Pagan Identity and the Crushing Weight of Capitalism

My second essay for The Wild Hunt is up, and it’s already gotten some unsurprising criticism.

That being said, Liberalism is also what restrains Paganism because of its insistence on a flattening of differences and its sublimation of subversive identities. One can be whatever one wishes to be, provided that identity does not challenge the Capitalist, Disenchanted order. Beliefs and practices which refer to narratives in conflict with the Disenchanted order become marginalized quickly. One can be Muslim provided one not believe it too authentically, be Queer as long as one not act upon such desires in the public sphere. Here, I’d refer also to recent backlash against polytheistic beliefs within Paganism–one can believe in gods, provided one does not really act as if they exist.

Unsurprising, because I’m attacking the very core of what is most destructive in American Paganism–Liberal, Capitalist ethics re-inscribed into Pagan beliefs.  The arguments of “Wiccanate privilege” months ago belie this problem a bit, as do the general reactions of middle-class, white elders to the demands of polytheists that the gods be taken…seriously.

Enjoy. : )

4 thoughts on “Pagan Identity and the Crushing Weight of Capitalism

  1. This may sound odd, but what your essay most reminds me of is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s subtle critique of the Federation (the good guys) through the perspectives of characters outside it and even hostile to it. As Quark says in one episode (I’m paraphrasing), “The Federation is real tolerant until you actually do something they don’t like.” Quark is a member of a culture that is openly and proudly capitalist (their religious maxims are called “The Rules of Acquisition”) and sexist (their women go naked because they don’t deserve the dignity of clothes). He’s a comic character, but he’s also unfailingly shrewd and occasionally courageous.

    An ongoing theme of the series is that the Federation is trying to help the Bajoran people, who have suffered a 50-year occupation by another species comparable to what the Nazis did to Europe’s Jews. The Starfleet officers, good rational liberals that they are, have no idea how to deal with the Bajorans being actively religious–as well as highly advanced culturally and technologically–or with the uncomfortable fact that their gods, the Prophets, turn out to be actual non-human aliens who exist outside linear time, and they have apparently chosen a Starfleet officer to be their Emissary, their human representative. So I think I am reading you right, looking at your critique through the lens of a popular fiction that I understand, because I am not nearly as expert in political thought as you yourself.

  2. Loved the article. I wonder, though, if you rushed your audience a bit. Does this audience know what “Liberalism” as a political philosophy actually IS? I suspect your audience can define it in contrast to “Conservatism” and perhaps “Libertarianism,” but for most readers, the claim that Liberalism flattens differences in an attempt to achieve political equality probably comes out of left field (ha).

    I hate to say it, but you may get a better response if you spend more time defining terms — otherwise your audience is going to continue to react to critiques of Liberalism in a knee-jerk fashion, because their understanding of “liberal” is not really much more complex than “the opposite of conservative” (i.e. “us” and not “them”).

    In other words, I’m afraid that you’re getting the reactions you’re getting not because your readers are unexamined middle-class white people (though they may be), but rather because you used a term they identify with in a negative way, and most of the readers didn’t have enough context to understand what you were saying much beyond that. =/ I suspect you would have gotten a different reaction if you had avoided the term “Liberal” and merely described Liberalism’s positions and ideas.

    Incidentally, that’s the strategy I draw from this article (, which suggests that people are more open to new information and ideas if they are presented in a way that isn’t obviously connected to identity and ideology (in other words, if it’s presented in a way that is less threatening to the reader’s sense of self).

    I know a lot of people think that making “the Man” (whoever “the Man” is understood to be) angry is a sign you’re doing something right. Certainly, no matter what we do and say, someone will be angry. But thinking that making people angry is the point is, to me, a sign that we’re valuing being right over actually making change. Even worse if the stated intention is to hurt whoever’s been defined as “the Man”… because if we’re dehumanizing other people enough to think that they deserve to be harmed for their part in oppression, how are we different from them? Wanting to oppress the oppressor or bully the bully just means that the dynamics would be the same if the tables were turned, and that we’re really in favor of is punishment rather than justice.

    Anyway. Offering this here because I think you might understand what’s on my mind. 🙂

    1. I think you may be correct on much of that. I was taking the approach that people who don’t understand immediately would attempt to understand, which is how I learned to read European Critical Studies and much of the other stuff. Not everyone does this, though.

      I think, also, I’m attempting to write both to Pagans and to non-Pagan leftists alike, similar to in scope to what you did with Eros and Touch. I’m hoping to show both groups that Paganism is a political critique. On the one hand there are the intellectual leftists who are dismissive of all our gods-talk, and on the other hand Pagans dismissive of political implications. Perhaps tried to do a bit too much in one article, but I’ll be continuing that work in my book. 🙂

      1. I think you may underestimate how much smarter you are than the average person. 🙂 And in my experience, curiosity and intelligence are correlated, because the desire to understand is fed by previous success in understanding!

        > I’m attempting to write both to Pagans and to non-Pagan leftists alike

        I dig that. Are you sharing the article to some non-Pagan venues? Maybe you’ll get a more satisfying response from a more politically-informed crowd.

        Much love to you.

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