Community, Foundations, and Thoughts
Posted on August 4, 2014
From the accounts that crop up across the internet, we’ve seen that when folks get off the internet they tend to be more cordial with each other. Maybe even friendly! And they certainly act within enough courtesy and accord to each other that they could be – theoretically – operational in the same local community, even if they did not personally like or were otherwise ambivalent towards each other. An example of this is the recent Polytheist Leadership Conference, where people with differing views were able to come together and have a successful meet up to discuss the themes that were important to them.
For full disclosure: I was not available to attend the PLC. If I’m in the region next time it is being held (Spring 2016) I’m planning on doing so
The solution to all the ills of this online community isn’t necessarily to meet face to face, but it is a significant start, I think. There’s a very, well, humanizing effect that happens when people meet each other. The smokescreen which the internet provides evaporates, and people connect to each other in far more fundamental ways. Because community is often about the connections and relationships we have between each other, and sometimes it is not possible to reach those connections with a wholly distant experience. And many of us are in the business of trying to lay the foundations of community. Even those of us, like myself, who are religiously solitary but culturally communal.
Many of us have vast differences, but we’re working towards a common goal: an emergent religious community that can stand on its own, grow, and become a truly productive force in the world.
But that doesn’t stop the snark, of course. It doesn’t start the folks from talking down the efforts of those that are trying to build something. It doesn’t help that people jump into the community without fully realizing that many of the foundations that they want simply do not yet exist in the capacity that they’re expecting. We’re still fighting for legal recognition for many of the religious groups that fall under the Contemporary Pagan umbrella, let alone saying anything about having the local support for a tangible spiritual community.
How long did it take Christianity to make such gains? Not to persistently compare it to the other faith, but honestly? How many hundreds of years did it take to form a stable community? And how many growing pains did it have to go through in order to do that?
And dare I say it: They had an easier time of it. It’s easier when one can legally force other people to take to the faith by enticing the leaders of the community to convert and then force the rest of them to follow through. Paganism has to contend not only with a deeply indoctrinated Western culture but also the forces of scepticism, secularism, and the legal and moral right of every faith to have their voices heard. We should not, nor could we even if we desired to, force others to follow our ways.
The right to choose our path is important to us and that means we have slow going. The strides we’ve made in fifty to sixty years since Wicca was birthed are impressive, in my opinion. But there is still a long way to go.
To the people who disparage the movement to build community, who attack the folks who seek to establish communities as they see fit, or those who end up getting burnt out and turning their backs on the community because they can’t handle how people are being talked to (who seem to subsequently end up becoming unnecessarily critical and excessively deconstructive) I have a simple question:
Why are you here?
Why are you engaging in the community, such as it is, if you have little that is constructive to say? What can you do better than the people who are trying? What tangible purpose exists in your words other than undermining the credibility and efforts of other people who are doing their best to do as they see fit?
Do you want to make the religious community a better place? Can you do anything towards that end? What do you want from it? What do you need from it? Do you want the burden of constructing a nascent, young, religious identity and cultural community from near-scratch? It is a daunting challenge, and isn’t to be undertaken lightly. Pagans can be a fractious lot and it seems that no good deed can go unpunished in the community. But only by working together to try to build a positive environment can we move past it. And I’m well aware of the realities of the situation. But I am yet hopeful.
Do you want to skip to the end, to take part in the religious community that was already established? If so, realize that we’re nowhere near that point. Very few locations have a stable community, and those that exist are not often among the more specialized or focused religious identities (especially reconstructionism). Many of us are isolated. I’m isolated. My best Pagan/polytheist friends are in the states of New Jersey, Western New York, and Texas, respectively. The internet makes it a smaller place, to be sure, a slightly less isolated world, but isolated none the less. Recognizing that fact is important, and accepting that it could be several years for a tangible place to worship needs to be translated to newcomers.
But if you happen to find yourself burnt out, if you happen to find yourself running into disparaging personalities and people who you do not like or who are otherwise mean or incompatible to you, and you choose to leave the community, do not disparage the doings of others. Do not undermine them simply because you are bitter.
We’ll be over here doing what we can to give a stable foundation to our children.
Thanks for reading.