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Piety or Social Justice

Personally, I’ll take piety every time. (Though really, it’s not an either/or). It’s a very, very post-Enlightenment, anti-devotion thing to equate theology with social justice. The entire field of systematics has been built on this. It effectively rules out that messy engagement with any Deity that can be so challenging and complicated. It allows one to prioritize human things, effectively removing Gods from the equation completely. It’s a neat corrective to the complication to modern secularization that piety provides.

If you want to do social justice. Do it. That’s awesome. Don’t call it religion. It’s not. It’s what you do as an adult, engaged, civic-minded, conscientious human being. Unlike in monotheistic traditions, polytheisms don’t generally need to roll that into the realm of the Gods to make it palatable. The crazy thing is, there are civic Deities for Whom such social justice work might be a licit and welcome type of devotion but those are never, ever the Deities these self-styled social justice warriors are honoring (when they bother to pay lip service to piety and devotion at all, which more and more is rare). Why bother giving what you do the trappings of religion at all? It’s exactly the type of appropriation that y’all would whine and blather about in any other context.  You do so like defining other people’s lived experiences for them after all.

There’s quite a lot of social justice work that can be accomplished by the pious…who don’t spend all their time posting about it online. But social justice work does not take the place of a well-developed spirituality, or a personality.

In the ancient world, before polytheisms were attacked and many erased, this was how things tended to be structured: Religion was all about engaging with the Holy Powers. It was about a set of protocols for dealing with the sacred, large and small, public and private. Philosophy was the venue to which one looked for developing character and ethics, and developing as a decent human being. Adulthood involved civic responsibility. Soteriological questions were largely left to mystery cultus. Social justice didn’t absolve one from piety. Piety didn’t absolve one from social justice. The two were completely different realms of action.

I have zero respect for anyone who mistakes social justice for engagement with the Gods, for piety, for devotion, for religion. One may choose to take certain actions, to live his or her life in a certain way *because* of devotion to the Gods, but that is a far different thing from projecting one’s own opinions and politics onto one’s practices and pretending the Gods approve. (They might. They might not. These people generally never bother to check. It’s hubris.). You’re not making the world better. You’re polluting and destroying a tradition. You’re attempting to complete the work of monotheism and then secularism in erasing the Gods from our practices. I think this is one of the greatest threats to the future of Heathenry, to the future of polytheisms in general today the other being allowing atheists into our midst in sacred settings.

A life spent in veneration of the Gods, ancestors, and Holy Powers is a valuable life. So many of the problems social justice warriors aim to fix have their origin in the broken relationships between humanity and the Gods, humanity and the ancestors, humanity and the land. Fix those, and the rest will be righted in turn, because the power of those relationships demands  change in every other aspect of one’s life. It becomes the filter through which every action is taken, every decision made. Or you can keep applying bandaids to a bleeding artery.

Marrying and Raising Children within the Faith

The other day, I posted this documentary on facebook with the comment that I wish our communities were as committed to intergenerational longevity and growth as the Jewish communities depicted in this documentary seem to be. Part of that, I noted, indeed one of the most crucial parts, is firmly being unwilling to marry outside one’s faith and being absolutely committed to raising one’s children within one’s faith. The inevitable pushback to these ideas never ceases to amaze me. Yet, it’s the only way that any type of sustainable restoration is going to happen. This is one of the reasons I think it’s so important that we establish in-person, geographically distinct communities where we can practice our traditions and raise our children in ways that reinforce our religious and cultural values. Religion doesn’t happen without culture and right now, we’re all living and working in a post-modern culture deeply antagonistic toward the very idea of Gods and devotion and especially toward challenging the status quo in the way that true restoration would do.

One of the biggest push-backs I get on the subject of marrying within one’s faith is that the pool of viable mate-material is sadly very small and scattered. This is true. See my point above. In the facebook conversation about this documentary, someone also mentioned the sad fact that finding a “Pagan” man/woman who isn’t an “utter loon” can seem a downright impossibility. (Maybe it’s time good, devout polytheists reclaimed the word ‘Pagan,’ away from non-theists, new agers, atheists, and the terminally confused). That it is difficult does not change the fact that it is essential. It’s less of a problem when one is not planning to have children, though even there being what some Christians term ‘unequally yoked’ can be problematic; but when one plans on having children, issues of religion and religious upbringing that may not have seemed a problem when it was just the couple, quite often become a divisive issue. I’d go so far as to say that if one must marry a non-polytheist, have a pre-nup that specifically states the children will be raised polytheist. I’m a big fan of marriage contracts. So many issues can be countered by a well thought out marriage contract.

I think it also challenges us to re-evaluate what we think the purpose of marriage might be. In a tribe, a unified community with a shared tradition of piety and faith, it’s not just about the happiness of the two people involved (though that is an important factor to consider). Marriage is the building block of a healthy civilization and it ensures uninterrupted transfer of one’s tradition to the next generation. It’s there to unify houses and strengthen the community, to provide for the next generation, and to be a stabilizing force within the community. In a healthy community, I’d actually support arranged marriages (provided no one was forced. That arrangement would, of course, involve consultation with elders, diviners, senior family members, careful evaluation of compatibility, goals, working out of the dowry, etc. and the marriage contract). This is not to say that everyone must have children – far from it. Those who choose to remain happily child free have important roles to play within the community as well. I would think that even if one was not planning to have children, one would not wish to be unequally yoked to a non-polytheist if one could help it. Our generation may have no choice but I’m thinking ahead to future generations, to fully functioning communities, to the restoration of tribes and traditions and what it will be like then. Furthermore, the non-polytheist (in polytheist-monotheistic marriages) must submit to polytheism. After all, unlike monotheism, there’s nothing in polytheism that says they can’t worship their Gods but to reject the Gods wholesale is to challenge the very foundations of a community and that community is more important than individual needs and happiness.

The other issue brought up was that there are different polytheisms and then the question arises of which one gets elided. This is easy to answer: neither. There are more parallels between the various polytheisms than there are between that and secularists or monotheists. I think that within polytheism, if we look at how it was practiced in the ancient world, there was zero conflict in honoring the Gods of two different *polytheistic* traditions. Neither would have to be diluted. but there’s a huge breech between polytheism and monotheism in outlook and an even bigger one between that and secularism. It’s a question of shared worldview rather than specifically shared Gods, one of shared worldview and religious values.

That being said, when it comes to polytheism vs monotheism, all religions are not the same and frankly, we should consider our own to be the best and most necessary. They’re not interchangeable. If we are devoted to our Gods and committed to practicing our traditions for those Gods then it should, in a rightly ordered mind, be absolutely unthinkable to raise one’s children any other way.

I think the push back against these two ideas really shows us how far we still have to go in building communities and restoring our traditions. There is a necessary shift in worldview that happens when one is rooted fully within one’s polytheism. That polytheism becomes the lens through which everything else is viewed and the thing that delineates our priorities. It’s a very different way of living than what we’ve been raised with in monotheisms within a secular state. We will never have proper restoration and reconstruction until this is no longer an issue, until it will be unthinkable to either marry outside polytheism or raise our children outside of it. We struggle now because we lack intergenerational transmission of tradition, well, this is precisely how that intergenerational transmission happens: by marrying within the religions and by raising children within them. There is no other way, short of conquest and forced conversion, and I don’t think anyone wants to do that.