Is there tolerance in the Pagan community?

Posted on August 21, 2012
Filed Under identity, Magic | 9 Comments

I came across this article yesterday which focused on the lack of tolerance that arises between different Pagan groups, both towards each other and toward other religions. I think its an insightful article that captures an issue that is sometimes swept under the rug in Paganism. I found myself empathizing with the author, having had my own experiences with intolerance in the Pagan community. Indeed one of the reasons I tend to consider myself more of an outsider is because of those experiences.

I think that tolerance, as a skill, is something that people need to practice on a very conscious level. It is much easier to make fun of someone else’s beliefs than to consciously accept a person’s beliefs, even if you don’t agree with them. And consciously accepting a person’s belief doesn’t mean you agree with that belief…it means you agree and accept that person has the right to belief what s/he will. The problem is that people are so invested in being right that instead of accepting that someone has different beliefs, they insist on shoving their own beliefs down your throat while also trying to prove that your beliefs suck.

Within the Pagan community I have been told at various times that I am a fluffy bunny, a flake, or that I’m reinventing the wheel. I even had a pagan podcast where the people involved decided to attack me on their show because I couldn’t be a nice traditional pagan like them. And what all this taught me is that even within Paganism, if you aren’t the same type of Pagan as others, then some people will take exception to it.

In the post I linked to the author notes the following:

I don’t see how replacing ‘One True God(s)’ with another ‘One True God(s)’ is going to change anything. The persecution might switch for a couple of thousand years but after that, it’s the same thing all over again. I wish we could all let go of ‘One True’. Then there would just be God and Gods and we could finally stop trying to carve out a place for our religion from someone else’s hands and focus on creating a space for ourselves separate from the religion of others

It’s a good point and one worth considering. You don’t have to believe what I believe, but you could accept that I believe it and practice it without judging it or me. The people who try to get others to believe what they believe or try and disprove someone else’s beliefs are just creating more intolerance because of a need to have other people be like them, or because they think their God demands or, or they don’t believe in any gods and think everyone should be just like them.

I’m of the opinion that you can believe what you want…I may not agree with your belief, but I do accept you have the right to believe it and I’m not going to try and argue against it or convince you my beliefs are better. I have better things to do than try and force my views on someone else. That’s not what my spiritual path or life is about. I’d rather devote myself to my practice and share my ideas with whoever wants to discuss them in an intelligent manner. Isn’t that better than all the fussin’ and feudin’?

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altmagic 1 Like

First of all, tolerance and pluralism are incredibly important; the plurality of Pagan traditions is one of that movement's great strengths, and tolerance should go beyond mere acceptance and extend to being respectful.

However, I also think there's a value to honest critique. I believe that the exchange of ideas requires critical evaluation of those ideas. Too often, I think the Pagan community resists this kind of discussion - which is the heart of theology, frankly - and dismisses it.

For example, someone who tells you are too "fluffy" is a jerk and should be ignored; but someone who tells you you're reinventing the wheel is potentially offering helpful information. If they know of structures or ideas that are similar to yours, they want to make sure you're aware of them; you may be able to learn from them, join forces with them, or at least bester distinguish what makes your ideas different.

Contrary to your illustration, I think tolerance has little to do with accepting. I think it is about respect. There are priests and magicians whose ideas I believe are flatly wrong - but I respect them, including using only respectful language about them, and we can hang out and be part of a community together.

Magicexperiment moderator 1 Like

@altmagic I would think that respect is part of acceptance. You may or may not. In regards to the idea that the comment reinventing the wheel is an honest critique, I have found in my own experience that it has been used to discourage creativity and experimentation. When I first started sharing my ideas around pop culture magic, the people who told me I was reinventing the wheel were in no way respectful about it, or in my opinion offering an honest critique. Beyond making that statement, they had nothing substantive to offer. They seemed more bent on discouraging creativity than anything else. An honest critique doesn't need a cliche, and can be argued in a respectful manner, but when I hear that I or someone is reinventing the wheel, what I hear is a petty insult offered by someone who has nothing more to offer than that.

altmagic 1 Like

I think it can go either way. I found it helpful though challenging to listen to people shoot off their opinions of my temple and teachings, when I was a temple priest.

Magicexperiment moderator

@altmagic It can be very helpful. I can accept a person's choice of belief and still offer a respectful critique of the practices that are associated with the belief.

lemauvaischaton 1 Like

I'm an eclectic pagan, and I don't judge others on their beliefs. Everyone who follows an eclectic path is different, and I love seeing how people incorporate different beliefs and traditions in their own practices. It's great to meet people because, invariably, I'll learn something new that otherwise I wouldn't have been introduced to. I think there are more tolerant pagans than not - just as there are more tolerant (insert any religion/spiritual path here) than not. It's all perception and what chooses to stand out. The ones who voice their opinions and bash other people for their beliefs will always have center stage, and they will always stand out to the people who are accepting of others. But, hey, that's just my opinion. There are billions of other opinions out there, and maybe I don't see the intolerance because I don't pay any mind to it.

Magicexperiment moderator

@lemauvaischaton I think you make a good point. Unfortunately when the intolerant people are the the ones talking, it does create an impression about the rest.

Tamris 1 Like

Tolerance? Not really.  I come from the traditional witchcraft side of paganism and we see it all the time. People freak out at the "fluff" almost as much as they freak out at those who have no problem with curses or using blood in ritual. It's a kind of ... amusing phenomenon, actually.

Magicexperiment moderator 2 Like

@Tamris it's interesting how bent out of shape get about such things. It shows a strong identification with beliefs to the point that someone feels threatened if the beliefs aren't the same.