Just as in any other movement, Paganism has its issues. And we all also have our own personal pet peeves. One of mine is the, apparently, increasing insistence by some that “Paganism is not a religion”. Not trying to be mean, but apparently the concept of “religion” is just a bit too complicated for some. At the same time, I have become convinced that there are those who are operating as trolls on social media so that each time anyone asks anything about Paganism, someone almost immediately responds with the “Paganism is not a religion” mantra.
Now, as some readers may be aware, I have been trained in, and hold, multiple degrees in religious studies. So I know a thing or two about religion. But, let’s dispense with a long diatribe about religion and what it is or is not here. Let’s keep it simple for those who just might be able to grasp this.
First, some definitions (for it is always good to begin with defining a term properly when one is debating what it is or is not):
the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Synonyms: faith, belief, divinity, worship, creed, teaching, doctrine, theology, sect, cult, religious group, faith community, church, denomination, body, following, persuasion, affiliation “the right to freedom of religion”.
a particular system of faith and worship; plural noun: religions;”the world’s great religions”.
a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.
- a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion (Wikipedia).
- a set of beliefs that is passionately held by a group of people that is reflected in a world view and in expected beliefs and actions (which are often ritualized) (Simple English Wikipedia).
- human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, absolute, spiritual, divine, or worthy of especial reverence. It is also commonly regarded as consisting of the way people deal with ultimate concerns about their lives and their fate after death (Britannica.com).
Also, from Patheos.com “The 221 Religions” May 17, 2017 by Gene Veith: “The United States military has nearly doubled its list of recognized religions to 221. The list includes the various forms of neo-paganism, which is as sectarian as any other religion: Druids, Heathens, Pagans, Shamans, Magick & Spiritualists, Wicca, Seax Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, etc. But Satanists did not make the list.”
And, as I posted on Facebook on March 25 of this year in response to this very issue: “If you follow some form of Christianity, you are a Christian (no matter if some reject your or not). If you follow some form of Judaism, you are Jewish (no matter if some reject you or not). If you follow some form of Islam, you are Muslim (no matter if some reject you or not). If you follow some form of Hinduism, you are a Hindu (no matter if some reject you or not). If you follow some form of Paganism, YOU ARE A PAGAN (no matter if some reject you or not AND no matter if some think it isn’t a religion). How hard is that for some people to grasp? So tired of the “Paganism isn’t a religion” people. Get a life and quit trying to tell the rest of us what we are and are not.”
Now, I think that most anyone can see that it is rather difficult to actually define “religion”. The definitions utilized above vary widely as to what a religion is. But none say what a religion is not, and for good reason – because that would be even more difficult to define. In fact, it would likely be impossible. Frankly, one simply does not define what a given thing is not (although this method, i.e. apophatic inquiry, is sometimes used in theology to define what “God” is not – an obtuse method of argumentation, for sure). That would be an absurdity! Such is on the same general level as “argument from ignorance” (ad ignorantium), a logical fallacy which is defined as “The assumption of a conclusion or fact based primarily on lack of evidence to the contrary” (logicallyfallacious.com). And, as Wikipedia illustrates on their page “Evidence of Absence” “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.
So, for those who insist that Paganism is not a religion, please check your facts and quit using fallacious arguments. You are actually harming the overall Pagan movement because (1) you are not educating anyone, (2) you are providing an argument which could serve to strengthen those who wish to deny us our Constitutional right to freedom of religion, and (3) you are also providing those who wish to deny those who want to practice some form of Paganism, but who may not know exactly what form they wish to adhere to, their Constitutional right to do so in the US military (do you have any idea how difficult it was to get the US military to recognize “Paganism” and its variants as legitimate, recognized religions so that those who practice them could come out and feel safe in so doing?).
In addition, also in the article on patheos.com “The 221 Religions“, it is further stated: “How this list will be used is unclear. Expect an initiative to provide religious support for all of these groups, and expect Christian chaplains to be pressured accordingly.” Indeed, this is exactly why we need to get recognized “Pagan” chaplains of any flavor in the US military – something I have pushed for over the years to no avail. An accredited educational system is necessary for this to take place and no variant of Paganism is stepping up to the plate even today, leaving Pagan members of the military without religious representation except for the occasional lay minister who cannot serve officially as a chaplain.
Finally, I want to reemphasize my suspicion that there actually are persons out there trolling on social media in a deliberate effort to confuse us so that we can’t develop a way to define ourselves. They do not want us to use the term “Pagan’ as a religion, an umbrella network, or anything of the kind. They want us to recoil any time anyone uses the term “Pagan” or “Paganism” to in any way define ourselves. This is a method of keeping us from uniting in any way and, sadly, it appears to be working. So, please, do not play into this – do not go along with the trolls who seek to keep us splintered and ill-defined at best. Let us, instead, work to unite on the things that actually do define us all as “Pagans”.