A very dynamic discussion opened on Mystic Wicks titled Is Paganism Taken Seriously?. I answered (first clarifying that “Paganism” itself isn’t a religion anymore than “Monotheism” is [both are categories]) that some people I’ve found are politely curious, but most either immediately change the subject or give me a “WTF?!” double-take. I’ve also been told, in a roundabout way, that all mythology is hokey.
The discussion led to a spread of answers all circling around the same theme, in keeping with Pagan style. There are a lot of quotes below, but trust me, I’m getting somewhere with this:
Truthfully no. I hear to many that still equate it to teenage revolting against their parents and the establishment. In that light it is seen as a fad that they shall grow out of. – MonSo_LeeDra, April 29th, 2010
I could give a rat’s ass if someone takes my religion or any other religion seriously. Some Traditions are underground and initiatory Mystery religions for a reason. There is no need for them to be out there for public consumption *or* validation.
On the whole – Pagans (generally speaking) shouldn’t need or expect validation. What we should expect is the right to practice our religions as we see fit. – Twinkle, April 30, 2010
Nope. Its not even taken as seriously by the people who practice under the Pagan umbrella…We get less flack than Muslims do, and contrary to some have taken less persecution historically than the Jews have. We also have had fewer scnadals than the Catholics.
So we aren’t as respected, but we do next to nothing to earn the respect of the community [by organizing charities as a large group]. We just do not stand out in the crowd…
We do not even have a single accepted text that we all adhere to, though my suggestion would be Robert’s Rules Of Order. You can point to the religions that get the respect and see one single book that each group refers to: the Quran, the Bible, etc. They may all interpret it in different ways, but it still gives them the illusion of a group cohesion. Terra Mater, April 29th, 2010
And then, straight to the heart of the matter:
I wouldn’t argue that those two elements [fluidity and relativism without a rigid orthodoxy] have drawn many to Paganism. What I would argue is that both are not only tacked-on and superficial elements of Pagan belief, they are actually harmful to the development of any religion into a respected (or intellectually honest) tradition.
If paganism remains devoid of any orthodoxies (I suppose there are a few minor ones in Wicca and Druidry, but nothing to write home about compared to other religions), it remains fundamentally inaccessible to those outside those personalized traditions. How do you explain to the media or your neighbor or your mother what “paganism”, or even “Hellenic recon” or “Wicca”, is when your definition, my definition, and Twinkle’s definitions are wildly divergent, perhaps even directly at odds with each other? Quite simply, you can’t. Nobody on the outside is going to take the time, or should be expected to take the time unless they’re a very important part of your life, to understand the hundred giant differences of opinion between my tradition and yours, even if we both use the same label. Hence, the public just doesn’t get paganism.
Further, the lack of orthodoxies is directly tied, I believe, to the dominance of relativism in the neo-pagan movement. “Nobody has a monopoly on truth”, “If it’s what you believe then it’s true for you”, etc., etc. We’ve all heard the feel-good phrases. Most of us have even regurgitated them. But they tend to do nothing but promote intellectually vapid, theologically rickety belief systems with barely enough internal logic to get by on. You can’t debate with “We’re both right”. You can’t hold an honest discussion concerning the validity of your beliefs if everything and anything goes in terms of “truth”. Paganism becomes a matter of saying, “This is what I believe because this is what I believe and it sounds cool to me!” Is it any wonder that religions with hundreds or thousands of years worth of philosophy and eminent theologians don’t take neo-pagans seriously? To them (and to me) it ends up looking like we can’t even be bothered to examine our own beliefs with anything like sincerity, so why should they?
And ultimately, while both elements of neo-paganism may have drawn many to the community, that doesn’t mean they’re essential components of belief. How many gods demand that you be a strict relativist? How many Wiccan doctrines treat “everybody’s right because they believe they are) as a cornerstone of their teaching and practice? How many Druidic circles preach a lack of orthodoxy as necessary to belief? These are, by and large, just holdovers of teenage rebellion (at best) that most pagans have never purged from their systems along with the angst and persecution complex (actually, now that you mention it…). They aren’t necessary to most neo-pagan belief – they’re just emotional remoras, along for the ride. – Tiberias, May 1st, 2010
The degree of fluidity and relativism varies between Pagan paths, and less so among those aiming at reconstructing the ancient religions, as there is a more objective and unified goal (reconstruction). It’s generally accepted in Hellenic Polytheism that orthopraxy (correct practice) is the central focus and not orthodoxy (correct belief). However, there is a push towards more unified belief in order to inform orthopraxy (See Mano and Lesley’s Is the Ancient Hellenic Religion an orthopraxy?).
The central problem is, so far as I’ve seen, that no one wants a supreme authority (like a Pope) to decide once and for all what is true and not true for that particular pagan religion. The best solution seems to be organized “churches” (like Hellenion, for those who practice Hellenic Reconstruction, as it has 501(c)(3) status) with governing bodies voted in by members of the group.
People can decide whether or not to be members of such “churches” based on the unified approach of each of those organizations. The members, then, have something solid to hold on to when describing their religion to curious outsiders. Furthermore, people recognize groups more than they do individuals as something to be taken seriously; therefore, by belonging to a “church” the particular religion (and Pagans as a whole) is more as a movement and less as an angsty non-conforming individuals acting out against the establishment.
Why do you think pagans aren’t taken seriously? What do you think are the solutions? Should pagan paths have “churches” or “clergy” in any way shape or form?