Ossia Sylva mentioned something in a recent post prompted by the insidious influence of John Halstead writer at Patheos, and now Gods and Radicals who isn’t a pagan, or a polytheist but insists he is, in flagrant denial of the definitions of those words in dictionaries.
To me, Halstead is doing the equivalent of walking into a Catholic church and saying, “Okay, so I’m here. I want to be a Catholic, and I want you to call me a Catholic. But since I personally believe that Jesus Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, and the saints are archetypes, I want you to change the liturgy to reflect this ontology, and I want the theists to be totally on-board with this. Oh, and remember to call me a Catholic, because I am a Catholic.” -Ossia Sylva
Not only is this a brilliant analogy, it also can be taken a step further.
Catholics have to go through Catechism, they have an infrastructure in place to maintain religious definitions of their faith, and since their rise to power a millenia ago, they’ve maintained enough influence to continue to do so within their religious tradition without outsiders redefining things for them.
But when we look to the other religions usually the focus is on the monotheistic, Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Islam, Christianity. Occasionally Buddhism and Hinduism might be thrown a bone, but beyond the so-called big 5 religions who have enough influence in certain areas of the world at least to maintain the definitions of their own traditions, most of the other ones are completely ignored by those religions, political bodies, and scholars alike. If not ignored, then they are a footnote lump-summed together into ever increasing definitions of marginalization.
Language matters. When US History books talk about the indigenous tribes they refer to them as “Native Americans” and rarely mention any of the tribe names, beyond maybe a handful or so. But the reality is there were hundreds of different peoples with their own cultures, beliefs, customs.
When you lump sum a group, you say they aren’t worthy of learning more about their individual uniqueness. You are saying, even unconsciously that they are less than.
The Salish are not Seminoles, Apache are not Cherokee. Catholics are not Mormons. Muslims are not Jews, Hindus are not Maori.
When you try to change time honored definitions, you are marginalizing other traditions and the result of that is never good, and has been used as a vehicle for genocide and holocaust to happen.
The Catholic Church didn’t care about the unique cultures of the hundreds, if not thousands of peoples they slaughtered, coerced and beat out of their traditional ways as they forced them to become part of their amalgam and religious identity. They changed the definition of what it meant to be a member of any given tribe. They stole their language, they took their words. (Research mission schools to learn more).
Halstead, and the actions of those like him, by trying to change the words, the definitions, and worm into our traditions are in effect committing cultural and religious genocide against us, and don’t think for a minute that it’s not important.
Polytheism, Paganism, and Interfaith discussions should not be about stripping religious identity by trying to make it all the same or by redefining it entirely, it should be about coming together for the betterment of the human condition while celebrating our uniqueness.
One of the best examples of this is something I watched back in the 90s that has stayed with me all these years.