It is an occupational hazard of pluralism that we must live alongside people who differ from us. This gives rise to discomfort, displeasure, fear, and even anger. Civilization asks that, at such times, we refrain from drawing swords. It requires that we continue to draw distinctions.
From the article, “Voices of the New Generation,” by Elizabeth Kristol, The New York Times, Sept. 25, 1989.
If respect makes up the foundation of Paganism, then plurality is the framework it is built upon. Really, plurality defines Paganism as a whole. We have a plurality of traditions, views on diety, dieties themselves, experiences, practices, modes of worship, and beliefs. Plurality as a value however, has to do more than just exist for it to be meaningful…
Plurality has several dictionary definitions– “the condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society” and “the belief that such a condition is desirable or socially beneficial” as well as the philosophical definitions that “the doctrine that reality is composed of many ultimate substances” and ”the belief that no single explanatory system or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life” . But I think a better definiton can be found from Harvard University’s Pluralism Project:
The plurality of religious traditions and cultures has come to characterize every part of the world today. But what is pluralism? Here are four points to begin our thinking:
- First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
- Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.
- Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
- Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table — with one’s commitments.
Looking at pluralism in such a manner, and applying it as a Pagan value is quite simple–in theory. True pluralism requires that we find worth in being diverse, in having differing opinions, in engaging in different forms of worship. It asks that we actively engage with one another, to seek understanding and to have enoughcommitment in faith to not feel threatened by differing views. True pluralism requires respect as its foundation, and without pluralism and respect, there is no Paganism, there are just a collection of religious paths and traditions that are pagan. To be quite honest, not every follower of a pagan religion is capable of and/or willing to be Pagan.
One’s path is a single trail. Some of them are wide, and well trod, others are a whisper of the trees branches falling back into place, without a footprint to mark the way. Yours and mine may not have much in common, compared side by side…but collectively, our paths are a continuum of the human experience’s interaction with divinity. And it is the fact that we find value and meaning from the continuum as a whole , rather than a highway bulldozed thru a forest, that defines what pluralism as a Pagan.
There are surely things that are wrong, but a pluralistic world view means that, once we have found something we know to be right, we do not know that everything else is wrong. One god worthy of worship does not make all other gods false. One life worth living does not make all other lifestyles inferior. One candidate worth supporting does not make all other candidates assholes (although, y’know, maybe).
I think this is an important distinction–Pluralism indicates that there are many ‘right’ ways, not that there are no wrong ones. Part of the challange is to find the sticking point on acceptability within Paganism. We value autonomy far more than any other system of belief that I have encountered, and while that allows us a great deal of freedom and leeway, it also implies a great deal of personal responsibility (which is probably a topic in and of itself for another day).
It is our challenge to embrace the traditions of those that differ from ours as equally valid, to engage in meaningful communications with those individuals whose paths differ from our own, and to accept their presence within a greater Pagan community of faiths…without that commitment to the continuum, we are just a bunch of people on some trails in the woods…and I don’t know about you, but if that was all I was interested in, I wouldn’t be reading any of these essays, muchless writing one or two or five.