In the midst of a wonderful and spirited discussion on social and political matters this weekend, the following exchange took place:
Someone mentioned the “Mormonism is a cult” news splash. The lady next to me turned to me and said, “Well, that’s true! If you look at it, it is a cult!”
I gaped, dumbfounded, for a moment as my hand went to my pentacle pendant hanging in plain view. When my voice came back, I said, “Well, the word ‘cult’ gets thrown at my religion a lot, too, so I’m not so quick to use that term.”*
She looked surprised and asked, “And you are?”
I replied, “Wiccan.” I had to repeat it for her – I’m not sure if that was because she’s unfamiliar with the term, or because of the background noise. Oh, shit, I was thinking to myself – did I just ‘out’ my hostess? Did this lady actually not get the joke behind the giant wooden silhouettes of three witches around a cauldron on the front lawn that had me almost doubled-over in laughter? (They say a Witch lives there!)
She said, “Oh. Well, I’m Quaker, so everybody always thinks I’m weird,” and turned back to the larger conversation.
I let out a slightly relieved breath and didn’t even stop to boggle at the total ignorance of Christian privilege inherent in her statement. (Yes, I know there are Pagan Quakers – some of them do some great blogging. But by and large, most Quakers are Christian or Christ-centric, and that was clearly assumed by this lady’s attitudes.)
Aside from causing a nifty little moment of gut-churning fear, this exchange helped clarify why I agree so strongly with Star Foster about Project Conversion. The blogger behind this “Try the
flavor-religion-of-the-month!” experiment showed up in her comments section and basically said that Star was being a meanie and that we should all be oh-so-grateful that he’s trying to bring Wicca some positive PR. (After all, it’s the only religion he got negative comments about, he said.)
First of all, Star’s right about his problematic framing. (If you haven’t read Hecate on the topic, go do that. I’ll wait.)
But more importantly, I don’t have to feel grateful that this dude is doing me a favor, because he’s not. Yeah, Wiccans have a lot to gain from positive PR. But we also have a lot to lose, especially from people who think they’re doing us a favor by giving us more media exposure when they are actually reinforcing negative frames with that exposure. As Cara Schulz more eloquently put it, he is running a significant risk of making us all look like “fluffy bunny asshats.”
I look forward to the day when being Wiccan is no more weird than being Quaker, when religions less than 250 years old aren’t automatically dismissed as cults, when monotheism isn’t seen as the only way. (I also look forward to the day when someone who is called out ever-so-gently on privilege doesn’t double-down by asserting hir status as also less-privileged.)
But we’re not there yet, and in the meantime, pretending that you’re doing me a favor by helping out the poor, oppressed Wiccans is orders of magnitude more rude than ignoring the existence of Christian privilege. It’s one thing to be ignorant, even deliberately, and another thing to acknowledge that privilege exists and then claim you’re using yours to help the less-privileged without actually acknowledging the feedback you get from them on how they want to be helped – or not.
*Recommended reading on “cults” and the dangers thereof: The ABCDEF.