Paganism has grown and developed over time to accommodate groups large and small, with particular interests and wants, often as a countercultural movement, sometimes “progressive” or modernizing and sometimes “conservative”, sometimes a mixture of the two, but rarely with the need to actually be a representative, accessible, equable religion for all people. And as people’s religion we may have had some aspirations and claims, and real work from some, but in a lot of cases we are relatively untested and under-challenged.
I do feel this is the nature of a unique and diverse beast that has grown rather than been designed, and that needs to be understood, but there’s two questions came out of it for me:
1) what form does a real people’s religion take, ie one that seeks to serve the people as a whole, and be accessible to all, and not disadvantage any person or group, whether they are male, female, intersex, transexxed, of any gender (and not just binary), hetero, bi, gay, lesbian, queer, asexual, of any race, age, or form of physical ability, fertile or infertile, poor or rich, etc etc. Not so much thinking here about a battery of “equality and diversity” provisos, but what form does such a religion take, in terms of the inward stuff of religion? And further, because Paganism is such a diverse collection of quite particular religions or religious forms, how would that inclusiveness reflect on all our constituent parts? Because truthfully, if any religion as a whole excludes part of the people, does it deserve the title “religion”, or is it a specialized cult? I don’t think the term “cult” need be derogatory here if it is entirely conscious and recognizes the admission of limitation and specialization involved, but I don’t believe we should claim the term “religion” if we use it to turn our backs on part of humanity, and I don’t believe spirituality can truly have exclusion clauses. Similarly, I would question if some mainstream “religions” actually qualify for the term under this definition.
2) I appreciate the need for specialized cults, I feel the need for them myself in many ways, certainly I have no intention of my family religion being other than what suits me and my husband and our gods. But in a religious world made up of so many cults, what responsibility do we have towards the whole?
How can we reconcile so many specialized cults with a more inclusive status as religion open to all, and serving all. Is this not where “Paganism” actually comes in? We often say that Paganism is an “umbrella term” covering the great diversity within the religions of modern Paganism, but does this umbrella actually offer wholeness and acceptance to all, or just a convenient label with little but fragmented special interests behind it? I think this is important, because we need to look after people and offer them a spiritual home.
I feel we need to look at how people are excluded from our community, and what excludes them, not in order to make one universal form, but in order to engage in the work of alleviating suffering, and bring about the real fulfilment of lives. Because we might talk about “unity in diversity”, but there still needs to be some kind of union in there somewhere, and if this is any kind of spiritual unity in diversity, then there needs to be a moral aspect to it.
One of the things I heard repeated a few times in the wake of the “Lilith-gate” transphobia controversy, was that trans-folk should simply form their own groups, and surely that would be best for them? Which is an astonishing sentiment frankly, tantamount to telling them that they should just go away and disappear. Like a tiny, scattered, disempowered minority compared to cis-women and men can easily do that, and benefit from finding themselves excluded once again. No, that’s acting like a bunch of self-serving cults, and to assert that would be a moral failure I feel. I think we need to stop feeling so entitled as cults, and be serious about a wider and more compassionate vision.
I understand the need to have all manner of specialized forms, practices, liturgies, iconographies and functions. I feel that need myself, though as part of “eclectic Paganism” with what is basically a personal, family religion, I have it very easy. But we seem to circle round that “umbrella term”, keeping it carefully empty, while we look after ourselves and our own. We close the door on it and avoid the question that lies there. Can we not look deeper and broader, and get our feet collectively wet in universal ethical concerns for our fellow human beings?