June is Pagan Values Blogging Month. In a religion as amorphous as modern Paganism, it can be difficult to spell out any one set of values that applies to all of us. Sometimes it’s better to point out examples of behavior in the real world that fits our values rather than listing or even analyzing an isolated state of out-of-context ideas. The old saying about art, “I don’t know what good artwork is, but I know it when I see it” applies here.
So rather than SAYING what we value, I thought I’d start pointing out people from around the news that are ACTING within the values of our religious community, as well as those who are not. I hope to turn this into a regular series that searches around the world for news and celebrates people doing good things and fighting for just causes while calling out those who are mired in injustice and hatred.
The examples below are definitely not from Pagans. Some of these people would be mortified to be associated with Pagans, others would find comfort in the fact that we disapprove of their actions. It doesn’t matter to me what someone’s religious or political views are, as long as they are working toward a better world. So here’s my first installment of Angels and Demons:
Jon Bon Jovi
On June 9, it was reported that veteran rocker Jon Bon Jovi finished a concert in Florida, got directly onto a plane, flew back to his home state of New Jersey, and visited the lemonade stand of one of his youngest fans, 10-year old Mario Carpino.
Carpino suffers from inoperable brain cancer and has had tumors since he was four years old. He holds his lemonade stand as an annual effort to raise money for childhood cancer research. The family has been trying to get the singer to come to their event for four years. They ran a hugely successful Facebook campaign, which led one of Bon Jovi’s sons to discover Mario’s wishes. He told his father, and the singer surprised everyone by just rolling right up and ordering a lemonade.
We value the protecting and caring for the young. We value love. We value healing. We value lending your name to a good cause. This month, Jon Bon Jovi gave Love a pretty good name.
On Monday June 25, Kate Kennedy was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. Her crime: fighting for the ordination of women in the church. Kennedy is a devout Mormon who is happy with her faith. That much can clearly be seen by the letter she sent to defend herself against charges of apostasy.
But Kelly wished to improve her faith by asking difficult questions calculated to bring equality into the fold. She started the website ordainwomen.org to advance her cause. Her questioning was too much for the LDS Church, who argued that her “aggressive” actions could “erode the faith of others.” Kelly, who has thousands of Mormon supporters of both sexes, sees that there is more to her religion than perpetuating a patriarchal power structure, and she risked and received her religion’s highest punishment to fight for equality where many others would have sat down, folded their hands, and remained quiet.
We value equality, an end to male privilege, and standing up for what is right. We also believe in the right to ask questions and engage in debate. Kelly has risked even her “eternal family” to push for equality, and she continues to fight. “I cannot repent of telling the truth,” she says.
The Presbyterian Church (USA)
So often, Christianity gets painted as anti-gay. Many denominations continue to fight marriage equality. Some are even defrocking priests who perform legal gay marriages. Earlier this week, the American Presbyterian Church voted to change its definition of marriage as a partnership between “two people” rather than a man and a woman.
This change allows Presbyterian ministers to perform weddings for gay couples in any state where gay marriage is legal, and we all know that tide has become a tsunami. The Presbyterian Church is setting the example that bigotry and hatred are not Christian values. They are a large denomination, and they set a wonderful example for other sects of the faith.
We value treating others equally, not just in words, but also in rights and responsibilities. The Presbyterian Church is moving in that direction. There’s a lot of change still to be made, but they’re moving toward the right side of the morality fence.
The Sudanese Government
Meriam Ibrahim has finally been freed, but not without last minute drama. Ibrahim was arrested on charges of apostasy after marrying a Christian man. She was sentenced to 100 lashes and the death penalty, even though she was pregnant. The case sparked international outrage. She was eventually released, taken back into custody, then released again.
Ibrahim claims to have been born to a Muslim father who abandoned her. She says she was then raised as a Christian, and she identifies as one. After her arrest, Ibrahim gave birth in prison while her legs were chained together.
All of this happened, according to reports, because a male Muslim relative of hers filed a criminal complaint against Ibrahim for marrying a Christian – the crime of apostasy- yet Ibrahim has never seen herself as a Muslim. One has to wonder if the same thing would have happened to a man. Apostasy has been in the news twice this week, and both cases seem more about male retention of their privilege to control intimate aspects of a woman’s life.
We value a woman’s right to decide her religion and her husband for herself rather than having it imposed upon her by men or the government. We also value human rights, including the right to give birth – even in prison – in clean, sanitary conditions that accommodate the needs of the mother and the child (which is a fancy way of saying “it’s wrong to chain a woman’s feet together when she’s giving birth”).
49% of America
Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center found that 49% of people would be seriously disappointed if a family member married an atheist. A significantly fewer portion said they would have a problem with marrying someone with different political views or of a different race, so that’s good, but almost half couldn’t abide an atheist.
This finding was most common among conservatives, with 73% saying they would be unhappy, but 41% of liberals also expressed a problem with a family member marrying a nonbeliever. The result cuts across political lines.
Especially as a religious minority ourselves, we believe in religious freedom, including freedom from religion, and the right to marry whom you please.
Sporting events go well back into pagan antiquity. Most sports have rules, either written or unwritten, about fair play and sportsmanship. You compete your hardest to win, but you don’t aim to harm another athlete.
Luis Suarez is a striker for Uruguay national soccer team. In Tuesday’s match against Italy, Suarez appears to have bitten into the shoulder of an Italian player Giorgio Chiellini. Chiellini immediately exposed his shoulder to show the bite marks. You can see it here. Nothing happened at the time, but Uruguay scored the go-ahead goal soon after and eliminated the Italians.
This isn’t Suarez’s first incident. He has been suspended twice, once for seven games and once for 10, for biting an opponent. The guy has too much of a taste for competition. As if that weren’t enough, he was once banned for eight games for racially abusing an opponent and sat out one game after raising his middle finger to another team’s crowd. We believe in fair play, sportsmanship, and buying your enemy a beer so you can talk out your differences. We don’t value needless violence. We certainly believe in eliminating racism.
I say “we” value a lot here. I realize that these values don’t necessarily hold true for every single person in the Pagan community. Still, I think it’s valuable to show examples of real people acting with honor and those acting shamefully. I’d rather hold up a model to emulate rather than idly talk about values. The real world provides us with a never ending stream of celebrities, personalities, and regular people doing wonderful things every day. I honor their examples.