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This blog is an active
participant in the Culture War being waged in the US. But I often find myself in a strange position, as many other
Pagans likely do. I frequently
seem to shift sides. I want to
describe how I see what I am doing in this respect, and then recommend a book
written by an undercover atheist about Evangelicals as promoting a better and
hopefully more compassionate view of one another.
On the one hand we have no choice
but to push back on the attempts by many Evangelicals and conservative Christians to demonize us, and entrench their demonization
into the law, Whether in the schools or the prisons
or the military, even a single victory to the haters will give them a precedent
to push further because there are no logical limits to their creed’s hold over
people until it has come to dominate all of society. It is fundamentally totalitarian in this respect. The Enlightenment brought this
totalitarian urge under control.
But on the other hand, the
secular scientistic world view that sees religion as a atavistic holdover from
an earlier time is simply wrong.
It’s not even close to the truth. I see modern secularism as itself
deeply myopic, and when its internal implications have come to fruit, as they
are doing today, tending in most of its forms towards nihilism and the worship
of power. In this conclusion I
find I am often at one with the conservative Christians who denounce us!
Yet conservative Christian
leaders claim to have the only answer to modernity’s crisis, and argue other ways
should be eliminated. Including
ours. This is so even though this
crisis grew, historically, from abuses of power in which the Christian Church
had for so long indulged. In other
words, a narrowly Christian response will not solve the problem with modernity
that they have correctly identified because their own excesses helped create it.
To continue with the inner
tensions to which I try and give fair treatment in this blog…
On the one hand, through science
secular modernity has expanded our knowledge of the physical world far beyond
anything existing prior to it. And
through the establishment of relatively free institutions has done wonders in
lifting people from the mire of poverty and oppression that characterized the
lot of most for thousands of years.
We are all, every one of us, the deep beneficiaries of science and the
rest of secular modernity.
On the other hand, by increasing
our power over nature without an increase in wisdom to match that power, we are
heading pell mell towards ecological problems that may well be catastrophic.
The scientists who have enabled us to use that power lack the ability to
convince many of the power besotted that they need to use it wisely. The power drunk love science when it
increases their power and loath it when it urges restraint and wisdom.
On the one hand, modern
technology has created unparalleled means by which people can cooperate for the
general good. Communication is
easier and faster than ever before, such that a guy sitting in his apartment in
Sebastopol can make his thought available to anyone around the world, and
neither of us pays more than the time we take to write them, or read them.
On the other, this technology has
devised methods of social control that can challenge the very free institutions
that enabled modernity to flower.
The very speed of modern life makes it harder to see larger contexts,
and our constant immersion in stimulation impedes our personal experience of
the solitude from which genuine wisdom can grow. The ease with which we can select the points of view we want to encounter enables us to live in worlds ever more separated from people different from us.
The world of Spirit tells us, and
I am in complete agreement, that we will never devise a good society that
relies on the “invisible hand” or impersonal principles or the rule of law
alone to create a good world, or even to safeguard the world we have. We need to choose and act within a
bigger context of value and meaning, one that comes primarily from our hearts,
and as such is available to all.
The heart offers a corrective and guide that limits the errors we commit
through ignorance. Spirit helps
many of us in this respect, but atheists can have hearts as generous as those
of many people of Spirit.
My position in the culture war is
a middle one. On the one hand I argue for respecting science and scientists, on
the other I argue for respecting spirituality and the many ways it manifests
and is celebrated in people’s lives.
In this I think I am in harmony with the basic thrust of Pagan
The separation of church and
state is vital because not doing so infects the churches with the spirit of
domination as some succumb to the lure of power. In addition, a religiously complex world
does a better job of celebrating the different ways Spirit manifests in this
world. Finslly, the separation
of church and state serves to protect religious organizations from the influence of
politicians who would seek to wrap their personal ambitions in the camouflage
So I think we Pagans occupy an
important middle ground between the two contending sides of secular modernity
and conservative religion. We can help blur dichotomies that are
ripping our society apart. I think
that is important, because war depends on maintaining dichotomies. That is why the Republican Right is so
focused on it. I think this is why it is so vital to undermine that effort
It is easy for those of us
wrapped up in this struggle to demonize the other side, based on the lies and
excesses of their leaders. Even
some of these leaders may otherwise be decent people who have become so blinded by
their theories that they fail to see evidence that does not fit their
preconceptions. Some of what to us
are lies may simply be theologically distorted perceptions. Sadly, this tendency is a threat for
Pagans as much as for anyone else.
Perhaps even more importantly, in the midst of these struggles many
people who are not leaders pick sides based on personal friendships, family,
community, and ignorance of the other side. The result is conflict serving no positive end, and I think
our country is threatened by it.
I think a book I have just
discovered discussed in Huffingtonpost may be an important source of understanding
of “the other side.” It is Gina Welch’s In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s
Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. She spent a year “undercover” deep
within an Evangelical Christian community. Not every Evangelical thinks she described them free from
outside stereotypes, because there is variety among Evangelicals as there is
everywhere else. But they
generally seem convinced they were treated fairly. Those of us who practice interfaith work, or who
simply desire to know more about the goodness in people who both misunderstand
and loathe our own faith, would likely benefit from reading it. I plan to do so.