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Author Topic: Paganism and Critical Thinking  (Read 3300 times)

Breeze

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Paganism and Critical Thinking
« on: August 28, 2014, 05:57:37 pm »
I really hope I'm tossing this one in the right spot here.  This is where I thought it fit best.

I've witnessed an alarmingly large scale critical thinking fail today on facebook, and it's pretty alarming due to its epic proportions.  There's a meme that got passed around today from a parody page about what can lead to Witchcraft.  Warning signs included composting, singing to clouds, and stuff like that.  The page is BLATANTLY parody, in the vein of 'Betty Bowers', but people have lost their freaking minds.

People started posting it in almost every facebook group that I belong to, calling for members to report it.  I've pointed out several times that it is parody, and all of the (mostly hostile) responses I've been given are people telling me that I'm a horrible Pagan and terrible Witch for not standing up when "the Christians are attacking us".

This whole thing has frankly scared the shit out of me.  My first thoughts were along the lines of "these people use the same energies I use and they can't discern a real threat from satire".  That worries me.  A lot.  It's also embarrassing as hell because I identify as both Pagan and Witch and, well, I'm not 'those' people (I hate my wording there, I really didn't know what else to put).

I really don't even know what my purpose is with this thread.  This is really, REALLY bugging me.  I know we encourage critical thinking here (which is why I love it here), but I've notcied that critical thinking on the whole seems to be going out the window in  maintstream Paganism (that's a hell of an oxymoron).  So do I keep trying to educate the folks who don't understand?  Or, do I drop it because they're autonomous adults capable of making their own decisions?  I'm really at a loss here.

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2014, 06:03:17 pm »
Quote from: Breeze;157465
I-snip-

 
Unfortunately, most of the pagans I know form outside of this board are of the kind you mention. Including but not limited to "Christians are the root of all evil and are always attacking us always". And the lack of being able to think critically.

For the longest time, I was actually really embarrassed to call myself a pagan because I didn't want to be associated with "people like that". Especially because these were all people I knew in the real world, so most of the people I would meet in the area would have them, or their friends, as a basis for what a pagan was like. I felt bad thinking like that, but it's how it was.
For a while, I tried educating them. One of them was a good friend of mine. Eventually I realized, she was never going to start thinking like an adult and shed the mentality that every and all non-pagan was out to get her always, even sometimes other pagans (like myself).

My best advice is to ignore them. It's really the only course of action I've learned doesn't eat up my energies for such little return on the investment.

carillion

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2014, 06:17:04 pm »
Quote from: Breeze;157465
I really hope I'm tossing this one in the right spot here.  This is where I thought it fit best.

I've witnessed an alarmingly large scale critical thinking fail today on facebook, and it's pretty alarming due to its epic proportions.  There's a meme that got passed around today from a parody page about what can lead to Witchcraft.  Warning signs included composting, singing to clouds, and stuff like that.  The page is BLATANTLY parody, in the vein of 'Betty Bowers', but people have lost their freaking minds.

People started posting it in almost every facebook group that I belong to, calling for members to report it.  I've pointed out several times that it is parody, and all of the (mostly hostile) responses I've been given are people telling me that I'm a horrible Pagan and terrible Witch for not standing up when "the Christians are attacking us".

This whole thing has frankly scared the shit out of me.  My first thoughts were along the lines of "these people use the same energies I use and they can't discern a real threat from satire".  That worries me.  A lot.  It's also embarrassing as hell because I identify as both Pagan and Witch and, well, I'm not 'those' people (I hate my wording there, I really didn't know what else to put).

I really don't even know what my purpose is with this thread.  This is really, REALLY bugging me.  I know we encourage critical thinking here (which is why I love it here), but I've notcied that critical thinking on the whole seems to be going out the window in  maintstream Paganism (that's a hell of an oxymoron).  So do I keep trying to educate the folks who don't understand?  Or, do I drop it because they're autonomous adults capable of making their own decisions?  I'm really at a loss here.


First, I hate the whole 'meme' culture of reductive, often plain wrong and non-thought out sentiments/ideas.

I tend to take things in context. I can't actually tell from that page if it's a parody or not and that's where the problem is ( the gay meme there is pretty offensive and I fail to see the 'parody' aspect though maybe I'm just missing something). Too often' humour' is used to cover hate.

I am more upset by the lack of critical thinking in things and places that purport to be 'news' and other avenues claiming to *be* bastions of critical thought that are so hopelessly skewed and not thought out .

People want their information in bite-sized bits, hopefully attached to something sexy and juicy. And that is *just* what things like internet memes supply but unfortunately are not balanced by many  thoughtful/thought provoking sources elsewhere.

Or at least, not in popular media culture. I'm afraid people are pretty lazy and it's much easier just to take somebody's word for something then investigate if for oneself.

There definitely *are* amazing and wonderful writers and sources of information out there but one still has to go look for them. And that is not going to happen anytime soon *nor has it ever* .

Or, as my kid always says to me when I start fulminating about the same thing you are writing about " Really? There are assholes out there and also people that don't want to be fully informed about something? You can't be serious!"

And then I shut up and simply quietly despair:(:p

catja6

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2014, 07:22:02 pm »
Quote from: Breeze;157465
I really hope I'm tossing this one in the right spot here.   I'm really at a loss here.

I've been doing a lot of research on the folklore of the occult in the US. From a brief glance over the page, from my perspective the "parody" element isn't, like, immediately obvious, because a lot of the deliverance ministry/Pentecostal/etc. etc. etc. propaganda (historical and ongoing) looks pretty much exactly like that. That's not to say it isn't parody, but a fair number of pagans/witches/etc. come from areas in which those forms of Christianity are commonplace; it's not necessarily "stupid" of them to react as such. If it's a parody, it is from my perspective a failed one--parodies by definition are supposed to exaggerate to the point of absurdity, but that page looks not all that different from the actual material that is known to circulate in those types of Christian communities. (See two books by Bill Ellis--Raising the Deviland Lucifer Ascending--for details.)

If it is a parody, then it irritates me: it's sort of like, Seth MacFarlane-style "hipster racism/sexism"--it's totally okay to say racist/sexist/obviously religiously bigoted things, because no one ACTUALLY believes such stuff anymore! What, you mean institutionalized racism/sexism/Christian hegemony is a real thing that negatively impacts the lives of minorities/women/non-Christians? OMG, why are you so ~sensitive? Can't you take a JOKE?

On a broader level, it's super-interesting to me how Christianity has characterized what it calls "paganism" or "witchcraft"; and how, historically, old-school folklorists  and the pagan revivalists who were inspired by them took priestly denunciations of XYZ practices as evidence that Ye Olde Rustics were like, actively, consciously pagan. Ken Dowden, in his really good overview of European paganisms, explains how there was basically a rhetorical formula of crying "paganism/idolatry/devil worship" for any perceived backsliding/having too much unauthorized fun/insufficient kowtowing to church authority: regardless of what Ye Olde Rustics were actually doing, the point was for the Christian authority to cast them as the Hebrews with the golden calf and himself/the church as Moses coming down from the mountains.

There was, like, a checklist of suspicious things that one was expected to fulminate against--often dancing, singing, feasting, too much enjoyment of springs and forests, and the like. As Western society shifted from an agricultural to an industrial and then post-industrial one, denunciations shifted to particular political allegiances (such as socialism, anti-imperialism, feminism, environmentalism, etc. etc. etc.) that were antithetical to those espoused by conservative religious establishment. The point is, Christians-denouncing-paganism is its own rhetorical genre with established models and tropes, and often has a hell of a lot more to do with that historical/literary tradition than with what anybody they're denouncing actually does or believes.

I therefore think it's really not worthwhile for people who identify as pagans or witches to engage with fundies/perceived fundies, because it doesn't MATTER to fundies what we say we do, they've got their own narratives and are sticking with them--and these narratives are backed up by extremely long historical tradition. If we say, "no, we don't do that," the only possible responses for most fundies is a) "you're LYING", b) "you're DELUDED and are actually worshipping demons" or, most positively c) "well YOUR religion might be nice, but there are lots of OTHER BAD PAGANS out there."

But getting frustrated/worried by these sorts of fundyism, and being concerned about the actual effect this can have on people who aren't fundy Christians, is not stupid or pointless or a failure of critical thinking. Fundyism is a very visible form of Christian hegemony (if not necessarily the most widespread or insidious), and I get the impulse to fight back, even if I think the particular battle being chosen is basically pointless. Then again, one can still engage with fundies in public not with the aim of changing THEIR minds about anything, but putting objections to their narratives out in public space for others to see--which is a pretty important endeavor I think, for those who have the stomach for it.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2014, 07:23:07 pm by catja6 »

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2014, 07:34:21 pm »
I hate it when people react seriously to parodies, but at the same time, it *is* really hard to tell the difference somewhere like Facebook where they're taken out of context.

Quote from: Breeze;157465
My first thoughts were along the lines of "these people use the same energies I use and they can't discern a real threat from satire".  That worries me.  A lot.

 
I'm mostly curious about this paragraph, though. Why does it worry you that they're using the same energies? Is it an issue of them putting that anger out into the energies you're tapping into or something else?
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Breeze

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2014, 08:06:45 pm »
Quote from: PrincessAstrid;157468




Most of the online places I tend to frequent aren't like that at all, but some of the larger ones are.  And I definitely get why some people might feel that way based on personal experiences, not that it makes their stance right, but it makes it understandable.  I was one of those "Christians are the root of all evil" people when I first came to Paganism and for a little while after that even.  I eventually worked through my stuff and realized that I was wrong.  You're probably right though, just removing myself from the space and those discussions are probably my best bet.

Breeze

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2014, 08:13:12 pm »
Quote from: carillion;157473




I'm right there with you about the memes.  The ones I come across, 9 times out of 10, are full of crap.  I'm the same way with the news as well.  And I do get that it can be hard to tell whether it's parody or what, and yes, some of the stuff they've posted is offensive.  I'm gay and I can admit I was a little irritated with the the gay meme, but not in the same way I would if it were coming from someone who 100% believed in that message.  It's a fine line though, and I completely get that.

Aisling

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2014, 08:22:07 pm »
Quote from: Breeze;157465
I've witnessed an alarmingly large scale critical thinking fail today on facebook, and it's pretty alarming due to its epic proportions.  There's a meme that got passed around today from a parody page about what can lead to Witchcraft.  Warning signs included composting, singing to clouds, and stuff like that.  The page is BLATANTLY parody, in the vein of 'Betty Bowers', but people have lost their freaking minds.

 
In glancing at the page and some of the posts, I didn't pick up on the blatant parody.  I can understand why someone would be upset if they saw one of the posts being circulated without any context (or a big disclaimer that says "Just kidding").  

Of course, I also live in a reality where at least once a week I hear things like "People who do yoga are consorting with Satan" said with perfect earnestness.  So, there's a fine line for me between satire and the crap that people actually spew.
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Breeze

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2014, 08:22:33 pm »
Quote from: catja6;157488
I've been doing a lot of research on the folklore of the occult in the US. From a brief glance over the page, from my perspective the "parody" element isn't, like, immediately obvious, because a lot of the deliverance ministry/Pentecostal/etc. etc. etc. propaganda (historical and ongoing) looks pretty much exactly like that. That's not to say it isn't parody, but a fair number of pagans/witches/etc. come from areas in which those forms of Christianity are commonplace; it's not necessarily "stupid" of them to react as such. If it's a parody, it is from my perspective a failed one--parodies by definition are supposed to exaggerate to the point of absurdity, but that page looks not all that different from the actual material that is known to circulate in those types of Christian communities.


I do see how it's a fine line, and I definitely live in one of those areas you're talking about.  If I had seen that particular meme and page about 12 years ago, I'd be reporting them and everything else.  At the same time though, the people who were spreading it like wild fire all have professed at different times to have been involved with Paganism for several years, decades for some.  One of the main people that kept posting pointed out one of the page's posts about "Assault Rifles for Jesus" or something similar, and I just don't understand how someone could takesomething so absurd  that seriously.

Quote from: catja6;157488
If it is a parody, then it irritates me: it's sort of like, Seth MacFarlane-style "hipster racism/sexism"--it's totally okay to say racist/sexist/obviously religiously bigoted things, because no one ACTUALLY believes such stuff anymore! What, you mean institutionalized racism/sexism/Christian hegemony is a real thing that negatively impacts the lives of minorities/women/non-Christians? OMG, why are you so ~sensitive? Can't you take a JOKE?


I get this too.  There are some things that, even when intended as comedy, aren't funny.  Period.  There's a line and sometimes comedians cross it.  That particular meme I was talking about included self-harm, which is one of those that's just not funny.  Nobody really mentioned any of the sexist or homophobic things on that page, which stood out to me, and instead was focused on that one meme about Witchcraft.

Breeze

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2014, 08:26:16 pm »
Quote from: Jack;157491
I hate it when people react seriously to parodies, but at the same time, it *is* really hard to tell the difference somewhere like Facebook where they're taken out of context.


 
I'm mostly curious about this paragraph, though. Why does it worry you that they're using the same energies? Is it an issue of them putting that anger out into the energies you're tapping into or something else?


The one group that it was shared in the most was a "Traditional Witchcraft" group that I had just joined.  It was a closed group and looking at the posts today, I know I'm not a fit for it.  What I meant with that statement though, is that these are people that work with some darker or heavier stuff, like cursing, "left-handed path" stuff, and things which can and do go wrong easily.  It scares me that there are folks messing with those energies that can't discern 'a real threat from satire'.

Breeze

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2014, 08:33:12 pm »
Quote from: Aisling;157497
In glancing at the page and some of the posts, I didn't pick up on the blatant parody.  I can understand why someone would be upset if they saw one of the posts being circulated without any context (or a big disclaimer that says "Just kidding").  

Of course, I also live in a reality where at least once a week I hear things like "People who do yoga are consorting with Satan" said with perfect earnestness.  So, there's a fine line for me between satire and the crap that people actually spew.


It used to be that bad here too.  It's gotten a little better, but there hasn't been as much progress as I'd like to see.  Writing out the rest of my replies, I think I've pinpointed why it bugged me so much.  It is hard to tell if it's a joke or not if you have heard similar things.  I think my peeve with the whole situation is that when I pointed out that it was parody in those groups, I was basically shamed for not "sticking it to those evil Christians lying about us!".  

When I was a lot younger and had just started looking into Paganism, I stumbed across that Betty Bowers site (not the facebook one, this was pre-facebook) and was mad and even wrote a letter to the site.  I couldn't tell the difference because that was the type of atmosphere I grew up in.  But, had someone, particularly another Pagan, pointed it out to me that it was parody I think it would have clicked for me.

carillion

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2014, 08:42:07 pm »
Quote from: Breeze;157499
The one group that it was shared in the most was a "Traditional Witchcraft" group that I had just joined.  It was a closed group and looking at the posts today, I know I'm not a fit for it.  What I meant with that statement though, is that these are people that work with some darker or heavier stuff, like cursing, "left-handed path" stuff, and things which can and do go wrong easily.  It scares me that there are folks messing with those energies that can't discern 'a real threat from satire'.


(bolding mine) . I don't think you have a worry on that account. If someone is to be effective in whichever area of practice/craft/path they choose, it will involve a *lot* of study , research and experience. Those are not likely going to be the same people who will take such b.s. as in that meme to heart and wouldn't immediately know it was crap the moment they lay eyes on it. It's more hmmm, 'socially dangerous'? to people who haven't had any or much exposure to the ideas in paganism in particular and history in general.

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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2014, 09:09:44 pm »
Quote from: Breeze;157499
The one group that it was shared in the most was a "Traditional Witchcraft" group that I had just joined.  It was a closed group and looking at the posts today, I know I'm not a fit for it.  What I meant with that statement though, is that these are people that work with some darker or heavier stuff, like cursing, "left-handed path" stuff, and things which can and do go wrong easily.  It scares me that there are folks messing with those energies that can't discern 'a real threat from satire'.

 
The thing is that this is so much like real fears about witchcraft in some christian communities as to be indistinguishable. For example the church that I grew up in, things that led one into witchcraft included: Reading fantasy fiction, meditating, listening to "new age"or heavy metal music, being a goth, wearing jewelry that had non christian symbols on it, having friends of other religions (or none), trick or treating, caring too much about environmentalism.

So i don't know how people are necessarily supposed to see through this as a parody. I think they are probably trying to protect themeslves
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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2014, 10:15:05 pm »
Quote from: Breeze;157465
This is really, REALLY bugging me.  I know we encourage critical thinking here (which is why I love it here), but I've notcied that critical thinking on the whole seems to be going out the window in  maintstream Paganism (that's a hell of an oxymoron).  So do I keep trying to educate the folks who don't understand?  Or, do I drop it because they're autonomous adults capable of making their own decisions?  I'm really at a loss here.

 
Here's the thing: critical thinking (or the lack thereof) is not a Pagan problem. It's a societal problem.

I read a lot of things about what's called information literacy (which on the formal academic side is 'how do I write this research paper for class', but there are many other possible not-as-academic aspects, like 'how do I sort through medical information', 'how do I make sense of retirement benefits?' down to 'someone posted this thing online, what should I do about it'?

And - unfortunately, a lot of people maybe *barely* get the research paper training (if they go to schools that require it) and not necessarily a lot else in any format other than catch-as-catch-can from people around them.

The thing is, that's pretty much always been true. The thing that's new is that there are more people on social media sharing things than there were even 3 or 5 years ago (never mind 10!), there are more people on social media for whom a lot of social media things (including things like feeling 'someone I like shared this, if I don't share it, what will they think of me' social pressure that can feel entirely overwhelming the first few times you deal with it.)

Learning how to deal with that kind of stuff is a skill. Some people pick it up fast. Some people don't, but they're quiet, so you don't notice. But a lot of people try things out, and show what they're thinking about (in good ways and more complicated ones.) The thing is they were thinking those things, probably, before anyone saw them: the trick is what we as a community do next.

In my case, if I have the spoons (and, well, there are reasons I basically avoid Facebook except for work-related uses, since I help manage my library's Facebook page) my usual thing goes like this:

1) Quick check to see if someone's debunked whatever it is (quick Google search, maybe with a time component to see the most recent things, using an unusual phrase from the text, for some things checking sites like Snopes or other debunking resources.)

2) Drop a note of "Hey, this thing? It comes from over here, and it's a [parody/someone being an idiot that's been debunked/whatever]. You can read more about it over here [link to a more explanatory resource].

Keeping it brief helps a lot, especially in spaces where conversation is fast-flowing.

3) If I'm not up for that, I go for plan B, which is to be a sensible practical sort of Pagan who talks about critical thinking, and let people make their own decisions.
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Re: Paganism and Critical Thinking
« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2014, 10:45:02 pm »
Quote from: Jack;157491
I hate it when people react seriously to parodies, but at the same time, it *is* really hard to tell the difference somewhere like Facebook where they're taken out of context.


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