New Catchphrase: Neo-Paganism

In the 80s, the standard name for the enemies of the religious right was "secular humanist." The secular humanists were on the march everywhere. Roving gangs of literature professors and philosophers were alleged to be at the very gate of civilization and, like the Jews previously, they were said to be in control of virtually every institution. Somewhere along the line, the preferred term changed from "secular humanist" to "pagan". Now, the dictionary definition of pagan is simply anyone not a Christian, Jew or Muslim. But they like to use it to mean "non-religious" as well.

I've noticed that lately that term is changing as well and we're hearing about "neo-pagans" and "neo-paganism". On the ADF blog, Jeffrey Ventrella is claiming that "neo-paganism" is the "unacknowledged philosophy" of "the left." And he's lumping a whole bunch of distinct and disconnected ideas together to make the case:

The real driving force for such antics, however is not "liberty" or "eliminating discrimination." Rather, what is operating here is neo-paganism--an irrational effort to obliterate distinctions, particularly creational distinctions.

Think about it: same-sex "marriage" seeks to obliterate the distinction calling for gender complementarity in marriage. Transgenderism seeks to obliterate the distinction between maleness and femaleness. So-called animal rights efforts seek to obliterate the distinction between humans and animals. No-fault divorce schemes seek to obliterate the distinction between valid reasons to annul the marriage covenant and just any reason--or no reason--to do so. So-called non-discrimination provisions seek to obliterate a group's ability to choose leaders who concur with their ideology and hence draw leadership distinctions predicated upon that ideology.

This is just plain weird. Neo-paganism is a term generally used for a large, diverse group of religious traditions, most obviously Wicca but also including lots of fairly vague forms of animism, shamanism and polytheism. What that has to do with any of those allegedly bad things Ventrella mentions is beyond me. It appears that he's just randomly choosing this term for everyone he disagrees with, as well as lumping them in together for no apparent reason.

He would certainly classify me as part of "the left" given my frequent disagreements with the ADF over church/state matters, but I would have a hard time dredging up any less concern over animal rights than I have now. I see no point in abusing any animal, but I gleefully consume all manner of animals. My idea of animal rights is believing that every animal has the right to be matched perfectly with an appropriate dry rub before being put into the smoker.

More like this

All the cool kids are doing this quiz: 1.  Unitarian Universalism (100%) 2.  Liberal Quakers (98%) 3.  Secular Humanism (96%) 4.  Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (93%) 5.  Theravada Buddhism (82%) 6.  Neo-Pagan (81%) 7.  New Age (73%) 8.  Baha'i Faith (70%) 9.  Taoism (66…
Repatriation and reburial are large concerns these days for museums with a colonial past. Human remains looted from Aboriginal Australian cemeteries were for instance recently repatriated from a Swedish museum. But not only indigenous peoples in the usual sense of the word are making demands. The…
The other day, in response to a meme, I confessed to being a theist. I seem to have chosen a good time to do this, as many of my (non-theistic) fellow ScienceBloggers are discussing the matter. (Here and here are just a few examples.) I suppose I should explain. Since the holidays are approaching…
OK, some fluff...it seems that the Greek Neo-Pagans have received permission to worship in pagan temples. That might sound obvious, but most pagan temples in Greece are historic treasures, and so the purview of the government. The Greek Orthodox Church is not happy: But Greece's powerful Orthodox…

My idea of animal rights is believing that every animal has the right to be matched perfectly with an appropriate dry rub before being put into the smoker.

That's good, did you just think it up?

Made your bones with that one.

I think it's the ADF's (and the Christian Right's) way of creating "a large evil" for their masses to combat. That's the only way they know how to approach a problem, really, so that's how they go about it.

My idea of animal rights is believing that every animal has the right to be matched perfectly with an appropriate dry rub before being put into the smoker.

Round of applause!

Neo-pagan, gender neutral, vegetarians who like open relationships? It sounds like he's mad at goth kids.

I think it's the ADF's (and the Christian Right's) way of creating "a large evil" for their masses to combat. That's the only way they know how to approach a problem, really, so that's how they go about it

I agree. It's also a way to make "the left" seem more scary. They're neo-pagans! They sit around in white robes and chant at trees, all the while looking for new ways to destroy Christmas and outlaw prayer!

When you continually rant about how evolution is a religion, it stands to reason that you will eventually believe your own propaganda.

Calling secular people neo-pagans is nothing more than an extension of the typical Sunday morning sermons on the dangers of idolizing material things or placing the desires and wants of human beings over those of God.

Is it too much to hope that this new rhetoric is a sign that the old "he's an atheist" scare tactics are beginning to lose their power? We shall see.

It could have something to do with most avowed neo-pagans being politically liberal (admittedly, this is an anecdotal statement, but I'd be very surprised indeed if it weren't the case—the number that I've met who are politically conservative could be counted on a chainsaw juggler's fingers).

Beyond that, uh, yeah. I got nothin'.

By rimrunner (not verified) on 15 Nov 2006 #permalink

"Transgenderism seeks to obliterate the distinction between maleness and femaleness."

What ignorant morons. Just one case in point.

"Neo-paganism" has been Pope Palpadict's favorite scapegoat practically since he became Pope. His big olive branch to the Jews was pretty much based on telling them we were wrong to blame the Jews for all the world's ills, therefore we should heal that rift by jointly agreeing on a new scapegoat.

I think he (and the ADF crowd) are expecting their audience to have no clue what the phrase really means, and thus to be less likely to be offended.

Couldn't the norse/white power mashup be considered neo-pagan as well, rimrunner?

Now, the dictionary definition of pagan is simply anyone not a Christian, Jew or Muslim.

If this is the case, then we have to lump the evangelicals in with any/all "pagans," because they are not, at least according to the Catholics and mainline Protestants, Christian. Rather, they are part of an invalid, pseudo-Christian cult, or at least that's how the nuns and priests taught it to me.

same-sex "marriage" seeks to obliterate the distinction calling for gender complementarity in marriage. Transgenderism seeks to obliterate the distinction between maleness and femaleness.

No, both same-sex marriage rights and the recognition of transgendered individuals do nothing to change the overall distinctions that exist between men and women; rather they serve to minimize the importance of those distinctions and their predictive value for any one individual. Women tend to be shorter and weaker than men, but that fact does not tell you anything about the height or strength of any specific woman. Women tend to be more nurturing than men, but that tells you nothing about the ability of any specific man to be a good single parent.

The fundies would love us to believe we live in a world with strict and deterministic differences between men and women, but that is clearly not the case, as any examination of biology will tell you. We are all half-man/half-woman and how our masculine and feminine sides are expressed are as individual and unique as each of us is in any other way. Apparently because too many of us don't wish to be assigned to specific gender roles and expectations, we are somehow "pagans" and out to destroy Christianity.

Whatever.

stogoe: most Norse -- not all of whom are racist, by the way -- reject the term "Pagan" and call themselves "Heathen" instead. But yes, in my experience, even the non-racist Heathens tend to be more politically "conservative" than most Pagans: more pro-military, pro-family, pro-community, and pro-responsibility.

Not that the Christofascists will care about such distinctions...

"My idea of animal rights is believing that every animal has the right to be matched perfectly with an appropriate dry rub before being put into the smoker."

Humans are animals, so obviously you are willing to make some distinction. Where and how do you draw the line?

Rather, they are part of an invalid, pseudo-Christian cult, or at least that's how the nuns and priests taught it to me.

The evangelicals are no more or less valid than the Catholics who are called the same by their Protestant brethren.

All the same, all equal.

plunge wrote:

Humans are animals, so obviously you are willing to make some distinction. Where and how do you draw the line?

I draw the line at humans, obviously. And I do this by not eating them.

I don't know.... It doesn't sound quite as catchy as Bill O'Reilly's term for anyone who doesn't agree with his particular world-view as secular progressives.

Well, the term pagan originally basically meant rural. Because it was the rural, non-city, dwellers who stuck to the older earth based religions instead of switching to Christianity. Calling someone pagan was basically like calling them a hick for continuing to believe in the old ways.

In modern times, when the older religions basically started gaining popularity the term neo-paganism came about to acknowledge the diversity and to acknowledge that it was a modern spin on what we believe was the older ways. Since we have no bible, a lot of the beliefs occurred in cultures without writing, and a lot of things were suppressed by the Catholic church, we can't be hundred percent on everything. Neo-paganism became a term to describe a wide range of non-mainstream beliefs that were at least similar. Most even mix and match among the different pantheons.

Being someone who is very active in the pagan community, I can only think of a couple people in the pagan community who would be considered social conservatives. While those who follow the Norse, I myself pay tribute to Tyr, might to be a little bit more conservative on the face, they really aren't.

And I hate the term pro-family. I am pro-family, even if my definition of family is different then the typical Christian definition.

The white power/neo-Nazi scum really aren't pagans. They are following typical Christianity with some Norse dressing to make themselves feel better.

And also being someone who is very much in the Goth community, I can say that for the most part, we love our meat. :) Though the rest is kind of accurate. :)

Just call me the resident pagan/goth. :)

Plunge said -
Humans are animals, so obviously you are willing to make some distinction. Where and how do you draw the line?

Lemon pepper, fresh ground red and black peppercorns, crushed garlic and balsamic vinager marinade for the flank steaks are the best - mmmmm! human flank steaks. . .

Defining 'neo-pagan' is one of the more vexing social questions facing the neo-pagan community currently, and I am unsurprised to hear that the Christian right is attempting to mainstream their own negative definition of the term. They've been doing it with the term 'Wiccan' for years, and broadening it to neo-pagan simply reflects the growth of the non-Wiccan neo-pagan population, in my opinion. The fact that a strong majority of neo-pagan people are socially liberal and sexually ambidextrous/ambigous is just sort of a lagniappe for them.

I do think that an increasing focus on the label 'neo-pagan' probably reflects a generally positive social trend though -- it means that the label 'secular' has about run its course, and they need something else to inflame the masses with. I consider that a good development overall - when the term 'secular' is no longer a scaremongering catch phrase, all conversations about religious/secular issues will be easier.

Raging Bee and Dex have both commented on the whitepower/norse paganism issue. That is a tricky tricky topic, because there is an uncomfortable amount of overlap in the symbols used by these groups. In my experience, people who are focusing on practicing reconstructionist Norse Paganism call their faith Asatru, and prefer the term Heathen to pagan or neo-pagan. None of the Heathenfolk that I know personally are racist, or particularly socially conservative, though are all much more private about their views then other paganfolk I know.

Here's my two cents the nomenclature, for those are interested:
Neo-pagan roughly = Abrahamic -- a broad overarching term to describe whole families of faiths sharing a common origin/characteristics. Wicca, Asatru, Hellenic reconstructionist paganism, the Nova Romana, modern non-tribal shamanism, etc, are all neo-pagan paths/faiths.

Wiccan roughly = Christianity -- a generic term for a family of faiths with roughly similiar common histories and mythologies.

Dex - if you're the resident pagan/goth, can I be the resident Traditionalist? ;)

By PennyBright (not verified) on 15 Nov 2006 #permalink

Ed,

I object to you consuming my cats, but I have a nice Akita you're welcome to consume. ;o)

Wait a second, shouldn't the left be:

Neo-pagan atheist anti-patriotic Christian hating homophiles?

By dogmeatIB (not verified) on 15 Nov 2006 #permalink

"unacknowledged philosophy"

I like that. "The left" all worship the earth goddess and just don't know it.

Kind of how evangelical preachers are "unacknowledged" homosexuals.

I eat meat. Meat is good and necessary. But, I do not like the idea of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) they are cruel. I say you can eat animals, just don't be cruel to them during their lives. I also disagree with hunting animals but not consuming the meat. If you kill it, you'd better eat it. That doesn't include an animal that is a threat to you. Self defense is allowed.

So, eat meat, but try to make sure the animal it came from was well treated during its life.