Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Good Riddance, Donald Trump

Good riddance, Donald Trump. You have been one of the most destructive presidents in American history, devoting yourself to dominating the news cycle with outrageous statements and behavior, catering to racist currents in American society by constantly demonizing minorities and immigrants, telling lies and distorting reality on a regular basis, damaging relations with countries that were formerly America's closest allies like Canada, France and Germany, while expressing admiration for authoritarian leaders from Vladimir Putin of Russia to Viktor Orban of Hungary to Narendra Modi of India to Kim Jung-un of North Korea to Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. 

From a Pagan point of view, your greatest single crime was to enact policies that threaten the natural order of our world. You dedicated your administration to shredding as many environmental regulations as you could, to denying the truly existential threat of climate change, and to treating the earth as no more than a resource to be ravaged for short-term profit for a few with no thought for the future for us all. You showed no regard for the sacred earth, but offered a warm embrace to those who would defile it. 

Your second greatest crime was to demonstrate no concern whatsoever for truth or integrity, but to instead lie profusely and shamelessly, obfuscating reality for many of your followers, building up delusions of victimhood and a desire for revenge. Your cultivation and incitement of the angry mob that attacked the US Capitol will place you in history next to Mussolini, with his 1922 march on Rome, and Adolf Hitler, with his 1923 "beer hall putsch" in Munich. Welcome to the club. You have earned your place at this table.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Winter Solstice Poem for Chanting (To Remember What is True Forever)


To Remember What is True Forever



we come together

to remember what is true forever


On this dark

and frozen night

we dedicate ourselves to light


In the ice

and in the wind

we are warmed by a fire within


That is why

we have come together

to remember what is true forever


In the cold

and in the dark

we will raise a timeless spark


On this longest

night of all

we will answer that ancient call


That tells us

to come together

to remember what is true forever


And to hold

in our hearts the light

that will see us through the darkest night


Though the ground

is frozen hard

we know the skies are filled with stars


And that is why

we have come together

to remember what is true forever


The wind that now

cuts our face

will return to a gentler place


And the light

that we find within

will grow stronger as the year begins


And so it is

we come together

to remember what is true forever


(for reading or chanting tonight, the night of the Winter Solstice)

Friday, November 20, 2020

False Idols Falling: Hope for the Future?

Dear Fellow Humans,

Over the last six or so months, we have seen our world turned upside down twice.  First came Covid-9 and the sudden shutdown of practically  all societies on earth and a new lifestyle of fear and social distancing that  it brought  in its wake. Then came the worldwide anti-racism, anti-police brutality, pro-social justice protests sparked by George Floyd's cruel, tragic death in Minnesota. Both crises have exposed underlying weaknesses, contradictions and , I have constantly wondered where these twin global crises will take us in terms of how we regard society, the economy, the environment--really, EVERYTHING. Because everything seems up for grabs right now. We are at one of those rare times in history where difficult, indeed deadly events have stripped away all the superfluous fluff of daily life and focused worldwide attention on injustices and inadequacies that have been tolerated for too long by populations too beaten down, too depressed and dispirited, too apathetic, too self-absorbed or too distracted to actually consider the proposal that "just the way things are" is NOT the way things have to be. All the great rivers of the world occasionally change their courses over time, and it is the same with societies. The waters are rising.  The current is accelerating. The shores are losing their old definitions. Trees are being uprooted. The river of life is shifting. Things that seemed impossible six months ago are now regular topics of conversation.

I do not think that the outcry over police brutality and racism that resounded all around the world last summer, with continuing echoes still,  would have happened if not for the Covid-19 pandemic. The profound shock of seeing normal patterns of life abruptly halted and vast numbers of people sealed off in their homes for self-protection while other worked and sickened and died, with  rates of sickness and mortality replacing stock market averages and sport team results as the statistics of greatest popular interest, has given people time to think, reflect and feel deep things, troubling things, things they might have preferred to avoid in pleasanter times, but now can relate to much more easily than before, because we are ALL facing the firing squad of Covid-19. However, some get to lock themselves away in comfortable homes with plenty of space and comfort, but others do not, particular poor people, African-Americans, and other racial minorities. Others have to walk out into that viral hurricane every day to earn their daily bread and have to worry they when they come home to their families at the end of very long days at very hard jobs, they may be putting virus on the table along with that daily bread, with their loved ones partaking of both. Others are trapped in institutions for the elderly and the disadvantaged with totally inadequate staff and resources to effectively protect the most vulnerable among us. The spectacle of mass suffering, unjust suffering, unequal suffering has penetrated the popular consciousness and raised awareness that our social order is sick, unstable, and cruel.

Another spectacle, that of ignorant, incompetent leaders like American President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Belarusian Alexander Lukashenko, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro,  blustering away on television, brushing aside the advice of medical scientists and the health professionals for us all to practice social distancing, ramp up our hand-washing and general hygiene, and keep coverings on our face to reduce viral transmission, has caused at least some supporters of  the aforesaid leaders to lose their faith in these men. When your country's people are dying in large numbers, and the head of your government proves to care much more about protecting corporate profits than  the population, you just might lose your faith in the man who you previously thought was so "entertaining," so "different," and so refreshingly "honest" with his free-flowing hostility toward minorities, elites and others and his seeming sympathy for "forgotten people" like you imagined yourself to be. Now  you can see that your Dear Leader may not quite be all that you thought he was and that all he has to offer you is more animosity toward this or that group, no real solutions, no real plan.

The collapse in the popularity of the aforesaid "leaders"--that word does seem a bit ironic in this context, doesn't it?-- is just one part of a much bigger domino effect, of false idols of many sorts crashing to the ground after bring struck with the twin thunderbolts of the coronavirus and what seems a new consensus about how sadly warped our societies are by racism ,and how poorly served we are by militaristic police who seem all too eager to use lethal force. We can also see crashing and crumbling the long-standing assumptions that businessmen and entrepreneurs are the real heroes of society, that the "magic of the market"  so much more efficient and reliable than government (see Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman for past advocates in this point of view); that  government is in fact a menace to "freedom;" that the government should never intervene in the economy; that the anti-government rhetoric of leaders like Reagan was just a bit of political sloganeering that would do no harm; that if people are poor or poorly paid, it is their own fault, and not something that should trouble the rest of society; that it is perfectly fine if many people have no health care or health insurance; that having large numbers of people homeless and in prison is acceptable; that even the most extreme inequality is part of  the proper functioning of the economy; that faraway peoples in other countries have nothing to do with us in our own home countries; that the needs of businessmen are more important than the needs of ordinary people; that public health and the natural world are less important than the health of the stock market and corporate profits.  Let's break this down a little more.

False Idol #1: Government bad, business good. When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020, governments worldwide struggled to respond, because in many cases health services had been stripped down and cut back in tandem with tax-cutting for the benefit of the business sector. Hospitals run like businesses failed to maintain stocks of personal protective equipment and medical devices like ventilators, because keeping large quantities of such stuff around when it was not immediately needed was anathema to the business mindset of keeping operations lean and relying on "just in time" supply chains. Well guess what, pandemics don't care about corporate business fads. People who really knew something about the threat of pandemics knew that it was important to have lots of supplies on hand, but the corporate types chose to cut things back. When the economy went into free-fall due to the need for shutdown of travel, guess who had to be rescued by the government? The very same businesses often so hostile to government. Not a few people have begun to see that the business sector is extremely selfish, expecting support for itself that it would be happy to deny to poor and struggling masses around the world

False Idol #2: If people suffer or are poor, it is their own fault, and no one should have to help them.  This pandemic has taken its most horrific toll on the poor and disadvantaged of the world. They did not ask to be poor any more than they asked to be exposed to the pandemic. With the fear of death that the pandemic makes universal, and the fear of extended poverty and unemployment that is now possible for large swathes of the population, including the formerly affluent, employed and comfortable, suddenly many who previously rejected the idea of government public assistance to the poor and needy are very interested in this very thing!  Fear of death and fear of poverty certainly do broaden the mind, don't they?

False Idol #3: Educated people, scientists and "elites" are suspicious people who cannot be trusted.  Donald Trump's coronavirus-update press conferences were a huge embarrassment, not only due to his verbal diarrhea of inconsistent, factually incorrect and self-contradictory statements, but also because he obviously did not like ceding the stage to more knowledgeable people like Anthony Fauci, who was studying infectious diseases back when Trump was still learning how to run a business empire based on bankruptcy  I think by now, most people realize that we need more people like Fauci in government, and far fewer like Trump.

False Idol #4: All that really matters is money. The Milton Friedman-Reagan-Thatcher-Trump neoliberal logic that the world is just an economic enterprise and that we all should just get with the program and seek to monetize everything and reduce all reality to numbers on the computer screens of financial analysts has certainly been blown to bits by the deep and limitless unfairness and suffering now on display for all to see. We need each other, we need a more caring and just society, not just a fat bank account. We need a world to live in, not a luxury mansion with walls a mile high. You can't hide from our common reality anymore. It could be a commonwealth, our common health, or a common hell.... We have to decide. It is up to all of us.

I  hope a brighter future is coming, despite the grim shadows all around us.  

May you all have hope and heart and strength for the time we are in now, and for going into the future. 

Remember to help each other. We are all each other's keepers. We always were, but maybe we forgot. Let us remember that now, and for the future and for always.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Had a Dream

All my life, I have heard people make glowing references to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. That speech, in particular its most famous line about hoping for a day when all people would be judged "by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin," seemed to be a very popular and pain-free place for politicians and others to stop by to express support for the concept of civil rights and the hope of human brotherhood. Other things that King called for, like economic justice and an end to corporate greed, violence and militarism, are far less frequently-cited themes. However sincerely or cynically King's speech has been utilized over the decades, one thing is crystal clear: his dream has not been realized. The continuing inequality that limits the lives of so many Americans affects African-Americans most of all. The c higher incarceration rates for African-Americans, higher death rates from Covid-19,  the barriers being raised to limit voting by African-Americans and other minorities, and the continuing police aggression against African-Americans that we now see on disgusting display in the knee-on-the-neck killing of George Floyd, can leave no doubt that America remains today just as afflicted by racism as it was in the lifetime of Martin Luther King.  To quote another assassinated visionary, John Lennon, "One thing you can't hide, is when you're crippled inside." The crippled moral character of America is now on view, front and center, for all the world to see and judge.

And as Minneapolis and other cities are rocked by fiery protests against police brutality and a racially biased justice system, the man in the Dark Tower--I mean, the White House--laments the death of Mr. Floyd in one breath while actually encouraging police to use more force against black protesters with the phrase, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," signalling that he expects aggrieved black citizens to shut up and submit to the knee on their neck, and if not, to prepare to be shot by the police. 

I had a dream too. About three year and a half years ago, on the November night in 2016 when Donald Trump would win the election over Hillary Clinton, I was on a plane to Finland on my way to an academic conference. I flew out of JFK airport that evening confident that Clinton was likely to win, and that there was little chance of the racist real estate developer and reality-show con-man winning the White House. However, when I fell asleep for a few hours on the flight, I had a very disturbing dream of angry crowds of people out in the streets fighting and shouting with fires burning.and gunshots exploding.  I woke up thinking, oh, it is just an anxiety dream about what could happen if a racist, brutality-loving person like Donald Trump were to become president, but of course, he won't. When my plane touched down in Helsinki, I learned who had won the election, and I felt numb with shock and apprehension.

And now I see streets aflame in city after city, with the racist-in-chief signalling to police that brutality is acceptable, even laudable. King's dream has not come true, but I am afraid my own dream may have.

This is our Ragnarok. Not the Second Civil War or Race War that some neo-Nazis and right-wing conspiracy believers are hoping for, but a battle against forces of spiritual ugliness, political brutishness and a white supremacy that doesn't even have to name itself to be known for what it is, as it is on plain view for anyone willing to look at reality in the face. We must rally our forces to defend what is good and true and enduring and fight for compassion and cooperation and caring and the long-term future of our fragile environment, against those who seek to crush the weak and glorify the brutal, whose only consistency is sociopathic aggression, and who seem to understand very little about anything beyond their own self-glorification. More and more Trump reminds me of Loki, who used slander and rumor to besmirch and belittle the other gods, and Surt, the fire-giant who seemed to want nothing more than to burn down the world. Ragnarok ends with the world destroyed, the gods all dead, but then a new world rising and the gods reviving. Let us carry on in the same faith that a better world can rise out of the broken pieces of the world we now see collapsing all around us.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

I Hope

Dear Readers in this horrible springtime of pandemic,

Right now is the most terrifying period I can think of in my five-plus decades on this earth. The corona virus COVID-19 is a threat to all humans all around the earth, with no one being spared because of their location, their race, their religion, their national origin, or any other characteristic that people may think makes them superior to others or immune from others' concerns and problems. President Trump may call this a "Chinese virus" because of his habitual tendency to always seek a way to express hostility toward non-white peoples, having found that his more ardent followers will applaud loudly and almost orgasmically for his racist smears and ethnic scapegoating. However, in this crisis, I see hope that this racist tribalism may be one of the primary casualties of COVID-19,  and that we are going to see a new consciousness of the need for global human solidarity rising up from the ashes of a broken world. It is becoming more and more clear that international cooperation, not petty name-calling, race-baiting and blame-shifting, is needed to cope with this mass suffering. Leaders who rally their entire populations--ALL of their people, not just this or that racial or ethnic group--for an all-hands-on-deck effort, the only kind that can be effective in confronting a pandemic, and who work together with other governments and with international organizations and experts are the ones who will be viewed as true heroes and people of courage, compassion and wisdom, not those who rant and rave about building walls, scorning international agreements, and seeking isolation. We are of course seeing a period of closed borders right now, understandable as both a psychological and prophylactic response to this sudden, horrifying, crisis, but we are also seeing the need for countries to help each other with medical expertise and equipment, with financial burden-sharing, and other matters. It is becoming increasingly clear to most people that we really ARE all in this together.

I also see hope that this horrible collective experience will be the end of right-wing opposition to large government programs, as everyone now, of whatever political stripe, is seeing the need for huge government programs to save the economy from total collapse and large segments of the population from poverty and panic.  Furthermore, unlike the financial crisis of 2008 when many governments only seemed interesting in bailing out large business corporations, this time everyone can see that we have to provide financial support to ALL of the people who are losing their jobs and income, as the economy cannot function with a third of the population unemployed. Huge government aid programs to help the poor and stabilize the economy--isn't that the SOCIALISM that conservatives have always claimed would bring on the end of the world? Well, now that we are standing on the edge of a really terrifying social and economic precipice, it turns out that even the right-wing in many countries is suddenly in favor of massive government spending, without the usual hand-wringing about  "unsustainable government deficits," "moral hazard" and such. When push comes to shove, and society is on the brink, socialism is not such an evil force after all, though of course, the conservatives won't call this "socialism."  They'll find some euphemism like "corona capitalism," or maybe "free enterprise with collective characteristics."  In any case, a certain mental barrier has been breached. No longer will it be possible to say that the "magic of the market" can solve all problems, and that Big Government is Public Enemy #1. When the shit really hits the fan like it is now, there is in fact no alternative to Big Government, as big as possible; better still, international cooperation between all governments big and small.

I also see the possibility of a new spiritual horizon in the birthing. Many people are finding it a great solace now to be out in nature in whatever way they can manage, whether a walk down the street to a park, a stroll in the forest, or even just looking out their window and seeing a bird circling gracefully in a beautiful blue sky like a magical acrobat.  This may remind people of the sacred healing power of nature, and in a time when they are being forced to confront their own fragility in a world of biological organisms that all affect each other, inspire them to consider the need to better care for and protect nature, realizing we are all children of nature now desperate for our mother, this earth, to tell us that things will be OK.  This could be a moment of spiritual awakening as well as spur to new ecological activism. This could really be a positive turning point for humankind to reconsider many things and seek a better long-term path. I hope so.  I don't know if I will live to see it, as I am as scared of dying from this modern plague as anyone else, but I hope to.  And right now, that is a precious pair of words I will hold dear to my heart: I hope.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Muslims and Pagans

Dear Readers,

It is hard to believe that it has been more than a year since I set virtual pen to virtual paper on this blog.  Life has just been too busy and exhausting, and the gruesome reality show that is the Trump presidency has so alarmed, aggravated and depressed me that at times I have not been sure what to talk about here, as there is such a constant cavalcade of erratic and destructive actions and ignorant and hateful rhetoric exploding from the House of Tweet that I find myself at times too overwhelmed to respond. Add to that the rising tide of Trumpian right-wing nationalist politicians and parties around the world from India to Hungary to Britain to Brazil and the dispiriting effect is only magnified  a hundredfold, and I fall into anguished silence contemplating how the world that I once knew, in which Fascism had been vanquished in a World War and there was a general understanding that Nazism was an evil thing, seems to be falling apart and past hatreds and cruelties rising up again, with delighted mobs deliriously cheering blood-lust.

What brings me to write today is the very sad realization that someone who I have worked with for a long time in the academic world, someone I have respected for his work in Pagan Studies and thought I knew, someone who I considered a kindred spirit, seems to have been fully converted to the hateful outlook of the new global right wing. I noticed him making very characteristically far-right  Islamophobic statements on a blog that he writes, seizing on the extreme rhetoric of one particularly aggressive and offensive Muslim cleric and seeming to trumpet this as proof of the overall vileness of Islam, the religion of some 1.3 billion human beings on this earth. I contacted my friend and pointed out that it is neither accurate nor intellectually honest nor morally defensible to lambaste all the members of a group or religion for the actions or statements of a single person or small minority within that group. He backed off a little bit, but only a little, acknowledging that not all Muslims were bad people but adding that overall, he still finds Islam a malevolent force in the world. He observed that while some academics and intellectuals might feel it important to respect Islam out of their dedication to religious tolerance, this  was, in his opinion, a misguided "ivory  tower" view that overlooked the true reality of the world in which Islam was a  threat to the tolerant lifestyle of Western societies, a threat that had to be defended against.

Having spent some serious time in the last several years researching right-wing nationalism and extremism, particularly anti-Muslimism, also known as Islamophobia, its close relation, anti-Gypsyism, and their older sibling anti-Semitism, I was very sad to see how almost every word my friend had to say about Islam was right out of the hackneyed, hateful hymn book of the modern  far right. Islam as threat to the west has been the mother's milk trope of right-wing Islamophobia for decades, going into overdrive after the 9/11 attacks and asserted with renewed vitality after the horrific Charlie Hebdo incident in France. This is not to say that the homicidal brutality of Muslim persons in those incidents was justified or forgivable. Those responsible should be prosecuted and punished for such crimes. However,  the vast majority of Muslims worldwide who live peaceful lives of daily toil and experience the same range of human triumphs and travails as others, should not be blamed or vilified, demonized or disadvantaged due to the actions of a few within their community. To do that is to begin following the old playbook of racial and religious prejudice that cherry-picks the most unpleasant and offensive behaviors, beliefs or customs to be found among the members of any group, whether defined in ethnic, religious, or other terms,  holds this up as the essence of the group, and proclaims the need to suppress, segregate, deport or exterminate said group. That way lies Pogroms and Final Solutions.

We all have our quirks and shortcomings, and I wish I could just write off my friend's anti-Muslim bias as a quirk of his personality, something I could simply agree to disagree with him about and then put behind us. The problem is, I am bound to this person in an academic enterprise in the field of Religious Studies. Though my friend's particular expertise and interest is in regards to modern Paganism, it is axiomatic in modern Religious Studies to accept the basic validity of all religions on their own terms,  practicing religious tolerance and respect for diversity. I now have reason to believe that my friend has either never really believed in religious tolerance and diversity, or has turned a corner in his mind where in the case of Islam, the principles of tolerance and diversity do not apply.

I find his stance not only offensive to my own sense of ethics and my own commitment to respecting religious diversity, but extremely puzzling and ironic in someone who is a long-time supporter of modern Paganism. It is the principles of religious tolerance and respect for diversity that have made it possible for Pagans to practice their religion in many countries today without fear of persecution or violence. If we start saying that Islam is not to be tolerated because of certain behaviors or beliefs of a small minority of its members, do we not begin to dismantle the structures that uphold the edifices of tolerance and diversity that we Pagans shelter under? Does that not lay the groundwork for persecution of minority religions  including forms of Paganism such as Wicca, Druidism and Heathenry, that many Christians find offensive and Satanic?

I would welcome comments from readers about their own viewpoints on Pagans and Muslims. Do you agree with me that  upholding respect for all religions is the best protection for minority religions like Paganism, or do you feel like my friend that in America and other Western societies, Islam cannot be tolerated and Muslims are not welcome? Do you think we should "Build the Wall" against Islam? Or should we be looking to build bridges and find common ground? I will be curious to hear your voices.

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