Wednesday, January 25, 2006

lost members?

In the Chaliceblog’s excellent series “Fixing UUism”, Indrax recommends emulating the Wiccans because of the fast growth of that faith- and fast it has been: in the 50 years since Wicca was founded, and the 30 years since most other Pagan groups made themselves known, the Pagan community (of which classical Wicca is now merely the largest minority) now outnumbers the UUA. It has greater influence than we do as well; Wiccan and Pagan rites are now taught to Army Chaplains and Bush has mentioned them in speeches. I don’t believe that even Indrax grasps just how fully UU missed the boat on this; most of those members should have been- should be- ours.

I am a member of that community, being by the most common dictionary definition a Pagan: one who believes in a God other than the God of Abraham, i.e. not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim. If you check out the larger online Pagan communities, say Witchvox or WiccaForums, you’ll find something interesting... yes, there are teens who joined because of the TV show “Charmed”, but the majority of older members are- by actual poll- either generic Pagan or something called “Solitary Eclectic Wiccan’. The “Solitary” means exactly what it sounds like- they do not belong to a coven- and the “Eclectic” means that they do not follow Gardner or any other leader; they read everything published by the founders, and take what resonates with them. These are people who did not join to dance naked in the moonlight or cast spells on their neighbors- most of them had been unchurched, agnostic or atheistic, until the spiritual vacuum finally got to them. They felt a deep spiritual need, but they could not return to the faith of their childhood.

So why did they turn to Wicca? They needed a faith that was not patriarchal, that had room for the celebration of the feminine. They needed a faith more concerned with responsibility and consequences than beliefs and intents. They needed a faith that embraced homosexuals so completely that there isn’t even a need for any kind of a gay/lesbian alliance action committee. They needed a faith more tied to the Earth- even those who are not environmental activist feel a special affinity for the interconnected web. They needed these things so badly they were willing to spend money on books, and study, sometimes for years with little help, to put together their own coherent theology. Those are supposed to be our strengths- how did we loose these people?

Notice how most of the sentences in that paragraph began: they needed a faith... they were feeling “The God shaped hole”. Even if they had ever heard of UU, what would they have heard? Would they have heard of a denomination that helps you explore your spirituality, develop your beliefs? If by chance or a friend’s invitation they attended a service would they have heard a sermon on the nature of God and man- or a lecture about a Supreme Court nominee? Would they have heard people denouncing Rev Sinkford’s call for the language of reverence? Would they have heard anything to even incite their curiosity, let alone fill that God shaped hole? Since a couple million people whose values are 99% congruent with our own went elsewhere, the objective evidence says no.


LaReinaCobre said...

Very interesting; I did not know these things about Wicca or even paganism. Thanks for sharing!

Michael J. Farrand said...

Thought you might enjoy my poem, "She Was Lesbian Wicca (My Sunglasses Were Burger King)".

Patrick McLaughlin said...


Classical (Gardnerian) Wicca didn't embrace homosexuals. It was (is still?) rather hostile to them, denied them participation (at least openly) and labeled them as dysfunctional.

It's true that other forms of Neopaganism have embraced homosexuals. But not all of them; perhaps not even a majority.

Yes, "they" should have been our members. In fact... many of them (us) are. Our congregation, rooted as a relatively humanist/atheist/agnostic fellowship in the very early 60s... now finds that about 25% of its members acknowledge some sort of Paganism as either their primary spiritual identity or a significant part of it.

Most of the Pagan movement is so unorganized that there's no place for any sort of "affiliate" group to form. In doing so... it would either become that group, or would splinter off and become its own thing.

Why didn't they come "here"? Why aren't they all "here"?

One might ask why all liberal Christians aren't, too.

Some of them don't want to be part of a larger movement (larger in the sense of embracing a wider array of religious options and outlooks). Some of them aren't tolerant. There are groups that are Pagan... and one-true-way.

Some of them simply didn't know about us--or if they did, were put off by the superficial (or in some cases, not...) Christianity that they may think they see. A Church.

Church? For most people, that screams "Christian".

Our Fellowship is finding a lot of Pagans in it, a lot of Pagans coming to it, looking for a larger, more integrated, tolerant community where their children can be themselves.

I'd be fascinated to find out if the UU Pagans are disproportionately represented in fellowships and societies and the like, rather than in congregations... and particularly in Churches. Words matter.

I'm a bad test case though. I grew up UU.

But I've heard several of our new members who are Pagan remark that it not being a "church" was significant in them coming in the first place. It's significant to them because it doesn't imply Christianity. It's the same thing that I've heard stated by some of our Jewish members, and by others.

They like some structure that's not oppressive--but not as fragile as what's common among Pagans--and a fervently dubious-of-authority tradition.

Words count.

And no... the common dictionary definition of Pagan isn't one that the Pagan community at large agrees with. We're not the community of all those who believe in a god other than that of Abraham. That's a Christian or Christian-rooted definition.

I do think that Pagans and those who feel spiritual need... but are unchurched and grew up that way (more or less) are the two communities that will represent this era's immigrant population for the UU movement, in the same way that Humanists (etc) were the last. I've even heard Humanists (the folks who created our fellowship, though I've not heard the complaint here...) bemoaning that they are losing "their" church to these theists--the spiritual seekers (which includes the Pagans). It's ironic... it's the same wails that some UU Christians sent up about the influx of Humanists....

If you want people through your (our) doors, then be ready for them to be like yourself--and NOT like yourselves.

And there, I think, is the real challenge. We need to be ready to be open to those who find what we have to offer attractive. We probably won't get who and what we imagined and hoped for; we'll get what the social, economic and political tides bring us.

I'm expecting a lot of liberal Republicans with spiritual needs to start showing; they're clearly among the dispossessed and lost of our time.