The other day, I became aware of a pseudo-religious propaganda piece written by a fellow I met once who goes by the name of Rhyd Wildermuth. Leaving aside my personal experiences with the guy, I noticed that the article cast a lot of aspersions (not the good kind) and lumped some folks and traditions that I respect into some inaccurate and inflammatory categories, like “fascism”.
Since I’ve been fairly good at not being pissed off at every little thing lately, and because this kind of asshattery deserves to be laughed at…
Laughing aside, this is the essence of Master Wildermuth’s lengthy treatise promoting religious colonialism in the name of White Liberal Guilt. This was formerly known as “The White Man’s Burden” back in the days when young males not yet ready to face the world were afforded the title of “Master”.
You didn’t think I was actually acknowledging him as a competent theologian or religious leader, did you?
Bad Keith! No biscuit. Ad hominem attacks are best left to the New Wrong- it’s the core of their argument.
But they’re so FUN!
I wanted to get this over with so I could watch bad movies on Netflix… sigh… Fine.
The stated purpose of the article is to define and urge resistance to a set of ideologies which its author wishes the reader to hold as abhorrent, dangerous, oppressive, sexist, and racist- or simply as “conservative”, which the author apparently believes is synonymous. Indeed, some of the people and organizations mentioned could be reasonably declared sexist, racist, and potentially deleterious to a free society by a sober assessment of their words and deeds.
On the other hand, also named in the article are a number of religious movements and traditions that have little or no connection to the individuals and organizations aforementioned. For instance, Dianic Wicca, Druidry, Reconstructionism, or most troubling- Devotional Polytheism.
It is worth noting that “Devotional” is an exonym, as I’ve yet to meet a polytheist (or any theist, for that matter) who holds devotion as an adjunct to their belief in a deity. Belief in (actually belief, not hypothetical acknowledgement of the possible existence of) an entity significantly more powerful than oneself really only has a few sane responses:
- Attempt to run away or hide.
- Attempt to distract, placate, or otherwise deflect harm.
- Attempt to initiate a positive, beneficial relationship.
A polytheist can be quite easily recognized by their practice of the latter two (after possibly trying the first and failing). Since it is rare to encounter only placation in any theist (save perhaps some historical Calvinists), we typically see at least some measure of honest relationship building- i.e. earnest attachment or devotion. We see the same actions on the part of decent persons when dealing with other persons, so it is unsurprising that a polytheist extends this practice to the supernatural and sacred as well as the mundane.
Returning then to the use of “devotional” by certain parties wishing to discredit polytheism (or any person not ascribing to their ideology), we can thus see that its use is external to the practice itself. It is, in anthropological terms, an exonym- a word used by outsiders to confine, frame, and “other” those to whom it is applied.
A historical example of an exonym can be found in “Iroquois”, a group of peoples who called themselves (endonym) “Haudenosaunee”. While no one is sure of the exact etymology of “Iroquois”, virtually all of the accepted hypotheses are rooted in insulting exonyms used by other native peoples or by Europeans. Suffice it to say that exonyms are rarely applied out of respect (although occasionally they are), and the writings of the various persons using “devotional polytheism” seem to indicate a strong trend towards disregard, even hatred of polytheism.
Delving into the core of the article, we find that its author seems to conflate polytheism (and all religious traditions, to be more accurate) with completely separate, in many cases secular, movements that are contrary to human progress. The author arrives at this false equivalency chiefly because both religious traditions and the “New Right” ideologies are willing to accept a notion of hierarchy.
What the author fails to distinguish is the concept of artificial hierarchy (i.e.- based on superficial traits like skin color or parentage) from natural hierarchies which are situational and highly specific to a given circumstance. For instance, the best team captain is not necessarily the best pitcher, nor the best cook or bookkeeper. One would be just as foolish to disregard the best team captain in a baseball game as to ignore the advice of the best cook in preparing a meal for the team.
Yet that is precisely what the author does, by embracing a pastoralist fantasy of Nature:
“…what’s the hierarchy of a forest?”
One needs simply read a little bit about the structure of forests, namely the canopy layer, to recognize that the author is overlaying his own worldview upon a biology that demonstrates behavior contradictory to his point. The author undermines his assault on false hierarchy by revealing an unwillingness to accept any hierarchy, regardless of its underlying truth.
However, in order to avoid declaring the author completely ignorant of the natural world, I shall instead assume that he intended the rhetorical question as an homage to the book Hierarchy of a Forest, the Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, by Christopher Boehm.
If so, the author is ignoring the author’s conclusion (gleaned from the description, not the whole book) that eqalitarianism is an artificial system in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong. Normally, this is a position that I would support, seeing as how I am generally opposed to artificial hierarchy and the abuse of natural hierarchy.
I could write for several weeks worth of reading (probably years of writing) on the subject of the abuse of natural hierarchy and the evils of artificial hierarchies, but I shall cease after the following:
Our republic is based not upon the fiction that all persons are equal, but rather upon the ideal that all persons deserve an equal opportunity to demonstrate their worth without preconception or prejudice as to what that worth may be. The author of the article which I herein deride is correct that our nation often fails, sometimes spectacularly, to live up to the ideals of the Republic to which we are meant to aspire. The author is correct to call us to account for that failure!
However, the author himself must be called to account for his own failure to acknowledge that humans are not the same, not always equal in all things. I for instance, suck at baseball and to assign me to a major league baseball team would be tantamount to punishing the other players for being good. The logical extension of what the author advocates is the future Kurt Vonnegut described in Harrison Bergeron:
“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”
Bear in mind that I hold myself to be morally, ethically, and religiously obligated to decry artificial hierarchy that flies in the face of Nature and human dignity. I am, however humbling that may be, willing to “call a spade a spade” and acknowledge that I am not the best (or worst) at everything and that I must at times defer to the better ability, judgment, or simply power of someone (or SOMEONE) else.
Despite the fact that I know more about medicine (allopathic, Chinese, homeopathic, chiropractic, and Western herbalistic) than the average person, I do not and have never styled myself a doctor. Despite the fact that I know more about Law, Computer Science, and many other things than the average person, I generally avoid portraying myself as a practitioner or expert on those topics as well. Similarly, while I know a great deal more about theology and have more direct spiritual experience than most, I have never claimed and actively eschew the titles of priest and/or shaman- because I know enough to know better!
Also, see response #1 above.
That the author of this article is unwilling to do the same belies his purpose. That he is unable or unwilling or simply too ignorant to declare that others might be more knowledgeable or qualified to speak to the core issue (divisive extremism) than he indicates a desire to be acknowledged as being the most qualified and/or knowledgeable on this topic.
In short, the author seeks to build himself up by tearing down others. This is the essence of an abuser. I hate the term “bully” because it minimizes the abuse and seeks to excuse it as mere immaturity or even “natural”. This is abuse. It is the direct attempt to exert artificial hierarchy over others, as bad OR WORSE than the attempt to abuse natural hierarchy by extending it into areas where it does not pertain.
No more should paganism or polytheism regard this article or its author as relevant or important than should a wife regard her husband as wise and fair simply because of the strength of his arm. We rightly decry physical abuse, we sometimes properly address emotional and social abuse. In the face of this article, any sane person wishing to view themselves as just and considered must defy the author in his attempt to assert dominance and control over others by labeling them, falsely and without evidence.
For to insinuate oneself into others’ religious traditions without heritage or context, to label and “other” them by use of minimizing exonyms, to demand of others that which one is unwilling to demand of oneself…
This is EVERYTHING that the author of the article CLAIMS to oppose… used by the author for his own self-aggrandizement.
I could write a lot more, but frankly, Rhyd’s brand of half-understood Marxism wasn’t worth listening to at the Polytheist Leadership Conference and it’s worth even less now. Enjoy your new best buddy in solipsism, Halstead.
I thought you were going to be mature about this.
It’s 1:38 in the morning and this bullshit ain’t worth taking seriously.