This week, in between giving River Tylenol and trying to not melt in the heat, I have been watching with interest the American Pagan community struggle within itself to find its voice. It's so exciting to watch pieces start to fall in place as one by one we start rethinking and reimagining what the future could be for us.
I've also been watching with horror the images and words coming out of Norway. As the story began to be clearer, the inevitable finger-pointing started, along with a hefty dose of Christian-bashing. Anders Breivik was, after all, a Christian, the finger-pointerers said. He believed himself to be a Knight Templar, a Christian soldier of fate. If you read Breivik's manifesto, however (I forced myself to read as much as I could before I gave it up as a bad job reminiscent of the Tea Party-forwarded emails I've been receiving for the last couple of years), you'll find that Breivik considers Christianity not necessarily a RELIGION but a CULTURE. Now, here's where things start to get kind of weirdly sense-making.
From Breivik's standpoint, Christianity is less about a personal relationship with God and/or Jesus, but about a cultural, European identity. The Church, after all, has occupied Western Europe for pretty much 2000 years (give or take a century or so) and it could be argued that the majority of its countries either are or had been governed or heavily influenced by that Church. It could be further argued that many countries now have democracies or multi-layered governments that exist specifically in opposition to the dictates of the Catholic Church or the idea of a religion ruling a people. Many of the rules and laws that exist in European countries have their root in Judeo-Christian orthodoxy. One could argue they also have their roots in basic human nature: killing people or taking their stuff is wrong. Ahem. I am NOT saying that Breivik was right. Or not an insane,
However, as I thought about this for a couple of days, things started becoming clear to me in a way that I can--just barely--articulate. Here's the best I could come up with:
The United States of America AS A LEGAL ENTITY does not have a Christian base. It does not, officially, have a god whose commandments the people must follow. One does not have to feediddle around with covenants to have an official marriage or contract. For the entirety of our history as a nation, we have been nibbling at the edge of it: our seals and coinage and the pledge feature Jahweh, BUT we cannot be forced to swear allegiance to that god as we spend our money, nor can we be forced to say the pledge.
On the surface, this is all spiffaroonles. We can all (ostensibly) worship how we want. Yay! However, the freedom of religion has also allowed the culturally dominant religion to try to become the culture of our country, which would be all well and good IF there weren't so many versions of that religion. OR if there weren't a whole bunch of us who think Jesus was just fine, thanks, but we'll take a different model of deity. (Or no model, in fact.)
Now, here's where things get really important for us, my Paganistas. America has only been a country for 222 years. (Or 235 if you go by the whole 1776 thing.) That is not NEARLY long enough from an anthropological standpoint for a religious group to claim dibs on a region or country. I mean, I hate to get nerdly about it, but it just isn't. I'm not saying that Pagans have to "claim" America. But we dang sure have to become a more mainstream part of the culture.
It isn't about fighting Christianity. Christianity has no legal superiority here. We can talk a whole lot about Salem, but Salem happened BEFORE the United States happened. And we can talk a whole lot about the prejudice, threats, and ugliness that gets heaped on Pagans. But this doesn't have legal protection; it has cultural protection. And until we claim our share of the culture and exercise our legal rights--delineated by Christian men--to practice our faith, we simply can't expect the prejudice, threats, and ugliness to change. We can't expect the ignorance that drives it to change, either.
You know, we have just as much claim as any other faith does--as any other subsection of our culture does. For centuries, we've allowed our heritage to be the Trials or the alienation brought about by not practicing the mainstream religion of the Old World. THAT seems to be our entry into country's history book: a bunch of folks were accused of practicing magic and killed for it, and we're still paying for it today. A bunch of people in a foreign country that most of us have never visited don't practice our faith, and so we keep hidden about it. But that's REACTIONARY. That is either being pissed off about or getting dragged down by or living up to or measuring oneself against something that, in the legal machinations of American history, did little but provide our Founders with an argument against a theocracy. Should we forget the women and men in our past who, in all actuality, probably didn't practice anything REMOTELY like the bulk of us do today, but were punished or isolated for doing so? Of course not. But we should not let them be the footnote that defines us, the modern Pagans.
Today, on Facebook, I was directed by Angela (my muse of blog-postery) to a group called Pagans of American Revolution Ancestors. Questionable grammatical title issues aside, I liked the group on the spot. On my "real" Facebook page. Because, y'all, here's my American lineage: my great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather Johan Philip Emert came to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1730. When King George offered British citizenship to immigrants to the American Colonies, Johan accepted. Several years later, Johan's son, Frederick, fought in the Continental Army, on the Pennsylvania Line against the British. He survived the war--in fact, he witnessed Cornwallis' surrender--and in the 1780s, moved to the mountains of Tennessee, where he helped form a settlement now known as Emert's Cove. His son, Frederick, Jr, fought in The War of 1812. My family stayed in those mountains. We still have reunions there every summer. (I missed the one this year because of River's illness.)
I thought a lot about my ancestor today. I thought about what would have happened if he had been killed in Pennsylvania. Or if he'd never added his strength to the forces that cleared a way for our Founders to establish a legal nation. I could never have existed on this planet. It's possible my great great great great great great grandfather's hand was the one that put the rebels over the top. Maybe, without him, the UNITED STATES wouldn't have existed. (Hi. I'm grandiose.)
This isn't about a war, y'all. The war was already fought. It was fought BEFORE our country became a country--and guess what? The other guys lost. I know they lost because we aren't walking around every day in wool dresses and buckled shoes and we get to go to the theater. I know they lost because our Founders used them as an example of what not to do.
This is about stepping up and allowing our spirituality to be a part of our culture. We've let a bunch of losers from a different country dictate how we live our lives for far too long. The folks from OUR country, the ones who fought and bled and died for us, who hammered out a government different than the one they denied--those are the guys whose heritage we should be claiming.
Were they perfect? Most certainly not. There was the eradication of indigenous people, wholesale trade in humans, the negation of women as legal entities. These atrocities FAILED. They failed because of the document the Founders--the Founders of our CULTURE--wrote to announce us to the world did not allow them to succeed.
Being more visible is not just about not getting sneered at when you wear your pentacle to the supermarket. It's about claiming our cultural heritage, our American heritage, the one that many of our forefathers fought for.
Today, I sent a request for membership information into the Daughters of the American Revolution. I said "Blessed be" to the girl behind the counter at the bookstore when I spotted her goddess pendant as I was leaving. I changed my religious views to "Pagan" on my real Facebook page.
Today, I began to claim my heritage.