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Author Topic: "Stolen" goods  (Read 3086 times)

Urban_Pluviophile

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"Stolen" goods
« on: February 16, 2016, 10:55:33 pm »
The Short: Why do we pagans always seem to talk about things that were "stolen" from us/our spiritual ancestors?

The Long
So this is something I’ve noticed all over the place, but seems to crop up most often when we are talking about the relationship of Paganism with Christianity. As one post here goes into great detail about, we always seem to think that Christianity “stole” a good deal of ideas, symbology, festivals, dates, etc. from earlier pre-Christian/Pagan religious practices. Now, as it has been pointed out in beautiful detail by one FraterBenedict here, there is good evidence and often times clear understandings that while it may look like something was stolen, it was in fact not.

I was spurred to wright this post, (Dua Djehuty) after seeing a headline on Pantheos for an article asking if Valentines day was stolen from the pagans. While I will not claim to have read the article, the first thing that popped into my mind after reading the title was ‘So what if it was?’ What real world effect does it have on the celebration of the modern Valentines Day in regards to its either Pagan or Christian origin?

Now Valentines Day isn’t what usually pops to mind when we think of holidays “stolen” by Christians, usually its Christmas and Halloween that we think of. But again I ask, what difference does it make in the celebration of these holidays en mass? To me it seems that it could be argued that both of these holidays, as well as St. Valentines day, have again been “stolen” by, if not candy companies, consumer cultures writ large.  Why do we seem to worry about the origins of holidays that are at least two steps removed (in the most general terms) from their originals and also not usually celebrated in their popular forms by many who call them selves Pagans?, (in my experience, granted.)

The other part of this discussion that doesn’t sit right with me is the use of the word “stolen.” The use of this word implies, at least to me, that a) there is a malicious, conscious intent behind the act (i.e. they are doing it on purpose and to be mean), that b) the act is perpetrated by someone on the “outside” (i.e. no a part of the group that is being robed), and C) that something like a day, a shape, etc. can only have one meaning and that meaning belongs to whoever came up with it first.

In the vastness of human religious and cultural experience, probably innumerable times things have overlapped, borrowed, appropriated, reinterpreted, evolved from, and been used for the sake of convenience. To say that “the church” “stole” the date of Christmas implies a lot more planning and malice then I think was actually involved; for all we know it could have just been an easy date to pick. It seems odd and silly to split hairs, spill ink, and rap keyboards over these things. I have heard that it’s a matter of acknowledging things, the making aware of true history of an event, often it seems to be in regards to making a group (usually the Christians) aware that they aren’t the only ones celebrating on a given date.

But this comes back to my above question: What’s the point? Weather or not the run of the mill Christian acknowledges what their religion has incorporated from other sources, does that affect the way we, the practitioners, actually celebrate and practice? Is the way we associate with our gods, their symbols, the holy days, and all the rest dependent upon how other people think of and related to a different version of them? And if so, why should we let outsiders influence the way we worship?

Now, as I write this, I can see the awareness reply coming forwards. By educating people about our traditions and the who/what/why/when/how of things, it will help foster understanding, acceptance, and interfaith dialogue. These things I can see as being very beneficial and should be undertaken. But, I ask my self, at what point does the discussion become excessive? Like with the example of St. Valentine’s above, at what point does this discussion of origins become completely irrelevant in the practical world beyond interesting trivia? If its not helping to generate understanding that moves us towards openness then why do we do it?

In my experience these topics usually pop up in majority pagan discussions, where they are least likely to have any educational effect. I worry that we may treat the discussion of things “stolen” from us in a way that allows us to feel that we, the modern pagans, are the victims of real or imagined acts of violence against our spiritual/literal ancestors in the past. This is not to down play the importance of any historical incidents, if they happened they happened, but it I wonder at what point do we let go and move forwards?

P.S.
I’m suddenly unsure if this should be in History or Philosophy… eh, the Mods will decide.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2016, 10:58:02 pm by Urban_Pluviophile »
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Darkhawk

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2016, 12:05:40 am »
Quote from: Urban_Pluviophile;186809
The Short: Why do we pagans always seem to talk about things that were "stolen" from us/our spiritual ancestors?

Because pagans aren't immune to being appropriative nitwits who don't know anything meaningful about historical processes and sociological change.

Quote
we always seem to think that Christianity “stole” a good deal of ideas, symbology, festivals, dates, etc. from earlier pre-Christian/Pagan religious practices.

Also: Who's this "we", then?  Are you trying to argue, as a straight-up reading of your words would suggest, that to be pagan one is required to believe this bullshit?
 
Quote
Why do we seem to worry about the origins of holidays that are at least two steps removed (in the most general terms) from their originals and also not usually celebrated in their popular forms by many who call them selves Pagans?, (in my experience, granted.)

In my experience the only people who think this are the sorts of people who think reblogging it as a meme on facebook or tumblr counts as research.  I don't spend time with those sorts of people.  They are very, very exhausting.

Quote
Now, as I write this, I can see the awareness reply coming forwards. By educating people about our traditions and the who/what/why/when/how of things, it will help foster understanding, acceptance, and interfaith dialogue. These things I can see as being very beneficial and should be undertaken.

And it needs to be undertaken with the knowledge and awareness that modern pagans aren't celebrating the same holidays that ancient peoples did even when there's a clear historical parallel and attempted reconstruction.

Quote
If its not helping to generate understanding that moves us towards openness then why do we do it?

Facebook outrage junkies do it.  They do it because they are outrage junkies.

Quote
This is not to down play the importance of any historical incidents, if they happened they happened, but it I wonder at what point do we let go and move forwards?

Why do you assume that people here buy into the nonsense?  Again, who is this "we" and why are you including the people here, who for the most part if they engage with the bullshit do so in order to debunk?
« Last Edit: February 17, 2016, 12:06:24 am by Darkhawk »
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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2016, 12:25:13 am »
Quote from: Darkhawk;186810

Also: Who's this "we", then?  Are you trying to argue, as a straight-up reading of your words would suggest, that to be pagan one is required to believe this bullshit?
 

 
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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2016, 12:49:38 am »
Quote from: MadZealot;186812
... must... have... rep....

 
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Faemon

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2016, 03:07:58 am »
Quote from: Urban_Pluviophile;186809
Why do we pagans always seem to talk about things that were "stolen" from us/our spiritual ancestors?


I personally consider them valuable conversations worth having in this space where a specific sort of conflict or tension evidences itself, because it supplements the awareness of our situation in the world and in relations with people and the signifiers of religious practice.

Quote
I wonder at what point do we let go and move forwards?


When we've resolved the paradox of culture being public domain because meaningfulness is public domain, versus the integrity that every religious symbol and act should sustain as a living culture by not losing its history and coming into new uses that are meaningless. Or, when what is wrong or right no longer matters because everyone is equally empowered and there can be a mutual respect of individual personal comfort.

You could let go and move, even sometimes if it all gets too tense, but I think you'll be missing out.
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Urban_Pluviophile

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2016, 08:34:38 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;186810
Who's this "we", then?  Are you trying to argue, as a straight-up reading of your words would suggest, that to be pagan one is required to believe this bullshit?

 
No, I'm not. I was intending the use of 'we' as more of a catch all of the various pagan groups in general, though in hindsight I can see how this is misleading and not at all helpful. No I do not imagine that ALL members of the various branches of modern paganism have this problem and go around expressing it.

What I was trying to express was that in my admittedly limited experience with groups of pagans I see this theme popping up regularly and it has always confused me as to why we keep bringing it up.

Quote
Why do you assume that people here buy into the nonsense? Again, who is this "we" and why are you including the people here, who for the most part if they engage with the bullshit do so in order to debunk?


Again, my mistake, it was not my intention to implicate this whole forum with the use of 'we,' and from what little I've seen, specifically the link imbedded in my original post, it seems this forum is home to may nuanced and well read people. Again this stems mostly from my experiences which see the "stolen" discussions pop up every so often. I may just be that the last group of people I interacted with were of a different class of pagan, but it still strikes me as odd that the topic should always come up with such gusto.

Quote
Because pagans aren't immune to being appropriative nitwits who don't know anything meaningful about historical processes and sociological change.

Quote
They do it because they are outrage junkies.


These are probably the answers I was looking for, and probably put in the best way possible.

Quote from: Faemon;186825
I personally consider them valuable conversations worth having in this space where a specific sort of conflict or tension evidences itself, because it supplements the awareness of our situation in the world and in relations with people and the signifiers of religious practice.


This I am very curious about, though I'm not sure I have a complete understanding of what you are trying to say. I'm curious where these conflicts and tensions arise from?, because from where I stand, it looks like they arise from perceived conflicts and tensions, rather then actual ones.

I think its safe to say that the paths most pagans are on (in the west at least) have little to no connection culturally, socially, ethnically, etc. with their daily lives beyond the fact that they have chosen to be a part of them (I, a red headed Ukrainian Mennonite/Canadian mutt cross, am one of the farthest thing from a Akkadian or Egyptian anything in a lot of ways). Yet some people seem to take to these identities like they were theirs dyed in the wool twenty generations back.

Quote
... the paradox of culture being public domain because meaningfulness is public domain, versus the integrity that every religious symbol and act should sustain as a living culture by not losing its history and coming into new uses that are meaningless.


I really like this. But one thing that pops into my mind is that there are going to be two groups in this relationship, the Insiders that value a specific symbol etc., and the Outsiders, the public that, globally, may not even be aware of these things and put little to no value in it. I think there is a tension here between the Insider, who will value a thing, and the majority Outsiders, who do not value it. If the Insiders know that they do not value it the same way that Insiders value it, though still respecting that the Insiders value it, should the Insiders get upset because the Outsiders use something they don't value differently they the way an Insider would? Does it effect the way the Insider values their symbol etc.?, and if they can choose wither or not to get upset, what good is getting upset?

This all said, which has been a wonderful thought exercise, I may have been exposed to too much of the "I'm an Activist" type people (in the worst sense of the title) and now imagine people to be far more dramatic and easily upset then they actually are. The other thing I have heard about this community in general is that it’s usually pretty easy going, so I might just be responding to an imagined lunatic fringe somewhere.
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Darkhawk

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2016, 09:21:29 pm »
Quote from: Urban_Pluviophile;186881
This all said, which has been a wonderful thought exercise, I may have been exposed to too much of the "I'm an Activist" type people (in the worst sense of the title) and now imagine people to be far more dramatic and easily upset then they actually are. The other thing I have heard about this community in general is that it’s usually pretty easy going, so I might just be responding to an imagined lunatic fringe somewhere.

 
Here is a thing to keep in mind: modern paganism as a subculture is very, very white, and also fairly middle-class.  (This is observation-based commentary and connected to a number of discussions I have witnessed over the years.)

This has a number of consequences.  The one that is relevant here is that probably the majority of people who convert to a pagan religion are unfamiliar with many forms of structural discrimination.  A lack of real personal experience with poverty, racism, colonialism, and certain related other things means a lack of depth of understanding of how those things have affected others.

Further, for the white USonian suburbanite set - and here I can speak from personal experience - a lot of people are driven by this sense of We Don't Have A Culture.  Customs and folkways and culture are things that other people have, people who are Oppressed.  They're the ones who do quaint and interesting things, right?  Culture is something viewed from the outside, something other people have, the different ones, the marked cases, it doesn't have anything to do with the Super Bowl and the Cola Wars and Star Wars and....

These two factors mean that one thing I've seen happen fairly often is that people who convert to a neopagan religion get really into the idea that a) they are doing something that their distant ancestors did, their 'lost culture' and b) that their distant ancestors stopped doing it Because Persecution.  Persecution being apparently required for someone to have a culture.

So you get mythologies built up to feed the soul-gaps created by these complexes.  The Burning Times.  The Christians Stole Our Holidays.  Easter Is Ishtar.  Horus Was Born On 25 December.  All of this stuff to give people who don't have a ... narrative of pain a sense that they're entitled to claiming one.  It doesn't matter that these stories are lies, they let people feel self-righteous, and that's one hell of a drug.  Especially for people who have an injury to their sense of self.

Which is honestly a whole lot of people.  I'm not excluding myself there, I just... deal with it rather differently.
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Faemon

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2016, 11:34:32 pm »
Quote from: Urban_Pluviophile;186881
from where I stand, it looks like they arise from perceived conflicts and tensions, rather then actual ones.


Ehh...when it comes to people, perception (once expressed and collectively agreed-upon) is a reality or actualization. It's actual enough to confuse you into making this topic, isn't it? And it can be defused (or unconfused) in ways such as DarkHawk laid out:

Quote from: Darkhawk;186883
Here is a thing to keep in mind: modern paganism as a subculture is very, very white, and also fairly middle-class.  (This is observation-based commentary and connected to a number of discussions I have witnessed over the years.)

This has a number of consequences.  The one that is relevant here is that probably the majority of people who convert to a pagan religion are unfamiliar with many forms of structural discrimination.  A lack of real personal experience with poverty, racism, colonialism, and certain related other things means a lack of depth of understanding of how those things have affected others.

Further, for the white USonian suburbanite set - and here I can speak from personal experience - a lot of people are driven by this sense of We Don't Have A Culture.  Customs and folkways and culture are things that other people have, people who are Oppressed.  They're the ones who do quaint and interesting things, right?  Culture is something viewed from the outside, something other people have, the different ones, the marked cases, it doesn't have anything to do with the Super Bowl and the Cola Wars and Star Wars and....

These two factors mean that one thing I've seen happen fairly often is that people who convert to a neopagan religion get really into the idea that a) they are doing something that their distant ancestors did, their 'lost culture' and b) that their distant ancestors stopped doing it Because Persecution.  Persecution being apparently required for someone to have a culture.

So you get mythologies built up to feed the soul-gaps created by these complexes.  The Burning Times.  The Christians Stole Our Holidays.  Easter Is Ishtar.  Horus Was Born On 25 December.  All of this stuff to give people who don't have a ... narrative of pain a sense that they're entitled to claiming one.  It doesn't matter that these stories are lies, they let people feel self-righteous, and that's one hell of a drug.  Especially for people who have an injury to their sense of self.

Which is honestly a whole lot of people.  I'm not excluding myself there, I just... deal with it rather differently.


I heard a journalistic adage I like, that a single lie tells more truth than a myriad of truths, once the journalist can unravel why the lie was told in the first place.

Quote from: Urban_Pluviophile;186881
I really like this. But one thing that pops into my mind is that there are going to be two groups in this relationship, the Insiders that value a specific symbol etc., and the Outsiders, the public that, globally, may not even be aware of these things and put little to no value in it.


I'll take that given, although realistically there's bound to be midsiders, fringesiders, well-aware outsiders who respect insider value, and insiders who don't fit in or belong despite their conditioning.

Quote
I think there is a tension here between the Insider, who will value a thing, and the majority Outsiders, who do not value it. If the Insiders know that they do not value it the same way that Insiders value it, though still respecting that the Insiders value it,


That's a big if, that an Outsider would automatically have that much goodwill. And I don't consider goodwill just a feeling in somebody's heart, but what they're willing to enact, so ignorance won't be the excuse of a lack of goodwill, ignorance is the enemy of it.

Quote
should the Insiders get upset because the Outsiders use something they don't value differently they the way an Insider would?


Upset is a lived experience that would be against my ethics to deny. If these emotional convictions come about from a false narrative, of course it's going to be criticized if the Insider voices it in those terms. (That's how I've been using the word dolchstoss lately.) Without goodwill, though, it's too easy to call it a false narrative only because the Insider is "too emotional to be objective"; but it could very well be that "the source of your upset is a false narrative" is itself a false narrative.

Quote
Does it effect the way the Insider values their symbol etc.?


Ooh, careful with that question! It's loaded. ;)

But I say yes, and could reserve the reasoning behind that "yes" for a whole book on amateur semiotics.

Quote
and if they can choose wither or not to get upset


Another big if. One thing I do trust (although, from above paragraphs I hope it shows that I hardly trust anybody or anything anymore) is that upset is not a decision but a compulsion, one that becomes irrepressible only when it's really bad. So, it's futile to wonder about the use of getting upset.

Maybe some people can become aware enough of the impulse to direct it, or even repress it and somehow not get stomach ulcers. But I can't imagine what it's like to be the sort of person who decides, "Ugh, we're out of coffee...I guess I'll just have to get angry about my childhood trauma so that I can focus enough to get this report typed up." Outrage on the road, enragement instead of coffee! Makes sense to me! (It doesn't make sense to me, I'm parodying a Nescafe commercial. Which always annoyed me because it doesn't make sense not to use milk if you have it, stinking age of consumerism rasslefrassle...)
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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2016, 08:03:09 am »
Quote from: Darkhawk;186883
Here is a thing to keep in mind: modern paganism as a subculture is very, very white, and also fairly middle-class.  (This is observation-based commentary and connected to a number of discussions I have witnessed over the years.)

This has a number of consequences.  The one that is relevant here is that probably the majority of people who convert to a pagan religion are unfamiliar with many forms of structural discrimination.  A lack of real personal experience with poverty, racism, colonialism, and certain related other things means a lack of depth of understanding of how those things have affected others.

Further, for the white USonian suburbanite set - and here I can speak from personal experience - a lot of people are driven by this sense of We Don't Have A Culture.  Customs and folkways and culture are things that other people have, people who are Oppressed.  They're the ones who do quaint and interesting things, right?  Culture is something viewed from the outside, something other people have, the different ones, the marked cases, it doesn't have anything to do with the Super Bowl and the Cola Wars and Star Wars and....

These two factors mean that one thing I've seen happen fairly often is that people who convert to a neopagan religion get really into the idea that a) they are doing something that their distant ancestors did, their 'lost culture' and b) that their distant ancestors stopped doing it Because Persecution.  Persecution being apparently required for someone to have a culture.

So you get mythologies built up to feed the soul-gaps created by these complexes.  The Burning Times.  The Christians Stole Our Holidays.  Easter Is Ishtar.  Horus Was Born On 25 December.  All of this stuff to give people who don't have a ... narrative of pain a sense that they're entitled to claiming one.  It doesn't matter that these stories are lies, they let people feel self-righteous, and that's one hell of a drug.  Especially for people who have an injury to their sense of self.

Which is honestly a whole lot of people.  I'm not excluding myself there, I just... deal with it rather differently.

 
Can I just say this is an impeccable breakdown of white culture? (Or, our perceived lack thereof.) I wish someone had given me this explanation in my early twenties.
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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2016, 11:02:42 am »
Quote from: ViolaRae;186911
Can I just say this is an impeccable breakdown of white culture? (Or, our perceived lack thereof.) I wish someone had given me this explanation in my early twenties.

 
Thanks. :)  It's obviously something I've done a lot of thinking about, ever since I realised that a lot of white-middle-class cultural appropriation was basically driven by "I have a hole in my soul because I don't have Quaint Folk Customs And Culture, those people who have such things need to give them to me, I'm starving!"

And that's one of the more benign ways it goes septic, too.
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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2016, 12:11:21 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;186918
Thanks. :)  It's obviously something I've done a lot of thinking about, ever since I realised that a lot of white-middle-class cultural appropriation was basically driven by "I have a hole in my soul because I don't have Quaint Folk Customs And Culture, those people who have such things need to give them to me, I'm starving!"

 
I was thinking about your excellent explanation this morning, and have another facet of it - which is that people who come from the white USonian suburbanite set often also don't have a particularly strong sense of proportion of persecution, because they haven't had to deal with much.

(I have occasionally said that I had much more overt nastiness about my religion when I was Catholic than I have since I was Pagan.)

And so everything - even the pretty small stuff, that many people who are from visible minorities, or have been dealing with (like invisible illnesses) for years sort of assume is going to happen a couple of dozen times in a day - gets mapped onto a not very functional scale.

(It's like people who have been healthy all their lives, and then have an injury, and they're asked to give a number to their pain and can't believe it hurts like that, and the people with chronic pain are like "Um, that degree of pain, I live with it daily.")

I come from a white, suburban, bonus English-educated-class accent family, but my family history includes many family being refugees, some being interned as foreign aliens for a couple of years, and so on, and very early on it gave me a sense of proportion for "this thing in my life is a problem, but it is not that degree of problem" and "this thing is not a big problem right now, but I can see how it can escalate so I should do something about it now or keep an eye on it."

And in the grand scale of things, "This religion over here also has a mid-winter celebration and they use common decorative things when it is cold and dark outside, like evergreens and candles" just doesn't really register as a thing to get worked up about, y'know? They're not having their religious celebration with similar themes *at* me, at the moment.

Where something like the ability to get a day off for religious purposes at other times is, perhaps, a bit more of a worthy issue. There's enough legitimate issues to go around, we don't need to borrow more.
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Darkhawk

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2016, 01:12:58 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;186922
I was thinking about your excellent explanation this morning, and have another facet of it - which is that people who come from the white USonian suburbanite set often also don't have a particularly strong sense of proportion of persecution, because they haven't had to deal with much.

Which reminds me of the friendquaintance I shared a school bus with towards the end of my high school experience - it was a magnet school, so there was a lot of long trip, and occasionally we would get her angstdumps.

One of which was that there were a grand total of two boys in her year who were enough taller than she was that she felt that she could wear heels to a date.  This produced an amazing quantity of complaining about the unfairness of the universe.

Eventually, one of her friends sort of glared at her over the back of the seat, and said, "$NAME, I wish I had your problems."

$NAME's response was, of course, "No you don't!"

But, y'know.  Like that.

(Thanks for the addendum to the model.  Things I knew and hadn't connected up.)
« Last Edit: February 18, 2016, 01:18:10 pm by Darkhawk »
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Sefiru

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2016, 06:54:50 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;186883
All of this stuff to give people who don't have a ... narrative of pain a sense that they're entitled to claiming one.


I'd say that proud-of-misery is itself a trope of Middle-class USonian culture (at least as viewed from my fringe position) which makes these sorts of narratives more likely to be picked up.

Personally, I do not grok pain-seeking of any sort...I get my self-righteousness in other ways :ashamed:

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2016, 07:08:16 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;186883
So you get mythologies built up to feed the soul-gaps created by these complexes.  The Burning Times.  The Christians Stole Our Holidays.  Easter Is Ishtar.  Horus Was Born On 25 December.  All of this stuff to give people who don't have a ... narrative of pain a sense that they're entitled to claiming one.  It doesn't matter that these stories are lies, they let people feel self-righteous, and that's one hell of a drug.  Especially for people who have an injury to their sense of self.

 
This sums up just about everything that peeves me 'bout US pagans & their persecution bullshit.  Nicely put.  

I also think people like being bigots, and the we're-so-shat-upon narrative lets em feel justified.
Superman is uncircumcised. Change my mind.

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Re: "Stolen" goods
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2016, 07:53:36 pm »
Quote from: Urban_Pluviophile;186809
I’m suddenly unsure if this should be in History or Philosophy… eh, the Mods will decide.


Eh... such things are usually batted around in the parts of the community which, put mildly, are new to paganism and don't have a very solid grasp of things. From my observations serious religious pagans are usually not given to such drivel. Which isn't to say that some circles -- singling out recons here -- don't occasionally have their fair share of bitterness over the way history turned out; but that it's not as flagrant and is usually better-researched than the 'burning times' folks.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2016, 07:55:35 pm by Castus »

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