30 October 2015

Are There Any Republican Pagans?

Halloween, which is tomorrow, is derived from the traditional pagan festival day of Samhain, one of the four seasonal holidays halfway between equinoxes and solstices, together with Ground Hog Day, May Day, and Midsummer's Day.   Hence, it is a time when we think about the roots of modern practices in pagan traditions.

Earlier this week, the Republican Presidential candidates for the 2016 election had a debate in Boulder (which is a hot spot of neo-pagan practice in Colorado).

For the most part, pretty much everyone who doesn't self-identify as a Christian has a political leaning which is Democratic, unaffiliated, or third-party, because a substantial part of the Republican party favors a vision of the United States as a Christian Nation, the Establishment Clause be damned. For example, very socially conservative and quite economically conservative and anti-communist Muslims tend to identify politically with the Democratic party, because a significant share of Republican officials are openly anti-Muslim.

This tends to hold true for people who religiously identify as pagans as well, who also tend to be politically liberal or libertarian leaning and to care a lot about environmental issues, rather than socially or economically conservative.

The only really prominent conservative pagans are neo-pagan white supremacists who draw upon the Nazi regime's effort to link itself to Nordic and Germanic pagan tradition as a way to booth its nationalist appeal.

Are There Pagan Republicans?

But, are there Pagan Republicans out there in our vast and incredibly diverse nation?

The answer is yes, as this article from the 2009 election season explains.  Indeed, there are even pagan Republican political candidates:
Sexy teenage witches or nature-worshipping environmentalists, not Republican politicians, serve as our popular images of contemporary Pagans. But as fall campaigns for New York City’s City Council heat up, a Republican candidate from Queens has been forced “out of the broom closet.” Given that Republicans are typically linked with conservative Christianity, both the Neopagan community and some Republicans are a bit puzzled by Dan Halloran, who is running on Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, and Independence lines for City Council.

Halloran’s campaign Web site counters the assumption that Neopagans dress and act differently from other Americans. Photos on his official site show a clean-cut and conservatively dressed Halloran speaking out against “Obamacare,” supporting youth baseball programs and the Boy Scouts, and presenting a Police Officer of the Month Award. In contrast, the Queens Tribune story played up his alter identity as Pagan priest by running a photo from his page on the “Paganspace” Web site that shows a blue-robed Halloran kneeling before his ritual tools.

“So, who do you think is going to win that City Council race between ‘Democratic Victor’ Kevin Kim and ‘Pagan Lord’ Dan Halloran?” asked Reid Pillifant in his story in the New York Observer on September 18, 2009. A day earlier, a news story identifying Halloran as a King (priest) of Theodism, a form of Norse Paganism, ran in the Queens Tribune and attracted attention to Halloran’s unorthodox religious identity.
Now, the fact that this is happening in New York City is notable.

In national politics, the Republican party is almost extinct in most of the Northeast Corridor and New England.  At the state and local level where they remain, and among the few remaining Republicans in federal office from the region, many are more socially liberal than their GOP peers, even if they have the backs of the 1%ers on economic policy.  New York City Republicans are among the most cosmopolitan and socially liberal in the nation (albeit with an authoritarian streak when it comes to law enforcement and crime).

New York State, in particular, is also notable because candidates are permitted to identify with more than one political party at the same time on the ballot, and the political party organizations, gutted in an effort to destroy political party machine politics with Progressive reforms, are very weak there.

In a similar vein, Razib Khan, whose blog I regularly read and find thoughtful, is a politically conservative atheist.

The Political Leanings Of Religious Adherents Is Historically Contingent

Certainly, there is nothing inherently liberal about pagan religious beliefs.  We don't generally think of classical Roman political beliefs, the political beliefs of the classical Greek Spartans, the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Hittite kings, or Viking political beliefs, for example, as particularly liberal, yet all were pagan.  In our own day and age, the most prominent political party in the world associated with polytheistic religious practice, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party of India, is a socially conservative political party.

Similarly, most political parties with Muslim affiliations are politically conservative leaning (often in opposition to authoritarian socialist one party regimes nominally of the political left, which they oppose).  And, in China and the former Warsaw Pact countries, atheism is associated with the former Communist regime, while religious movements tend to be associated with reform movements (although the Russian ruling party is trying hard to associate itself with Orthodox Christianity).

Christians are liberal leaning in South Korea relative to other Koreans for reasons rooted in the country's post-Korean War political history that has made South Korea the most Christian country in all of Asia (at roughly 50% Christian).  Christianity attracted adherents in South Korea, in part, because Christians were important civil society actors working to oppose the right wing authoritarian regimes that prevailed in South Korea for many decades, and also because Christians had no taint of Korea's former exploitive Japanese political masters.

Something similar is the case in China, where Christians are also an opposition force that is home to many dissidents from the prevailing one party regime there.

The political leanings of Christians in the United States are also historically contingent.

Today, almost every white person who publicly identifies as Christian in a political context is conservative leaning.

But, most major religious traditions in the United States have both liberal leaning and conservative leaning denominations, the former often geographically Northern, and the latter often geographically Southern (there are also racial splits, with many Christian communities being historically black or serving predominantly immigrant populations).  These splits are present among Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, and even Mormons, for example.  One round of splits took place mostly over the issue of slavery, and a second round of splits emerged more than a century later, mostly over gay rights.

For whatever reason, white Christians with left leaning political affiliations don't tend to invoke their religious views in the public square, although black and Hispanic and other immigrant religious leaders often play more prominent political roles, often from the political left and as community organizers at the grass roots.

This wasn't always the case.

The Civil Rights movement, and earlier, the Progressive movement that brought us Prohibition, fought corruption, and helped push for labor law reforms, featured prominent Christian leaders making left leaning political cases from a religious perspective.  Christians played prominent parts in both the left leaning Abolitionist movement and the conservative pro-slavery movement.  Until probably sometime after the 1950s, doing the "Christian thing" had politically liberal rather than politically conservative connotations.  It meant focusing on mercy and charity, impulses that modern political conservatives disparage as "bleeding heart liberalism".

On the other hand, the Revolutionary and Founding Fathers era of American political history, was one of the most secular periods in politics in the United States, and was also a time of very low levels of religious affiliation nationally, particularly in the American South which was the most secular part of the United States until the Second Great Awakening starting around the 1840s.

One can hope that we may someday return to an era where most religious affiliations are politically diverse.  But, at the moment, religious denominations seem to be the main contenders in the culture wars that have pitted conservative white Christians against an incredibly diverse tent made up of everyone else.

1 comment:

andrew said...

On Noveber 8, 392 CE, paganism was banned by the Roman Emperor, a crippling blow from which it never recovered.