Thursday, July 21, 2005

Headstones and bureaucrats

Non-Fluffy Wicca posts about bureaucratic foot-dragging and stonewalling over the issue of headstones for Pagan military service members.

Beginning in 1997 with a request by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Washington state, various Wiccan groups have requested a pentagram headstone for military cemeteries and been ignored or turned down on technical reasons.

Incompetence or malevolence on the part of the National Cemetery Administration?

In a review of Carol Barner-Barry's new book, Contemporary Paganism: Minority Religions in a Majoritarian America , Doug Cowan of the University of Missouri-Kansas City writes, "Contrary to what many Pagans may suspect, however, what the author reveals is not an organized persecution of minority religions, but rather the logical consequences of a constitutional process that could not imagine their existence, a legal system ill-equipped to deal with the special problems they face, a political system unwilling to work proactively to enshrine their protection, and a social system that has, on the other hand, embedded Christian demographic dominance with majoritarian privilege."

The entire review will be in the November issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

The First Amendment was set up to prevent one Christian denomination discriminating against another. The framers of the Constitution remembered western Europe's history of wars between Catholics and Protestants, of state-supported churches such as the Church of England, and of religiously based tests for employment. They tried to eliminate all those evils.

To them, Jews were a tiny, odd but ancient minority, "Hindoos" lived on the other side of the world, Muslims likewise, and American Indian tribes did not have real religions worth mentioning.

It is no coincidence that beginning early in the last century, the Native American Church began to "push the envelope" of the First Amendment. Its theology was really not that unusual, but its use of the entheogen peyote ran contrary to majoritarian ideas about "drugs," despite the long Christian use of a sacramental intoxicant.

Now come the Pagans, of whom it cannot be said that "we all worship the same god in different ways." Paganism's religious vision is so different. A divine Feminine (or several of them) is a greater challenge to the majority world view than even some Pagans recognize.

On the other hand, religion as a category is strong in America because we have no state church. Americans generally are quite tolerant people, as long as one's religion does not lead to flying airplanes into office buildings. I suspect that we Pagans will get the military headstones eventually, somehow.


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