Paganism is a thing some people here practice August 15, 2016 5:26 PM   Subscribe

This post is a perfect example of spiritual disrespect on multiple levels. I think it is fair to ask that we be accepting that others have different beliefs, and under the umbrella of paganism there are tons of belief systems that have existed much longer than the early 1990's. I know metafilter is host to a swath of beliefs and non beliefs regarding spiritlaity what that means and how to express it. Those who identify as pagan or a subset of paganism deserve as much respect as other religious groups, and have very real struggles of discrimination. How can we do this better?
posted by AlexiaSky to Etiquette/Policy at 5:26 PM (316 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Just want to preemptively say, we had a similar discussion last year that got pretty far afield into debating religion in general, and I'd like to forestall that and ask folks to keep this thread focused on site standards.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:27 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Those who identify as pagan or a subset of paganism deserve as much respect as other religious groups....

Sadly, I don't think that this particular Mefi trait is unique to paganism; I think there can be a general "LOLTHEISTS" tendancy about all religion in general.

Which....at least helps in the sense that it's not just paganism, maybe? Still sucks, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 PM on August 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


Thanks for this post. The initial level of snark was surprising -- even for Mefi on this topic. I was kind of floored that the shop owner's reasonable comment (that he'd prefer it if people didn't buy his wares for use as toys -- no one was banned from the shop) was attacked so quickly -- seemingly without people reading the links or learning details of what was going on.

It's also a little weird that it sparked a quick derail about Judaism and Jewish artifacts/clothing etc., but as usual maxsparber's comments on that topic were thoughtful.
posted by zarq at 5:57 PM on August 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


It seems like a pretty vigorous back and forth between a lot of live-and-let-live kindness and a bit of facile dumbassery, which seems kind of par for the course for most mefi threads. In fact, compared to a lot of mefi religion threads, the facile dumbassery actually seemed kind of low to me! Certainly lower than the usual amount of facile dumbassery in, say, modern art threads, where we reliably get a bunch of "lol it's all a fraud" comments. As a pagan, I personally am not overly bothered by the thread. Sorry you were, AlexiaSky, and I hope it's not enough to drive you away from the site.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:01 PM on August 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


seemingly without people reading the links or learning details of what was going on.

(to titular line of Muppet Babies theme song)
♪ me-ta-filll-terrr ♪
posted by Greg Nog at 6:08 PM on August 15, 2016 [41 favorites]


AlexiaSky: "Those who identify as pagan or a subset of paganism deserve as much respect as other religious groups, and have very real struggles of discrimination. How can we do this better? "

I think the thread is evidence that for many MeFites that is begging the question.
posted by Bugbread at 6:15 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh I'm not going anywhere, but I would appreciate being able to sit in the threads that have anything remotely to do with spirituality practices.


If is okay for people to think some practices are rubbish and to say that as an opinion, but aknowledge that for some people different religions provide something meaningful to themselves.

I think it is easy to ask to do the I don't believe in zxy but can respect those who do.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:16 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Are you saying the post is the problem, or the comments are the problem, or both?

You say it's a problem on multiple levels, but you don't actually explain what those levels are. Can you give more details on what the problem is?
posted by andoatnp at 6:39 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


posted by AlexiaSky How can we do this better?

1: Flag it (the offending comment)
2: Move on
posted by mattdidthat at 7:07 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I made a cheap joke, and freely admit it was pretty lazy of me -- especially as a Catholic who has felt hurt in the past when my faith gets casually rubbished on the Blue. So far that, I apologize, and will think twice before posting next time.

But isn't the post framed more as "shopkeeper splits hairs" than as "hardy-har Wiccans"?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:10 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


There were enough comments along the lines of "this is funny because this guy is making a big deal about something made up" that it was getting really annoying. Some of the worst lolwicca comments seem to have been deleted, but it's not like this site has a great history when it comes to this sort of thing - as evidenced by the thread from last year cortex linked to. These aren't even my beliefs being discussed here, I'm just tired of seeing people be so insensitive about this kind of thing.
posted by teponaztli at 7:23 PM on August 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Oh, sorry, LobsterMitten! That was your link, not cortex's.
posted by teponaztli at 7:31 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


1) the whole articles premise is about someone trying to take their religion seriously(but not too seriously) and a fantasy writer making fun of it. Not really blue worthy imho.

2)the belittling of spiritually valued items

3) statements that completely ignore the fact that a whole branch of religious practices even exsist.

4) ignorance about the spirituality in discussion.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:31 PM on August 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


I want to apologize, because I know I took a tongue in cheek route in my response to that thread but in doing so I didn't stop to think about the real issue at hand which is the lack of respect for people practicing Wicca. I have the utmost respect for Wiccans and other practictioners of neo-pagan religions, and that was not correctly communicated in my glib comment.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:35 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I know I can flag it, but Pagan viewpoints aren't openly discussed here like other topics. I think it is fair to publicly shed light when people don't realize that there is a population of pagan practitioners on this site, who could be rather upset when these threads go badly.

This metalk is much about awareness is it is about mindfulness.

And I'm sure we could all use a dose of mindfulness about spirituality in general because it is such a charged topic.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:36 PM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


mattdidthat: "posted by AlexiaSky How can we do this better?

1: Flag it (the offending comment)
2: Move on
"

I'm not pagan or religious in any fashion, but I honestly think that's a bit of a facile response. FIAMO only works if the mods understand why something is upsetting to the flagger, and it's hard for the mods to make good deletions or drop the right kind of note in the thread if we don't have conversations as a community about what the problem is. It's easy for mods to take action on topics that there are well-established site norms, less so when there are not. On the whole I think MeFi is awfully willing to be snarky and dismissive without thinking about who might be upset by the behaviour, and paganism does seem to be one of those topics that doesn't bring out the best in the site. Seems like a perfectly sensible thing to post a MeTa about.
posted by langtonsant at 7:52 PM on August 15, 2016 [38 favorites]


mattdidthat: posted by AlexiaSky How can we do this better?

1: Flag it (the offending comment)
2: Move on


This is a perfectly reasonable request to think about and discuss how we as a community can have better conversations around this issue. It's insulting and dismissive to say FIAMO, even if you spell it out.

And although threads about religion don't tend to be where my toes get stepped on (people are generally more uninformed about Buddhism than insulting) I would love it if we could have threads about vegetarianism that don't immediately go to "But animals are tasty!"
posted by Lexica at 7:56 PM on August 15, 2016 [39 favorites]


So... scrolling through the thread again, I think I can spot maybe two comments that could be read to state absolutely that "wicca is not a thing," and both of those were in the context of TFAs' framing of story about this guy being a religious bigot and harrumphing all over something that kids love.

I understand that some comments were probably deleted, but given the power of that stated religious beliefs are generally given in Western society, I think it's reasonable to push back when those beliefs are being used as an excuse to be an asshole to non-believers.

After it was established, in the thread itself, that Dude in question wasn't maybe being so much of an asshole as it seemed, the conversation derailed into hypotheticals regarding religious (judaism, catholicism) that more Mefites were willing to discuss their knowledge of. Overall, I found it pretty educational, and an example of why Metafilter is a good place to talk about the Internet.

I find it hard to believe that the thread would have gone better if it had been another religion in question (I can definitely imagine worse... so much worse).
posted by sparklemotion at 7:58 PM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think the thread itself was the problem, as pointed out in AlexiaSky's point number 1 above. It was framed in a way that really invited the pile-on that we ended up with at the beginning, which then required the debate that the thread became and drove people into non-productive corners. If the same link had been given even a bit more context about the man's beliefs we might have been able to have a constructive discussion about paganism or spirituality, but I think this post as written should have been removed. Any post that is primarily presented as "get a load of this idiot over here" is not something that represents what I have come to appreciate as MeFi-worthy material.
posted by cubby at 8:35 PM on August 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


>I understand that some comments were probably deleted, but given the power of that stated religious beliefs are generally given in Western society, I think it's reasonable to push back when those beliefs are being used as an excuse to be an asshole to non-believers.

This is what kept catching me up. There was an implication that he was somehow wrong to refuse to sell his sacred objects made for a sacred purpose to people who he did not believe would use them respectfully or appropriately, when the truth is that even if he had actually been rude about it, he still would have been perfectly within his rights. No one is obligated to sell you anything. They are especially not obligated to sell sacred objects to non-believers who cannot assure them that the objects will be respected and revered. That was where the "derail" into Judaism came from - if we were discussing the sacred objects of a more mainstream faith, I doubt there would have been that level of "jeez, what's his problem?" People still might have disagreed, but I doubt they would have just not seen the problem, as they appeared to in that thread.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 8:52 PM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I understand that some comments were probably deleted

Yeah, it can be a little difficult to talk about the tenor of a thread when the worst comments have been deleted, but this MeTa is aimed at the community. Yes, we can flag and delete offensive comments, but that should go in hand with a collective effort to see that we don't keep making the mods delete the same stuff again and again. This site's reputation isn't just due to great moderation, it's also thanks to the willingness of the community to listen when people object to certain behaviors. It's easy to say "I don't see much to complain about now that stuff has been deleted," but the point is that this is a problem that keeps coming up.
posted by teponaztli at 9:24 PM on August 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


What that thread has in common with the subject of the last MeTa is that the point of contact is people trying to sell stuff, and I think the fact that the framing is "here's some funny business with a commercial enterprise" and not "here's a look at some religious practices" has everything to do with the tenor of the comments.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:43 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


That was where the "derail" into Judaism came from - if we were discussing the sacred objects of a more mainstream faith, I doubt there would have been that level of "jeez, what's his problem?" People still might have disagreed, but I doubt they would have just not seen the problem, as they appeared to in that thread.

As the person who made that "derail", this couldn't be further from the point. The point was that if this person wants us to take wizardry seriously as a religion, let's skip past the instinct to jest and look at it in a more mainstream perspective to see his actions for what they are - a bullshit attempt at screening who does or does not qualify as holy enough to be deserving of his custom. That is, to focus on the actual problem - the fact that he was gatekeeping people based on their religious beliefs and using this as a barrier to bar people from purchase, which as was later pointed out is highly illegal in the UK - and ignore the "lol wizards" kneejerk.

The problem people weren't seeing was how unreasonable his stance was if you gave him the benefit of the doubt on his beliefs, because they weren't getting that far.
posted by kafziel at 10:43 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


No one is obligated to sell you anything.

The letter of the law is quite clear that if you are running a public store, you are obligated to overlook spiritual differences.

This is something I feel very strongly about - I had my future jeopardized because of people left in a position to deny sales because of personal beliefs. Since then, courts re-affirmed that the scenario that affected me is Not Okay so I expect it's less of a danger for others now, but I remain a big fan of not eroding the hard-won universal standards (that public-facing businesses are expected to meet) with norms that make it more acceptable to refuse service to people based on beliefs.

I wasn't bothered by the non-tabloid version, but I get the impression you might not be seeing the problem some of us have with the tabloid scenario; for me these situations in context of a more mainstream faith are more worrisome, not less. For me it's not about the faith in question.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:51 PM on August 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


No one is obligated to sell you anything.

Doesn't this run counter to every 'small business owner refuses gay wedding on religious grounds' case?
posted by gadge emeritus at 10:59 PM on August 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


I wasn't bothered by the non-tabloid version, but I get the impression you might not be seeing the problem some of us have with the tabloid scenario; for me these situations in context of a more mainstream faith are more worrisome, not less. For me it's not about the faith in question.

While we're at it, the non-tabloid version still has him saying he'll refuse to sell to people.
posted by kafziel at 11:06 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


So I'm guessing we'll let girls at music festivals wear Native war bonnets without shaking with outrage, since those are also spiritually important artifacts for theists, yes?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:11 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I don't think the wandmaker is a good test subject for any of these thought exercises, since he says he was basically just spitballing at the prompting of the tabloid reporter.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:16 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ghostride The Whip: "So I'm guessing we'll let girls at music festivals wear Native war bonnets without shaking with outrage, since those are also spiritually important artifacts for theists, yes?"

Outrage is not zero sum. People can be outraged at a seller refusing to sell them for use as festival wear, and outraged at people wearing them as festival wear.

(One thing I'm a little unsure about is, if a Native American wears them as festival wear, is that outrageous or not? It is their own culture, but it also goes against the religion. I'm imagining the proper protocol is to think of it like a person from a Catholic culture wearing a rosary as a fashion accessory?)
posted by Bugbread at 12:26 AM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Bugbread, yeah, I think the rosary comparison might be apt. Like, it's their own culture to (mis)use as they see fit.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:29 AM on August 16, 2016


prize bull octorok: "I don't think the wandmaker is a good test subject for any of these thought exercises, since he says he was basically just spitballing at the prompting of the tabloid reporter."

I guess I can agree with that to some extent - this situation isn't really the most sensible one for having a serious discussion about religion, given that the wandmaker doesn't seem to want to make a big deal about it. But then that's a point that cuts both ways, isn't it? It really seems to imply there's not much at stake here for those of us who aren't pagan. So why are we so determined to be snarky in situations that don't actually matter to us personally, when we know that said snark upsets people who do care? We don't gain anything by doing this. We're not fighting an injustice with our clever witticisms. We're just upsetting people to no gain. I'm very happy not to die on this hill.
posted by langtonsant at 1:54 AM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


(Of course it occurs to me that possibly I misread the substance of your comment and am agreeing with you?)
posted by langtonsant at 2:27 AM on August 16, 2016


Doesn't this run counter to every 'small business owner refuses gay wedding on religious grounds' case?

Not sure if this is the question being asked, exactly, and it should probably be in the thread rather than the MeTa anyway... But the most reported "bakers refuse to make same-sex wedding cake" stories have come from Colorado, Texas and Portland, and in each case the bakers have fallen foul of state-level anti-discrimination laws. In the United Kingdom there was a case of a Belfast bakery refusing to decorate a cake with the message "support gay marriage", which was again found to be discriminatory. Key quote from that finding:
Much as I acknowledge fully their religious belief is that gay marriage is sinful, they are in a business supplying services to all, however constituted. The law requires them to do just that, subject to the graphic being lawful and not contrary to the terms and conditions of the company. There appears to have been no consideration given to any other measures such as the non-Christian decorator icing the cake or, alternatively, sub-contracting this order.
Those are all the results of different sets of laws, but the broad argument in these cases is that businesses do not get to withdraw their services selectively in a fashion that discriminates against LGBT people, and are liable to cause (and liable _for_) emotional distress in doing so. There are in many places exemptions for religious institutions, but belonging to a particular religious faith does not entitle a service provider to discriminate in the provision of their services on the basis of sexual orientation.

So, in order for this to run counter, one would probably have to demonstrate that not selling wands to Harry Potter fans looking for an entirely secular relationship with their wand was legally discriminatory, which I suspect it isn't because "liking Harry Potter" is not a characteristic covered by anti-discrimination laws. In another apples-to-oranges comparison that may nonetheless be informative, a couple of homophobes responded to the Denver ruling by phoning LGBT-owned bakeries and ordering cakes with messages or designs denigrating same-sex marriage, but did not successfully sue those bakeries when they declined to take the order.

So, I'd assume that it is not discriminatory to seek to buy a wand which its maker believed had spiritual properties for wholly secular purposes, nor is it discriminatory to decline to sell one, at least under British law. Whereas if wands were a common part of British wedding celebrations, and a wandmaker refused to provide wands for a same-sex wedding celebration because it was a same-sex wedding, that would likely be pursuable through the courts on the grounds of discrimination.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:10 AM on August 16, 2016 [13 favorites]


How can we do this better?

Never let Potter fans and wand-makers near each again, obvs.

Any post that is primarily presented as "get a load of this idiot over here" is not something that represents what I have come to appreciate as MeFi-worthy material.

I disagree. I have been greatly entertained by the Donald Trump threads.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:34 AM on August 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think the debates about religion and commerce are interesting, but I also think that they are not the main issue. The post was framed in a way that made productive conversation about religion or commerce rather difficult, because it invited snark and snark is not the place to begin on heady topics like religion and discrimination in the marketplace.

In this thread, we started with a framing that encouraged us to avoid disrespect, and it seems like a much richer conversation has happened as a result.

So to come back to a site standards conversation -- I'd like to see us have very low tolerance for posts that are mostly about snark, especially where that snark is directed "downhill" at those with less power (in this case, non-mainstream spiritual beliefs vs. Science, mainstream beliefs, Harry Potter Fandom).

For snarky threads about Trump or rich gelato snobs, like octobersurprise I also have less concern. In those cases, snark is directed "uphill" at those with more power (millionaire psycopathic presidential candidate vs. just about everyone else, well-heeled entitled snobs vs. people accustomed to walking 5 mins). In those cases, snark can actually be productive, because it helps point out where the problems are. John Stewart built a career off that type of humor.

I realize that there is not bright line between these two, and that we are not all likely to agree whether any particular snark is punching up or punching down, but I still believe it is a useful distinction to try to make and that it should inform site moderation.
posted by cubby at 6:41 AM on August 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


> The post was framed in a way that made productive conversation about religion or commerce rather difficult, because it invited snark and snark is not the place to begin on heady topics like religion and discrimination in the marketplace.

In this thread, we started with a framing that encouraged us to avoid disrespect, and it seems like a much richer conversation has happened as a result.


I agree with this; I'm glad this MeTa was posted, not because the original post was horrible (as Greg Nog said, we've done far worse in religion-related threads) but because it gives us a chance to think about this stuff and maybe improve a bit. (Frankly, the comment that bothered me the most was one where the commenter ostentatiously and egregiously violated the rules about using the edit function. Bad! Don't do that!)
posted by languagehat at 6:52 AM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


In those cases, snark can actually be productive, because it helps point out where the problems are. John Stewart built a career off that type of humor.

I'm pretty sure that it isn't actually more "productive," but it is more of a guilt-free snack. Anyway, the world of Potter fans and wand-makers is so distant from my own that I'm happy to let them work out their difficulties without my observations.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:15 AM on August 16, 2016


  The letter of the law is quite clear that if you are running a public store, you are obligated to overlook spiritual differences.

In the UK, a shopkeeper can decline any sale without giving a reason.
posted by scruss at 7:38 AM on August 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't think refusing to sell to people using wands as a Harry Potter accessory is discriminating on the basis of religious belief. I get that that kind of discrimination is illegal and it should be, but that's not what's happening. I think it's discriminating on what the person is going to do with their purchase, which is a different thing and legal.

If I went into that shop with the exact same spiritual beliefs as a Harry Potter fans (whatever those happen to be) and said "I'm not a pagan or wiccan, but I like to decorate my home office with various sorts of spiritually-significant objects. I feel like it just creates a calming, reflective mood in the room. I'm going to buy this wand and put it in a pretty shadow box and hang it on my wall. Here's a picture of my office, with similarly displayed mandalas and dreamcatchers and a beautiful antique monstrance on book shelf the shelf." I strongly suspect this guy would sell me a wand happily and with pride, despite my not sharing his spiritual beliefs.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:42 AM on August 16, 2016


Those who identify as pagan or a subset of paganism deserve as much respect as other religious groups

I very much agree with this. I think as a website we can disagree about how much respect any religious group should get and this gets doubly sticky when there's some sort of lulz or other edge-case aspect to the entire scenario. In an ideal world, we'd all be level-headed enough to be able to untangle what is "That person is a weirdo" from "That person holds religious beliefs that vary from my own" and have independent discussions about those topics but in real life it's messy.

This used to happen on MeFi when a certain user (or two) would post sort of internet-lulz "Hey Jews did something weird" posts right around Hannukah or Rosh Hashanah in this "Who me?" way. What would happen is that there would be a long thread that wound up talking about the "weird things Jews do" as an offshoot. I always thought the guy was a troll because it's an A#1 way to get people being shitty about Judaism even if that's not the stated intention. And we dealt with it on every Jewish holiday for a while.

They're low-hanging fruit for the media and that sort of "news of the weird (religious version)" stuff rarely makes really good posts (though I don't think Etrigan did anything wrong obvs) because unless everyone can get on one side of an issue they wind up weirdly contentious.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:47 AM on August 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


I think all religions (including my own) shouldn't be protected groups and should be able to withstand some good-natured mockery (though not outright hate of course). That said, having the premise of a post be a cheap tabloid clickbait lol-pagans troll article seems like decent grounds for deletion in the same way that "Lol Xtians" News of the Weird posts are.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:58 AM on August 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


Or, what Jessamyn said because I have poor reading comprehension.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:59 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


(Gentle nudge - let's keep this thread just for site stuff, and the more general discussion of religion v commerce etc can go in the original thread.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:04 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Personally, I will always come down on the side of "if you do something funny, I may make jokes about you."

I won't deny anyone's basic humanity, or be dismissive of their rights. I won't express hatred or general contempt for their larger philosophy/religion. That said, that line is an admittedly tricky one to calibrate.

In this case, for example, I thought the shopkeeper splitting hairs angle was funny. I wasn't 100% convinced when he was recast as a serious religious practitioner suffering profound disrespect. It didn't really seem to jibe with what the followup articles or a quick browse of his store's online presence indicated. But I can still recognize the validity of sticking up for him on principle. And I like that principles matter here.

As a member of this community, I may not always agree with precisely how the line between fair jokes/unfair jokes is staked out, but I am always happy to take cues and try and stay with the community norms. There are worse things in life than someone telling me to be slightly nicer than I might have been otherwise.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:16 AM on August 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


In this case, for example, I thought the shopkeeper splitting hairs angle was funny.

The other funny angle on the post (that didn't get much traction) was the umbrage (Umbridge?) taking by the Harry Potter fans at the thought that this cruel man was denying them their J.K. given right to buy whichever wands they want. Like, both sides seemed like they were being silly, so why not have a silly thread about bespoke grimoires.

Maybe if we hadn't had another ridiculous consumer thread (regarding the Chicago gelato imbroglio) that morning, more of the snark would have been directed at the customers?
posted by sparklemotion at 8:39 AM on August 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Personally, I will always come down on the side of "if you do something funny, I may make jokes about you."

Personally, I come down on the side of "if that means your needlessly alienating members of MetaFilter, that shit should be deleted."

I mean, if you want to be snarky to your friends in real life, they can decide for themselves how they feel about you. But this may be a community, but it is not a community of your friends. It is a collection of people that we are encouraged to believe are earnestly going about their affairs without need for the mockery of strangers, and to prioritize mockery over their participation makes for a poorer community.
posted by maxsparber at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2016 [16 favorites]


The last graf was really supposed to be the takeaway there, maxsparber.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:00 AM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I should have been clearer; apologies. My responses wasn't intended for you specifically, but just a general response to the idea that funny things should be made fun of and sacred things can service mocking. I appreciate that you have decided to be nicer.
posted by maxsparber at 9:15 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Er, survive mocking. Anyway, sorry again that I responded as though I was chastising you.
posted by maxsparber at 9:34 AM on August 16, 2016


I'm sorry, but:

So, a grown man who makes and sells magic sticks for spell casting has strong opinions about deluded losers?
Okay, sure. Why not.
posted by DirtyOldTown


Is pretty much the definition of "general contempt for their larger philosophy/religion."

Count me as another pagan who was really disappointed by this thread.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:53 AM on August 16, 2016 [26 favorites]


I flagged it and moved on. But I didn't stick around to say anything interesting, which is what happens when threads turn toxic right out of the gate. Make no mistake - being jokey about cultures that aren't yours is oppressive. It is part of privilege. It's an aspect of white christian supremacy. You want more diverse voices on this site? Not gonna happen if you mock and belittle before we even get here. That's not welcoming.

All it creates is an environment where you hear the same voices over and over. And if anyone does speak up for the minority culture? They're defensive and upset, because they're already attacked before they even get a chance to say anything else. You don't get to hear anything interesting or enlightening. You get to hear frustration and hurt.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2016 [34 favorites]


And, again, can Native Americans please stop being your go to example for this? We already have a great example - wands - we don't need to drag Native Americans and "festival wear" in /again/ for the bloody millionth time. I am fucking sick to death of being the "what if" example. It's dehumanizing and nearly always derails the thread into speculation about completely unrelated cultures. Please stop it.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:15 AM on August 16, 2016 [43 favorites]


This is why it's good to hear from other MeFites so that folks in my position can recalibrate. Something intended to come off as pretty low-level snark about a single shopkeeper came off as contemptuous and unkind toward a religion. As a member of this community, I will take advisories like that to heart.

Secular/skeptic types sometimes have a tendency to treat religions as just another bad idea, as worthy of criticism as any other bad idea. I'm not going to say that I don't still believe that. But I will, out of respect for my fellow MeFites try to make a distinction. Because I do recognize that in a community setting, inclusiveness matters.

I understand that this is maybe not an ideal answer that covers everything. But you might consider that I'm one person coming to the carpet for his own comments, not the designated representative for everyone in that thread who snarked. I can only speak for myself, but it does matter to me that I live up to community standards.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:17 AM on August 16, 2016 [21 favorites]


We already have a great example - wands - we don't need to drag Native Americans and "festival wear" in /again/ for the bloody millionth time.

Yes. I have been avoiding doing this. It's a poor parallel anyway. Even the Jewish thing isn't a great parallel, although I suppose it does have the benefit of being something people are at least sort-of familiar with. But, even then, I have yet to go to a Jewish bookshop and buy anything and be turned away, even though I am secular and, because I am Irish-American, look like a big read potato sculpture instead of a Hasid. I just bought some tefillin online and nobody asked what I'm going to do with it, although the answer is "not pray!"

So all we can really do if we want to understand the story is address the very specific details of this one guy and his one wand shop, because, to the best of my knowledge, he's the only one saying he wouldn't sell it to Harry Potter fans who want to use it as a toy, and even that wasn't based on an actual encounter but instead an answer to a hypothetical posed by a tabloid reporter. Which gets us really far from warbonnets and pretty far from tefillin.
posted by maxsparber at 10:29 AM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Big read. Sheesh. BIG RED.

Some Nebraskan I am.
posted by maxsparber at 10:35 AM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


So all we can really do if we want to understand the story is address the very specific details of this one guy and his one wand shop

So, this is obviously my ignorance showing, but without the parallels to other religions I honestly would not have groked that anyone would seriously believe that magic wands have some kind of religious significance.

The original articles talked about using the wands for "drawing protective circles, warding off evil forces while owners meditate, or to bring fortune in the form of love or money," and how the owner would prefer to only sell the wands to "someone with an interest in spirituality." To me, prior to the thread, those sorts of phrases were associated with hippy-dippy crystal shop nonsense and cheezy "goth" media like The Craft or Supernatural, not any kind of actual religion.

So, the comparison to other religions for which I had previous exposure that allowed me to understand that a candlestick might be more than just a candlestick was helpful in linking the "spirituality" associated with the wands to the western Pagan religions that I know some people follow.

I wouldn't be surprised if other people in the thread who made comments in the LOLWizard vein weren't also operating from the assumption that no one takes this shit seriously, because we wouldn't have associated magic wands with western Paganism. And I understand why that might be hurtful to practitioners, but honestly... the original articles don't even use the word Pagan. And the first comment that links the wands to paganism is a little grary about HOW DARE we snark about someone's religion.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:59 AM on August 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


So, the comparison to other religions for which I had previous exposure that allowed me to understand that a candlestick might be more than just a candlestick was helpful in linking the "spirituality" associated with the wands to the western Pagan religions that I know some people follow.

Oh, sure. That's why I was happy to expand on the Jewish stuff. But it is worth recognizing that these parallels are often very limited, and also to be aware of stoneweaver's very reasonable request that Native American culture not be a sort of shallow shorthand for discussing this.

Weirdly, my biological mother was an early author on the subject of paganism and neopaganism, and was pretty entrenched in those circles, so had she not given me up for adoption to a little tribe of Reform Jews, I would probably be answering these questions as someone familiar with the neopagan stuff, rather than the Jewish stuff. This is like my Sliding Doors.
posted by maxsparber at 11:04 AM on August 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if other people in the thread who made comments in the LOLWizard vein weren't also operating from the assumption that no one takes this shit seriously, because we wouldn't have associated magic wands with western Paganism. And I understand why that might be hurtful to practitioners, but honestly... the original articles don't even use the word Pagan. And the first comment that links the wands to paganism is a little grary about HOW DARE we snark about someone's religion.

This is exactly why I keep bringing up this same point about the way the post was framed. This is a complicated, nuanced issue that is invisible to people with certain kinds of privilege who likely comprise the majority of MeFi. It's easy to make assumptions that are based in privilege and assume that they apply to everyone, but there are many people who are marginalized in one or more ways who experience the world pretty differently. When a post is about a marginalized community, and it is framed as snark, then we can just about guarantee a situation that will make any member or ally of that marginalized community feel pretty unwelcome. Stoneweaver makes a similar point above.

There have been conversations here in the past about how to make the site more diverse and inclusive. One step in that direction would be to more tightly moderate posts framed as snark that punch down, because those posts automatically set up a dynamic where some people either feel obligated to be defensive (rather than, say, feeling invited to educate or share) or they feel attacked and disengage.

In an internet forum we cannot expect every person with privilege to always be self-aware of that privilege and how it plays out. But I think we can build moderation standards that look out for and attempt to mitigate the many ways that voices can be silenced online.
posted by cubby at 11:33 AM on August 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


When a post is about a marginalized community, and it is framed as snark, then we can just about guarantee a situation that will make any member or ally of that marginalized community feel pretty unwelcome.

But, unless you're already coming from the point of view that magic wands are artifacts of a minority religion, it wasn't a post about a marginalized community being framed as snark. It was a post about a white, male, boomer shopkeeper picking a fight with a rabid fandom that was framed as snark.

Like -- the title of the post is (I assume) an allusion to Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, who despite being based on, and played as, an Arab person, is seen as having unreasonable standards for his clientele that aren't in anyway based on his minority identities.

So, to my reading of the thread, we snarked on Wand Nazi until someone brought up that this could be religiously grounded, at which point the conversation mostly turned to whether a valid religious belief was reasonable grounds to deny custom. At which point, analogies to more mainstream religions were made and were mostly respectful.

I think it's unreasonable to expect people to act as if every cockamamie sounding "principle" we hear of is a valid religious belief. I do think it's reasonable to consider no longer calling the principles "cockamamie" once we learn that there are people who do seriously believe them (even if we do still think and say that they are "cockamamie sounding").
posted by sparklemotion at 12:03 PM on August 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think it's unreasonable to expect people to act as if every cockamamie sounding "principle" we hear of is a valid religious belief.

I think that is the fundamental problem—that many people believe that there is some threshold of validity for a religious belief. This is the distinctly privileged position that creates the dynamic under discussion.
posted by WCWedin at 12:10 PM on August 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


Sorry, my use of the word "valid" there was probably misplaced. It's been mostly established that any religious belief is a valid one, so when I say "valid religious belief" I mean a "religious belief that someone sincerely holds."

So here is my rewording:

I think it's unreasonable to expect people to act as if every cockamamie sounding "principle" we hear of is a religious belief.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:15 PM on August 16, 2016


I always thought the guy was a troll because it's an A#1 way to get people being shitty about Judaism even if that's not the stated intention. And we dealt with it on every Jewish holiday for a while.

He was one of those people who liked to push right up to the "that's antisemitic" line without crossing it overtly. The behaviour went on (infrequently) for years in threads as well. It was deeply frustrating.
posted by zarq at 12:23 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


How about this:

Start from a place where you assume people are being sincere and don't mock them.

And then it's really easy! You are not acting as arbiter, and you are likely to hear more diverse and horizon broadening ideas. Unless someone is actively hurting you, what does it harm you to think they are sincere? Not one whit. And, bonus, they're more likely to tell you about their sincere beliefs if you haven't already mocked them.

It is so so easy to respect other human beings. This should not be an unreasonable ask.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:29 PM on August 16, 2016 [39 favorites]


I think it's unreasonable to expect people to act as if every cockamamie sounding "principle" we hear of is a religious belief.

Ever hear of Rule 34? You can probably adopt a similar position that humanity is a diverse and rich tapestry, and that for every principle you've ever heard, there is someone who seriously believes it. Unreasonable or not, it happens to be the world you live in, and you should probably come to grips with that reality. If you decide that principle isn't worthy of respect anyway, that's your prerogative, but acting like your disrespect should be excused since you didn't know you were disrespecting anyone in particular is a cheap dodge, since the post is about a person asking to be taken seriously.
posted by Errant at 12:30 PM on August 16, 2016 [15 favorites]


You can probably adopt a similar position that humanity is a diverse and rich tapestry, and that for every principle you've ever heard, there is someone who seriously believes it.

There is a huge difference between "serious beliefs" and "serious religious beliefs." (I'll even bundle "cultural" beliefs with the religious ones).

There are lots of people, myself included, who seriously believe that socks should never be worn with sandals. Mr. Motion really likes wearing socks with sandals. Because my belief, serious though it may be, is not based in my religious or cultural values, it's really no big deal when he wears socks with sandals in my presence (and we mutually mock each other about it). But if he and I were going over to the house of someone whose serious belief about socks with sandals was based in religious or cultural practices (and we knew that) it would be kind of shitty for him to go about wearing the socks.

There are other people who seriously believe that periods should be followed by two spaces. The Internet (and Metafilter) are filled with hearty debates on both sides of the issue. Which is fine, because (AFAIK) you're not getting into anyone's religious belief.

On the other hand, I have *opinions* about certain methods of disposing of human remains being stupid, wasteful, and immoral. But if I enter a conversation talking about burial practices (maybe, say, in a thread based on some government trying to ban/enforce certain methods), I'm going to go out of my way to be sensitive to the fact that some of the "stupid" things are in fact charged with significant cultural and religious import, to the point where trying to have a conversation wouldn't even be productive (let alone non-hurtful). But I think it would be unreasonable to be that concerned about, say, taking someone to task for not recycling appropriately, or maybe asking probing questions about why they refuse to sort out plastics.

So yeah, not all beliefs are religious/cultural, and to try to rule 34 all beliefs into religious/cultural beliefs you end up either diminishing the importance of religious/cultural beliefs OR assuming that no serious belief can be questioned.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:04 PM on August 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


I got far enough in the article to see that it was not about wands that interest me (ebony with silver tips, possibly gimicked to actually do magic (tricks) :-)

But on a not close reading I did not notice anything about legitimate religion wiccan or otherwise. The thread may have gone a bit better if the legitimate beliefs in question were explicitly elucidated in the post.

(My first impression was that it was some kind of touristy shop selling high-end mysticalish choctkies, not at all religious). ((ok the post does have the phrase "spiritual journey", perhaps a bit more explicit))
posted by sammyo at 1:17 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Start from a place where you assume people are being sincere and don't mock them.

This is a good idea in theory, but Metafilter might collapse under its weight.
posted by corb at 1:21 PM on August 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


that many people believe that there is some threshold of validity for a religious belief.

I don't find the idea that, uh, literally any belief might be claimed to be "religious" and therefore exempt from whatever someone might decide is criticism or mockery to be an incredibly compelling one. But!—generally the stakes surrounding that question are so small—and could they be smaller than a dispute between Potter fans and wand-makers?—that I'm content to say "Sure, whatever ..." and go on about my business.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:36 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


There is a huge difference between "serious beliefs" and "serious religious beliefs."

While I agree with that, I don't think the fact that a belief is a religious belief somehow inherently makes it something one must respect. Do I have to pretend to take seriously the whole Xenu thing?

One should try to avoid accidentally showing a lack of respect for beliefs. But some beliefs, even religious beliefs, are ridiculous.
posted by Justinian at 2:03 PM on August 16, 2016 [13 favorites]


For me, the issue is mostly about broad, lazy swipes.

For instance, making fun of Donald Trump or the gelato customers in that one thread? Totally cool. They're specific people doing specific things.

Using that to take a swipe at everyone with tiny hands, or all gelato buyers, would be bad. That's going to include a lot of people who didn't actually do anything wrong, and probably hurt the feelings of community members who share those characteristics.

In the thread in question, feeling like the shopkeeper or the customers are good targets for snark is one thing, but including Wiccans or Potter fans generally isn't a good thing. It's not about which category is protected or genuinely religion, it's just about not including bystanders needlessly.

I guess what I'm saying is, 'in addition to a preference for punching up, have decent aim.'

Also, I take issue with:
So yeah, not all beliefs are religious/cultural, and to try to rule 34 all beliefs into religious/cultural beliefs you end up either diminishing the importance of religious/cultural beliefs OR assuming that no serious belief can be questioned.

There's a difference between cracking jokes about something and having a serious talk about its shortcomings or potential harm. I like both kinds of discussion, but they're not the same thing, and it's incorrect to suggest that the OP or Errant were making a case for not calling out harmful religious practices or the like.

Also:
This is a good idea in theory, but Metafilter might collapse under its weight.

Take heart. We'll never get there, but a lot of people, yourself included, do push us closer. This is not, for instance, how I would've felt about the whole thing when I first came to Mefi.
posted by mordax at 2:24 PM on August 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Justinian: " But some beliefs, even religious beliefs, are ridiculous."

Why does that matter? Unless those beliefs are causing harm to someone, it does not matter whether you or I think they are ridiculous. Your opinions about their beliefs should be kept to yourself. Exercising one's "right" to be dismissive or mocking to someone when they're not harming anyone else is just a dick move. It's the thing I hate most about the site culture here. We are often pointlessly unkind.
posted by langtonsant at 2:28 PM on August 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


Do I have to pretend to take seriously the whole Xenu thing?

I feel like, to the extent that Scientologists are not being assholes, then yes, you have to pretend. But, luckily for us Scientologists are pretty much always assholes.

Ditto, say, the Phelp's family's "church." But if I'm having lunch with Libby Phelps Alvarez, I'd at least try to keep up the pretense as much as she is.

Similarly, the original thread was framed in a very Old Guy Yells at Clouds kind of way, to the extent that even if it had been explicit about the shopkeeper's pagan beliefs, it would have read like: "This Pagan shopkeeper won't sell you a wand unless he deems you worthy." Which, is kind of an asshole way to be, and I think that an examination of his beliefs (without, obviously, insulting non-assholes who share similar ones) would be warranted.

But, since the actual story is more like "This Pagan shopkeeper wishes that you wouldn't use his handcrafted religious artifacts as toys" LOLwizardry comments seem less warranted.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:54 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


But some beliefs, even religious beliefs, are ridiculous.

For give me justinian, but you forgot the second half of the sentence: "to my sheltered white male Western super privileged and limited eyes".

I don't mean that as a knock on you, I have those eyes too! But really, our spheres are so constrained, what seems ridiculous to us is a lot of stuff that a) doesn't really matter and b) might seem quite different in another context. If its not hurting anyone else or masquerading as medicine, who cares?

More broadly that thread was the perfect storm of shitty clickbait link, a determined refusal to rtfa, a willingness to project US only laws and culture to another fucking country yet again, and mefi's first year debate club tendency at its worst.

Kudos to those who dug in to patiently explain the context, laws etc in the face of proud ignorance.
posted by smoke at 3:17 PM on August 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


Frankly, I'm just incredibly bored with jokes about people's beliefs. Xenu isn't funny, and the fact that Scientology is dangerous doesn't make it funny. Wicca isn't funny. Not to me, anyway! The message here isn't "here's some guidelines for working out when it's funny to snark on people at their expense." Maybe just don't snark on people at their expense? Especially when the target is in the room with you? I don't care if someone thinks my beliefs are ridiculous, but I do care if they're going to be all internet snark warrior about it. I'm happy to talk to people who disagree with me, but man is it dull to hear about how ridiculous someone thinks you are for being so obviously and hilariously wrong and dumb omg.
posted by teponaztli at 3:21 PM on August 16, 2016 [17 favorites]


If its not hurting anyone else or masquerading as medicine, who cares?

Well, yes, context matters.

I didn't read the OP for this thread as saying "please take context into account" but a more general statement. If the point is just "don't needlessly or thoughtlessly be an asshole" then I can't imagine anyone wouldn't be on board.
posted by Justinian at 3:34 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


But that's exactly what some people in the thread were doing, and 'well that's patently ridiculous' was very much the tenor...
posted by smoke at 3:42 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a note not all pagans are wiccans (and Wicca has seperate traditions)

There is a very broad belief set under the pagan umbrella.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:56 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


but man is it dull to hear about how ridiculous someone thinks you are for being so obviously and hilariously wrong and dumb omg.

I'm confused -- is snarking on religion harmful or boring? Because I might disagree with both of those, but at least I'll try to avoid doing things that others say is harmful to them. I don't don't know that metafilter would survive if we all had to hold our tongues against causing offense with our dullness.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:59 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Justinian: " If the point is just "don't needlessly or thoughtlessly be an asshole" then I can't imagine anyone wouldn't be on board."

I don't mean to be picking on your remarks specifically, and if you are genuinely on board with this then great! But one thing that I have often found to be true about metafilter (and people generally) is that it's easy to say that you're in favour of kindness and respect towards other people, and much harder to be kind and respectful. Respect means taking the time to think about who else might be in the room before firing off your hot takes, it means stopping to ask what goal is being served before saying something snarky. It means apologising if you hurt someone rather than digging in to defend your line of reasoning (as several people in this thread have done already). It means putting other people's emotional well-being ahead of your desire to have a conversation. Not being an arsehole takes a lot of work, and that thread was a pretty good example of people failing to put that work in. I'd love to see what metafilter would look like as a site if we could all manage not to be jerks. I wish I were better at it myself, but I confess that I'm pretty often a jerk.
posted by langtonsant at 4:00 PM on August 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm confused -- is snarking on religion harmful or boring?

Uh, let me clarify: what's dull and boring is having to hear the same tired and offensive jokes over and over again. Its dull and boring to know that you can't ask for people to stop making jokes at other people's expense without having to explain, in great detail, exactly why it's hurtful - and then why it's hurtful enough that we should be willing to give up on all those hi-larious jokes. It's dull and boring to try to figure out how to carefully phrase your argument so that people will listen, knowing you'll still be answered with "yeah, but then where do you draw the line? Do you seriously think this other person deserves our respect?"

And yeah, frankly, they're boring jokes. But that doesn't mean they don't hurt people. It's just that they're boring and unoriginal to boot.
posted by teponaztli at 4:14 PM on August 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


In ways I get it, a wand is glorified stick. It's wood and used to point at things. But some (not all) pagan practitioners who sell merchandise do concentrate their items, or make in a very specific way. The decoration, type of wood, astronomy, day of the week, how the wood was harvested may all be taken to account.

The merchant may or may not have put all these conciderations, but some really do.

It's kinda silly, after all it is a stick and the world is filed with sticks. But I and others of a similar belief set have chosen that some sticks are special and have a purpose in our spiritial connection and work.

After all, spiritual practices have their things, or use simplistic items like a cup full of wine symbolizing blood, hats, coverings, pens, books, etc.

I understand that some people are not spiritual at all. I'm not asking anyone to be spiritual, or to give up all humor, or to never accidently say an inconciderate thing.

In short: Paganism is an semi organized minority group that struggles for recognition on the best of days.

This is a place where the community is capible of holding that thought of oh someone may be pagan. In fact in the last day I've met a few pagans that I didn't know about thanking me for this thread. Mindfulness and respect are not joke free never say anything bad implications.

Just when a thread comes up remember there is actually a whole set of religious practices that it may fall under.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:16 PM on August 16, 2016 [13 favorites]


Okay fine, but you can't stop me from hating Angel Pagan.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:38 PM on August 16, 2016


Is it controversial to say magic isn't real? B/c to my knowledge it is not.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:43 PM on August 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


AlexiaSky,

One thing that I've wondered since seeing this MeTa, is where you're getting the correlation between Richard Carter's business and paganism. I can't find anything in the linked articles or his shop's Facebook that states that his beliefs are pagan (well, besides the shitty overgeneral definition of "pagan" as anything non-Abrahamic).

Is it right to be ascribing beliefs to him that he may not hold?
posted by sparklemotion at 4:50 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


teponaztli: And yeah, frankly, they're boring jokes. But that doesn't mean they don't hurt people. It's just that they're boring and unoriginal to boot.

Sebmojo: Is it controversial to say magic isn't real? B/c to my knowledge it is not.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 4:51 PM on August 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


Next time you feel like scoffing at closed religions and cultures who won't share their practices and beliefs? Read this thread. People take those things and turn them into jokes and feel like they get to decide which beliefs are worthy of their respect and consideration. They want people to be vulnerable about very important things and open themselves up for mockery and "omg I can't believe you actually believe that!" and denigration. This lack of basic universal respect makes your world narrow. And perhaps before you start thinking about "but does this mean I have to take the viewpoints of these white people I don't like seriously?!" consider that you could start by taking minorities seriously. Instead of going "but then I have to respect xenu!" you could start by respecting minority religions that don't give you the creepy crawlies. And then when you have practice, you could do the decent thing and, yes, respect scientologists.

Humanity and respect aren't reserved for those we agree with.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:51 PM on August 16, 2016 [42 favorites]


In short: Paganism is an semi organized minority group that struggles for recognition on the best of days.

And there's that, yes. Normalizing negative attitudes toward people over their religion is just a nasty thing to do, as it can have a corrosive effect on their place in society generally. Even when the stereotypes don't exactly lead to violence in the way, say, Islamophobia does, the effects can be bad. Like, if everybody thinks pagans are dippy and unreliable, bias occurs toward actual human beings who haven't done anything wrong.

With minority religions, it's often hard for a group like that to push back on negative stereotypes, too.

I'm good with not making knee-jerk statements about them.

(I should have been clearer about all of that above: I was reacting mostly to the incorrect assertion that people are making a case for Let's Treat Everything Like Srs Bzness or something. Sometimes I think it's okay to be mean to people, but like a lot of others have been more explicit about, I think it's a tool to combat bad people fleecing or otherwise harming others. Shame's as good or better than a pointy stick sometimes. I don't think it's good to be using it against people just because they're silly, or even because they're wrong in a harmless way. Living in a big, mixed, productive society requires accepting that most people will disagree with you about a lot of stuff, and shrugging it off is part of the social contract.)
posted by mordax at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I didn't say I knew his beliefs, but wand usage in general is ascribed to paganism and not other belief systems. He could just be a businessman who sees opportunity to sell to pagans.

It really doesn't matter.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:55 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


What you believe about the effectiveness of magic regarding my practices is your own thing. You can tell me, that's fine. I'm not in this conversation to discuss the finer points about anyone's belief system.

Just that hi, we are here.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:03 PM on August 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


This lack of basic universal respect makes your world narrow.

Also, this is maybe my favorite thing said in the thread.

I came to Metafilter with a lot of pretty incorrect ideas about how the world works. I still have tons, and I know that I always will, but being in a place where people feel comfortable disagreeing with one another has made a dent in them, and I'm happy about that. I've learned a lot, and I hope others have been able to learn from me.

The only way to get people to be open about why they think and do stuff, instead of being defensive and falling back to seeing who can shout the loudest, is by offering some basic respect. Understanding leads to compromise, and compromise leads to a better world for everyone.

That doesn't mean letting people walk all over you, it doesn't mean never being funny, it doesn't mean agreeing about who's right about religion. It just means trying to listen more and waiting to see if there's even a *reason* to be mean to anybody. Most of the time, it's not actually a helpful response.
posted by mordax at 5:05 PM on August 16, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'm a Pagan. And I don't give a flying fuck who knows. Because part of being a Pagan means I reject Society and their norms and views of me. Including some comments on a Metafilter thread.

I am a Goddess, and I know it's all the workings of my mind, and my brain, and other things that we haven't yet discovered in Science, because I am all about Science. And Nature, and all things thereof considered. And Latin, and Isaac Asimov, and physics, the stars, the moon, Outer Space, Inner Space, and everything else between.

I don't delude myself that I am living in some magical Fairyland, because I know that I create it with my mind, and people who tell me different are just coming from their own perspective. And I respect that. I could be a Hillbilly from Kentucky, or I could be a Hick from Maine, but regardless, we are all of the same blood, somewhere from way back in time. And then, I figure, how can I get mad at my Sistren and Brethren?

We're all leaves on the same tree, and that's what being Pagan means to me, my MeFi's. Peace out.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:42 PM on August 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


I figure, how can I get mad at my Sistren and Brethren?

You haven't met my sister and brethren, I take it.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:10 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Start from a place where you assume people are being sincere and don't mock them.

No, that won't work; there's lots of people who are insincere. Even earlier in this thread, we were talking about orthogonality's tendency to make weird quasi-anti-semitic threads, repeatedly, in a way that was presented by him as sincere but that several Jews on mefi called out as trolling. Insincerity happens; it's counterproductive and oversimplistic and facilitates bad actors to just out-of-the-gate assume all stances are sincere.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:15 PM on August 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


Again, consider the idea of not using the worst example you can think of to dismiss a polite request. This is not hard. I assume most of us are capable of nuance without being damned idiots who take trolls seriously.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:23 PM on August 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


I can think way worse examples of insincerity on mefi than orthogonality tbh
posted by Greg Nog at 6:24 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ok, great! So once someone shows their insincerity you can stop assuming they're sincere. There's no harm in coming from that place to begin with.

And a quick trawl through my posting history will show that I'm pretty in favor of the mods shutting it down when someone is being insincere.

But this is actually fairly orthogonal to the post? The point isn't about walking the line of trolling. It's about not mocking beliefs. Those are actually pretty different and wrapping them together is really muddying the waters.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:32 PM on August 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


So once someone shows their insincerity you can stop assuming they're sincere.

But like, do we actually know that the user in question was being insincere? Or do we just assume it because of the user's actions?

Similarly, when users express incredulity about actual beliefs, why don't we assume that they are being sincere instead of "spirtual[ly] disrepect[ful]", "mean", or "snarky"?
posted by sparklemotion at 7:09 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Come on sparklemotion did you read that thread?? Why are you debate clubbing this?

Apologies if you are being sarcastic.
posted by smoke at 7:54 PM on August 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


MetaFilter has a general policy of presuming comments are made in good faith. We get burned once in a while, but generally it has made the place better.
posted by maxsparber at 7:59 PM on August 16, 2016


Come on sparklemotion did you read that thread??

Is it controversial to say magic isn't real? B/c to my knowledge it is not.

This comment was called out as being "mean"

And this:

So, a grown man who makes and sells magic sticks for spell casting has strong opinions about deluded losers? Okay, sure. Why not.

Is called "general contempt for their larger philosophy/religion."

It's not "debate clubbing" to ask why: "I believe that magic wands can cast spells" is sincere, if "I believe magic doesn't exist" is not.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:12 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


metafilter absolutely doesn't hold that policy across the userbase as a whole. It gets brought up periodically, by well-meaning mefites, as something to aim for, and I've frequently pushed back against it as a concept; it's unworkable in any meaningful sense.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:13 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry I genuinely don't understand what you're saying sparklemotion? Both those comments are snarky and/or patronising?
posted by smoke at 8:29 PM on August 16, 2016


I also didn't pick up that this was a Pagan shop and this was a spiritual issue from the article. I thought it was a guy who sold trinkets and thought his trinkets were too cool for Potter fans. I probably read it too quickly.

Pointing that out if it's the case seems helpful.
posted by bongo_x at 8:29 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


sparklemotion: "It's not "debate clubbing" to ask why: "I believe that magic wands can cast spells" is sincere, if "I believe magic doesn't exist" is not."

I feel like this is moving the goalposts a long way from AlexiaSky's original request that we not be disrespectful, and I'm starting to wonder why folks are pushing so hard on this.

Obviously there's nothing wrong with not believing in magic - I for one am very sincere in my belief that it doesn't exist - but there's a lot wrong with me using my lack of belief as a justification for hurtful comments, and especially not when the reality of magic is entirely irrelevant to the topic of discussion. It's perfectly possible to have a conversation about whether or not the shopkeeper was wrong to ask people not to treat his products as toys without turning it into a referendum about the validity of his religious beliefs. It's also very possible to disagree with someone's religious beliefs without making jokes about those beliefs, and it's generally considered polite to refrain from those jokes, especially when there are practicing members of that religion in the room. Is that really such a high bar to expect our discussions to clear? I feel like that's basically all that AlexiaSky is asking of us. We're not really disagreeing that this is a reasonable request, are we?
posted by langtonsant at 8:33 PM on August 16, 2016 [17 favorites]


Here is an article on the wandmaker's and his partner's spiritual beliefs, in case nobody's already posted it. They seem quite sincerely held.
posted by thetortoise at 8:36 PM on August 16, 2016


It's not "debate clubbing" to ask why: "I believe that magic wands can cast spells" is sincere, if "I believe magic doesn't exist" is not.

If a thread's theme is "please respect my beliefs," it's not exactly tactful to drop in with "but most people agree that those beliefs aren't true, right?" If you have to point out that someone's beliefs aren't true in this context, it sort of implies that you don't think they deserve respect after all.

I could be totally wrong, and they could be making a totally different point, but I'm just saying it doesn't come across that great on its own.
posted by teponaztli at 8:48 PM on August 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


I could be totally wrong, and they could be making a totally different point, but I'm just saying it doesn't come across that great on its own.

I guess my point goes beyond the request in this particular thread (which, is pretty much reasonable), and goes to the heart of the question of why we privilege religious beliefs at all.

I mean, regardless of what your religious beliefs (if any) are, there are at least 6 billion people in the world who think you are wrong. So why do we want those 6 billion people to pretend like we're not wrong?

Obviously, I'm willing to acquiesce to AlexiaSky's request to the extent I'm able (I seriously didn't know that magic wands were a thing until today). And I get (and try to live) the whole "don't be intentionally harmful" thing.

But, given that either you, or 6 billion people are wrong, at what point does a declaration of your beliefs become disrespectful to those of others?
posted by sparklemotion at 9:33 PM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's not "debate clubbing" to ask why: "I believe that magic wands can cast spells" is sincere, if "I believe magic doesn't exist" is not.

"Saying magic doesn't exist, LOL" in a thread about pagans is exactly the same as saying "stupid Xtians with their invisible sky wizard friend" in a thread about Christians. I think it is agreed that the latter is clearly out of line on MeFi. So should the former.

You don't have to agree with their beliefs, but there is no reason for you to be a dick about it. This isn't rocket surgery. Don't be a dick. That's all.

If all you have to contribute is mockery of someone's religion, maybe consider that you have in fact nothing to contribute, and don't comment.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:36 PM on August 16, 2016 [33 favorites]


For me, debate clubbing means pulling out hypothetical after hypothetical instead of discussing actual things or the matter at hand; using a lot of "but what ifs" or slippery sloping; assessing things by a platonic ideal or assessing through all or nothing statements; approaching topics and discussion as purely impersonal or as thought experiments; gliding over listening to get into rebuttal and needlessly or relentlessly pursuing others' viewpoints or viewing them in an adversarial framing .

I'm genuinely not trying to attack you, this is a thing that happens on metafilter a lot with lots and lots of people - and can even be welcome in some instances - but it's a rhetorical style I've come to associate with your user name because I feel like I've noticed you using it a lot, and its not something I generally associate with particular mefites.
posted by smoke at 9:52 PM on August 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


But, given that either you, or 6 billion people are wrong, at what point does a declaration of your beliefs become disrespectful to those of others?

It's not privileging religious belief to be like "don't make fun of people for this stuff." It's not a declaration of faith to drop into this thread and say "but don't most people not believe in this?" because it implies that that should have some bearing on how we treat people who believe that stuff. No one cares who does or does not believe in magic, just who is being insensitive and who isn't. It's insensitive at best to respond to "please respect my religious beliefs" with "but wait aren't you wrong?"

Every single time the issue of religious tolerance comes up on this site, people are like "well so are you telling me I should believe this stuff?" And that's so not the point.
posted by teponaztli at 10:02 PM on August 16, 2016 [22 favorites]


But some beliefs, even religious beliefs, are ridiculous.

>For give me justinian, but you forgot the second half of the sentence: "to my sheltered white male Western super privileged and limited eyes".

I want to reiterate this. Much of this discussion reminds me of the frustrations around cultural appropriation on this site. I think these are interrelated topics in some ways, and I see some of the same people in both threads. Generally, the site culture here is hostile to "woo", which seems to have been extended gradually from "crystals" to anything outside of strictly observable phenomena. These things are often met with ridicule, and it's often not a particularly welcome place to discuss your beliefs at length if you fall outside of that line. It's been noticeable for years. What some people might not get is the extent to which this is a pretty western-centric viewpoint. A lot of PoC and non-westerners (speaking as a second-gen American immigrant) grow up with some coexistence between different ways of approaching the world. It could be as simple as using "traditional remedies" while also going to doctors, or having eastern spiritual beliefs that might resemble philosophy moreso than religion and valuing science and empiricism highly. A coexistence between "woo"/spirituality/religion/philosophy and more concrete secular, humanistic, or even atheistic approaches, and having a deep cultural aspect to spiritual education, this sort of thing may be common and fundamental to some of us, whether we share the same beliefs or vastly different ones. So a dismissal, disrespect, and mockery just is exposed to us as deeply ignorant and small-minded, and we can't help but reflect on the white/western limitated perspectives of that mindset. I personally also can't help but reflect on how colonialism is still very much an active project and a continuing way (through seemingly innocuous things like championing of "science" and "reason" going back through the centuries) to privilege a specific dominant western mindset and minimize the beliefs, practices, and traditions of those outside of it.

I mean, this is just one piece of a pretty large discussion we're having here. But I think it's worth it to be mindful of it when you're thinking about how you decide which beliefs to accord respect/space to. Try to be aware that you're engaged in valuing and normalizing actions and beliefs and you're an active participant in deciding who gets assigned importance and who doesn't. And often denigrating minority beliefs means minimizing/erasing and knocking down those already facing difficulties being accepted and respected.
posted by naju at 10:09 PM on August 16, 2016 [36 favorites]


"I sincerely believe wands can work magic"

--not something that merits pushback or mockery

"I would like to sell you a wand that can work magic"

--less of a clear cut case IMO
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:12 PM on August 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


Back in 2008 there was a scandal around a eucharist. Basically, a college student took a eucharist with him instead of eating it, and controversy erupted. If there was a thread about this on Metafilter, it seems appropriate for a Catholic to say how this was disrespectful because he had absconded with the body of Christ. But it also seems appropriate for a non-Catholic to respond and say that it's actually just a cracker, and people should lay off with the death threats and justifications for expulsion.

Any random thread about Christianity isn't the place for "lol silly skywizard", but sometimes the truthfulness of religious claims can have some bearing on how people feel a situation should be viewed.

If a shopkepper is talking about whether his wands are magical and who has the right to buy them, then people who want to discuss the moral and legal implications of that argument (and various counterarguments) might want to weigh in on whether the wands are magical and whether that matters. And it seems problematic to have a standard where statements about the truthfulness of pagan beliefs are privileged and accepted but statements about the non-magical ability of the wands are verboten.

I don't know what comments were deleted, and questions of disagreement are different from questions of respect, but I hope people aren't saying that it crosses a line to raise the question of whether wands are actually magical (and whether that matters) in a thread about the provision of magic wands.
posted by andoatnp at 10:14 PM on August 16, 2016 [17 favorites]


You don't need to knock down centuries of Catholic theology in order to say death threats are bad. Like, I'm pretty sure plenty of Catholics are also capable of recognizing why it's bad to make threats.
posted by teponaztli at 10:37 PM on August 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


But some beliefs, even religious beliefs, are ridiculous.

>For give me justinian, but you forgot the second half of the sentence: "to my sheltered white male Western super privileged and limited eyes".

>>A lot of PoC and non-westerners (speaking as a second-gen American immigrant) grow up with some coexistence between different ways of approaching the world.


Speaking as a first-gen American immigrant can I ask that we please not bring race into a discussion of whether we are being sufficiently respectful to a white male shop owner in a predominantly white country who may or may not believe in a predominantly white religion?

Besides Christianity (and Scientology) I can't think of a religious discussion that is less likely to be informed by perspectives on racial inequities and colonialism than western Paganism.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:19 PM on August 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


You can ask, but this meta and my comment are both clearly touching on a broad topic, not just one example. And I'm not just "bringing race into it": I'm talking about the consequences of limited perspectives on the particular topic of spirituality and belief systems. But take or leave my comment as you wish.
posted by naju at 11:30 PM on August 16, 2016 [15 favorites]


I made a comment in that thread that I deeply regret. It was a statement I genuinely believe to be true. It was a statement that was on topic and that I had a right to make. It was a statement that targeted an idea and not any specific Mefites, and was in no way hateful or malicious. It violated no rules.

It was also unspeakably rude. It was coldly dismissive of the beliefs of Mefites participating right there in good faith in that very thread, while adding nothing of value in return.

Being respectful of others isn't an endorsement of their ideas. It is an endorsement of ideas. It is an endorsement of shared humanity. A humanity I am all too prone to modeling poorly, myself.

Being sure that we're right should never lower the bar for how we treat those we disagree with. It should raise it.

Speaking for an ideal I wished I lived up to, at any rate.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:32 PM on August 16, 2016 [36 favorites]


Back in 2008 there was a scandal around a eucharist.

Wow, Myers comes off as a bit of a dick in that story. And that's what a lot of these "statements about the truthfulness of pagan beliefs" come down to: people who want the right to be a bit of a dick. We now know the whole story is basically a beat-up, but the storekeeper's would-be interlocutors are demanding the right to tell him NO I WILL RUN AROUND THE ROOM SHOUTING "EXPELLIARMUS" BECAUSE MAGIC IS FAKE AHAHAHA.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:34 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


And that's what a lot of these "statements about the truthfulness of pagan beliefs" come down to: people who want the right to be a bit of a dick.

No, because people can already be dicks, and they were. What this is about is those same people want to be dicks without the risk of being called out as dicks.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:39 PM on August 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


prize bull octorok: "I sincerely believe wands can work magic" --not something that merits pushback or mockery "I would like to sell you a wand that can work magic" --less of a clear cut case IMO

Does anyone actually say that the wands themselves work magic? Or is it more like the wands are a way to focus and the magic comes from the mind, or the Universe, or something like that? And that these wands the shopkeeper sells, having been made in a specific way, can just be considered to be a better tool for that?
I don't know the first thing about paganism or wicca, but I'd be surprised if 'this wand can work magic' is how it works. That would be as if catholics believe that it's the actual stone statues that hear your prayers. The catholics I know do not believe that, they merely use the statues as a way to focus their prayers.

I don't believe in magic. But I also do not believe that this shopkeeper is deceiving anyone. It seems to me that he is selling something that he is honest about, and that he personally believes in; he would prefer to sell it to others who see it the same way. As far as I can see, that's all that's going on here.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:44 PM on August 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


I made a comment in that thread that I deeply regret.

I'd thought about replying to your reply on that in the thread, but I decided I didn't want to put any further spotlight onto something you were probably already pretty embarrassed about. But since you brought it up here, I'll say it here:

Thank you. Thank you for thinking better of it, and thank you for giving voice to thinking better of it.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 11:48 PM on August 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


To be clear, I don't think there's anything problematic about this very particular wand-seller, whose belief in the spiritual integrity of his handiwork does not appear to be verging into harmful woo territory.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:05 AM on August 17, 2016


some of my best friends are pagans
posted by philip-random at 12:14 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


andoatnp: "sometimes the truthfulness of religious claims can have some bearing on how people feel a situation should be viewed."

I agree with that as a general principle, but it seems to me that the question is whether this is a situation in which the truth of a religious claim is pertinent. Frankly I don't see why it would be. If the shopkeeper had demanded that everyone else agree with his beliefs about wands, then the truth of those beliefs might become relevant. If the shopkeeper were advocating the use of wands in medical care, it would definitely become relevant. But my understanding is that all he did was ask people not to use his wands as toys because of what they mean to pagans. To work out whether this request is reasonable you don't need to say anything about whether pagan beliefs are true. All you have to do is work out whether those beliefs and practices constitute a religion. You can agree to make accommodations for someone's religious beliefs even if you don't share them, and without taking their requests as an open invitation to start a debate on the factual accuracy of those beliefs. That seems like nothing more than basic politeness to me, and I feel that we ought to have a site norm encouraging politeness in these situations.
posted by langtonsant at 12:24 AM on August 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Because paganism is such a large diverse group, please realize that the generalizations in about to make are not about every pagan, and I'm sure you can find exceptions.

Magic in a pagan sense is closer to prayer. It is a way of asking the universe/gods/godesses/monotheistic deities etc for good favor, for xyz to happen or not to happen. (This may be good or bad, the pagan community is split on curses versus blessings because not all pagans are wiccan which specifically ascribes a do no harm policy). In genreal paganism is science friendly, and while we may do a spell to keep ourselves happy, we also can go to the doctor! There isn't many traditions/pagain practices that the you'll find written 'doctrine'(I am using this term loosely) not to utalize what is available.

Yes, there are people who sinserely believe on 'woo' in trends of that spirituality or only natural substances are the only answer to life's problems. But this is not a problem limited to Just paganism, you can find people in almost every religion who have some beliefs regarding using sacred objects or all natrual items for healing in totality to the exclusion of other types of healing, like modern medicine.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:58 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


naju: I personally also can't help but reflect on how colonialism is still very much an active project and a continuing way (through seemingly innocuous things like championing of "science" and "reason" going back through the centuries) to privilege a specific dominant western mindset and minimize the beliefs, practices, and traditions of those outside of it.

Paul Feyerabend in his Against Method put this in pretty forceful terms:

"People all over the world have developed ways of surviving in partly dangerous, partly agreeable surroundings. The stories they told and the activities they engaged in enriched their lives, protected them and gave them meaning. The 'progress of knowledge and civilizaton'- as the process of pushing Western ways and values into all corners of the globe is being called - destroyed these wonderful products of human ingenuity and compassion without a single glance in their direction. 'Progress of knowledge' in many places meant killing of minds. [...] Physicians, anthropologists and environmentalists are starting to adapt their procedures to the values of the people they are supposed to advise. I am not against a science so understood. Such a science is one of the most wonderful inventions of the human mind. But I am against ideologies that use the name of science for cultural murder."
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:07 AM on August 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


What some people might not get is the extent to which this is a pretty western-centric viewpoint. A lot of PoC and non-westerners (speaking as a second-gen American immigrant) grow up with some coexistence between different ways of approaching the world ... A coexistence between "woo"/spirituality/religion/philosophy and more concrete secular, humanistic, or even atheistic approaches, and having a deep cultural aspect to spiritual education, this sort of thing may be common and fundamental to some of us, whether we share the same beliefs or vastly different ones.

Don't sell us short, naju. Plenty of white Anglo-Euros believe in astrology, creationism, psychics, magic wands, aliens, as well as all manner of "traditional" and "folk" medicines and therapies, while they, too, rely on the concrete secular world.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:10 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Besides Christianity (and Scientology) I can't think of a religious discussion that is less likely to be informed by perspectives on racial inequities and colonialism than western Paganism.

I know some Voudoun-gnostics and Quimbanda devotees that would probably disagree strongly with that.
posted by malocchio at 7:39 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's Raining Florence Henderson, Thank You. That was exceptionally thoughtful and eloquently said.
posted by zarq at 7:40 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I know some Voudoun-gnostics and Quimbanda devotees that would probably disagree strongly with that.

Yes, because religions that arose out of the animist traditions of African slaves are obviously included in a discussion of the modern incarnations of the traditional religions held by the people who colonized and enslaved those lands in the first place.

I'm being very careful with my definitions here for a reason -- as convenient as it is for white westerners to cloak themselves in the traditions of PoC, we would call that cultural appropriation in a different thread.

I mean I'm not saying that there aren't any PoC adherents to western Paganism, but it is very much a first world, white people problems religion.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:59 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


For me, debate clubbing means [trying to make sure that one understands the issue fully so that hurtful mistakes aren't made again]

Because what's what hypos and analogies and the like are for -- tools for clarifying, a way to probe the issue without clumsily causing more pain to the aggrieved by peppering them with questions specific to their situation/outlook. And they help to tease out intellectual dishonesties, like saying "you should be respectful of religious beliefs" on the one hand, but complaining that analogies to Scientology are "slippery sloping" on the other.

Anyways, the OP here asked a question: How can we do this better? This is my attempt at an answer:

Religious (and cultural) beliefs are important to many people, who are harmed when they perceive that their beliefs are not being taken seriously. Therefore, to do this better we should consider that harm when we choose to speak about religious and cultural beliefs (whether we think people who hold those beliefs are in the room or not).

Religious (and cultural) beliefs are often used to maltreat others. This runs the gamut from real oppression to death threats over crackers to terrorist attacks over pictures to refusal of custom to snark about fandom. It's reasonable to speak against this, both in general and in specific cases. Obviously, it's better to frame the call-out around the people doing the maltreatment than the beliefs, but it's not always possible to separate the two. Therefore, to do this better we should not read criticisms (or mockery) of belief in the service of speaking out against maltreatment as prima facie "spiritual disrespect."

Religious (and cultural) beliefs are not universally understood. If Person A is doing something that seems silly to Person B, and Person B commenting on the silliness isn't, in and of itself disrespectful. Especially if the silliness involves the maltreatment of others. Therefore, to do this better, we shouldn't assume that people are mocking an entire religion when they mock specific actions. That being said, when someone (maybe Person A, maybe Person C) points out the religious background behind Person A's actions, it could be disrespectful for Person B to keep harping on the silliness (as opposed to say, focusing on the maltreatment). Therefore, to do this better, we should take what people say about their religions at face value.

Finally, let's remember context. The FPP in question seemed to be about Harry Potter and snobby shopkeepers, not paganism. And the comments were appropriately lighthearted piss-taking of both sides until it became a question of who was being more oppressed. Therefore, to do this better, we should actually read TFAs , and we should give people the benefit of the doubt before assuming that comments were made in disrespect.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:29 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm being very careful with my definitions here for a reason -- as convenient as it is for white westerners to cloak themselves in the traditions of PoC, we would call that cultural appropriation in a different thread.

Yeah, I think that's one of my problems with this. Western paganism often seems to be highly appropriative - like people just rifled through every tradition that claims to have "magic" practice and jumbled them together for fun and profit. So for this practitioner, who is literally profiting off culturally appropriative devices, to complain about cultural appropriation, had a special sense of schadenfreude.

It also means it's harder to give it the weight we give other religions, because there's no real definitions of What Western Paganism Is, except "a jumbled together bunch of appropriated beliefs".

That doesn't mean people can't be sincere in their appropriated beliefs, and God knows I'm a cafeteria Catholic myself, but it does mean it's harder to carve out a space for people to be good to other users in.
posted by corb at 8:57 AM on August 17, 2016


I mean I'm not saying that there aren't any PoC adherents to western Paganism, but it is very much a first world, white people problems religion.

I am not clear on your point. I mean, it started out with you rankling about the mention of POC, although, despite your apparently authoritative suggestion mostly to the contrary, there certainly are pagans of color, and plenty of them -- while a Pew study found 90 percent of American pagans to be white, that's still 10 percent who are nonwhite. I'm pretty sure the erasure of their existence and participation in this movement wasn't your intention, but, then, it doesn't matter what you intended -- please don't do that.

But now you're using the dismissive phrase "white people problems," which tends to be a phrase people use when they think an issue is beneath discussion because it only affects the privileged. If that is not what you meant, please be more careful with your language choice, and, in general, please be a little more considerate when participating in this sort of discussion.
posted by maxsparber at 9:06 AM on August 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Western paganism often seems to be highly appropriative - like people just rifled through every tradition that claims to have "magic" practice and jumbled them together for fun and profit.

I would suggest that this read comes from limited exposure to neopaganism, and not from an accurate assessment of the religion itself. This "neopaganism is just a bunch of stuff jumbled together" is a criticism I hear a lot, but mostly from people who have very little exposure, and tends to come from representatives of established religions and tends to feel like it is a way of dismissing minority religions as somehow being inauthentic.
posted by maxsparber at 9:09 AM on August 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


it is very much a first world, white people problems religion.

like people just rifled through every tradition that claims to have "magic" practice and jumbled them together for fun and profit

Wow. This discussion is heading towards bigotry and dismissal worse than anything in the original thread.
posted by naju at 9:12 AM on August 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


I just don't see a reason to mock anyone at all unless they are harming people with their actions. Why split hairs?
posted by delight at 9:14 AM on August 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


I just don't see a reason to mock anyone at all unless they are harming people with their actions. Why split hairs?

I think this is a very sound philosophy.
posted by maxsparber at 9:16 AM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's always the same people who don't give a fuck about understanding anything past a surface level yet are so, so insistent on their right to spout their terrible opinions, always the same people who will end up driving good members of our community away because their driveby takes are more important than decency and respect. I'm sick of it.
posted by naju at 9:30 AM on August 17, 2016 [27 favorites]


This "neopaganism is just a bunch of stuff jumbled together" is a criticism I hear a lot, but mostly from people who have very little exposure, and tends to come from representatives of established religions and tends to feel like it is a way of dismissing minority religions as somehow being inauthentic.

Let me clarify.

If someone has a cultural practice that involves a belief in a minority religion, I will at least try not say a single word, whether I believe in the practice or not, or it seems weird. Because you're right - we should be kinder to other people's religions and cultural practices, even when they seem strange to us.

But if you're a white person who has adopted pieces of religions and cultural practices from multiple different minority religions, I don't think that should be exempt from concerns about cultural appropriation - or why people shouldn't raise the fact that the religion is made up of pieces from multiple other religions, some of which might not appreciate the borrowing. This came up in the Anger Yoga thread, among others - that sometimes, people don't appreciate when white people borrow and repurpose things they believe to be spiritual for their own purposes.
posted by corb at 9:30 AM on August 17, 2016


If someone has a cultural practice that involves a belief in a minority religion, I will at least try not say a single word, whether I believe in the practice or not, or it seems weird. Because you're right - we should be kinder to other people's religions and cultural practices, even when they seem strange to us.

Good. You've made several comments over the years about Judaism and Jewish practices that I've had to correct you on. I'm glad to see you won't be doing that again in the future.
posted by zarq at 9:36 AM on August 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


But if you're a white person who has adopted pieces of religions and cultural practices from multiple different minority religions,

I don't believe this is what wand dude has done, so maybe we can reserve this discussion for when it comes up. Like when the Roman majority made off with a religion of little brown people in Canaan, added to it a lot of stuff they directly lifted from European paganism, and turned it into something unrecognizable.
posted by maxsparber at 9:47 AM on August 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


man, where were you guys when the other cultural appropriation threads were being discussed on the grey and the blue?

More seriously, I'm not sure 'neo-paganism' is just a bunch of different faith traditions jumbled together, unlike some more theoretically organized religions in the US.
posted by qcubed at 9:55 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


I just don't see a reason to mock anyone at all unless they are harming people with their actions. Why split hairs?

Because this MeTa was written to ask the community not to mock beliefs shared by a person who was harming people with their actions? If anything we're giving this hair a hot oil treatment.

I am not clear on your point. I mean, it started out with you rankling about the mention of POC...

My point was that special pleading about one's minority status doesn't necessarily put one in a position of advanced enlightenment with respect to religious beliefs that are predominately held by possessors of white privilege. To the extent that 10 percent of the practitioners of western Paganism may have to deal with today's current racial bullshit, it's not the Paganism that the kyriarchy is using to hold them down.

There are lots of ways that oppression of religious minorities is wrapped up with the oppression of racial minorities. But this isn't one of them. The derail that's currently happening about cultural appropriation* is part of why I asked that we not bring race into it.

*I think it's a stretch to accuse Paganism, as described by AlexiaSky in this thread, of appropriation.
**on the other hand, the shop owner in question has "lots of interests and [doesn't] subscribe to being one type like a pagan.” If you want to find appropriation in his shop's provision of reiki, chakra balancing, and ear-candling services though, more power to you.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:08 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wait, how was the wand purveyor hurting people, exactly?
posted by delight at 10:13 AM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Because this MeTa was written to ask the community not to mock beliefs shared by a person who was harming people with their actions?

someone saying "hey, these things i make have spiritual significance please don't use them as toys" == harming people.

apparently.
posted by qcubed at 10:15 AM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


I feel like I'm in a mirror universe here. A member of a minority religion is insisting that representatives of the majority not make use of a religious items he hand-crafts because they want to use it as toys, and somehow he's the one guilty of harming people and cultural appropriation.

It's like these words don't mean anything anymore, or they have been twisted to mean that when the majority doesn't get what they want, the minority must be guilty of whatever we can throw at him.
posted by maxsparber at 10:18 AM on August 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


The derail that's currently happening about cultural appropriation* is part of why I asked that we not bring race into it.

The 'derail' is just you wildly misinterpreting my comment to be playing the race card or something, which, whatever, but don't lay it on me. I don't even see why this thread has been "sparklemotion takes on all comers", that seems like the real derail to me.
posted by naju at 10:19 AM on August 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


European Neopaganism that is rooted in bringing to light the shattered remnants of European spiritual traditions we have left from textual (Italy, Greece largely) sources, archeology, and from the folk tales and fairy tales and customs that carried roots of ancient pagan practices;in some places like Lithuana and a number of other countries many of their practices remained in tact despite lip service to becoming Christian.

Allowing white people to actually rediscover their own ancestral spiritual sources and practices is an excellent remedy to the cultural appropriation white's are often doing to spiritual traditions that remained in tact during the Monotheistic Abrahamic patriarchal takeover of many lands.

Calling everything woo- the wives tales and folk tales and stories about healings and connections with spirits that we have left from the cunning folk and folk traditions of Europe (and yes spellwork with Christian names transplanted in them remained and can be seen in Anglo saxon charm books and Pennsylvania Dutch)--- it makes white people feel embarrassed about their own traditions and seek the more acceptable atheistic traditions of Buddhist (despite that many sections of Buddhism believe in reincarnating souls and plenty of woo), yoga with the deities and spiritual beliefs stripped of it, and well... anything else that quenches the desperation for spiritual enrichment while not being seen as silly.

I think renewing ancient European spiritual traditions and healing techniques is an important option for those who are spiritually thirsty- who are still living with the after effects of their connection with nature and spirit being systemically and violently destroyed- and continue acting that out on other vulnerable peoples without examining this in themselves. Magic wands are absolutely part of a Greco-Roman tradition and would be more appropriate for a non-appropriative white spiritualist to engage in than any number of other actually appropriated spiritual techniques taken directly from non-European cultures.
posted by xarnop at 10:22 AM on August 17, 2016 [35 favorites]


It's like these words don't mean anything anymore, or they have been twisted to mean that when the majority doesn't get what they want, the minority must be guilty of whatever we can throw at him.

This happens a lot. *shrugs*

There's a long history of terms and concepts used to help push liberation and equality being taken by regressive groups in an attempt to co-opt and extinguish them.
posted by qcubed at 10:22 AM on August 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wait, how was the wand purveyor hurting people, exactly?

Snarking on people who are interested in fandom:
"I don’t have customers who have been Harry Potterfied."

Discriminating against people who want to use his wands for the wrong reason:
“If a Harry Potter fan came to the shop, whether they would be able to buy a wand would depend on why they want one.... If for a toy, then no, but if they had watched Harry Potter and been inspired to start their own spiritual journey, then yes.”

We can talk about the extent of the harm (I agree, it's minuscule). We can talk about how the framing got out of the shop owner's hands (but I'm pulling from actual quotes... the second set was from the article where he supposedly "defends" himself). But all of that would be "splitting hairs," no?
posted by sparklemotion at 10:24 AM on August 17, 2016


... Or you could maybe let it go?
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:27 AM on August 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


The snark isn't just in the religion threads, though.

Case in point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:33 AM on August 17, 2016


(I agree, it's minuscule)

And yet you're trying super hard to make it the topic of discussion.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


If we want to have a discussion on the finer points of paganism, issues of cultural appropraition, types of subsets of paganism, inclusion of POC practices, those who don't identify as pagan for reasons, and so on requires a lengthy FPP.

The pagan community as a whole does activism and work on these issues, but unless you are a part of the community you wouldn't know that. You won't know the experiences of POC pagans without being around them. I know someone whose lives work is regarding paganism in Latin American communities, runs trainings in Spanish, does podcasts, has a radio slot and discusses naive histories and impacts of colonalism, and so on.

This thread is not about that. Go be kind and be nice, and if someone wants to do the emotional and research in doing a FPP on it go right ahead. I don't have the time right now to do that.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:41 AM on August 17, 2016 [25 favorites]


The snark isn't just in the religion threads, though.

Case in point.


So...the Green Party only changed their platform from advocating "traditional medicine" and homeopathy very recently, and that was due to negative public attention. But apart from "traditional medicine" being largely composed of white people appropriating or outright inventing practices, many of which are just outright scams, I'm not really sure what that has to do with this thread.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:46 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


"There's a long history of terms and concepts used to help push liberation and equality being taken by regressive groups in an attempt to co-opt and extinguish them."

This is true, for example: The Comitttee of Public Safety.
posted by clavdivs at 10:55 AM on August 17, 2016


But apart from "traditional medicine" being largely composed of white people appropriating or outright inventing practices, many of which are just outright scams, I'm not really sure what that has to do with this thread.

The fact that it's being used as a jokey "this is proof that she is a loopy wingnut" signal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm still catching up on this thread from scratch amidst other site stuff that needs attention, but I get the feeling at this point that we've wandered pretty far from the original premise and request into just kind of Arguing About Variously Tangentially Related Things in a not great way and am not sure there's a great argument for keeping that going. Relitigating the situation from the thread on the blue probably better left over there; trying to pull a crystals joke out of the horrifying tornado of the US political election context it appeared in also seems like a mess waiting to happen.

If folks have more to add to constructively address the idea in the post, or have specific non-"yeah but this other thing bugs me to" aspects of it that they think need community addressing, that's okay and I guess get to it, but in general maybe let's wind this back down some and think about whether it's doing anything useful by staying open.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:06 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The fact that it's being used as a jokey "this is proof that she is a loopy wingnut" signal.

Science is not a religion. Crystal "therapy" is pseudoscience and is also not a religion. A President of the United States who advocated pseudoscience could influence healthcare policy and education in ways that could quite literally affect millions of Americans. Negatively.

Given those facts, doesn't snarking about Candidate Stein and crystal therapy strike you as quite different from what happened in the wand fpp?
posted by zarq at 11:20 AM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'll admit I'm speaking from my own experience, Zarq, but in that experience I've encountered crystals to be used as more of a religious tool rather than a pseudoscientific one. So while I agree that it would be a dangerous point if this were advanced as a scientific tool, there are those who do consider crystals to be a religious one. In that context, therefore, it would be relevant to this discussion.

I will grant, though, that perhaps it is unclear just how widespread the crystals-as-religious-tool context might be in truth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:24 AM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


When someone points out that you behaved shittily, you can
1) Apologize and try not to do it again
2) Explain why you had every reason to believe that your behavior wasn't shitty

One conversation is about the people you hurt and one conversation is about you. One gives and one takes.
posted by beerperson at 11:39 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


I think what EC is saying, zarq, is that if some people use crystals as a religious tool and if Jill Stein believed in them, then joking about Jill Stein's beliefs in the healing power of crystals would be out of line.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:41 AM on August 17, 2016


I really don't think cortex said the Jill Stein thing "seems like a mess waiting to happen" because he wanted us to go ahead and implement said mess
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 11:45 AM on August 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


I think what EC is saying, zarq, is that if some people use crystals as a religious tool and if Jill Stein believed in them, then joking about Jill Stein's beliefs in the healing power of crystals would be out of line.

...Actually, what I'm saying is "since some people do use crystals as a religious tool, then joking about this is out of line".

But, I have added the corollary that "however, I admit you have presented evidence that fewer people than I thought use them as religious tools". Whether that corollary should negate the previous statement is a decision I leave to the reader.

Nevertheless, there was no "if" about my earlier statement, and I have explained why.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:46 AM on August 17, 2016


When someone ignores modern medicine to the ultimate exclusion of saying this one thing (crystals, prayer, water, diluted herbs, leeches etc) has little to do with the mainstream of most belief systems.

All belief systems have these people for varying reasons, including athests.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:48 AM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Crystals are by some used at present and have been used in the past as part of spiritual healing rituals and practices. The more we learn about how trauma and experiences cause real disease in adults, the more it begs the question of whether erasing the wisdom we once had about healing the emotional self within to address many chronic diseases wasn't quite a bit more on track than we like to admit. The same as that EMDR might not be effective because of eye movements per se, doing actions with intent to heal and using tools can be part of inducing real healing through ceremony, ritual and intent.

I say this to clarify how some might assume woo is not part of a spiritual healing practice but it might be. We only learn when we listen to each other. I am not going to suggest someone buy a quartz crystal instead of seeing a doctor. But might a healing ceremony bring up some emotional pain that needs to be process? Might focusing on some physical items to support you through be helpful psychologically and promote real health? Sure. I think so, at least I think these are things worth considering far beyond laughing them off, especially as they are tools being picked up by therapists and found to be very effective.

I think it is absolutely possible to respect that some people might want to use crystals as tools of healing or spiritual practice- and also address the agnosticism we should all be willing to acknowledge in terms of policy and recommended health procedure. However prayer and meditation are actually found to be beneficial to health and might have a place in hospitals and the medical system for those who want them. These practices very much can coexist with the practices we consider modern medicine.

What's more research into these practices seeking evidence of outcomes of such practices can help us better evaluate the potential for such practices in healing the whole person.

Dismissing and laughing at such practices before evaluating them for efficacy is not actually science either.

In fact one of the mixtures from Bald's Leechbook did very well against anti-biotic resistant disease. When you dismiss things with laughter and mockery before even giving them a chance to be studied or evaluated for efficacy, you just might miss out.
posted by xarnop at 11:49 AM on August 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


I feel like this derail into crystal "therapies" is problematic. It's not what the thread was supposed to be about. I regret initially responding to Empress without previewing to see cortex' comment. I apologize for that. Going to drop it now.
posted by zarq at 12:00 PM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a pagan who appreciates this thread- I actually think discussing the use of crystals and non-mainstream forms of healing in spirituality is actually on track.

The mockery of woo includes mockery of a lot of the practices neopagans and those who fall under this umbrella do as part of healing and spiritual wellness and I think these conversations could go better with fewer insults and mockery.

It's fine to defend evidence based medicine (something I like quite well) but plenty of discussions about research into other types of healing and therapies get mocked before we can even look at the research. I think there's a knee jerk reaction that is not based in science but in a world view that rejects anything not made in a lab in a factory or extensively researched (something that can only be done once people agree to research something).

I do not stand up for homeopathy (other than in a "if you want to try a placebo out go for it but it has no place in licensed medical care). I am passionate about standing up against harmful snakesalesmen and women, the abuses of oversold woo and just world philosophies as solutions... etc. Metafilter is very good at being willing to address these things and that is wonderful. I think it would be capable of discussing alternate views of healing without filtering everything into "ridiculous" immediately if it's not accepted mainstream.

A lot of the current research contradictions previously dearly held mainstream beliefs about how health works (disease is totally random, it can not be understood or prevented, the main issue is to wait for it and address it with pills and this is the best way to address all funding in medical care)... we're watching those views being replaced with new onces as research has demonstrated they were not scientific. Many more might change. Talking about it without making a mockery of anyone who wants to see research on herbs and supplements, nutrition, body work and therapies, exercise, and spiritual and emotional wellness would be really cool. Ignoring the need for social grieving of trauma, expression of pain through mourning and crying and being comforted-- ignoring the need for nurturing and it's scientifically validated roles in wellness and human development.

To me the eradication of many of these modes of healing were not actually originally founded in science, they were eradicated by people who claimed scientific superiority wanting to eradicate anything that sounded spiritual or earth based.. or was associated with women and folk healers.

Returning to examining how all these happened is in fact a big part of my practice as a worshipper of whom I call the divine mother and her arts.
posted by xarnop at 12:12 PM on August 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


While I'm not pagan, I do believe in a lot of things that some people here would dismiss as woo. xarnop's comment above really resonated with me.
posted by Ruki at 1:11 PM on August 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


[Couple comments removed, a user asked to have their own comment deleted.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:14 PM on August 17, 2016


As a Pagan, I appreciate this discussion. I'd nope'd out of the wand thread early, once it became obvious it was going in the direction of "obsessive fanbrats vs wacky religious kook - LULZ 4 ALL!"

I don't mind being perceived as a wacky religious kook. (See username.) I've mostly given up on religion-flavored discussions with non-Pagans because it rarely goes anywhere useful.

I know it's hard to understand what other people perceive of as sacred, and that modern intellectual society is big on ignoring the concept of "sacred" entirely. Religious items or practices are acknowledged to have value because they cement community bonds and self-identity, or because they provide comfort, or because they might actually have identifiable non-spiritual uses (like the health values of meditation); very little attention is given to the concept of sacredness being of value in itself.

That's... okay, but it makes discussing use and misuse of sacred objects rather difficult.

That's why the grasping attempts to borrow examples from other, more well-known and more respected, religions - explaining how wands are sacred to Wiccans and other Pagans involves a lot of background detail (including info about many sects/practices in which they are treated without any particular reverence); comparing them to Jewish or Native religious items avoids the need for pages/hours of context. I agree that such comparisons are often problematic; I don't think the solution is that people of less-known and often-hated religions should be required to explain their feelings about misuse of religious objects without referring to the history of other religions. (I also don't think it should be simplified down to "it's just like when people use X religion's item as a party accessory;" the comparison should be a starting point for understanding, not an attempt to claim 1:1 similarity.)

I join xarnop in enjoying the respectful discussion of "woo" practices. A lot of us involved in those practices are aware how wonky they sound; we don't want that ignored - but we'd like more discussion of which of them seem to get results anyway. (Some of us would like more discussion of the non-physical results as well, which, see above notes on "sacred," are often ignored. Quality-of-life is only barely starting to be acknowledged in the medical professions.

And I don't find it off-topic or a derail; those "woo" practices are exactly why a wandmaker objects to his spiritual tools being purchased as toys or cosplay props. It seems a bit odd to talk about that without being willing to discuss the context that makes him unhappy with Potter fans buying the wands.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:10 PM on August 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


Can I just say how much I appreciate the comments by the pagans in this thread talking about what they actually do believe and how they feel it relates to the topic of the original post? It's such an alien concept to me and I very much appreciate the effort that you all have gone to in talking about it. More than that, it makes me wish that the original FPP had gone differently: if we (the non-pagans) had managed to be respectful instead of defaulting to snark, maybe ErisLordFreedom wouldn't have noped out, and would have made that great comment in the original thread on the blue. Maybe the other pagans in this thead would have talked more openly about their experiences and their perspective. Maybe we would have had an informative conversation about how modern paganism interacts with mainstream culture, and some of the tensions that exist there. That would have been a much better thread than the one we actually got.
posted by langtonsant at 2:38 PM on August 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


I mostly agree with you, but I'm going to have to strongly disagree about the notion that at Native practices are either respected or well known.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:39 PM on August 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


if we (the non-pagans) had managed to be respectful instead of defaulting to snark, maybe ErisLordFreedom wouldn't have noped out

Thanks, but it's not likely - I've been active in online Pagan communities for almost twenty years, and that thread is one of the more respectful discussions of "pop culture meets Paganism" that I've seen. I don't begrudge people their snark; I'm just done with investing my energy in trying to have a serious discussion in the middle of it.

I'd be plenty happy to discuss many aspects of Paganism; I'm not going to try to do so in that context. As I said, it rarely goes well - and that's not a euphemism for "it's usually a horrific trainwreck." It can be, but more often it's just pointlessly frustrating; the people who just want to have their giggles feel stifled, and those who want to have a serious talk feel insulted.

I'm going to have to strongly disagree about the notion that at Native practices are either respected or well known.

I overstated, and I am sorry for that.

I don't think that Pagans who don't have any tribal affiliation should be using Native examples to explain aspects of their religions to outsiders; those who do have that connection might consider such examples, depending on the context of the discussion. I think that "public forum online" is almost never a good context for that.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:09 PM on August 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm glad this post is opening up some individual beliefs.


In terms of magical tools, I like to associate them with lots of meaning or sacredness for mindset. I believe all energy in the universe is connected and my thoughts and ideas impact the universe on some sort of unknown scale. I use tools with meaning, because it makes me feel more connected and focused. It creates a sacred space where there was not one (a bedroom, a field, my car) and I can do my thing.

My perception of deities is that they are all equally valid, because humankind cannot precieve the exact nature of the universe and what or why. (Please note I am not going to discuss will conflicting belief systems with you. This is a belief of mine and not open to public theological debate at this time)

It is a belief system that teaches respect, and encourages me to learn more about others while taking cultural appropriation into account. (If I want to learn about something from another culture, I want to learn it from that culture, and I understand my understanding will be imperfect and there are things off limits)

My philosophy follows a pretty clear do no harm, but I don't ascribe to traditional Wicca practices for reasons, and am not trained in any tradition.

I'm sure there is woo in there. I'm okay with that. I love being pagan. It's me and I determine my own path.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:38 PM on August 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


My perception of deities is that they are all equally valid

I disagree (hard polytheist here), but am glad you said this, because it connects to the core of why religious mockery is problematic.

The statement "all men are created equal" is, by any objective measure, obviously false. Adopting it as an ethic does not mean "we believe all people have the same talents, the same abilities, the same intelligence, the same wealth" - it means we believe that society should treat all people as equal, that they should have equal legal rights, equal access to opportunities, and that if they are restricted or exalted beyond everyone else, that should be based on individual merits or actions, not just because they were born one way and not another.

We fail at this, rather a lot, but it's still an ideal that we strive for. And religion should work the same way - whether all deities, or all religions, "are equal" in any measurable sense is less important than their followers' right to be treated equally.

Mocking the kook for being a kook is okay. Mocking the "kook" for being a Pagan is not. Sorting out the difference requires understanding aspects of Paganism that aren't commonly known to outsiders. And there's a difference between "I have a different take on the nature of reality" and "your understanding of reality doesn't deserve protection and respect."

It's nice to see well-intentioned outsiders try to parse those lines, but it's still often cringeworthy. I wish there were a good forum for those discussions; the last one I knew of dissolved in about 2006.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:31 PM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Navigating paganism as an outsider is hard, and even many newbies to paganism need pagan 101 which pretty much boils down to:

There are lots of ways to be or not be pagan.

There is multiple types of polytheism. Hard , soft, monotheistic, or other variations.

Wicca is not the only form of paganism. There are traditions of Wicca that vary widely from eachother and forms that have nothing to do with Wicca at all ever.

Magic and spirituality are oftentimes disconnected from eachother, or juxtaposed in ways that may seem confusing.

Cultural appropriation is bad.

Some pagan authors appropriate please be on the lookout.

There is no right way unless you want it to be.

Paganism is not an excuse or cover for racist, sexist or other discrimination.

Some people curse, others do not. Morality, witchcraft and spirituality are three different things.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:44 PM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I struggle, a lot, with this idea that 'magic' (nebulously seeming to mean any physical manifestation of spirituality/religion outside a defined communal place, with a belief or intent to change something) is a white person thing.

My neighbour's dad died recently, and while my daughter visited, she knelt at their shrine to pray with their family for his transition to the afterlife.

My friend lays out food for kitchen gods.

Another friend doesn't cut their hair at night.

None of those people are white. None of those customs are 'pagan' in the way it's being used as a shorthand in this thread. They're not Christian customs, certainly, but they are a manifestation of spirituality that apparently should be fodder for jokes, because 'lol magic doesn't exist'. Maybe it doesn't, but praying at the shrine makes my neighbour feel a little connected to his family half way across the world, and his father who has passed. Laying out the food makes my friend feel a little more connected with her ancestors and her culture, and to her kitchen and eating and food.

Not sure about the hair thing, that's been something we don't discuss.

Seriously people, jokes are meant to be funny. Not you showing how superior you feel.

If someone feels the need to make a snarky comment, or a stupid joke, about the shrine my kid has set up, or the glyphs that decorate her room and my spaces, that's on them. It's a reflection of them and their lack of concern for us, and for belief in general. You don't get to make those tired old jokes AND escape judgement for that act though.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:27 PM on August 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


I popped my head into the thread long enough to figure out what it was about since I couldn't quite figure it out from the above-the-fold but wasn't interested enough to actually leave MetaFilter over it or anything. It quickly became apparent that it was mostly pointing and laughing at the shopkeeper and/or Potter fans, and when it turned into a derail about religious paraphernalia in Judaism I closed the tab. It seemed like a pretty crap thread to me. Not our finest moment.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:03 PM on August 17, 2016


To me, prior to the thread, those sorts of phrases were associated with hippy-dippy crystal shop nonsense and cheezy "goth" media like The Craft or Supernatural, not any kind of actual religion.

People are most likely unaware, but the Craft actually had a religious consultant - I believe Wiccan - to guide the presentation of the magic and make it mostly consistent with lower-case witchcraft at least (It was very much not Wicca - the single god summoned tells you that much; that might have been part of the point as they didn't reference an actual god).

I'd love it if there was broader knowledge and respect for people with obscure religions. It really isn't that hard to find the basics out with a little looking around or finding your nearest pagan and asking us. I did the whole "find out about every possible religion" thing when I was trying to figure out which direction to go in and this was long before the internet made things a lot easier.

Wands are very much part of a historical English tradition, and the neo-paganism/spiritualism he seems to be tapping into is very much a European/English tradition. My gods are literally the gods of my ancestors. There are some pagans and new age people who become very appropriative but wands themselves are pretty much European and white people are not appropriating them.

Wicca is also English, and a lot of the world-views it brings into place are specifically Eurocentric. For example, the Dying and Reborn God is a Western European figure; the four directions and their elements are very European, specifically English, and fed into the four humors as a concept; the fertility rights are not only European but they shaped modern Christianity; the original Lessar Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, which gives its form to a lot of neo-pagan religious rites, originally used the names of four Archangels to guard the corners; alchemy is also a European practice which frequently informs paganism.

I'm Asatru, so that means the Norse gods most people know via comic movies are my gods (and they got Mjollnir's Weilder's hair color wrong). It also means I speak about my gods in kennings (descriptive phrases instead of their names) because my Old Man, who some people now know as Mr. Wednesday, knows the power of names and I learned that from him. My ritual items are also my household items; the hammer which represents Mjolnir on my altar is also the one I use to fix chairs and bang in nails plus an additional one which has a bunch of screw drivers in it because I thought my Old Man would appreciate how cleverly it was put together, even if it isn't as functional as a hammer. Besides the statuary, the rest of my altar is in honor of my Wiccan best friend, who left me her ritual items when she died, holds earth from every place I've lived because the land is important to us, and holds religious items of importance over the years like the Children's Bible I was given by my Minister when I was five (which also represents my first ethical challenge because I wanted to steal it, but stealing things was explicitly against the book I wanted to steal!!! Five year old problems. ) and the pentacle of a past lover.

My practices center around runes and pouring out offerings to the gods, usually top shelf whiskey. And ruminating on Hamingja (luck, but not the Greek version of luck). Most recently, as my cat is very ill, I poured out to Brisingamen's Wearer, who takes half of the slain in battle, and asked her to give him a look in as she's very fond of cats and I'd exhausted most of my options. When my mom hit a deer with her car and was very upset about it, I did a pouring out to the two Hunters to bring the deer and my mother peace and gave my mom space to apologize for the damage she did. The form of magic I do is runic, so it's very different from a lot of pagan religious practices.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:53 PM on August 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


AlexiaSky: "In terms of magical tools, I like to associate them with lots of meaning or sacredness for mindset. I believe all energy in the universe is connected and my thoughts and ideas impact the universe on some sort of unknown scale. I use tools with meaning, because it makes me feel more connected and focused. It creates a sacred space where there was not one (a bedroom, a field, my car) and I can do my thing. "

At the risk of sounding a lot like a jerk interrogating your spiritual beliefs, can I ask a little about how that feeling works with you? I've been thinking on and off about this for most of the day, and I feel like I can partially map this onto my own experience - but only partly.

For me (as a very atheist, very empirical science person), the closest analog to that is something like this. Sometimes, when the world is too much and I'm struggling to stay on top of everything, I pick a single concept, object or experience, and focus on how it relates to everything else around it. Maybe it's the sensation of warmth. I stand in the sunlight, and recognise that there's a single underlying class of things (photons) that simultaneously warms my skin, creates images on my retina, and encourages growth in the grass under my feet. The sunlight is a both a blessing, in that it's the source of energy that powers all living things around us, and a curse, in that it's the thing that (on a small scale) caused the melanoma that killed my mother and (on a large scale) makes the semi-arid bushland I grew up in a harsh unforgiving land. There's a conceptual connection between all these things, and the role of science (in my mind, at least) is to describe the nature of those connections using a language (mathematics) that I understand. I find it soothing to think about how those relationships play out, awe inspiring to acknowledge the complexity of the structure around me, and privileged to recognise that I am special, I am an agent within this system, capable of making goal-driven changes to the world around me. And with that recognition, the world around me feels like a more wonderful place than it was before.

I don't think I'd ever use the word "sacred" to describe that feeling because that seems to be a word that carries special meaning to religious folks, but it seems kind of similar? I guess what I'm asking is not whether you'd call those things the same (clearly they are not!) but whether you'd agree that this feeling I have is similar to what you mean when you talk about associating objects or ideas with meaning or sacredness. I'm genuinely not sure! It's quite possible that they are related experiences, but I could also imagine that you have something very different in mind.
posted by langtonsant at 11:43 PM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


At the risk of jumping in to someone else's questions -

There's a conceptual connection between all these things, and the role of science (in my mind, at least) is to describe the nature of those connections using a language (mathematics) that I understand.

The role of science is to explain these things in an objectively verifiable, data-transferable way. The role of religion is to explain these things in a subjective, personally meaningful way.

All the math in the world can't explain why you enjoy standing in the sun, can't explain what it means to you to be bare to what is simultaneously a source of life and a source of corruption and pain.

The purpose of spirituality is to answer those questions; a "religion" is a meme for sharing those answers with others. And it's always a delight and a confusion and humbling and terrifying to share something that intimate with another, especially a stranger, which is why religious groups turn so solidly on heretics, on those who share most of the answers but have found a scant few that are different. It takes a great deal of strength to share that much of your inner truth with someone, and find out that they reject part of it.

I'm not saying "all religions are good" any more than "all schools are good" - some religions have found core truths that I find despicable and vile, and many more have diluted their focus to include making lots of money (whether that's just for the clergy or extends outward) or political activism based on a rough sketch of one of their truths, and some tone down the intensity so that more people will feel a sense of community without facing the core. But all true religions have, at their center, a set of answers which are only sharable through a "religious experience," which philosophers and poets have been trying to define for millennia.

Fake religions are those that don't have that experience (I'm lookin' at you, Scientology), that deny it has any meaning. (Joke religions, fictional religions, are those that aren't built on that experience; some of them manage to find it anyway.) What makes a religion isn't the scripture or the hymns or the structure of the celebrations; it's those core answers and how they're shared.

"What is sacred?" is one of the questions. Every religion has an answer. The key for religious seekers isn't "find the one that matches my personal inclinations for that answer" (because you already have that answer), but "find the one with the people who have become what I aspire to be, because I want their answers."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:43 AM on August 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


all true religions have, at their center, a set of answers which are only sharable through a "religious experience," ... Fake religions are those that don't have that experience ...

If the religious experience is necessarily purely subjective—which seems to be the implicit consensus of this discussion—then how is it possible to distinguish a "fake" religion from a "true" religion? At most one could only say that one doesn't "get" the experience that others are claiming to experience.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:43 AM on August 18, 2016


The role of science is to explain these things in an objectively verifiable, data-transferable way. The role of religion is to explain these things in a subjective, personally meaningful way.

I may be misunderstanding what you are saying, but I'd like to note that I do not think this can be accurately applied to all religions. If I'm understanding you correctly, then I don't believe it can be applied to my own religion, Judaism.

Judaism doesn't really draw a separation between personal meaning and scientific investigation. Between fulfillment and spirituality and science. One can be agnostic and still be "religiously" Jewish. To many if not most Jews, science and religion aren't really considered separate or incompatible in the way I think you're implying.
posted by zarq at 9:44 AM on August 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the role of Judaism in my life is primarily to give me access to blintzes and Cel Ray soda. We secular Jews represent something like 55 percent of American Jewry right now, so we don't really fit neatly into generalizations about what religion is and does.

God damn it, now I want a blintz.
posted by maxsparber at 10:20 AM on August 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


God damn it, now I want a blintz.

They're relatively easy to make from scratch!
posted by zarq at 11:03 AM on August 18, 2016


Not at work.
posted by maxsparber at 11:05 AM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is true. :)
posted by zarq at 11:07 AM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom: "All the math in the world can't explain why you enjoy standing in the sun, can't explain what it means to you to be bare to what is simultaneously a source of life and a source of corruption and pain. The purpose of spirituality is to answer those questions;"

That makes sense to me, and I'd agree it's not the science itself that drives my subjective experience in this situation: it's the feeling of being able to consider the connections or relationships between things, of being part of a larger system while still able to hold onto a sense of personal agency. It's the sense of connectedness itself that seems to matter. The fact that I think about these connections in scientific terms is not especially relevant to that subjective feeling (I think?), but it does seem to matter that I use language that I find honest. If I personally tried to use different words I'd lose that sense of honesty, and the experience of connectedness wouldn't feel genuine to me. But that has less to do with whether scientific ideas are objectively true, and more to do with the subjective role that they play in my everyday life.

I guess I brought it up because a feeling of connectedness seems to be something people mention when discussing spirituality (though everyone does so in different ways), and while I've always considered myself the exact opposite of a spiritual person I feel like there's some similarity of experience there. In any case, I realise this is a bit off-topic for the MeTa - but thanks!
posted by langtonsant at 11:46 AM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


how is it possible to distinguish a "fake" religion from a "true" religion? At most one could only say that one doesn't "get" the experience that others are claiming to experience.

Yep, there is that. That's why it's hard to identify fake religions, and IMHO why we have laws against trying to define religions as real and not-real.

Sometimes, people can tell (still lookin' at Scientology), but there's no simple bright-line test that can be applied. And trying to describe why a particular claimed religion is or is not real, quickly gets into abstract philosophical terminology that doesn't condense well to soundbites.

One can be agnostic and still be "religiously" Jewish. To many if not most Jews, science and religion aren't really considered separate or incompatible in the way I think you're implying.

They're not incompatible; they cover different aspects of human experiences. Compare to, oh, exercise and music... they fill different needs in human life. (And one could argue that we don't need music at all, and certainly many individuals get along fine without it, but that doesn't explain why every culture on earth has had music.)

Agnosticism isn't outside of the realm of religion. The core answers a religion provides may not translate to belief, and especially not belief about the nature of diety(ies); they may be in the shape of "experience X is important because it connects me with my community and the experiences of my ancestors." It may even be in the more nebulous "we do Practice Y because we are [identity]."

The core of a religion - the central truths that its followers share - often don't translate well to words, and worse into English, which was co-opted by a particular religion in its youth and doesn't have good vocab for discussing other religions' concepts and structure.

Whether eating blintzes with family and friends "is" or "is not" a religious experience, is beyond casual evaluation on message boards.

I am not trying to sort out the lines between spiritual and secular/cultural identities attached to a religion. Am not claiming anyone is not a member of a religion because they don't connect with the spirituality - the legal and socio-cultural aspects of a religion have no direct connection to the spiritual ones, but are no less a part of the religious identity. I would like to believe that those who are non-practicing/secular/atheist Jews are open to the spiritual aspects specific to Judaism, even if those are not active in their lives, but that's very much not in my range to make judgments about.

***

This is getting pretty far from religious witchcraft tools being used as Harry Potter props. I'm happy to babble about religious philosophy indefinitely but I don't know if this level of pontificating and thread drift is appropriate.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whether eating blintzes with family and friends "is" or "is not" a religious experience, is beyond casual evaluation on message boards.

Hardly. It is.
posted by maxsparber at 11:52 AM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I mean, have you had them at Baz Bagel & Restaurant on Mulberry? It's the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree of Blintz joints.
posted by maxsparber at 11:54 AM on August 18, 2016


it's hard to identify fake religions ... [yet] Sometimes, people can tell ...

I can see how having such a finely-tuned sensibility would make these things much, much easier.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2016


Interesting note about scientology: while most people know only of the Church of Scientology, there is a heretical branch that offers the same teachings and enlightenments for absolutely free, without the trappings and extravagant fees and demands of utter loyalty that make the Church itself so questionable. Many of them actively oppose the CoS for its practices, which they believe are antithetical to the faith. Google "free zone scientology."
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 12:19 PM on August 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


I find it useful not to bother trying to identify fake religions. If somebody wants to call themselves a Jedi, or even participate in a parody religion like the SubGenius stuff, hooray for them. The spiritual experience is wide and vast and contains multitudes and contradictions and is even large enough to include satire.

I do, however, find it useful to identity abusive religions. That's something you can quantify.
posted by maxsparber at 12:20 PM on August 18, 2016 [18 favorites]


I completely agree maxsparber. I do not believe in religious immunity for abuse. Discussing harms done by a religion or an ideology or teaching in a religion (like that men are superior or that sex is innately a sign of inferiority or lack of spiritual strength or that a spiritual leader should determine who has sex with who) are discussions we need to be able to have. It's tricky to balance doing that while having a certain base of respect for the fact that ultimately none of us know what is beyond, what the depths are internal spiritual realm is or isn't etc etc. We can guess, we can hope, and we can even believe based on our own internal or shared spiritual experiences- but we should be able to meet at acknowledging we don't know for sure. I feel like this is the only space we're going to be able to fine peace between very different religions. In order for it to be a requirement to respect someone elses religion, we need to have already made a shared agreement that ethical treatment of people matters. People whose faith teaches them that they can harm others are not meeting in that space. These are HARD conversations even when a lot of caution and effort is put into making them go well. Starting with empathy and respect for beliefs that are different or not shared but that are not causing any harm creates a far better base to begin to have the harder conversations.

And in the world today where religion does in fact play a role in certain conflicts, wars, and political ideology- these conversations are very important even for agnostics and atheists in terms of the level of understanding and cultural respect and peace we have in the world. How we decide or assume what matters in these conversations has vast implications for indigenous people who believe the land is sacred or have relationships with nature spirits, or who seek reparative supports after their communities were damaged that have a drastically different method of healing (sacred ceremonies, healing the whole person, herbs etc) than what is offered as "reparation" but amounts to more abuses, psychiatric labelling and chemical control rather than respect for the normal reactions to trauma that people demonstrate under such abuses and vast cultural loss; supplies or aid that essentially forces the community to be more like the mainstream/white/monoculture and assumes this is the goal of the community in question.

In Europe there were people who opposed many of those things and the same methods used to laugh them out of the way are now being used on other communities. So how we treat those awaken to the spiritual nature of the world (or who feel they are having such an experience and would like to enhance it) has a huge implication on how the dominant culture can respect and understand a world with a vast range of spiritual beliefs and for whom those beliefs may have huge implications in their needs for daily living or respect in healthy relations who may be vulnerable to harms if their needs are not expressly sought out and understood.
posted by xarnop at 12:51 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think one element that a lot of secular/agnostic/atheistic people too easily forget is how much of the history of religious persecution has rested more on “oh, but that’s absurd” more than “this practice/belief is evil and must stop”.

There have been many persecutions rooted in “this is evil (according to my belief system) and must stop,” to be sure, and we should always be vigilant to prevent that perspective from gaining ascendance.

But if you study the history of colonialism and empire, for example, one thing you begin to notice is that a surprising amount of religious persecution rests more on “oh, but that’s absurd.” And a lot of religious persecution that got enacted as actual laws was based way more on the “this is a ridiculous practice” principle than anything more dogmatic. I’ve read through a lot of primary documents from, for example, the British empire in the 19th century. The majority of state-sanctioned attempts to erase minority faiths throughout that empire were not enacted by sincere religious zealots, but by political and military functionaries who found anything outside their worldview to be absurd, silly, and obviously untrue. They wrote about these practices with avuncular bemusement in their letters, and then they wrote their scorn into more formal laws, and then attempted to destroy cultures that did not embrace those laws.

It is easy to assume that “oh, but this is just silly, we’re just having a bit of fun” is harmless. But I don’t think history (or our present) bears that out. When people say that this perspective causes them harm, in many cases it isn’t just a statement about an individual’s personal feelings. It is often an observation about how quickly “isn’t this silly” turns into something uglier.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:36 PM on August 18, 2016 [15 favorites]


This is getting pretty far from religious witchcraft tools being used as Harry Potter props. I'm happy to babble about religious philosophy indefinitely but I don't know if this level of pontificating and thread drift is appropriate.

I would be fine with dropping the conversation after making this comment. But you are speaking in generalities about religion and religious experience as if they apply to everyone, everywhere. I do not believe they do.

They're not incompatible; they cover different aspects of human experiences.

Respectfully, this is a reductive view doesn't describe my holistic (philosophical, not medical holism) understanding, my spirituality, life's journey or experience(s). I don't believe that religion and science can only cover different aspects of human experiences or that they should be thought of as separate entities. Science is a tool we use to help us understand the world around us and the greater universe -- and in so doing perhaps learn more about ourselves. Knowledge gleaned through scientific discovery informs and is interconnected with my own spirituality and does not exist apart from it.

The core answers a religion provides may not translate to belief, and especially not belief about the nature of diety(ies); they may be in the shape of "experience X is important because it connects me with my community and the experiences of my ancestors." It may even be in the more nebulous "we do Practice Y because we are [identity]."

Superficially, religious Judaism can answer simple questions. Jewish culture may be able to answer others. But I tend to think that the religion is more about self-determination: encouraging people to not accept the status quo, to be skeptical, to question and come to their own conclusions, rather than have them imposed by an authority. (I grew up a Conservative Jew, not Orthodox. Orthodoxy is less open to that questioning philosophy, but even there, it does still exist.) Jewish culture and that sense of belonging can be part and parcel of being Jewish. But the religion both is and isn't about those things.

I am not trying to sort out the lines between spiritual and secular/cultural identities attached to a religion. Am not claiming anyone is not a member of a religion because they don't connect with the spirituality - the legal and socio-cultural aspects of a religion have no direct connection to the spiritual ones, but are no less a part of the religious identity. I would like to believe that those who are non-practicing/secular/atheist Jews are open to the spiritual aspects specific to Judaism, even if those are not active in their lives, but that's very much not in my range to make judgments about.

Yet by announcing that "...the legal and socio-cultural aspects of a religion have no direct connection to the spiritual ones, but are no less a part of the religious identity" you are in fact judging how those people -- my people -- view their spiritual and religious lives.
posted by zarq at 1:40 PM on August 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


To many if not most Jews, science and religion aren't really considered separate or incompatible in the way I think you're implying.

I think it's also important to note that this is a fairly late-science and late-secular perspective on the differentiation between the two; previously, science was much more embedded in religion and often the people who developed science along a number of axes were religious and had religious motivations (Darwin, for example). Arguably, alchemy is one of the roots of modern chemistry but it's treated as a historical curiosity now and those connections are lost to most. Similarly, the relationship between astrology and astronomy - once they were paired and now one is devalued and the other elevated.

This becomes especially central in the US because of the effects of the First Amendment; "Congress shall make no laws respecting or restricting free expression of religion" means that we've had 240 years of people with all sorts of perspectives coming to terms with drawing a bright white line around "religion" and distinguishing it from everything else, with carrying motivations and goals. I'm not sure this division exists in this manner anywhere else - including the originator of this discussion England, which still has a state religion (I'm not sure about Scotland, Ireland, and Wales).

In religions with stable roots that go back into this period of time, it's neither unexpected nor rare to find what we have divided as modern people much more combined in the history, and it's a much more challenging division to adapt too. Scientists who are religious are especially fun to talk about this with; I used to work with a cornucopia of Engineers, and hearing how they managed their spiritual and religious beliefs was fascinating.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:57 PM on August 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom, I want to clarify something in my last comment that's been bugging me.

It's not that you're casting judgement. I don't think that you are. But I do think that by limiting the way we define religion and the role it may or may not play in people's lives, that definition becomes less accurate, and it's utility becomes suspect. If that makes sense?

Over the years, I seem to have become the person who chimes in with "not all religions!" when we have conversations like this in Metatalk. Mostly because Judaism and often other minority religions seem to get lumped in with anti-science theologies and I'd rather not be tarred with that brush. Sometimes because I feel it's important to correct misunderstandings about what Jews believe. But I don't know that my compulsive interjections are always necessary or helpful, and in a thread like this one, where we are talking about respect for people and the value of not disparaging beliefs held by a minority, I do worry about overshadowing or derailing important discussions. So, I'll shut up now.
posted by zarq at 7:28 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


I took a course earlier this year on ancient and medieval science and religion, and it's really interesting how there wasn't really a distinction between the two. You have all these observable phenomena being very carefully measured and tested according to a philosophy of cosmology (based on religious texts) that was constantly being tested and refined. The methodology was extremely complex and rigorous and based on the best available data, which was interpreted through this lens.

It wasn't really until the Protestant Reformation that you started seeing science as something somewhat apart from religion - and that has a lot to do with Protestant criticism of Catholic liturgy and ritual. That's a gross oversimplification, but the point is that a lot of the way we talk about religion has been influenced heavily by these kinds of conflicts - see also people like George Fraser in the 19th century who outlined the difference between "magic" and "religion" at a time of rampant Colonialism.

I have a headache and should stop writing this comment, but it's really interesting to look at why we see religion the way we often do, as something so wholly different from science.
posted by teponaztli at 7:38 PM on August 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also I'm really not trying to make myself out to be an expert on this based on a semester's worth of lectures and reading (and a copy of The Discarded Image next to my bed). It's just really interesting to look at how our views were shaped over time.
posted by teponaztli at 7:44 PM on August 18, 2016


Wands are very much part of a historical English tradition

I can't help doubting that. One reason it's difficult for me to treat magic wands with respect is that they don't seem to me to have any real roots outside fairy stories. I understand that in the case of a crucifix or a menorah, even though there's nothing inherently special there, the fact that they've been woven into the lives of believers for many generations calls for cultural respect.

Wands are different. I'm no expert, but I've read bits and pieces and never heard of personal wands for believers in ancient paganism, whether classical or Anglo-Saxon. It seems awfully like something people who have made up their own beliefs rather recently have decided to adopt. They're fully entitled to do that, and I don't think they're obliged to sell them as toys; but they're not really entitled to claim I'm dissing their ancient culture if I nevertheless see wands as joke-shop items.

In fact, I claim the Anglo-Saxons wore their pagan religion relatively lightly, and always tended to pragmatism and common sense. That's a tradition I'm somewhat proud of, and if I were only a little more pompous than I already am, I could claim to be mildly offended by people falsifying that rather sceptical and empirical history to justify their own invented practices.
posted by Segundus at 3:25 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


spiritual disrespect

I expected somebody who honestly believes they're tapped into and can manipulate universal energies to have thicker skin. I know if that's what I believed I wouldn't give a fig about anything clueless mortals had to say. Weren't there any stoic druids?

I disrespect a great many ideas, particularly those not grounded in reality. At one end there are not-so-nice things like racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia, and climate change denial. In the middle, the strange but probably harmless - flat earthers, conservatives, lizard conspiracies, religions. But even in day-to-day life, my world view is one that encourages us to challenge everyday notions to see if they hold up - in science, and in philosophy, for example. This challenging and sometimes debunking is to be encouraged and rewarded.

(Those of you playing the 'well, that's just, like, your worldview, man', you reap the rewards of this worldview every day, by not dropping dead of polio, for example, or having access to a global supercomputer network that no amount of facing east and waving knives over fancy cups was ever going to build. No, it's not the same thing as ley lines.)

So what makes throwing 'spiritual' into the mix any different? Why does it get to be held to a different standard? It's important to you, you might say, or so very real, or worthy of defence because it's under attack or marginalised, or even just that it's old or traditional. But that's true of a lot of pretty unpalatable views, or even 'harmless' views that are just wrong. They're not immune to criticism. Nobody says 'you can't hurt that Tea Party person's feelings with your evidence' or 'you can't claim that bacteria cause stomach ulcers, I spent two years on a paper saying they're caused by stress'. Nobody who gets taken seriously, anyway. But say 'Really? It actually turns into your god's blood and flesh? Can you spit some in this GC/MS rig so I can check?' That's a paddlin', for reasons I've never seen satisfactorily explained.

How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters, so there's always going to be at least one of us out there just outright mocking wands, because...well, I'll save it. In that light, you may wish to try not pretending people are going to stop saying 'well, that's bollocks' when you hold fringe beliefs for which there is no tangible evidence whatsoever, for one, and just accept it as part of life. Either those people have something to say, in which case you should listen and reflect, or they don't, in which case you can ignore them, or you don't care, in which case stop appealing to us. And either we get to call out things that aren't true - all of the things - or we have to let some really horrible beliefs have the floor, because they're entitled to the same protection you claim to be, for exactly the same reasons you've put forward.

You may also like to rethink your view that your beliefs have some special get-out-of-jail free card that makes them immune to external critique because they involve things that can't be measured or observed, or just because 'this is a thing some people here practice'. That second one is true, but it's an observation, not a reason or a defence, and it's also true of slavery, or cannibalism, or really liking the Kardashians. Your beliefs need to be able to stand on their own, and if you want to defend them, you need to do so on their merits, not through a veto on criticism derived from...well, personal convenience, frankly. If you want to make your views public, and to have them cross into everyday domains like commerce, be prepared for a public reply, or even ridicule. None of us have a right to be free from that either.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:04 AM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wands are different. I'm no expert, but I've read bits and pieces and never heard of personal wands for believers in ancient paganism, whether classical or Anglo-Saxon.

In classical literature at least, in the Odyssey ράβδος "rhabdos" is the word usually translated into English as "wand" with which Circe, Hermes, and Athena perform what we'd consider feats of magic; also translated as "rod" or "staff" or a variety of other terms in other contexts, such as Ράβδος του Ασκληπιού "Rod of Aesclepius". (Now available as its own emoji: ⚕.)

(Note that because of grammatical case, if you search for this within Greek text you need to look for just the first few characters because the suffix changes.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:31 AM on August 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


obiwanwasabi: " But that's true of a lot of pretty unpalatable views, or even 'harmless' views that are just wrong. They're not immune to criticism. "

No-one is immune to criticism, but...

obiwanwasabi: "it's also true of slavery, or cannibalism"

... some of us are capable of disagreeing with people about religious and scientific questions without resorting to that kind of tendentiousness. The original context for this is a man asking people to consider his spiritual beliefs when they make their purchasing choices about wands... and you have chosen to make an analogy to slavery and cannibalism. Have you considered the possibility that you're overreacting?
posted by langtonsant at 5:48 AM on August 19, 2016 [19 favorites]


I can't help doubting that. One reason it's difficult for me to treat magic wands with respect is that they don't seem to me to have any real roots outside fairy stories. I understand that in the case of a crucifix or a menorah, even though there's nothing inherently special there, the fact that they've been woven into the lives of believers for many generations calls for cultural respect.

As XMLicious points out, this just isn't true. And they just mentioned Greek mythology, although it's been attested in several others, including European (Celtic and Germanic in particular), Asian (Zoroastrianism), and African (pre-Ptolemaic Egyptian) religions. So please don't be part of the problem, do at least a modicum of research before making blanket statements.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:13 AM on August 19, 2016 [11 favorites]


having access to a global supercomputer network that no amount of facing east and waving knives over fancy cups was ever going to build

How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters, so there's always going to be at least one of us out there just outright mocking wands, because...well, I'll save it. In that light, you may wish to try not pretending people are going to stop saying 'well, that's bollocks' when you hold fringe beliefs for which there is no tangible evidence whatsoever, for one, and just accept it as part of life. Either those people have something to say, in which case you should listen and reflect, or they don't, in which case you can ignore them, or you don't care, in which case stop appealing to us.

obiwanwasabi: Did you read this thread? At all? Because you are belittling beliefs, once again (especially with "waving knives over fancy cups," which can be interpreted as being completely dismissive of something that's held by some as one of the most powerful rituals) and stomping in here to declare you're going to continue being an asshole. I really thought we were making progress here.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:24 AM on August 19, 2016 [14 favorites]


I mean, I know you don't care. But it seemed like we had at least reached some sort of respectful detente.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:25 AM on August 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


Good lord, no wonder I spend less and less time here.
posted by malocchio at 7:26 AM on August 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


obiwanwasabi: And either we get to call out things that aren't true - all of the things - or we have to let some really horrible beliefs have the floor, because they're entitled to the same protection you claim to be, for exactly the same reasons you've put forward.

I understand that in the case of a crucifix or a menorah, even though there's nothing inherently special there, the fact that they've been woven into the lives of believers for many generations calls for cultural respect.

These two thoughts seem to be in opposition to one another, no? On the one hand, if you respect any religious symbolism, well that's a slippery slope. But on the other if they're old enough to have become embedded in a culture then they're due a certain amount of respect?

obiwanwasabi: it's also true of slavery, or cannibalism, or really liking the Kardashians.

Seconding that this example seems way over the top.
posted by zarq at 7:27 AM on August 19, 2016


One reason it's difficult for me to treat magic wands with respect is that they don't seem to me to have any real roots outside fairy stories.

The problem with this logic is that some people believe fairy stories.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:36 AM on August 19, 2016


malocchio: "Good lord, no wonder I spend less and less time here."

Yeah, I was kind of hoping this wouldn't happen. I'm so sorry. I'm not sure if it's worth anything to the religious and/or spiritual folks here, but speaking as an academic scientist and an unabashed atheist, I wish we could make it through a basic conversation on these topics without the pointless insults. I find it very sad that we can't meet basic standards of polite conversation here.
posted by langtonsant at 7:36 AM on August 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


And either we get to call out things that aren't true - all of the things - or we have to let some really horrible beliefs have the floor

This kinda feels like declaring an absolute binary for the sake of a binary, though. Like, we must brook no disagreeable thing, allow to stand no doubtful metaphysical assertions, or it will all fall down, etc. When in practice it's actually not difficult to find a middle ground between pushing back against active measurable harm and just rolling your eyes and moving on with your day if someone's just having an opinion you disapprove of or hold in contempt or whatever.

Bringing up, of all things, slavery and cannibalism as if that's the level on which any of this discussion is occurring kind of underscores that feeling of chasing down an absolute for its own sake. If that's the line in the sand you're drawing in this MetaTalk about maybe being more decent to other folks about some species of lazily mocked beliefs, you're not really having the conversation most folks are so much as staking out a new one that benefits the point you'd rather make. I don't think it helps anything at all here to do that; you're bringing a rhetorical cudgel to what's been basically a civil discussion.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:40 AM on August 19, 2016 [15 favorites]


How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters

This is a pretty awful way to participate in a conversation.
posted by beerperson at 7:50 AM on August 19, 2016 [18 favorites]


When in practice it's actually not difficult to find a middle ground between pushing back against active measurable harm and just rolling your eyes and moving on with your day if someone's just having an opinion you disapprove of or hold in contempt or whatever.

I guess what I find troubling about this is that it isn't at all clear what that acceptable middle ground—in this particular forum—is. Is the only acceptable middle ground to roll our eyes and move along? I mean I can do that and it's not going to make my life appreciably worse if I do, but given that participation here is characterized by write and response, to instruct us to roll our eyes instead of responding is essentially a request not to participate. Which, again, if that's what the "middle ground" is, fine. But I think it's worth being very clear about.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:53 AM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


octobersurprise: "I guess what I find troubling about this is that it isn't at all clear what that acceptable middle ground—in this particular forum—is."

I think that's a legitimate question - my perspective on it is to try to judge when it's relevant that I push back. If the original FPP had been a story about a pagan wanting to include wands as a part of government funded medical care, for instance, I'd be very strongly inclined to disagree vehemently (but politely) with the substance of pagan beliefs because medical care is a context in which it really matters who is right and who is wrong about the objective state of nature. The FPP that prompted this MeTa? Not so much. The incident with the shopkeeper was a situation where it doesn't really matter whose beliefs are true: no-one's rights were infringed, no-one's health was imperilled, etc. I think that's a great candidate for chilling out and letting people talk about their beliefs. To me, that's a decent middle ground: don't fight people over beliefs until you absolutely have to.
posted by langtonsant at 8:08 AM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I mean I can do that and it's not going to make my life appreciably worse if I do, but given that participation here is characterized by write and response, to instruct us to roll our eyes instead of responding is essentially a request not to participate.

Honestly, my experience over the years with a lot of situations with this kind of conflict has been that there are plenty of folks who could, in fact, probably improve both their experience on the site and that of other community members by nudging up the "maybe I should just quietly roll my eyes and not respond" meter by, like, 10%. Just a small nudge there seems like it'd end up helping a lot.

Because there's not a simple, clean, binary answer to this. There's not an absolute to fall back on. It is, in fact, sort of a messy stew of tension between conversation as the native medium here and discretion being a valuable tool in discourse.

I mean, I roll my eyes at a lot of shit. Sometimes I holler at my screen a little. And yet...things are okay when that's where I leave it, even if it's not viscerally satisfying the way digging into it with someone would be. Things are, in a lot of cases, better specifically for my having just gotten on with my day.

And it's something you have to make a call about, and think about as you go. There's not a never/always rule that will work here. It's about more complicated stuff like reading the room, empathizing with where the other person is coming from, being willing to really frankly assess whether what you feel compelled to say is going to improve the conversation or just feel personally satisfying/vindicating/righteous.

All of which is stuff that applies to basically every kind of conversation on the site; it's not novel to, or special pleading for, religious/spiritual/metaphysical stuff; we talk about this kind of thing across the board when it comes up. And it feels like in general most folks recognize the basic communitarian worth in those ideas, but everybody's got something or other where it breaks down a little for them because we've all got our hot spots and personal annoyances and shit that pushes our buttons. Which is totally understandable on a human level but it can lead to sort of crappy outcomes nonetheless.

So, yes? Sometimes taking a deep breath and letting something go and declining to participate can be a good decision. Not always, not universally, not some sort of new fundamental rubric of MetaFilter where if you can't agree with someone then don't comment, or anything remotely approaching that. But I feel like sometimes folks are a little allergic to just giving it a miss now and then even if they're annoyed. And I think fighting down that reaction, and being willing to just decide not to be the person to shine the cold hard light of truth on somebody's clearly incorrect opinion, is a pretty worthwhile part of interacting in a community context.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:09 AM on August 19, 2016 [14 favorites]


To me, that's a decent middle ground: don't fight people over beliefs until you absolutely have to.

By that logic, why do we have this MeTa at all? My understanding is that the problem in the original thread was "spiritual disrespect" caused by snarking about how special one particular dude thought that his wands were. There wasn't a "fight" until not taking him seriously became of question of not taking MeFites seriously.

I'm not saying that this MeTa shouldn't have been posted. I'm just saying "don't fight over beliefs unless you have to" is a standard that believers are probably not likely to be happy with abiding by.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:16 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm just saying "don't fight over beliefs unless you have to" is a standard that believers are probably not likely to be happy with abiding by.

Doesn't seem to me that the issue here has been with believers.
posted by maxsparber at 8:23 AM on August 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


There wasn't a "fight" until not taking him seriously became of question of not taking MeFites seriously.

People were discussing the level of snark in the main post.

I'm not saying that this MeTa shouldn't have been posted. I'm just saying "don't fight over beliefs unless you have to" is a standard that believers are probably not likely to be happy with abiding by.

It was the non-believers who weren't abiding by it on the Blue, which prompted this meta.
posted by zarq at 8:27 AM on August 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters

Oh, awesome. Yeah fuck other people's feelings about their utterly harmless spiritual belief systems; these people need to hear THE TRUTH.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2016 [20 favorites]


How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters

God, this is like the aleph of Metafilter. I read this and immediately became an arahant.
posted by selfnoise at 8:29 AM on August 19, 2016 [14 favorites]


By the way, between this and the Semenya posts and some other stuff I've noticed, I'm wondering if we're due for a "please for the love of god frame your posts better" MeTa.
posted by selfnoise at 8:46 AM on August 19, 2016


(by this I mean the metafilter thread on wands, not this meta. Sorry)
posted by selfnoise at 8:47 AM on August 19, 2016


People were discussing the level of snark in the main post.

It was the non-believers who weren't abiding by it on the Blue, which prompted this meta.


My point is that there was no "fight" until people started complaining about snark. I am not saying that the complaining was wrong. I'm just saying that if the standard is "don't fight" then complaining about snark violates the standard.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:05 AM on August 19, 2016


I think some people don't see disagreement as "fighting" and they see the line elsewhere. Like complaining is one thing, going after members is a different thing. I think different folks here come down on different parts of that number line but clearly "What constitutes strong disagreement" is not something we all agree on.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:19 AM on August 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


My point is that there was no "fight" until people started complaining about snark. I am not saying that the complaining was wrong. I'm just saying that if the standard is "don't fight" then complaining about snark violates the standard.

I'm sure people would like to reserve the right to mock religious beliefs without being challenged on it, yes. Doesn't mean that's going to happen.

What langtonsant said wasn't "don't fight." It was "To me, that's a decent middle ground: don't fight people over beliefs until you absolutely have to."

There were around 20-25 snarky comments that preceded the first comment from FirstMateKate in the thread expressing her disappointment for how the thread was going. Virtually the entire thread was made up of snark until that moment.

What she said was:
I understand this is easy to snark at, especially given the phrasing, but this amount of snark is disappointing (yes, I flagged the dern post). This guys spends time and energy making objects for religious* purposes, and has a problem with people treating them like toys. That's not really unreasonable. *But it's not your religion, so it's silly, right?

But maybe it's just me, since I'm one of those Millennials. ...
The responses to her seemed aggressive. And the thread devolved from there.
posted by zarq at 9:29 AM on August 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm not going fully dissect the thread but I count one response to that comment by FirstMateKate, and it was neither snarky nor aggressive.

The responses to that response (then the responses after, generally along the train of "this is a religious freedom/freedom from religion" issue) are where I believe the "fightiness" of the original thread to have begun.

The fact that we are calling out individual comments like this is further evidence to me that: don't fight people over beliefs until you absolutely have to is an unworkable standard because the definitions of "fight," "have to," (and to a certain extent, "beliefs") will vary based on any given MeFite's beliefs (which is a bit of irony right there).

The original ask of this MeTa, to be respectful of other's beliefs is somewhat more achievable (even though "respectful" might look different to different people).
posted by sparklemotion at 10:37 AM on August 19, 2016


Is the only acceptable middle ground to roll our eyes and move along? I mean I can do that and it's not going to make my life appreciably worse if I do, but given that participation here is characterized by write and response, to instruct us to roll our eyes instead of responding is essentially a request not to participate.

Yes! Instead of saying something hurtful and ignorant about someone's deeply held spiritual beliefs, just roll your eyes and move along. That's exactly it! This is my request for people not to participate in these exact situations. Roll your eyes really hard if it helps.
posted by naju at 11:32 AM on August 19, 2016 [12 favorites]




The original ask of this MeTa, to be respectful of other's beliefs is somewhat more achievable (even though "respectful" might look different to different people).

That's the rub, isn't it? I mean, if you stick to just the idea that maybe be less lolpagans, sure it all seems quite reasonable. But that's not where this thread stops, because if you go beyond that at all, ask why, want to know where in the line of faith-based reality you are being asked to treat with respect, the answers come all over the place. And for an example from the thread, Scientologists don't do me any direct harm, but I don't have to think they're arseholes to also find their beliefs worthy of comment - and for that matter, the harm they do to their adherents could be cause for enough concern, even if someone raised Scientologist started getting upset about how their religion was treated on MetaFilter.

There's been a lot of things said after the initial post that are much further afield than AlexiaSky's original request, but disagreement with those points inevitably gets treated as if the user is only disagreeing with the idea of being more respectful to other Mefites with alternative belief systems. As sparklemotion points out, a lot more is being asked, including taking seemingly reasonable-sounding statements but taking someone else's definitions of words like 'harm', 'respect' and even 'reasonable'.

naju: Instead of saying something hurtful and ignorant about someone's deeply held spiritual beliefs

Eye-rolling and not commenting shouldn't only be reserved for commenting on spiritual beliefs - and frankly it's not just the nonbelievers who need to do it more often.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Roll your eyes really hard if it helps.

See, sarcasm is fun. I'll bet that was satisfying.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:50 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


You know, when you have to invent a whole bunch of what if circumstances where an imaginary Scientologist gets upset with us and what can we do then because we are apparently never allowed to be critical, well, you're no longer forwarding the discussion. I don't expect you're participating in bad faith, but this is the definition of a bad faith argument.
posted by maxsparber at 11:51 AM on August 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


Roll your eyes really hard if it helps.

See, sarcasm is fun. I'll bet that was satisfying.


I was having fun, but I wasn't being sarcastic! Whatever helps one sublimate the desire to be a snarky, hurtful asshole in that particular context (and others, but that's outside of the scope of this meta) is good. Seriously, no joking.
posted by naju at 11:53 AM on August 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


Scientology has been used as an example. The idea of a Scientologist coming and saying they are upset with how they're being portrayed isn't some astounding leap from the topic of this thread, unless you think Scientology is less deserving of being treated with respect than other alternative religious beliefs - and if so, why that's where the line is drawn is a valid question to ask.

You could have eye-rolled and not commented there, and you didn't because you thought it was worth saying something.
posted by gadge emeritus at 12:00 PM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


The idea of a Scientologist coming and saying they are upset with how they're being portrayed isn't some astounding leap from the topic of this thread,

Well, when it happens, let's address it then, because in this fiction I don't know the circumstances of the person being upset. I do know the circumstances of the neopagans being upset in this specific, actual circumstance, and moving away from something that is actually happening to a fantasy of what might happen is not germane to this. This isn't even a thread about religion in general -- it is specifically a thread about recognizing that there are neopagans that are on MetaFilter and not being all lolpagan for no reason at all, and nobody has said it is impossible to criticize paganism (although apparently on MetaFilters asking for informed criticism is too much.)

So that's the conversation I am willing to entertain, not the one that you are manufacturing.
If it helps, I both commented and rolled my eyes.
posted by maxsparber at 12:06 PM on August 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm not going fully dissect the thread but I count one response to that comment by FirstMateKate, and it was neither snarky nor aggressive.

kafziel made numerous comments in that thread (and one in this one) discussing religious discrimination and trying to explain why they felt that what the shopkeeper was doing was not legally defensible. I'm also not interested in nitpicking whether the discussion around the topic -- which kafziel only raised once FirstMateKate made her initial comment -- was in direct response to her or not. FMK initiated that part of the conversation.

The fact that we are calling out individual comments like this is further evidence to me that: don't fight people over beliefs until you absolutely have to is an unworkable standard because the definitions of "fight," "have to," (and to a certain extent, "beliefs") will vary based on any given MeFite's beliefs (which is a bit of irony right there).

The phrase used was, "until you absolutely have to." Which is a subjective measurement and clearly not a definition of a hard and fast guideline. Metafilter "standards" are nearly all subjective: there are very few hard and fast guidelines on this site. The mods treat each discussion or conflict as an individual incident, addressing each on a case by case basis. We have been encouraged to think similarly about interpersonal conflicts and other issues by the Mod Team. That aspect of site culture has existed for many years.

Subjective standards vary, yes. That doesn't mean they are unworkable. Nor does it mean that they're necessarily subject to rules lawyering. It simply means that each situation is different and dealing with them individually allows more flexibility than a rule that's set in stone.
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on August 19, 2016


Rereading the main thread, I have to correct myself....

kafziel's first comment on the topic of religious discrimination was immediately before FirstMateKate's. Their second comment in the thread was directed to FMK.
posted by zarq at 12:24 PM on August 19, 2016


maxsparber, I'm not making the thread about some fictional person complaining, I was using them as an example of how no, this thread hasn't just been about recognising there are neopagans on MetaFilter, but it has gone further afield than that, including at points yes, being about religion in general. You yourself took part in those parts of the thread, so I'd have thought you'd have noticed them.

And I was also making the specific point that any disagreement about later points was always brought back to being assumed the commenter was disagreeing with the original post. Which, surprise! You did exactly that.

Noticeably, you might see that I didn't actually state my position on AlexiaSky's original post, after all, which I have no problem with. It's later comments, including one I already addressed, that I've taken issue with. But considering your response, I'm pretty certain continuing to respond to you would count as its own continuation of a bad faith discussion.
posted by gadge emeritus at 12:26 PM on August 19, 2016


Oh yes. I forgot that really shitty bomb you dropped into this thread early on, which, at best, should have been in the original thread and not this one, where it would merely have been shitty rather than shitty and misplaced.

I don't really keep track of individuals, but rather respond to specific points. If I had realized you were the "but what about Christians who hate gays" poster, I would not have bothered.
posted by maxsparber at 12:29 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whatever helps one sublimate the desire to be a snarky, hurtful asshole in that particular context ...

Hey, I didn't even comment in that thread. It was all a manufactured controversy and it shouldn't have been left to stand.

At the same time, apparently I'm not the only one to feel that some of the points of contention here are precisely that A) there's only the broadest agreement on the distinction between "disrespect," "criticism," and "snark." Is it disrespectful to use crystals as a jocular synecdoche? Broomsticks? Is it disrespectful to say "I put on my robe and Wizards hat?" I genuinely don't know. B) there's only the broadest agreement on what "spirituality" even is and C) there isn't even any agreement on who gets to write and who should just roll their eyes.

nobody has said it is impossible to criticize paganism

No one's said that as such, no. It has been intimated very strongly however, that in lieu addressing any spiritual belief with anything less than respect—that word itself being not too clearly defined in practice—we should just roll our eyes and not say anything at all. Such an attitude—and again, it isn't clear if such an attitude is endorsed by the house or the members—doesn't prohibit criticism in theory, but it makes it hard to imagine what an actual criticism would be like in practice.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:32 PM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


It has been intimated very strongly however, that in lieu addressing any spiritual belief with anything less than respect—that word itself being not too clearly defined in practice—we should just roll our eyes and not say anything at all.

I'm sorry, but I'm not getting this at all. Asking that criticism be informed and on-topic rather than lazy, uninformed, and jokey is not intimating anything of the sort.
posted by maxsparber at 12:34 PM on August 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


The comment was made in this thread to defend the wand-seller that No one is obligated to sell you anything. Which runs counter to my experience of every discussion about shopkeepers using religion as a grounds to not serve customers. running order squabble fest's response covered that whole point rather well, I thought.

Misplaced, possibly, I'll grant you. But shitty? That's all on you.
posted by gadge emeritus at 12:36 PM on August 19, 2016


Let me be clearer: You seem to only be able to understand neopaganism by comparing it to a different religion and behavior in a different religion that we mutually agree is problematic. Christians denying services to gays. Scientologists.

Maybe you don't like to have it called shitty, but it is definitely not the best way to engage with the topic.
posted by maxsparber at 12:42 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I think Cortex was right a while back that this thread is no longer serving its stated purpose, and I think selfnoises link was right, that there will always be people threading the needle and working the refs about what extent they get to be shitty, and I don't want to be part of that at the tail end of this thread.

I can't close the thread, but I'm removing it from my activity.
posted by maxsparber at 12:49 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really hate MetaTalk thread closures when people are still talking.
posted by lalex at 12:55 PM on August 19, 2016


There's a thing that happens in MetaTalk discussions sometimes, and I feel like it's in play here, where the lack of a super concrete resolution of mushy grey-area questions ends up being treated as a lack of any way to proceed.

And I get that how much this is true for someone and how they process guidance or limits or notional problem-solving or -analysis proposals legitimately varies from person to person. For some folks, "just try and be thoughtful about it and go with the flow when it comes up case-by-case in practice" is somewhere between merely not satisfying and genuinely kinda discomfiting. Wanting to know where the line is, what the boundaries are, how to know whether future act x is or is not going to be considered out of line: that's just sort of where some folks' headspace is on this sort of thing. And I basically sympathize with that. I don't think there's any shortage of it, in varying degrees, in the MeFi community.

But it's also part of what tends to take these conversations in frustrating loops. And it tends to make what could be a kind of reasonable, no-big-deal idea like "hey, maybe make an effort to throttle back on the lazy paganism wooooo jokes" without any real broader implications, into an entrenched, unsolvable dilemma about hypotheticals. Where the conversation leads from "here's a general strategy that will probably work well enough" to searching out "yeah but what if" examples designed to break or refute imagined grounds for that strategy, we move away form trying to make stuff work practically in the community to, I don't even know, trying to prove that it can't or won't? Trying to argue against making a sort of mushy, human, error-prone but basically reasonable effort because it's not watertight against this or that trolley problem.

In practice, if there's a what if that turns into an actual thing we need to deal with on the site as far as, what'll happen is we'll deal with it then, and sort it out in context, and roll that into the site's collective experience dealing with such stuff. That's an okay outcome, and it's the practical one for the site and basically always how MetaFilter works. It's far more practical than getting into a kind of dead-end search for an unambiguous and unanimous solution to complicated, contextually-dependent swaths of possible future discussion and analogical propositions.

I feel like we're in that kind of entrenched loop here, and there's been stretches of bonus animosity here and there in this thread that aren't making it any easier to get out of it. Probably the best available option at this point is for folks to collectively step back a bit and kill the loop manually that way.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:55 PM on August 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


What is frustrating, to me, about these loops is that, in the end, the conversation is catered to those "but what if" people, instead of the people the conversation was originally about. Not posting a LOLwhatever comment is way easier than posting it. And it's frustrating, to me, to see a conversation shut down because some people double down on their insistence to keep making their LOLwhatever comments.
posted by Ruki at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


At the same time, apparently I'm not the only one to feel that some of the points of contention here are precisely that A) there's only the broadest agreement on the distinction between "disrespect," "criticism," and "snark." Is it disrespectful to use crystals as a jocular synecdoche? Broomsticks? Is it disrespectful to say "I put on my robe and Wizards hat?" I genuinely don't know.

In response to what effectively amounts to "don't be a snarky, hurtful asshole," you and others seem to be demanding an airtight, thorough, context-independent rulebook for what precisely constitutes being a snarky, hurtful asshole and when not to be one. And in lieu of that rulebook, you and others seem to be saying you have no responsibility to even try. Even if someone worked hard to make one, people would default to saying that it's too complicated or oppressive and against the speech standards of the site. Neither the mods nor anyone in this thread can provide such a rulebook that would account for all of the questions anyone could ever have. It's not possible or desirable. We just have to trust that people can intuit this stuff to an extent, talk about their concerns re: hurtful remarks in threads like this to solidify community norms, and if needed, moderate out comments that don't meet the standards. Like we've always done.
posted by naju at 1:07 PM on August 19, 2016 [22 favorites]


this to solidify community norms, and if needed, moderate out comments that don't meet the standards.

Which is exactly why people are asking what are those standards.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:15 PM on August 19, 2016


Mostly that tends to collapse back to the old MeFi ur-dictum, "don't be an asshole", with a lot of accounting for context for the grey areas and a sort of rolling community feedback process on stuff that's maybe or maybe not getting enough attention when said stuff comes up in practice.

So, like: where is the precise line between reasonable critical or jokey commentary on some religious thing and unreasonable or assholish? I don't know! I really can't tell you, in abstract and up front, an answer to that question. A standard as a codified list of okay and not okay future comments is unworkable.

What I can say is, hey, this post is a good nudge to folks to think a little bit when they're commenting in this territory. And then...comment! Or don't! Based on your reasonable assessment. And if a comment ends up seeming out of line, it'll likely get addressed or deleted or both. And if it's a one-off sort of thing, that's basically, whatever, a day in the life and nobody's gonna blink too hard about it. And if it's a real consistent habit, some user who seems like they're consistently and repeatedly doing a bad job of that whole reasonable-assessment thing, a mod will end up talking it out with them some.

If the goal of laying out a standard is to avoid any of those possibilities, I can understand that goal but it's not a practical or achievable one. Participation here is never so clean or simple; it can't be with the resources and community size and level of activity we have. So it's live fire exercises and sometimes a comment one person thought was a good idea will get a bad reception from other users; sometimes a mod will intercede; sometimes an attempt at a reasonable guess will flop for any of a variety of reasons. It's the nature of the thing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


At the same time, apparently I'm not the only one to feel that some of the points of contention here are precisely that A) there's only the broadest agreement on the distinction between "disrespect," "criticism," and "snark." Is it disrespectful to use crystals as a jocular synecdoche? Broomsticks? Is it disrespectful to say "I put on my robe and Wizards hat?" I genuinely don't know. B) there's only the broadest agreement on what "spirituality" even is and C) there isn't even any agreement on who gets to write and who should just roll their eyes.

You're not the only one, but it really seems like most people can figure out how not to be jerks without an unreasonable amount of hand-holding and term-defining.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:30 PM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Which is exactly why people are asking what are those standards.

Same as it's always been. Try to be civil to each other. That's it. If arguments get bad the mods will step in.

The level of animosity shown on metatilter towards religion and religious folks is really, really high and has been for years. Declarations that religion and theists are the root of all the world's evil happen. We've had Mormon and Catholic members told that they are sanctioning every single thing their Churches do, including the persecution of LGBTQ folks and child molestation by priests. Jewish folks, including me, told we're mutilating our children by circumcising them. In addition, lots of misinformation about religious practices and beliefs have wound up in thread comments over the years. In most cases, the mods delete the worst comments and sometimes they will reprimand repeat offenders. But usually, conversations about those topics don't see a ton of mod intervention. We've had problems in the past where a theist who is being piled on gets told to stop participating, and the rest of the thread is told to stop piling on. Which means both victim and mob were being treated equally.
posted by zarq at 1:33 PM on August 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


In response to what effectively amounts to "don't be a snarky, hurtful asshole," you and others seem to be demanding an airtight, thorough, context-independent rulebook for what precisely constitutes being a snarky, hurtful asshole and when not to be one.

I think that what's frustrating to those of us trying to "rules lawyer" this, is that most of us don't want to be hurtful assholes, and we didn't think we were.

Similarly, I'm sure I'm not the only one who understands that the early comments in the original thread were hurtful, in hindsight, after we were made aware of a whole bunch of things we didn't know before. So like, we don't (and probably shouldn't) believe ourselves to be "assholes." And it's not like "more thought" would have encouraged us to make different comments.

We've already had threads where, I think, the consensus was that snark, sarcasm, humor, piss-taking, etc. are part of the language of this community. So, I don't think expecting people not to snark ever is reasonable.

So it comes down to a question of not being "hurtful assholes." The "asshole" part is simple -- don't be hurtful on purpose. But "hurt" is seen through the eyes of the victim, and none of us are mindreaders. Yes, empathy is a thing -- but regardless of what Star Trek might tell us, you can't be empathic with something you don't understand. There is literally nothing that could be said in a thread on MetaFilter that would feel like "spiritual disrespect" to me. So I try to figure out what feels like "spiritual disrespect" to others (and even better -- why).

So we try to figure out the rules. Which means puzzling out what's being asked and why and comparing to similar situations and posing hypotheticals, and testing possible rules with thought experiments. It's obnoxious that our efforts to understand others are being met with assumptions that we can't "figure out how not to be jerks."
posted by sparklemotion at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another way to think about it:

Even the best of us occassionally step in it. And then something happens like this thread being made... someone says "Hey, this was hurtful and offensive".

Once this happens, unless there's a very special circumstance with huge stakes, the correct response is always to BELIEVE THEM. And then chill.

If you don't, I can confirm that you are being an asshole.
posted by selfnoise at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


you and others seem to be demanding an airtight, thorough, context-independent rulebook for what precisely constitutes being a snarky, hurtful asshole and when not to be one

Or there's a distinction between being a snarky, hurtful arsehole on purpose and by accident and people are trying to get a better read on where the line is being put so as not to cross it. Or they're trying to figure out when snarky, hurtful arsehole behaviour isn't uncommon here, when it's OK vs. when it's not. Because a number of the users most loudly accusing others of bad behaviour are very proficient in it themselves, but only on 'acceptable' topics.

Or, even, and here's a thought, some people have difficulty with freeform social interactions and need the vague social guidelines being discussed to have more defined boundaries because it's how brains work sometimes.

There's a number of reasons people are asking questions and pushing back, and sure, some of them are because they want to stay snarky and dismissive, but some of them aren't. That could be useful to bear in mind, rather than presuming everyone is attacking out of a desire to be cruel.
posted by gadge emeritus at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Have a modicum of respect for religious beliefs and spiritual practices and don't jump into a thread making fun of them.

That's like the entirety of what this thread is asking for. If you are trying to make a joke by employing someone's beliefs, you are probably being an asshole. Pretty simple rubric, honestly.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:41 PM on August 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


And this is a great example of how there's differing viewpoints being discussed. Because for every point someone makes about the sanctity of beliefs, they always leave room for an exception, for when it's OK to not take something seriously, for when the snark is warranted. Whether it be 'a special circumstance' or 'when it's harming others' or 'unless you absolutely have to'.

But if you leave those as they are, just accept those limitations and move on, they can very much come across as 'You can't do it, but if I judge it necessary, I can'. Because we have differing definitions of when it's warranted, getting into more than just 'don't be an arsehole' makes it more than just people trying to make each other accept their limits, without putting them on themselves.
posted by gadge emeritus at 1:43 PM on August 19, 2016


We all evolve our understandings and learn and process and try to be better. Totally fine.

I haven't detected anything in the tones of the dissenters in this thread that amounts to this: "Wow. I guess I really messed up without even realizing it. I'm sorry. I'd like to get a better read on this sort of thing so I don't make the same mistakes again. Can we hear more about what the problems are so I can avoid them? If you're willing to share." That would be a relief to see. I could do my part to understand all of this better, god knows.

Instead it's been combative, defensive and even included that one comment, "How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters", so I'm at least responding accordingly. If people are doing that, then they can't also argue that it's a good faith, innocent desire to learn, grow, and be better. But I mean, it's still totally possible to - a little bit of stepping back and chilling out sounds like a good step?
posted by naju at 1:47 PM on August 19, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm not making exceptions. I think people should not mock one another over beliefs. I may strongly disagree with someone, but that's no reason to talk down to them, belittle them or LOLSKYWIZARD them.

I may not always live up to that standard, but boy do I try. And for me, it's not about sanctity of beliefs. It's entirely about being a respectful human being who doesn't want to accidentally insult or start a fight.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:48 PM on August 19, 2016 [6 favorites]


Or, even, and here's a thought, some people have difficulty with freeform social interactions and need the vague social guidelines being discussed to have more defined boundaries because it's how brains work sometimes.

I'm sympathetic to this point, but speaking as someone who very much has one of these brains (I have a doctor's note and everything!), I find the Metafilter model of having my comments deleted or someone writing "hey, that was a mean thing to say" more useful than trying to nail down very precise standards about what is hurtful and what isn't. Long MetaTalk threads tend to give me a headache with their labyrinth of hypotheticals and inexact analogies and weighing of abstract concepts against each other. But somebody like AlexiaSky saying "I thought this was dismissive; can we put more thought in, please" is a thing I can easily understand. This isn't to say people shouldn't discuss site guidelines or norms (or that everyone thinks just like me), just to say that I think it's more practically useful in a social sense to pay attention to members' feelings first, and that the need to exhaustively interrogate these requests from every possible angle can make conversations worse.

I haven't detected anything in the tones of the dissenters in this thread that amounts to this: "Wow. I guess I really messed up without even realizing it. I'm sorry. I'd like to get a better read on this sort of thing so I don't make the same mistakes again. Can we hear more about what the problems are so I can avoid them? If you're willing to share."

Man, I wish. Can you imagine what the internet would be like if people had that response more often?
posted by thetortoise at 2:15 PM on August 19, 2016 [13 favorites]


Have a modicum of respect for religious beliefs and spiritual practices and don't jump into a thread making fun of them.

At the risk of looping the conversation back, it has been well established that it was not clear (to everyone) at the beginning of the original thread that religious beliefs or spiritual practices were even involved.

I haven't detected anything in the tones of the dissenters in this thread that amounts to this: "Wow. I guess I really messed up without even realizing it. I'm sorry. I'd like to get a better read on this sort of thing so I don't make the same mistakes again. Can we hear more about what the problems are so I can avoid them? If you're willing to share."

It seems to me that that's one of the problems with trying to read text for tone. Because I'm not the only person who has mea culpaed in this MeTa (and the original thread) that we didn't really grok 1.) where the shop keeper was coming from or 2.) how that relates to the beliefs of mefites (aka Wow. I guess I really messed up...)

And people have been climbing all over the "dissenters" for "rules lawyering" for asking questions that amount to I'd like to get a better read on this sort of thing so I don't make the same mistakes again.

And all of that has been wrapped up in an environment of scorn for the evil skeptics who are being so unreasonably cruel to people because of their beliefs. Not to mention explicit comments accusing Metafilter of being hostile to religion when the chances of someone getting away with trying to explain their actions from an Atheist point of view wouldn't get tarred with a Richard Dawkins brush and dipped in islamophobia/LOLxtian feathers is pretty damn low.

Given all that, while I won't defend "How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters" I think I understand the frustration from which it came.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:18 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


So we try to figure out the rules. Which means puzzling out what's being asked and why and comparing to similar situations and posing hypotheticals, and testing possible rules with thought experiments. It's obnoxious that our efforts to understand others are being met with assumptions that we can't "figure out how not to be jerks."

I don't get it. "Figuring out the rules" is the same thing as "figuring out how not to be a jerk". Most people on MeFi can figure out the rules of how not to be a jerk regarding Paganism after reading the start of this MetaTalk (or at least after reading the whole thing), but a small handful can't figure it out.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:31 PM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Or rather, a small handful haven't figured it out yet. It's not like it's an impossibility.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:32 PM on August 19, 2016


Ok, but now that this thread has happened I hope people can stop being defensive about not having grokked it this time, and next time they can notice and do better. No one has to be perfect or get this right every time! But if when it gets pointed out the entire reponse is "but I didn't knooooow" instead of "ok, now I know and I'll do better" that's just disheartening.

Like just because it wasn't clear this time doesn't mean people can't do better next time. That is the request on the table. People can grow, right?
posted by stoneweaver at 2:33 PM on August 19, 2016 [11 favorites]


sparklemotion: "And people have been climbing all over the "dissenters" for "rules lawyering" for asking questions that amount to I'd like to get a better read on this sort of thing so I don't make the same mistakes again."

I think I understand your frustration here. I often find myself in a situation where I accidentally hurt someone by crossing a line that I didn't know was there, or breaking a rule that I don't really understand. I hate that feeling - I never want to hurt people, and it distresses me when I realise that I have done so and I still don't understand how I did it. My distress and frustration makes me want to "rules lawyer" a bit -- to probe further to work out what's going on so that I can come up with a new guideline that would stop it from happening again. On the other hand, I also find that when I actually do this I have a tendency to come across like I'm JAQing off, or being defensive, or trying to justify the hurtful things I said originally, and that tends to compound the problem because it makes the person I hurt feel even worse. And it's genuinely frustrating, because I want to work out what I did wrong and why, but asking the questions that I feel would help me just makes everything worse for others.

For what it's worth (which might not be much) my current approach to those situations has been to try to be willing to offer my apologies first (and be humble and generous in those apologies to the extent that my ego will allow), and leave my questions for a little later. What I try to do is wait until folks seem calmer and then ask my questions in more of a careful way. If that fails and I still seem to be pissing people off, maybe it's something I should leave for another time entirely. I'm not sure if you would find that to be a useful strategy, but I find it helpful!
posted by langtonsant at 2:39 PM on August 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


Stop looping back to this particular thread and the fpp. Stop talking about how it wasn't clear. We get it. It's kinda ok. You can let it go.

Take it and apply it next time wands or woo or crystals comes up. Loop over. Lessons applied. Good faith restored.

I'm a socially awkward autistic woman. I totally get needing guidance. The guidance here is: don't mock people. It's ok if you did in the past, you don't need to defend it. Just don't do it next time.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:40 PM on August 19, 2016 [21 favorites]


It's also worth noting that multiple people are speaking on the same topic here. I know people say that being snarky is integral to the site, but personally, I wish it weren't. That's my opinion and I don't expect anyone else to agree with that, but when I say I don't abide by dismissive comments about people's beliefs, that's where I'm coming from.

That doesn't mean it's the community's problem any nor than it's mine. Like any other community, there are ways that I don't feel compatible with kind of the general sentiment on some things. I can kick and push back because no none sees my point of view, and I have done that to my embarrassment. But really it's ok to not be 100% with everyone all the time. No one is. That's what cortex meant about rolling your eyes and moving on.

I am deeply, deeply afraid of accidentally hurting people, and I've closed my account over thinking I've crossed that line. I get the fear, but there is no rule to abide by. If you want to be able to say negative things about something, there's always that risk you're going to offend someone. I take that risk all the time.

The best advice I've gotten for this site is to just be willing to let things go and let people think you're wrong. If you really don't believe you did something wrong, there's a point where you just have to chalk it up to being something you don't see eye to eye with everyone. It's better to do that than dig in and take on all comers. I'm happier here when I keep that in mind.
posted by teponaztli at 2:49 PM on August 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


Ok, but now that this thread has happened I hope people can stop being defensive about not having grokked it this time, and next time they can notice and do better.

There's a couple of things to unpack here, but I'm suspecting that they are linked in a different order in my mind than in others.

next time they can notice and do better comes first to me. If I want to do better next time, I need to understand what went wrong this time. And while it's easy and flippant to say "the lesson from the thread was don't make fun of wands, move on already," next time, it won't be wands.

Which leads to: I hope people can stop being defensive about not having grokked it this time

There's nothing more "defensive" than claiming that "I'm not being defensive," but I'm going to try. No one in this thread has claimed that the fact that the original jokes were born of ignorance is a defense for the fact that the jokes hurt. But AlexiaSky asked "how can we do this better?" and to some people, apparently "this" means "talk about wands" and yeah, that question is pretty much settled.

The reason why I'm still poking around in this thread is that to me "this" is the larger question of not insulting people's beliefs, and this thread seems like a reasonable place to seek out answers to THAT question because not everyone who gets hurt by a comment is going to post a meta about it.

I've learned a lot in this thread, but there is still and awful lot of this happening: "I don't get it" "Just don't be a jerk, what's not to get?!" "but... I don't get it -- would I be a jerk if I did X?" "Ugh, we aren't talking about X you jerk, why won't you even try to not be a jerk?" "but... I'm trying not to be a jerk" "No you aren't, you've been a jerk since the beginning and now you're just trying to justify your jerkiness, you jerk"
posted by sparklemotion at 3:16 PM on August 19, 2016


> At the risk of looping the conversation back, it has been well established that it was not clear (to everyone) at the beginning of the original thread that religious beliefs or spiritual practices were even involved.

Okay, so here is the crux of the problem. I propose a solution:

If all you know of a certain belief is that it's considered risible, or that it's "flaky," go find out more about it.

This seems to be a classic case where one side must be willing to be educated, and the other must take some time to educate. I see a lot of attempts at education going on in this thread that seem not to be getting through. Why might this be? This question is sincere and not intended to condescend.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 4:32 PM on August 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


It's a very typical behavior that keeps resurfacing no matter what.

Most of you have been great, but as always, it's the one or two people that just CAN'T. LET. GO. that inflict disproportionate harm to the community.
posted by malocchio at 4:40 PM on August 19, 2016 [7 favorites]


It was the name-calling near the beginning of the original thread that I found most distasteful -- the statements that straightforwardly said that the wand purveyor was a sad, low-life loser. If people could avoid those kinds of comments in the future, I think it would make a HUGE difference in the overall tone of threads and make subsequent discussion more open to actual, well, discussion.
posted by delight at 5:02 PM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not to mention explicit comments accusing Metafilter of being hostile to religion when the chances of someone getting away with trying to explain their actions from an Atheist point of view wouldn't get tarred with a Richard Dawkins brush and dipped in islamophobia/LOLxtian feathers is pretty damn low.

I've been a member here since 2004. Been quite active since 2009. Have participated in at least a dozen metatalk threads about religion over the years, and probably as many threads on the Blue. Feel free to browse my history. So I say with some experience that there is zero doubt in my mind that this place remains hostile to theists. I have had direct experience with people who have been nasty or intolerant to me in the past regarding the topic. I no longer participate in threads about circumcision on metafilter because some people seem totally incapable of discussing the topic rationally and politely. I've watched mefites say truly vile shit to other mefites, and I keep in touch with a small number of theist members who have abandoned the site in major part because of the way they and their beliefs were treated on the Blue or Gray. Things have improved in recent years, thanks to people pushing back, some of whom begged other members to treat each other with kindness. Mod intervention has also helped. But no, this isn't always happy place for theists -- especially if you're Mormon or Catholic or Jewish or apparently, Pagan.

That's not an "accusation." It's part of Metafilter's history and its present. And if you doubt that, go back upthread and read obiwanwasabi's asinine "How can we do this better? I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters, so there's always going to be at least one of us out there just outright mocking wands, because..." comment.
posted by zarq at 5:25 PM on August 19, 2016 [21 favorites]


Sparklemotion, I confess I have real difficulty taking you seriously when you say something like this: people have been climbing all over the "dissenters" for "rules lawyering" for asking questions that amount to I'd like to get a better read on this sort of thing so I don't make the same mistakes again.

And then follow it up with this kind of dismissive sarcasm: an environment of scorn for the evil skeptics who are being so unreasonably cruel to people because of their beliefs.

And then follow up with another hypothetical of something that isn't relevant to the paganism thread, and hasn't happened like this: the chances of someone getting away with trying to explain their actions from an Atheist point of view wouldn't get tarred with a Richard Dawkins brush and dipped in islamophobia/LOLxtian feathers is pretty damn low.

Can you see how the second and third parts of your comment really undermine the first part? Like, it really doesn't feel the latter part of that comment has a lot to do with '[getting] a better read on this sort of thing so I don't make the same mistakes again' - your stated intention - and actually sounds more like taking another swipe at religious people who were hurt by the wand thread and then asserting that atheist are the real victims here?

Like, I can't help feeling if you were really motivated to assuage AlexiaSky et al's hurt feelings and requests for understanding, you probably wouldn't be mocking their hurt and then making up a scenario where you or others have been hurt just as badly? I think it's kinda bad taste, dude.
posted by smoke at 5:44 PM on August 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


For what it's worth, the people being scornful in this thread (at least the comments I remember) are not the people who have identified as pagan.

But as far as "unrelated hypotheticals" go:

Stop looping back to this particular thread and the fpp.

I was just following orders, lady.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:11 PM on August 19, 2016


For me it's related to the recent "Can we be less U.S.-centric, please?" thread, in that the people you're talking about - in this case, the people you're more than likely merrily ripping the piss out of for the sheer lulz of it - are probably right there in the room with you. So anything you might say isn't confined to your giggling friends but probably ought to be framed as it would be were that person sitting right in front of you. Because they are.
posted by Grangousier at 6:22 PM on August 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


There's one simple thing I wish the atheists who were rude about my religion would do - either take it seriously, or drop the topic.

If you want to know things I'm happy to share, but I am uninterested in a string of "Pascal's Wager" and "like anyone believes in fairy tales/myths" responses. I can argue to POV of an atheist quite effectively; it hasn't actually changed my religious beliefs. Atheists who attempt to talk me out of my religious beliefs will inevitably fail, and when they fail they tend to become very insulting and thus lose me as a friend. I prefer to avoid that particular dance; I've experienced it enough.

I realize that for some people this might be too much to ask - "you're wrong because FAIRYTALES" is a tempting argument for someone 2000 years removed from the religions which led to those stories - but a girl can hope.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:16 PM on August 19, 2016 [19 favorites]


I'm an ontological nihilist. Or, well, to put it more accurately, I guess you (insofar as there can be said to be a "you") could say that there does not exist any me that is not an ontological nihilist.

I bring this up because I'm a handy person to have around for situations like this (there would not exist a me to have around in hypothetical situations like this that wouldn't be handy, if there were situations at all?), because of the following two features of ontological nihilism:
  1. It is the most perfectly risible metaphysics possible. It's impossible to even state the position even semi-consistently without undertaking insane grammatical contortions to avoid any positive use of any form of "to be." On a deeper level, the existence of a description of the position would itself indicate the falsehood of the position, simply by existing. If you're given toward making fun of other peoples' metaphysics, hoo boy do I have a metaphysics that's easy to make fun of. Hit me. Leave the pagans alone. Leave the christians alone. I'm way sillier.
  2. LOLTHEIST types tend to believe themselves to be in possession of a super powerful strength of mind that allows them to function without the "crutch" or whatever of belief; an acid skepticism that can lyse away the weak thoughts of irrational believers. Well let me tell you, you think you're hard and skeptical because you don't believe in a god?! Not believing in gods is trivial. Try not believing in anything at all on for size and then tell me how hard you are.
there exists no evidence for ontological nihilism... but really, isn't that a point in its favor?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:09 PM on August 19, 2016 [11 favorites]


Bless you, friend.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 11:01 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


yeah that's right there ain't nothing that null-hand path magick can't fix.

i'd definitely be patting myself on the back right now, if I had hands or a back or the concept of patting or a self or anywhere to pat in.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:16 AM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Atheists who attempt to talk me out of my religious beliefs will inevitably fail

Don't forget that they will treat this failure of theirs as a victory. Such edgy Science! type atheists are basically like that "says who?" dude from the election thread, who after a room full of *rolleyes* at their direction went on to declare that they "put you in your place", or whatever the dude's comically ridiculous reaction was.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:46 AM on August 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


In the UK, a shopkeeper can decline any sale without giving a reason.

If the customer who was declined service can show that it was on grounds of gender, race or sexual orientation it would be actionable.
posted by biffa at 5:54 AM on August 20, 2016


>> In the UK, a shopkeeper can decline any sale without giving a reason.

> If the customer who was declined service can show that it was on grounds of gender, race or sexual orientation it would be actionable.
posted by biffa at 5:54 AM on August 20 [+] [!]


okay but what about people who use scottish money? can we still be mean to them?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:08 AM on August 20, 2016


Don't forget that they will treat this failure of theirs as a victory.

That honestly hasn't been my experience. Anyone who made it long enough to try to argue me out of my beliefs felt the need to insult my intelligence and/or sanity in order to end it, which is not the actions of a victor. Emotionally, most of them have seemed to feel baffled and hurt - something about me believing differently made their beliefs not ok and so they needed to devalue me in order to remain secure.

Keep in mind, most of these people knew and respected me before they knew I was religious; they had assumed I was also atheist, so finding out I wasn't was a rude awakening and seriously threatened their view of me. The idea that someone could be religious and scientifically rigorous and philosophically and ethically educated was outside of their ability to cope, at which point they became as hostile as any person does who feels their fundamental truths are being threatened.

Honestly, this is part of why I love being polytheistic; the mindset is a lot easier to square with other people being fundamentally different. I can love people dedicated to The One Handed God while understanding I'll possibly piss them off sometimes because He is all about justice and standing firm while and my One Eyed God is all about applied pressure and intelligence. We have fundamental differences, but exist in relationship to each other even when we disagree. My experience with any monolothic belief is that it really privileges an appearance of unity even if people actually feel differently and undermines attempts for truly different people to try to work together by demanding that one must be right and the other wrong.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:06 PM on August 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


Deoridhe: " I can love people dedicated to The One Handed God while understanding I'll possibly piss them off sometimes because He is all about justice and standing firm while and my One Eyed God is all about applied pressure and intelligence. We have fundamental differences, but exist in relationship to each other even when we disagree. My experience with any monolothic belief is that it really privileges an appearance of unity even if people actually feel differently and undermines attempts for truly different people to try to work together by demanding that one must be right and the other wrong."

Can I please ask you to stop saying interesting things? I'm trying to stop reading this thread. Eh, who am I kidding?

So I'm kind of fascinated with the parallel between your perspective on polytheism and the way I think about scientific theories. I work in a scientific field where there is no clear agreement on the right way to describe the topic of study, and there are many competing frameworks (scientific "paradigms" in the Thomas Kuhn sense) that you can use to build mathematical theories. These frameworks aren't at all consistent with each other, and it is very clear that none of them are rich enough to properly capture the phenomena of interest in a way that scientists would find satisfying. I'm conversant with the tools used by several of these frameworks, but at this stage in my career I'm really only expert in one of them. I "believe" in my framework in the sense that it offers me the tools that I need to answer the questions I care most about, but I acknowledge and value the contributions that come from other frameworks. Their focus is different from mine and they value different things, but if I listen to their ideas my own work becomes better. We compete and we argue, but we make each other better.

What I wonder about a lot, is whether my thoughts about the multiplicity of scientific theories have the same ontological status as the multiplicity of gods within a polytheistic world view. To me, each of the theoretical frameworks serves as an overarching metaphor, a collection of loosely knit stories and principles that you can use to address the needs of a particular scientific problem. While I maintain some commitment to the common principle that there is a "one true objective world" out there that constrains the results of all possible experiments, in practice every specific problem requires substantive choices to be made by the researcher, and so you need to take guidance from the principles that underpin your framework, and hope that this works out for the best. There is an act of faith in that reliance (though for the sake of scientific niceties we refer to it as an inductive leap) and different people will make those choices in different ways without anyone necessarily being "wrong"

To me though, none of these paradigms are "real". I think of scientific theories as tools, used to serve particular purposes. The best of them are very good tools that can be used to serve many purposes. But I never really think of them as "real" in the same sense that I think that a rock is real (I believe the tactful term in the field for people like me is "instrumentalist" - sounds nicer than "unbeliever"). To me they're all metaphors that are judged by their usefulness, not concrete things that can be assigned truth values. I could imagine a polytheist thinking about gods in very similar terms. A god could serve a functional or instrumental purpose in guiding how one lives a life, and different gods could guide lives in different ways, without any one god necessarily being the true god. But I'm never sure whether religious folks are talking about gods in the same way that I imagine this. Perhaps a god is intended to be a more literal entity? Not having any religious views myself* I find it difficult to know!

(*unless epistemological nihilism counts -- shut up YCTAB la la I can't hear you it's awesome and anyway I have no evidence that would justify a belief that you exist)
posted by langtonsant at 2:26 AM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


I am definitely going to have to write a Borges-ripoff scifi story where the chief ideological disputes are between people who think that things exist but don't mean anything and people who think that things don't exist but are meaningful.

I think I can guess from your description what field you're in, but that may be just because I'm too much of an optimist to think that there could be more than one field that could fit that description.

Really my main beef with atheists who look down on theists of whatever stripe is... wait, okay, my main beef is that they're twerps who are rude to others for no reason, and that's a thing we need less of. But my main theoretical beef is that typically the confidence of obnoxious antitheists is rooted less in the possession of a better developed sense of rationality, and more in a failure to properly interrogate their own interpretive framework. The generalized antitheism of the people who self-identify with the skeptic movement is, as I see it, less about having the right answers and more about a white-knuckled refusal to acknowledge the possibility of questions — a feature that the skeptic movement shares with the white evangelical fundamentalist Christian context that it in large part defines itself against.

You know the old "God has written two books; nature and the Bible" idea that was so popular with early moderns? Whereas white evangelical fundamentalist Christianity goes astray by pretending that written texts reveal themselves directly, without any need for interpretation, the skeptic movement goes astray by pretending that the world/nature reveals itself directly without need for interpretation.

which I guess is the point of all that obnoxious time-wasting performance art or whatever it was that I've been doing about nihilism — yeah, antitheists? you think you're skeptical? let me show you what real skepticism looks like. Pretty bleak and uncertain, right? So if you want to do anything but have a continual existential crisis, you're going to have to make some positive claims about reality, positive claims fully as foundationless as the things you dismiss as myth.

I agree that ultimately effects rather than meanings must be used as the basis for judgment when assessing belief systems — in practical terms what a religious or scientific institution is is what it does in the world, rather than the claims that it makes about the world. Rigorously holding to this idea in all cases, though, is damned hard — I think doing it properly requires jettisoning the idea that "truth," or the correlation between statements about the world and things in the world, matters, except insofar as the truthfulness of claims affects the effects generated by making them.

If you could find something functionally equivalent to real knowledge about the world, it would be as good as real knowledge — even if it were totally false by "objective" standards.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:38 AM on August 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


I never really think of them as "real" in the same sense that I think that a rock is real ... I could imagine a polytheist thinking about gods in very similar terms. A god could serve a functional or instrumental purpose in guiding how one lives a life, and different gods could guide lives in different ways, without any one god necessarily being the true god. But I'm never sure whether religious folks are talking about gods in the same way that I imagine this.

You haven't met my gods, haven't encountered evidence that they exist that's compelling to you. That's very reasonable. However, if I said "this is my favorite rock!" you might say "um, cool, I guess," or you might say "err, that's not a rock; that's a picture of a plastic prop from The Dark Crystal," but you're not likely to say, "there's no such thing as rocks so it's stupid to have a favorite one."

I would like it if more atheists and agnostics took religious claims as similar to a statement like "50 Shades of Grey is a terrific the best romance story of all time!" One might argue that the "romance story" is only in the reader's mind, that the relationship shown is actually toxic, or even that the book itself is harmful to the public - but that's not the same as saying "all romance stories are toxic" or "all romantic relationships include abuse and lies," or "there are no real romance books because romance doesn't exist; it's all just power machinations."

(I would like to assure everyone that this is not my favorite rock.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm not going to do anything differently, for starters, so there's always going to be at least one of us out there just outright mocking wands, because...well, I'll save it... And either we get to call out things that aren't true - all of the things - or we have to let some really horrible beliefs have the floor

From a relatively isolated, fist-person perspective, this makes sense, but in terms of utility for having a broader social space that works, it falls short. As a basic example, if you were to ask atheists or Christians whether the other is doing some harm to social values, you might have either sides, at times, feeling that "damaging beliefs" have the floor (not always of course, but the arguments are out there). Now, it's perhaps the case you can make the argument, but if it means, then, that we don't treat the other side with respect, then everyone who feels as if harmful (or even horrible) things have the floor will feel that it's their right and responsibility to set the other side straight with mocking or whatnot. "Harsh words are required for potentially harmful consequences." And then, because of the social obligation to "mock" potentially harmful beliefs (and honestly, that's how we are couching SO many of our conversations with those we disagree with these days - as being super harmful), nothing really then works in a pluralistic society to get us anywhere, at least in terms of talking. There are times when we don't simply talk about social issues, of course, but since this is a place where we primarily do talk...

The best social contract, it seems, is to assume as if everyone is conversing with sincere conviction, even if they have some beliefs that are totally out there, and to carry on a conversation in light of those universal convictions, treating others in their convictions as we would like to be treated in ours. In my mind, this doesn't mean no criticism or difficult discussions. But it does mean, at least, no mocking. What I've tried to internalize more over time (and sometimes my inadequacies leak through more than I would like) is to go with this motto, that I think I probably heard first here: most things being equal, most people are, most of the time, trying their best. We should treat people as if they are being sincere in this journey of life that we are all traveling on together.

This includes the things they adopt as beliefs. Now, some people adopt beliefs for the wrong reason, and some communities encourage wrong beliefs for illogical reasons, etc., but I don't know of a single person who changed a belief because they were shamed into it, or because the cold light of reason was forced upon their soul to make them reconsider. As such, my goal is to have conversations with people that treat them with respect, even if I think they're a bit (or even a lot) on the wrong end of things, because 1) it's humanly decent; but also 2) from a pragmatic perspective, it's the only way to change people's minds, if I think it's more important than other cathartic forms of conversation. Being harsh and mocking doesn't set anyone straight, recipient or bystander, so holding onto this as a social value doesn't really do any good. Rather, people adopt values more by being with people who care about them and treat them with respect. And at the end of the day, if I care about people (rather than the value of my own rightness), I also care about them thinking correctly, and this is often, from a pragmatic perspective, the exact opposite of any effort it takes to shame them.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:43 PM on August 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


And then when you have practice, you could do the decent thing and, yes, respect scientologists.

Various abusive death and normal cults have really fucked up beliefs and practices. I'm not going to respect them until they treat others with respect. I think there's a big and bright line between paganism, Potter fandom and Scientology. I'm not going to respect the latter's beliefs any more than I respect the claims of the leadership, functionaries and sales/PR of some ludicrous banana dictatorship. The former two are not (to my knowledge) either actively bilking people out of money, covering up widespread abuse, or, indeed, the occasional murder/death through negligence.
posted by jaduncan at 12:00 AM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


See also: extreme homophobia and persuading people with active mental healthcare plans to stop them. Just no.
posted by jaduncan at 12:01 AM on August 22, 2016


I think there's a big and bright line between paganism, Potter fandom and Scientology.

Pagans and Potter fans are both capable of saying, "oh, you ran into THAT person/group?" *wince* "Yeah, they're a little... um... off." And they are willing to agree that "a little off" may be a euphemism for "deranged, and I'm so sorry they're associated with us at all."

Scientologists' worst offenders aren't their outliers - they're the core.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:47 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's weird. A recent thread in the green on shamanic journeying achieved exactly what this thread asked of the wand thread. But the shamanic journeying is so deeply and offensively appropriating. I struggled to communicate in the thread how bad some of the in-thread recommendations were... because of a simultaneous very hard thread in the grey... and kinda hoped someone else would.

As an adult atheist, I now endeavour to respect religions, all of them. But I'd like a place where white people taking traditions and prayers and icons from ancient but minority religions and monetising/self aggrandising from them, is not off limits from strenuous denouncements. (This is not happening here!) I've no idea if there are any other Bonpos here, but I don't want to be the only advocate for not doing this. Appropriation is no better than mocking and snarking. (It's a difficult line and not everyone can be across the history of all religions and Tibetans have the extra joy of edits about their religions and culture on wikipedia having the "assistance" of people working for the Chinese Government.)

Once again I'm not sure what my point is. But that the green treated a deeply problematic answer in the green with reverence. And the blue was shitty to Pagans. I would hate a tag of faith or religion to mean there can be no challenges here. But shitting on someone else's (non appropriated) faith is just shitty. First Mate Kate was right. It's Richard Dawkins level of arseholery and good atheists need to disavow that hate filled creature for all the *phobes and *ists he is.

I can't get behind an all faiths matter movement. (Don't start me on the Shugdens.) But I don't think we can be mean to Scientologists, Eris. People believe it. Truly believe it. And as far as I know, it wasn't stolen from any culture. We can talk about it, sure. But we don't need to be disrespectful. Lots of incredibly sincere, bright and successful people belong to that church....they're not a bunch of lemmings.
posted by taff at 8:25 PM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


If someone's beliefs cause no harm or potential harm to themselves and others, live and let live. This goes for religious and non-religious beliefs. We encounter other people's beliefs all day long, every day until death. Most are harmless, many aren't.

If they do or could cause harm, I believe it's our duty to challenge those beliefs. A couple of examples could be staunch anti-vaxxers, because real, mortal harm can be caused by adherence to their beliefs, or by people who justify and practice FGM on the basis of their beliefs.

Pretty simple, really. Pick your fights on the harmful stuff, but mostly, live and let live on the harmless stuff and show basic, courteous respect to your fellow human whose belief system doesn't gell entirely with your own.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 8:38 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Appropriation is no better than mocking and snarking.

This is untrue.

You may not like it, but this thread seems a clear demonstration that many of the users here hold that sincerely held beliefs of a religious nature should be left alone, however they're come by. I'd say one of the main takeaways from the mod comments is that if you're thinking of being the sincerity police, that's when you roll your eyes and move on.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:03 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


but this thread seems a clear demonstration that many of the users here hold that sincerely held beliefs of a religious nature should be left alone,

There are also a number of people who think there is a big difference between "not being left alone" and shaming, and that while we should disagree strongly over issues that are important, I think one can make a good case that shaming should not be a part of that conversation.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:50 PM on August 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think quite a few of us are willing to talk about our beliefs (or our respective religions,) as long as we're not being called names or shamed over them.
posted by zarq at 3:53 PM on August 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


also it's real important to keep institutional critique (these are the effects of a particular religious/scientific/political organization, here is why I think those effects are good/bad) separate from ridicule of belief systems ("haw haw! you believe in [sky daddy/ley lines/magic translation stones/the actual existence of a universe], I can't believe ur so naïve!"), since the former opens ground for debate in ways that the latter decidedly doesn't.

If you think you've got a way to argue that a particular belief system always leads to a particular institutional/organizational structure, and that that particular institutional/organizational structure is always bad, you may be right — but unless you're damned sure you've got a airtight case, probably you should keep it to yourself.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:37 AM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


but unless you're damned sure you've got a airtight case, probably you should keep it to yourself.

This isn't too crazy of a concept, either, and we use "keeping our mouths shut" to good effect in other areas. In my job, we incorporate a "benign neglect" where we have to choose some good thing not to do, because 1) it isn't possible at the moment, 2) the world isn't going to fall apart without it, and 3) we know that not doing it is not a value judgment about something existing or needing to stop. Also, magically, the system sometimes works better without constantly picking at its internals. Some self-correction can happen by choosing not to be overly invasive.

In my mind, those who feel as if it's their job to always mock/fix erroneous beliefs are similar to those who sometimes see "picking at the internals" of life as overly virtuous, when it sometimes, from a practical standpoint, actually prohibits self-correction. A good life lesson is that it's okay to let things go at times because it has a greater social benefit to just chill and let people be at times, as it creates more hospitable mental space to work things out.

Of course, this requires a broader wisdom approach rather than always seeing the world as needing a direct tussle of ideas (and again, debating ideas is good, just not the whole ball of wax when it comes to social improvement). Sometimes, those who have an instinct against this (I find) do not have a very nuanced view of the world and how relationships work, and tend to see things as very black and white across the board, with a lot of diagrams for system improvement. The latter is not always conducive to good conversations that can actually be socially formative.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:42 PM on August 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's so weird to me that atheists are always the ones tromping in and going "WANDS!! WANDS!!!!! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA", or whatever it is that they're saying. Not weird like, I grew up and never met an atheist who did that, or wasn't that atheist myself. But... isn't the joy of being liberated from dogma that you're free to find meaning everywhere? I mean, meaning that comes accompanied with some amount of skepticism and the willingness to change your mind, sure. But we liberate ourselves from the grey soggy clouds of whichever oppressive force oppressed us, and instead of laughing with glee at the vibrant blue sky we immediately go a–hunting for other people looking at the sky and tell them to stop looking at things we're not looking at!

I mean, my (non–)religion was formed through a mixture of architectural and mathematical theses, YA fantasy, a couple of very well–designed games, some talented composers, and industrial design, and I'd find it very strange if people went about telling me that my favorite fantasy/product design/music was somehow inappropriate or wrong or that I was stupid and awful for liking them! Wait a minute, that happens all the time! And that's so weird! Isn't the delightful end conclusion of atheism that everything in the world can lead to deeper profundity the same way religious texts do? And that that's why it's wrong to insist that your favorite religious text means you get to kill other people who like a different religious text? It's so strange to me that atheists would cognize that argument and then go on to commit the exact same logical fallacy towards people who see the world differently than they do. Totally bizarre!

And aren't we all elitist snobs here, who can appreciate an enthusiast for a thing asking people who purchase his products to maybe consider why he cares about making them so much in the first place? Aren't we Linux freaks who feel that closed–source technologies prevent people from discovering the joy of computational creativity? Don't we go about being pissed off at comic books that rewrite our favorite characters in bad ways? Didn't we all fetishize that Harry Potter "fanfic" where Harry makes his spells obey natural laws, despite its being a smug and awful shitfest of a story? Clearly we can empathize with people who are bemused at Harry Potter fans! Why can't we do that here?

I can't seriously practice paganism, because a lot of its principles come close to ones that I hold but operate in disconcertingly dissimilar ways. But I get it! I can see that it's people dipping into deep realms of being that I happen to dip into in slightly different ways. Just as I can see that scientists see the poetry and beauty of the world just as I do, even if their method of going about discovering it makes me want to grate my teeth into fine powder. Such is the beauty of atheism that I can look around the world and see billions of people discovering the truth in billions of different ways!

Mind you, I consider it a moral duty to question when some of those people try to impose their beliefs on the rest of the world, and to speak out if those beliefs call harm, but that's exactly why it seems so obvious to me that, as a moral atheist, it's these people saying hurtful shit about people who care about their wands that are causing the trouble here! One person, the wandmaker, is trying to establish a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, and some people who consider themselves intellectually superior than that guy just because they know less about what he's talking about are trying to mock and shame people who find that guy's perspective interesting! Just like how religion does! It's a good thing that we all have me here to make those painfully obvious connctions, because as we all know some atheists are at risk of developing a painful fungus that causes their heads to throb whenever a pagan writes comments against a professional white background. You'll get fungus throbs from me, my tragic brethen!

It's also good that we all took a look at how the most prominent atheistic counterculture in the English–speaking world revealed itself to be right–wing nutters who thought supporting Donald Trump would be a fun idea, and reminded ourselves that it's possible to be an atheist and a monster, even on the Internet! Man am I overjoyed to be using MetaFilter in the year 2016, when all of our problems went away forever thanks to some basic decency and common sense, and we dedicated the rest of our lives to the creation of interesting and flavorful salads.
posted by rorgy at 6:45 AM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm not an atheist, but my husband is, and I think that's an uncharitable view of looking at the people who are waving their arms and saying "THIS IS ALL RIDICULOUS!". For a lot of them - definitely him - they have had or their loved ones have had very personal experiences of how religion - particularly "alternative religion" - has actually harmed people. For my husband - and actually, myself as well, different people - we have both known people who have decided not to do their cancer medication in favor of using "crystal therapy" or what have you. Both of them died horribly. When my ex-husband assaulted me in the scariest moment of my life - and I've been to war, to give you a scale - it was because he had decided he didn't need to take his medication, he could make his own medication from herbs at the local pagan shop.

Those things had real, terrible harm. And when people believe in them, it often causes real harm to them and those around them.

There are good ways and bad ways of calling that shit out, definitely. But I think it's hard for people that watched friends die or be hurt because of a belief to do it in a chill fashion. It's just like it's really hard for me to be chill in stuff involving the war - I start out with what seems a thoughtful critique and then five minutes later I'm like YOUR IGNORANCE KILLED MY FRIENDS. And that's definitely not helpful! But I think that it's important to note that sometimes it's really hard to be helpful and pragmatic when you're talking about something of deep moral importance to you. For you, wands are harmless and it's bizarre to poke at this - but some people might be coming at it from a perspective where this stuff /is/ harmful.
posted by corb at 9:34 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


1) Nobody in the original thread, nor in this MeTa has so much as hinted that your hypothetical was the case.

2) The article in question had nothing to do with alternative medicine, it had to do with an intersection of faith and pop culture. The idea of alternative medicine, when it came up, was discussed critically.

3) There's a difference between someone actively harming others (which the guy selling the wands was most emphatically not doing) and someone harming themselves. Most of the discussion here was around the former, and the consensus was that the wand-seller wasn't guilty of it, and that the overreaction from some here was out of line.

4) I can not think of a single situation IRL where someone's perspective is "wands are harmful." This is a ridiculous false equivalence, and the use of the hypothetical here serves to undermine your point, not bolster it.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


To the extent that corb's hypothetical is beyond the boundaries of the original FPP and the two threads in question, I think it's worth while to point out that what's she was addressing: people who are waving their arms and saying "THIS IS ALL RIDICULOUS!" is also not evident in these threads.

Given that this thread is pretty much just people burning down straw-atheists at this point, hypotheticals are pretty much the only way to engage.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:49 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Given that this thread is pretty much just people burning down straw-atheists at this point

Not really.

hypotheticals are pretty much the only way to engage

No, it's not. Even worse, using them has become the refuge of people who are attempting to defend their beliefs with nonsense like "it's impossible that my worldview exists IRL, therefore I have to use hypotheticals." Maybe that's true in the specific sense, but generally speaking it's just not true. And if it is true, there's usually a very good reason for it not existing, such as enabling things like chattel slavery or modern-day feudalism. It's absolutely poisonous to conversations that deal with actual things happening right now in our reality, and it's because some people use it as a crutch that otherwise productive MeTas like this can fall apart.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:07 PM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


corb: For a lot of them - definitely him - they have had or their loved ones have had very personal experiences of how religion - particularly "alternative religion" - has actually harmed people.

You once compared Sharia law and Jewish beit dins in a thread and I had to correct you because everything you had said about Jewish courts was wrong. Of course, you're entitled to be wrong. It happens! Hell, I get things wrong all the time. There's no crime in it. But it's always better to try to get one's facts straight. It's so easy to tar people with a too-large brush and spread false information inadvertently and inaccurately.

You're not the only person I and other Jewish mefites have had to correct about our religion over the years and you certainly won't be the last. But in my experience, mefites generalize a lot about religion. Usually badly. I've done it myself about Catholicism -- and been corrected by annoyed Catholics on at least one occasion.

But I think that it's important to note that sometimes it's really hard to be helpful and pragmatic when you're talking about something of deep moral importance to you.

Were any of the first 20+ comments in the main thread helpful or pragmatic?
posted by zarq at 12:18 PM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


zarq, is this the comment of corb's you're referring to, with this response of yours where you had to correct her?
posted by XMLicious at 8:06 AM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


But I think that it's important to note that sometimes it's really hard to be helpful and pragmatic when you're talking about something of deep moral importance to you.

I find this to be an entirely reasonable thing to feel, and we all live with conflicts like this. If we've been deeply hurt, or around something that has the potential to hurt, it is really hard to simply think about what work or is helpful. Fortunately, discussion in life isn't just about trying to fix things. It has plenty of room for telling stories of pain, expressing that pain using strong language, and also having hard discussion about harmful ideologies.

Even then, though, I think we have two obligations: 1) We make sure we have the correct information commensurate with our moral intuition. I do think we have a responsibility to get this part right. Feeling strongly does not relieve us obligation, and in cases like a discussion forum, it becomes harder to prove that there is a direct analog between our past hurt and what people are sharing about their religious ideology in their particular social context; and 2) no mocking. The more I'm alive, the more I've come to believe that shaming tactics have (almost) zero value when it comes issues of morality, and when we feel that it does, it has more often to do with the person than the pragmatism of the situation. Also, a desire to mock often jumps over the prerequisites mentioned in #1 too quickly.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:26 AM on August 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


zarq, is this the comment of corb's you're referring to, with this response of yours where you had to correct her?

Yes.

I deliberately didn't link to it.
posted by zarq at 5:22 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just wanted to get a grip on the sense in which everything she said was wrong, lest I had any of the same misunderstandings; so thank you for confirming that I'm looking at the right comments.
posted by XMLicious at 7:07 PM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know how relevant this is at this point, but I wish you had asked zarq privately instead of linking to the comments in question.
posted by Ruki at 7:35 PM on August 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


It seemed rather important to me, in the explicit context of getting one's facts straight and not tarring anyone with too broad a brush, that it should be possible to examine the accusation that "everything you had said about Jewish courts was wrong".

If it was important enough to make such an accusation in public, it's also important enough for someone reading the accusation to be able to read the words the accusation is based upon. I personally would have come away from that with a far more negative impression of how corb had supposedly mislead people, had I not seen the comment and the correction of a rather particular interpretation of a small part of the original comment, and not confirmed that there wasn't any further unseen basis for criticizing corb.

I think it was irresponsible and contradictory of zarq to make that accusation while being eliding and elusive about the basis for it, particularly while also broadcasting a general chastisement about getting one's facts straight and not tarring with too broad a brush. That's pretty much exactly not the situation to be trying to fire off a personal criticism of someone based upon their reported words from another thread, when you're going to also hope to restrain any resulting potential derail by being vague and evasive about the details.
posted by XMLicious at 5:57 AM on August 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think it was irresponsible and contradictory of zarq to make that accusation while being eliding and elusive about the basis for it, particularly while also broadcasting a general chastisement about getting one's facts straight and not tarring with too broad a brush. That's pretty much exactly not the situation to be trying to fire off a personal criticism of someone based upon their reported words from another thread, when you're going to also hope to restrain any resulting potential derail by being vague and evasive about the details.

I was not being "evasive." I was being vague. I didn't want my comment to her to turn into a callout and derail. The more detail given, the more likely that was to happen, in my opinion.

If without the links it came across as me tarring her with too broad a brush -- especially since I was literally talking about people doing just that -- I'm sorry. That wasn't my intention.
posted by zarq at 6:52 AM on August 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


You've mentioned her comment numerous times and have apparently been bearing a grudge about it for several months, so I was expecting something really egregious.

Instead there was a small factual inaccuracy which was unrelated to her fairly uncontentious wider point (which was that lots of religions have religious courts, not just Islam).

Doesn't really seem to merit the vitriol I'm seeing from you, unless there's a backstory I'm unaware of. Perhaps your comments are coming across as more aggressive than you intend?
posted by tinkletown at 4:14 PM on August 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


You've mentioned her comment numerous times

I have not. I mentioned it specifically once and noted a pattern I've seen in more general terms in a separate comment up thread, without creating links that I thought would spark a derail.

The back story is simply that the beit din comment was not the first of its kind. Frankly, I am glad corb has said she won't be making similar comments anymore. Which I also said up thread.
posted by zarq at 4:54 PM on August 28, 2016


Zarq, when you went after me upthread I thought it was hurtful and frustrating and confusing, and wanted to check in to see why you were doing this or what you were possibly talking about, but you didn't have memail enabled, so I just ignored it, because I didn't have the emotional or mental energy for a confrontation. We have been dealing with a death in the family - my (Jewish) stepmother, incidentally, which just makes your pushing on this even more upsetting.

Please don't put words in my mouth. Please don't assume things about where I'm coming from on things or what my familial circumstances are. Please don't assume that if I don't engage with you, that means that it's okay to keep engaging about me or at me whenever I post a comment. It is stressful and hurtful and upsetting, and please just don't.
posted by corb at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think this thread has pretty well run its course, and I don't see anything good coming out of pursuing this specific exchange further, so I'm going to close the thread now. Thanks to everyone who weighed in.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:33 AM on August 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


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