Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feelings do not replace Fact

There is a pretty common issue that crops up in the Pagan community that I think needs addressing. The problem is when someone spouts off an uninformed, usually wrong, piece of information as if it is truth without taking the time to check its accuracy for a variety of reasons ranging from, "I read it in a book" to "it feels right." What's worse is that there are some who, when called on this, react by claiming they are being "persecuted" or that they don't need your "negative vibes".

I call bullshit on both accepting such things without question and at the whole attitude that allows that to continue.

First off let's examine this kind of blind acceptance.

One thing I learned and have seen reinforced time and time again is that part of being Pagan is NOT simply accepting something without question. "My Karma Ran Over my Dogma" is a VERY common sentiment I have seen, heard, and believe. It was always my understanding that part of what makes Pagans Pagan is that we are, as a community, willing to challenge and question ideas and beliefs, not accept them blindly as articles of faith. I've heard quite a few Pagans express their opinion that people who do are obedient sheep being led to the slaughter.

So why should we tolerate that kind of behavior and thinking from our own when we challenge it in others? The hypocrisy and inconsistency is jarring to say the least.

Remember, just because it is in a book doesn't prove anything. All that says is that a publishing company somewhere decided after reading said book they could make some money off of printing, distributing, and selling it. Publishers don't take the time to fact check every single thing an author puts in something they publish, they don't have the time or inclination to do so. There are quite a few Pagan authors who prove this by their published works including inaccuracies or outright fabrications.

One of the most infamous I've seen was one describing the Celts as an idealized New Agey civilization where everyone played musical instruments all the time and were psychic. The only thing said author didn't say was that they drink green tea. Said book was published by Llewellyn, the biggest Pagan-friendly publishing company in the world.

None of this portrayal comes even close to matching what I learned about the Celts while I was pursuing my Bachelor's in History. From what I learned, based on multiple credible sources backed up by period sources and archaeology, these were a people who regularly sacrificed criminals and prisoners of war, used the entrails of Roman soldiers for divining the future, and preserved heads taken from fallen foes as trophies. These were the same people who sacked Rome and most of Italy in the 4th century BC and fought many long, bloody wars with the Romans and each other. Hardly the navel gazing, lyre-strumming New Age utopia that the author of the work in question purported them to be. True, the Celts did have a very beautiful spirituality and belief system. This does not mean that in holding up that spirituality as your belief system you should completely ignore everything that contradicts what you believe your spiritual forebears ought to have been like.

If an author of a book puts up something as the truth in their work it practically begs for you to do some research and fact-checking on your own. Just because someone put it in a book you bought at Barnes and Noble doesn't make it true, check the references they used and reputable sources to be sure. Doing otherwise is both intellectually lazy and hurts the community by letting it fly as "truth". There is a difference, after all, between spiritual truths and truth that is derived from objectively verifiable facts. What constitutes spiritual truth is something that is up for debate certainly but if something can be read, weighed, measured, observed, tested, and verified or discarded it should be held to a much higher standard than "it feels right to me." Just because it feels good or someone says so doesn't make it so.

Almost as bad are the people who swallow such ideas without consideration and attack anyone who raises legitimate questions. If you are reading this essay and you are already starting to feel steam coming out of your ears then I'm willing to bet you probably fit this category perfectly.

Just because someone questions or challenges inconsistencies, misconceptions, or faulty reasoning you have does not mean they are attacking you personally. Challenging an idea is not the same thing as attacking a person. I would recommend if someone is questioning what you are saying and you don't have an answer to do a bit of digging into the questions they raise. There is nothing wrong with admitting you don't know the answer to a question or the particular facts about something, in fact that is the best way to learn more and gain a greater understanding of the subject. If it turns out you were wrong, then so what? Life is not about being right all the time. Life is about learning from your mistakes and becoming a better person in spite of them. Don't let your pride get in the way of the truth.

Ultimately it is up to us, as a community, to ensure we have a community that has a solid understanding of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. Allowing proven fictions to stand in as beliefs is the most dangerous thing we, as a community, can do to ourselves.

1 comment: