Some time ago I had a conversation with a newer pagan business owner. This person was someone who claimed to be an Omnist. I think that term is pretty loaded in this day and age, so I pressed them for more information. Upon my further questions, this person continued to be insistent in their belief that ALL religions and faiths are true in every aspect, and all of them deserve recognition and respect. That seems pretty straightforward, and fair, for the most part, but it was still enough to give me significant pause in dealing with them.
The definition of Omnist, according to Merriam-Webster, is “one that believes in all religions.” There are some that feel the term needs an updated definition in that there are some truths in all religions, but not all religions are 100% truthful. And if I would have gotten that specific definition from this person when I continued to press, this would be a non-issue.
But instead, I received their personal definition of Omnist, that they truly believed all religions are fully correct. This was why the red flags came up. Because in essence, this person is saying they believe in Scientology, a cult masking themselves as a religion that has hurt many of its members deeply. They also believe in Odinism and Folkish Asatru, sects of Heathenism that believe only those with a white ancestry can follow the Norse Gods and whose followers are mostly downright despicable racists. And they are also saying they believe in specific sects of Evangelical Christianity…the same Christian sects that are currently working to curb my rights as a woman as well as bully anyone who doesn’t act and believe exactly as they do.
Ultimately, by using this personal definition, this person is saying it’s OK these groups do horrible things; that these so-called religions all have a right to say and do the things they are doing to other people based on their faith. And even after I continued to press this person, they made it clear that they weren’t going to take a stand on any injustices based on someone’s religious beliefs (and even became very uncomfortable talking about it). To me, it was easy to see that they were too wrapped up making sure they don’t break any eggs, step on anyone’s toes, nor make any potential customers mad.
I do give the person credit in that I don’t believe they were taking this stand out of purposeful choice. Instead, I realize they took this stand out of ignorance. But even that fact – that they took this stand out of ignorance – is also a grave concern in my mind. It means that they were not tied into the pagan community enough to understand what exactly has been going on. They aren’t aware of Declaration 127. They don’t understand why it had to be written in the first place. And they aren’t recognizing that the problem of racism and exclusion is getting worse instead of better.
If that wasn’t bad enough, this person is purposefully choosing not to step out of their ignorance. They would rather be ignorant and choose to not make any decisions regarding what they consider to be right and wrong in an effort to not upset possible customers, even if the opportunity for more information about an issue presents itself. Because they were so insistent about this stance, it’s not a far jump to conclude that they also refuse to make hard decisions about their own personal truths. Instead, they are ready to accept anything called a religion at face value and label it as truth, and that is very scary to me.
While I fully understand and agree that someone’s personal religious beliefs deserve respect, we are not in a day and age where someone can simply accept another’s belief without questioning their ethics as well. We have to ask the hard questions, and we have to get the real answers. Then and only then can we determine whether or not we want to patronize this person’s business or allow this person to be in a private circle or blot with us. Yes, that means you may hurt this person’s feelings, or even make them angry with you. All the more reason to do it. Perhaps they may realize their mistakes and become more inclusive once they are singled out because of their own preference for the exclusivity of people that look, act and believe exactly like they do.
Paganism is not a happy-go-lucky religion. It’s not a religion where you are so fearful of your Gods that you don’t try to reach out to them. It isn’t about letting others tell you what you should do and what you believe and why. This religion is about making choices to better your life and the lives around you. It’s about owning up to your shortcomings, and figuring out what to do about them to make yourself stronger. It’s about building relationships and standing strong in the face of adversity.
Pagans have an active religion; we are the ones that truly know what we can and cannot do, and we understand the circumstances and (mostly) the outcomes of the actions we take. To call yourself a pagan (or in the case of the person above, open up a business that caters to pagans) is to step into the world of your own responsibility. There are no apologies to God to forgive you and simply take your shortcomings away. Sure, you can still absolutely apologize for your wrong action, but that doesn’t mean you skip the responsibility of making it right. And just as much as it is someone else’s responsibility to take action and make the decisions for inclusivity, it is my responsibility to ensure that my patronage is for established businesses that ensure that inclusivity. Because if I don’t do that, I am just as guilty as the person who refused to make the decision in the first place.
Decision making in paganism doesn’t just end with whether or not you are inclusive. Because we have a living, active religion, we also have to make decisions daily about our own personal actions. This goes way beyond what place of business you patronize. As a Pagan, I live by my religion and ethics. I am honest and truthful in my personal dealings with people. I stick by my promises and oaths. I strive to take care of myself and the people around me. Even more importantly, as someone who does work within my pagan community for others, I strive to be honest and truthful in what it is I can and cannot do. I recognize and understand that sometimes I have to be the one that has to give the hard truths to someone who needs to hear them (and in many cases, they have asked me for these truths). That is something I cannot trust someone else to do, especially when they are unwilling to speak for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings or losing a customer.
In Paganism we don’t have a black-and-white guidebook. We ultimately cannot tell someone else they are absolutely wrong. But we do have our own morals and ethics that we have to strive to keep. We have our oaths and the Gods that guide us, and we strive to keep right relationships with those around us. It is my responsibility to take my ethics, my oaths, and my understanding and make decisions based on these things in order to continue to pursue my religion the best way I know how. And because of these beliefs, I actively choose to ensure inclusivity in all of my dealings; whether they be part of my local pagan community, part of my workplace actions or simply dealings in public. My hope is that others would also be willing to make decisions based on their own morals and ideals and live by those decisions, as it is greatly disappointing when someone chooses otherwise.