Friday, October 2, 2009

Our Civic Duty as Pagans

Modern Pagans in America are a people of deep, meaningful, and beautiful spirituality and conviction. For many spiritual matters can often be the deciding factor in life decisions, pushing Pagans into directions that they feel are right. Many live life to the fullest, not letting ourselves be chained by the idea that somehow the material world and the flesh are impure in some fashion. There is an exception to this I have noted over the past several years of being an active Pagan.

Most Pagans always seem to shy away from actually taking part in politics, usually citing that politics are somehow "unclean." This is not to say it is universal, far from it. Rather it is the perception of politics as "dirty" by their very nature is what really needs addressing.

Where does this idea come from? None of our ancestors or any of what we base our beliefs and ideas on say anything about the material world being impure, so why would taking part in the most worldly of all matters be somehow impure compared to all others. This is not an idea that was part of any particular Pagan culture in the pre-Christian world. In fact this is something that can be laid at the feet of the Christian theologian St. Augustine. St. Augustine argued, long ago, that the material and mundane was inherently impure to put one's emphasis on and instead one should focus on the heavenly and God's will.

This was, like most of Augustine's life, a reaction against prevailing Pagan practices and beliefs of the day. In the ancient world Pagans were not shy about political participation and leadership. In fact it was considered to be one of the highest duties a free person could engage in. After all, it was our Pagan ancestors who invented democracy (Athenian Greece), republican government (Rome), a system of legal arbitration by impartial parties (the Celts), and the adversarial justice system better known as trial by jury (the Germanic and Scandinavian tribes). All of these systems, unlike Biblically advocated systems and later Christian theologies that stressed the importance of a King ruling with God's blessing absolutely, are ones that required active participation on the part of the free citizen.

We find this is not just in the systems our ancestors created but their attitudes. During the Roman Republic it was considered an obligation for every landowner to have their own war-gear and be ready to serve at the Republic's need against the enemies of Rome. In most of the Greek city-states a similar situation was the norm where all citizens also had to provide their own armor and weapons as needed by the city-state. Also like this every able-bodied freeman in the Celtic and Germanic tribes was obligated to be skilled in the arts of war and able to fight as needed.

War was not the only expression of this idea of civic pride. For one example the English word Idiot, which we mean to refer to someone very stupid or foolish, comes from the Greek word idiotos which meant someone who does not participate in civic affairs. In most of the ancient European pre-Christian world fairly consistently one of the worst punishments was not execution but exile, one example of this is the Scandinavian concept of Innengard (those who are of the tribe) and Utgard (those who are outside of society). Exiles were shunned and it was not uncommon for an exile of high standing to work for the enemies of their punishers as a result of the total shame that they had suffered to their name leaving them with nothing really but their own well-being. By the same token those who were great civic leaders and participants in the affairs of state were honored highly, the most famous of the ancients were almost always leaders of some kind or another. Most importantly, quite unlike the modern or Christian eras, politics was not seen as inherently tainted or corrupt. As another example of this it was not unusual in ancient society for a cunning politician to be honored, while not as highly, as a great general or statesmen provided their cunning was good for their people.

I say we should follow the example of our ancestors and remember that they were not afraid of taking part in the affairs of society and politics. Why should we shun politics as "corrupt by nature" when it is the greatest expression of doing good for not just yourself but your community and your friends? We should engage and, where possible, participate actively as campaign workers, candidates, and whatever else calls to the person who seeks to engage in the process. When we place so much emphasis on doing good in this life why should we not take part in what can do the most good for ourselves and nature?

That which can be used for good is not by itself corrupt, politics are only as venal and dirty as those who make it so.