypes – essentially constructs for the mind to comprehend a subject that may be unknowable. I can understand that. And I even embrace it to some degree. On the other side of the coin, there were those that held that the Gods were singular, knowable entities that could be experienced, and to some extent communicated with. And I totally get this point, and warmly embrace it. I have had plenty of personal experiences with Crow and Coyote to have a large handful of this concept. But I also believe that the archetype belief has some merit to it as well. To bring that into focus, perhaps its best for me to explain a bit of theory on my part…

I believe that the Gods are singular entities that we can experience, and to some degree, communicate with. However, their existence is completely different than our own. Our understanding and experience is wrapped up in concepts that we already have readily embraced. We get the idea of physical bodies, so we map that understanding on to what the Gods can be. We somewhat understand the concept of non-physical bodies in the form of ghosts and spirits, so we also map this understanding on to the Gods as well. However, the Gods can also exist in other formats, that we may not be able to readily comprehend at this time in our minds. Those particular existences may not be something we perceive correctly, so we turn to the archetypal models we have already created for corporeal and non-corporeal understandings. This is where I believe that we use the archetypes to help us comprehend and understand an entity that may be unknowable to us in its current manifestation.

OdometerNow, that’s just my own personal theory, I am quite sure that many other people out there will have far different explanations, theories, understandings and experiences. Some of these may be doubtful to me. Some I may readily agree with. Either way, I personally cannot fathom how someone can take a difference in experience and/or opinion as a personal insult – or to respond over those differences with a personal insult. Everyone one of us is a unique individual – we experience differently, we analyze differently. As Pagans, we should understand the desire to allow for individual expression and experience – and that the differences are what make this wide-arching perspective to be more encompassing and inviting to the Seeker. Coming down with harshness over what is this or what is not that, in my opinion, places us on the Path towards rigid dogma. And no offense intended towards those of the Christian faith, but it was that rigid, unbending, intolerant perspective that drove me away from what is the beautiful experience of the Christian faith.

I know, I can literally hear Pagans cringing over that last statement. But that’s my experience and my perception of the Christian faith. Once the dogma is stripped away, and the teachings of Jesus ben Joseph are looked at without adding the political nature of human beings – I find a religion of peace, love, understanding, tolerance, and a desire to help others regardless of their faith. of course, there are those who will differ with my statement there – and I will not discourage their perspective. I merely will not agree with it. Arguing over the “rightness” or “wrongness” – in my opinion – is a waste of time and energy that I could spend far more wisely and usefully elsewhere.  Your mileage will vary…

Its Not About Winning Or Losing – Its About Learning

ArgumentFor the past week or so, I have watched a few debates spring up on various Pagan blogs and in a handful of online forums about one thing or another. Oddly enough, where I have always watched these debates with interest, this time around I have been a bit turned-off by what I read. In the past, many debates have been framed around positions of respect – there have been some contentious moments framed around the discussions, but that was typically centered on the point/counter-point part of the debate. Very rarely I have seen points of personal conjecture being sprinkled into those debates. However, that all has started to change over the past few weeks. There have been a few veiled personal insults tossed around in these “debates” – including a lot of smashing and bashing of particular faiths in forums that trumpet a position of “fairness” to any faith.

Here’s the rub – and I am trying to be as honest as I possibly can here – I am going to include myself in that group of people I am railing on at the moment. As a self-proclaimed Pagan, I have substantial issues with some of the adherents of the Christian faith. Particularly those who want to limit my freedoms to practice my own beliefs and follow my own Path to my personal Spirituality. I have been known to throw a few biting comments of sarcasm and derision towards these particular adherents of the Christian faith. But, its actually the wrong thing to do.

That is correct, I believe it is the wrong thing to do – and here is the real catch to my statement – for me. I have no right to tell anyone else how they should or should not act or believe. I can express my opinion where that is concerned, but that is all it is – my opinion. And I truly do believe it is the wrong thing to do. Here is my rule of thumb concerning it…

I place myself in their position. It is not as difficult as anyone would have you think it is. I hear people ridicule and lambast my personal beliefs all the time. Sometimes they do not realize that I am within earshot, and sometimes it is made so that I can hear what is said. Is it hurtful to hear stuff like that? It certainly can be. Depending on the individual making the statement, and the manner it is made (and heard). Should I get extremely pissed off and go off in that person’s face over what they have done? Not really. There are times I certainly feel justified in doing something like that – but then I remember that it is not going to solve anything. In fact, doing so will likely create more problems than are needed. In my opinion, there is no need to borrow trouble in that situation. But If I do need to respond, a calm, collected response will have far more impact than letting my emotions fly. If my response receives an even deeper and far more emotional response…it will simply suffice to walk away.

But that is face-to-face. In online communications, it is far easier for the offending individual to remain anonymous or relatively unknown behind a nom-de-plume. And let us be honest, anonymity will just embolden someone to do things that they would not in a face-to-face environment. I see it all the time in online “debates” – when a person seems to be losing the conversation or is simply looking for a way to be an irritant, they resort to personal attacks. For me, this immediately kills any chance of a conversation continuing. I simply will move on and find something else to occupy my time with. I have plenty of books adorning my shelves that are just crying out to be read.

But let us continue along the “open and honest” trail here. This is the internet. This is where a lot of us spend our free time when we are away from work (or even at work, provided your employer does not care much). This is where we tend to do the lion’s share of our socializing, sharing information with friends, reading our news — let us just call it “being entertained.” The likelihood that someone will just walk away from an online debate – particularly on something as sensitive and personal as religious beliefs or even politics – well, that’s slim to none. And slim just caught the bus heading out of town. That typically means that many people will get sucked into these negative sinkholes of “debate” where the discussion turns from a topical nature to one of personal insults and possibly even threatening language. For me, it still becomes an issue of knowing when to just walk away from the entire debacle.

I try to live my life according to two particular frames of mind. First, pick your fights and causes very carefully. Second, if you do decide to go into the fight, be prepared to go all out for that cause. If you do not feel the need to go all out, see the first frame of mind. And this is why I do not participate in online debates and arguments. I will read them as a bystander, but that is about as far as I will move in that arena. Sometimes, I can get some piece of information that will help me either sway my opinion on a topic or cement my thinking even further with another great example. And honestly, I am not into conversations to argue a point – I get into conversations to talk about differences and similarities so that I can get a better understanding of a subject. For me, a conversation is not about winning or losing, its about learning. A debate – in my mind – is a contest between two or more parties trying to win over the court of public opinion on a topic. Just not my bag, baby. I work off this blog, and run two podcasts so that I can provide perspectives for readers and listeners on a particular topic. I am not here to win anyone to my point of view. I am just here to share my opinion and any information that I may have gathered in forming that opinion. Anyone is more than free to disagree with me, and even tell me how they disagree. Provided, that they do not sling personal insults in telling me how “wrong” I am…

Online debates are going to continue on subjects from here to forever – or as long as the internet survives as a communications platform for the public masses. This little blog post is not going to change any of that. But like I said, I can choose what fights I want to be a part of. I can also choose how I wish to partake in that fight, as well as when I choose to walk away. I can also choose how to respond to threats and insults. Everyone has that choice. And a whole lot more.