Interfaith Doublespeak

Borg_cube_over_Earth

(We are all one. Resistance is futile).

It occurs to me reading Helson’s latest article that this type of erasure is exactly what polytheists experience in the interfaith community. Diversity is all good and well, after all, so long as it doesn’t challenge the homogenization (read “globalization”) of a community.(1) Yes, I’m being sarcastic there because I think we’ve been fed one hell of a lie about “unity” and “globalization” being things that embrace diversity and difference when the very opposite is the case. Diversity—and I think this holds true globally as well as in the interfaith world– is only embraced when it begins the slow but inexorable slide into unification and sameness. (2) Keep your exotic costumes and practices so we can feel good about being inclusive but don’t actually believe or hold to anything that challenges our status quo. That’s interfaith work in a nutshell. This is one of the main reasons that I have little patience for interfaith work these days. It simply does not serve. At least, it doesn’t serve our agenda. I think it serves the monotheistic agenda quite nicely.

How many of you working in interfaith groups or communities have heard the following:

  • Oh Spirit… (with great resistance to specifying which One. Exactly to WHOM are you praying? I once had a 45 minute argument with a group of students when I taught seminary because they didn’t want to have to name the Being to Whom they were praying. They couldn’t. Their spirituality was a nebulous thing of feel good platitudes. Gods or even one particular God had very little to do with it. )
  • Mother/Father God (again, which Ones and are you talking about: One hermaphroditic being or are you trying to lump all different Deities into yours? They’re not all the same you know.)
  • God, Goddess, All that Is (as though there is only ONE God or Goddess)
  • Oh They’re all aspects of the One (um, no motherfucker, “They” really aren’t. Stop trying to foist your unexamined monotheism off on us).
  • Or how many of you have sat with interfaith colleagues, maybe even friends and noticed that your polytheism was being treated with a deeply ingrained condescension hidden behind a veneer, a pleasant veneer, of tolerance? I’ve seen this even with friends, the idea that we’re simply not evolved enough for monotheism or worse “awww, look at the primitive little polytheist, isn’t it interesting? We just have to be patient until they grow up and accept Oneness.”(3)

I’ve been in interfaith gatherings where a great deal of lip service was paid to the idea of honoring all “paths” (and gods how I detest that word. I’m building a tradition not wandering lost in the woods) until it became clear that polytheism was not about erasing the differences between the Gods so that we could all “get along.” They were fine – and this has been across the board in my own interfaith experience—with the idea of polytheism until they were confronted by the reality of a group of people who actually believed in and venerated the Holy Powers and for whom it wasn’t some spiritual pabulum to make us feel good about ourselves but actual piety.(4) I had someone say to me once “ well how can you hold to the things your various Deities require over mine? Isn’t that going against the interfaith ideal?” (Y’all are welcome to imagine my response to that particular bit of self entitlement). It just goes to show the old adage is true: if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything).

More and more I have come to look at interfaith relations as a type of cultural appropriation. It is dominated by people who cannot commit to one religion, but who want the benefits and blessings of engaging with the Holy Powers within specific traditions, all without actually having to commit to those Powers or those traditions. Hence, you’ll often see people claiming titles in Hindu or Native American religions without actually having gone through decades of study and devotion and without actually having any type of devotion to any particular Deity. They smudge. Maybe they do yoga. All paths are one after all, dontcha know.

It becomes all about making the person feel good, about making them look “enlightened” and “spiritual” so they can get a pat on the head without ever having to challenge any oppressive status quo, especially any religious status quo. Their model is monotheistic. The model for their rites and rituals is, whether they acknowledge this or not: monotheistic and actual engagement with the Powers of any tradition is generally lacking. Most interfaith rituals I have observed are not just doggedly human centric but, despite whatever trappings the organizer might appropriate, devoid of Gods. I mean, you sort of need to name the Gods to call Them into a space and that might be exclusive. Everyone has to feel comfortable after all so let’s just go with the lowest fucking common denominator and call it a day. Hence you end up with what I call impious and unclean space.

More to the point, for all the lip service paid to diversity, it isn’t. Any diversity present is at best on the surface and at worst a complete illusion. This actually saddens me because I think that the idea of interfaith cooperation is a good one, perhaps even a necessary one but it’s one that’s never going to work until all parties are equal. Right now polytheists working in an interfaith setting are anything but. We are expected to sacrifice our religious integrity to make these people feel good about themselves. That, my friends, is never going to happen.(5) One of the things that I have learned as a tribalist is that there actually can be parity…when all groups are treated as sovereign equals. My tribe, your tribe, that person’s tribe are all different but we are each sovereign powers within the sphere in which we’re meeting. We can meet on equal ground. That’s a hell of a lot better than being expected to sacrifice actual diversity for the illusion of enlightenment.

 

Notes:

  1. and we can be global citizens participating in a global economy without sacrificing our identities as individual nations, religions, and cultures.
  2. Or in the interfaith world when it allows a new ager to feel good about how accepting of difference they can be.
  3. So let me be blunt for a moment. Let me tell you something, my monotheistic, interfaith colleagues: your position is this: You are a polluted blip on the broad spectrum of religious life, history, and experience across the world, a single moment in the vast spectrum of religious history and your time in ascendancy is over. We as a world are waking up from the lies you told us. We’re recovering from the Stockholm syndrome our ancestors experienced when you GENOCIDED our fucking indigenous religions and co opted our ancestral cultures as your own. We are waking back up and returning to our ancestral ways. You are done. Take that to your next interfaith gathering and choke on it.
  4. I’ve worked in the interfaith community since 1999, having taught at a local interfaith seminary, including becoming the first polytheist elected Dean at an interfaith seminary. It was very, very eye opening and while I started out thinking it was a good venue in which to find common working ground, I no longer think it useful at all. It will never be until monotheism is not looked up on as the default ‘norm.’
  5. To do interfaith work well, there either cannot be a ‘norm.’ or we actually admit our differences and find common working ground despite them.
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Posted on July 10, 2016, in Interfaith, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Richard Norris

    You might find this interesting, regardless of the source: http://hermetic.com/bey/pw-multicul.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      not a bad article. it also highlights why i’ve little respect for ‘consensus’ based judgments. the best and brightest inevitably get overruled in favor of the lowest common, most unthreatening denominator.

      Like

  2. You’re describing my most recent large-scale interfaith experiences quite directly here…

    At the World Parliament of Religions, most (if not all) the atheists who came to my session left the room when I began to pray at the beginning of it; and then a Baha’i woman who was attending interrupted me when I was giving the background on my religious practices by saying “When are we going to get to the real material we’re here to discuss?” Things went very rapidly south after that, needless to say…the message of “we shouldn’t discriminate against LGBTQQIA+ people” that I was trying to convey at that time is not just a feel-good PC message, it’s deeply rooted in my own polytheism and the relationships I’ve developed within that. She was asking me to decontextualize that, to just give her some nice rhetoric she could then take back to her own community and then look like the progressive, liberal, accepting one that can then educate her peers on that rather than having to deeply examine all of the hurtful, gender-essentialist, heterosexist doctrines of her religion (which takes pages directly from Islam in relation to homosexuality, for example). It’s such bullshit…and I’m glad I’m done with it.

    Having the will to work together is what is required for interfaith matters to be effective. I have that. I wish that, on the monotheists’ part, it didn’t also require that I accept monism (which they call “the mystical core of all real and true religious traditions”) as the superior default apart from all localism and individual distinction, since “The One Tradition” Is the true thing from which all else has deviated, donchyaknow…such utter tripe (and that’s an offense to tripe, actually!). No, no, and fucking fuck no.

    Liked by 2 people

    • ganglerisgrove

      They can’t be open to that type of work. If they were, they’d have to admit that they’re not superior and what monotheist is ever truly willing to do that?

      The experience you describe is largely why i’ve never wanted to attend the Parliament. We talked about it once seriously in my house and I am glad the vote went against.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. whitepinegrove

    I share your frustration with how the word “path” is often thrown around. My answer is to point out that a real, physical path in real, physical woods didn’t just appear there. Every path is the result of people/animals walking the same route, over and over again, hundreds if not thousands of times. In other words, every path is the result of tradition. If you’re walking in the woods where no one has ever gone, then there isn’t a path yet!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great article, the only time I’ve ever had an engaging interfaith conversation is with other polytheists. Other times, be it Wicca or liberal christian, its resulted in them contorting what I’m saying to make it applicable to their understanding and ‘system’. Like a re-translation. It’s very frustrating.
    I’ve taken a page out of my Balinese Hindu friends book: show, but do not tell.

    Regarding the path descriptor, I never realised its a common term amongst others. I use it in context of the labyrinth symbolism present throughout the Starry Bull tradition. (I have to make a personal note to explain that in the future. 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The whole of my “interfaith” work was trying to be visible and honest about being a polytheist- which in the US can be risky sometimes. I’d get really excited when people seemed interested in learning more… only to experience your last bullet point. Even from a couple people I really considered friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We are fighting a version of this battle within the academic study of religion as well. Of course, for the “methodological atheists” and the people who prefer theory to methodology, it’s not a big concern.

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  7. I used to attend an Interfaith religious discussion locally, led by a Catholic acquaintance. It was a pretty diverse group. Many people were more generally spiritual, trying to figure out where they stood, some people were some variety of Catholic or Protestant Christian, we had two atheists, one of which was a rather fascinating fellow whose parents were from Russia, a beautiful, intelligent, and kind Muslim woman, and an Eastern Orthodox couple. My partner and I were the only two Polytheists in attendance, though there were a couple of people who primarily identified as some form of Pagan. Everyone tried to be friendly and inclusive, but there were things that were frustrating.

    I can’t really articulate examples as to why off the top of my head, but sometimes it was as though our answers to the questions weren’t given as much weight. The Catholic man once voiced the opinion that the “Gods” of various branches of polytheism are really just angels and demons. He also seemed to have the opinion that everyone would grow up and be Catholic one day because he had been involved in Wicca in his youth and later converted back to Christianity. He would make statements in general assuming they were true of our religion because they had been true of the Wicca he practiced and we corrected him on multiple occasions. The Pagans would sometimes say things as well that we had to verbally correct as far as what we practice because they assumed we held to the same kind of practice. Easy enough to correct, but was still frustrating. Oddly enough, I agreed a great deal with the Eastern Orthodox couple on some things. While they seemed to disapprove of Polytheist practice, they seemed to have fewer misconceptions than the others. My partner and I are both more introverted, the leader of the group and some others were far more extroverted, so sometimes it was hard to get a word in edgewise.

    We finally stopped attending. In part due to work schedule, but also because the questions got more and more Christian-centric, featuring questions about Jesus, certain bible verses, Christian concepts like “sin” etc. The atheists slowly dipped off too. At times, I have wanted to go back because I still see the questions they select and there have been questions where I have wanted to ensure people have to be confronted with another point of view, but it’s kind of hard to take off work when they post the questions the day of the discussion. Some of the more recent questions were gender-related, talking about the role of women. A link was shared after the fact that pretty much said all women are called to be physical or spiritual mothers. While that’s one potential role for women, I have to greatly disagree that that’s the only “calling” for women, especially if we’re talking about all people who are physically female instead of people who strongly identify with the societal gender construction that is “female,” but I digress.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      This right here so neatly sums up what we all too often see in interfaith work. thank you for sharing it. I found myself nodding as you were describing your experience. whether or not it’s worth going back is something only you can decide. Sadly the people who really need to read all of this (the non-polytheists) won’t.

      Like

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