Tuesday, 10 November 2015

IN DEFENCE OF INTERFAITH




It has to be admitted that very often, the benefits of Interfaith Dialogue are far from tangible and difficult to evaluate. One can go further and actually find oneself asking; “What is the point of this?” I know I often have. However, as Pagans it is important that we engage with the non-Pagan society in which we live, to represent our own community and to educate the wider community.

My own involvement within the Interfaith environment, although active and at times demanding, has been limited to the responsibilities of my previous Pagan Federation role as Regional Coordinator for the County of Derbyshire. During my eight and half years in that role, I was eventually and slowly, able to build a working relationship with the Forum of Faiths for Derby (FoFD), the Multifaith Centre and develop communications with the NHS in Derby itself.

My involvement and influence was within these areas, both a mixture of success and disappointment. Eventually taking over from the founder of the Derbyshire Pagans as the representative of the Pagan Community on the Forum of Faiths for Derby, also known as the Derby Forum of Faiths, Pagan representation became a real factor within the Interfaith environment.

However, the Interfaith environment, although important as both representative and educational aspects of the work of the Pagan Federation, also sadly illustrates the differences in perspective between the Old Faith and other faiths. It is quite clear that what we as Pagans will regard as a factor of importance to our own community, is not necessarily that shared with other faiths. Indeed an important aspect of Interfaith dialogue can be making other faith representatives aware of our own aspirations and how they may differ from what other faiths may regard as a priority.

In the census of 2001, the population of England and Wales voluntarily identifying themselves as “Pagan,” was estimated as being between forty and fifty thousand persons. Since this was a voluntary count, we can take this not as an actual accurate figure but as a minimum benchmark. We can suggest that like an iceberg, many Pagans and perhaps even two thirds, remain hidden below the surface of our mainstream society.

Without doubt, there were many Pagans left uncounted by the 2001 census and within the decade since that census, we can be certain that the Pagan population of England and Wales has increased. This has increased the likelihood of all members of our society having contact with people identifying themselves as either Pagan or as belonging to a Pagan Path of some description.

One of the most common questions asked by members of the Pagan Community is why or to put it another way, a series of questions that often incorporate the word, why?

For example:

1.     Why are we involved in Interfaith?
2.     What is in it for us?
3.     Isn’t it just a trap?

As stated, the tangible and visible benefits of our active involvement within the Interfaith environment, are difficult to measure or support. I feel I have now dealt with point #1 but point #2 perhaps deserves further elaboration and point #3, an explanation.

Interfaith Dialogue represents an important opportunity for us as Pagans to engage with the non-Pagan society in which we live, to represent our own community and to educate the wider community. By withdrawing from such engagement we deny ourselves that opportunity to correct the many misconceptions found amongst the non-Pagan community.

The two questions; why are we there and what is in it for us? Are valid and anyone has the right to ask them. To ask for a reason or rationale behind the investment of time by representatives of their community in this area, when there may be other issues that members of the Pagan Community feel more important, is reasonable.

The simple truth, if there is such a thing, is that we must seek out the opportunities to correct the misconceptions, play the establishment at its’ own game and emphasise that we the Pagan Community, demand equal consideration with all other sectors of society. This cannot be done by hiding from the public gaze. I am not here advocating that we throw away our rights to privacy, rather that we must protect our rights to practice our religious beliefs without the interference of mainstream society.

This can be achieved by asserting our right to sit with other faith groups and demand equality. By avoiding engagement we allow other sectors of society the opportunity to attack our Community without concern over being corrected. We cannot defend ourselves without risk.

The question of Interfaith Dialogue being a trap is simpler to answer and that answer is no. Anyone attending an Interfaith meeting to seek the conversation of others present, will eventually be corrected and informed that such behaviour is not usual. Furthermore, the enthusiasm of representatives to engage and their attendance of any such meeting should always be tempered with a degree of scepticism.

All those who attend Interfaith do so with an agenda and anyone saying that they do not have an agenda, is a liar. Interfaith is unfortunately, a form of politics and all those involved eventually become politicians. The role of anyone representing their faith group to an Interfaith body, is to promote their own group in the most positive and beneficial manner. That is politics.

Once this is understood, once all engagement within the Interfaith environment is tempered by a healthy degree of scepticism, the assertion of our own position becomes easier. I say this because it is sometimes suggested that Pagans are by becoming involved in Interfaith Dialogue, seeking a form of ingratiation within the establishment. That the Pagan Community is seeking to compromise to gain recognition.

This is not true in my opinion. Although we seek recognition, we seek it not by subservience, nor by dominance, rather by the assertive demand of rights that are in reality already ours. Therefore, the involvement of Pagan Federation representatives within the Interfaith and Intrafaith environment is two-fold. Firstly, there is a very real need to provide educational material, to all who may have contact with Pagans, whether in a personal or professional capacity.

The second and equally important aspect of work particularly within Interfaith, is therefore, representation and the demand for equality. It is important to recognise that rights cannot as such be given by one social group to another, that they are by their very nature universal rights; common to all of humanity. The suggestion that rights can be granted or given, suggests that that the other party has the right themselves, to grant or deny such rights.

This can be and should be disputed at all times, as by demanding equality; any representative body or protest group, is not requesting the granting of these rights. Rather they are demanding that the rights that we all deserve; cease to be withheld.

The East Midlands Pagan Federation

The East Midlands Pagan Federation as an organisation, operating as a division of the family that is the Pagan Federation England and Wales, is an active force within Pagan representation and public education. Within the East Midlands the areas of activity of the East Midlands Pagan Federation are broad, pluralistic and inclusive. Representatives of the organisation liaise with educational and local government bodies, the media in many forms, take active roles in both inter-faith and intra-faith, hospital visiting and healthcare education.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING


Wiktionary on Interfaith
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/interfaith

Wikipedia on Interfaith

Belief in Dialogue (Scottish Interfaith Council)
http://scottishinterfaithcouncil.org/resources/Belief+in+Dialogue.pdf


Originally Published: Chattering Magpie (Griffith D.B.) 2012 In defence of Interfaith in Pentacle. Issue 35 Autumn 2012 pp32-34.

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