|Lesson 12 Priest and Politics
SCHOLA AETII·THURSDAY, 3 JANUARY 2019
The time of the 1980s to 2000, roughly speaking, were a time where politics and Paganism largely did not overlap at all. In the FRG where I grew up, and the Western Countries at large, the political climate allowed the vast majority of people to either stay out of politics, or when there was dissent, there was a good chance for relatively normal debates. Today, our societies have changed, and myself being a Social Scientist, I have read more than one explanation how this came, but it seems in this course of history, that times of political peace and political conflict always take turns, and these days we live in times where the split goes deeply right through families and close circles of friends. It is historically not a new phenomenon, such times change in a circular fashion again and again. I am saying this to justify why I would even write a lesson about Priesthood and Politics, because in our time, it is difficult, and even if this era of fragmentation will end, which as things always revolve, it will, someday people will live again under such tense circumstances.
The trend of a fragmented political era is, that the factions or ideological groups develop two things: first they grow further apart, so the gap between their ideas becomes substantially wider, and also more coherent. That means, where for example the left and the right in the past often had merely several fields of contention, it was more a pragmatic point by point controversy, whereas today it has (again) become a controversy of where society as a whole is supposed to move to. And that this is so makes staying neutral or out of the conflict extremely difficult. We are not in this selective conflict, like how high should this or that tax be, or should we use Nuclear Plants or Solar Panels. We live in a sort of holistic conflict, it is about the overall direction. Various entirely exclusive world models are now in conflict. The second moment results from the first: it has the tendency to politicize everything. The non-political areas of life are usually permeated by political agendas, down to video games, comics, TV entertainment and sports. All the classic areas of escapism are encroached by politics; the battlefield extends into all areas of life. That is where we stand, and with all likelihood will remain for the years to come.
This makes the situation of the Priest of every Religion difficult, but I assume the position of Pagan Priest considerably more so. A Catholic or a Protestant can sort of retreat to his Holy Book; or shall we say, they COULD. The fascinating observation I made is, that (alas), our Christian friends do not embrace this possibility, but very often stand in the forefront of political ideologies. From the short “alas” in brackets you can already see that I regard that as a highly negative thing. And here is why. Religion as a system should generally not be political. Now that does not mean that the individual does not come to political views based on his religion. But it is and should be the individual alone, who lives his or her religion, and makes these conclusions. The religious system and organized religion should not take side with any lobby, agenda or modern trend. But should a Priest not support a good lobby group, you may ask?
Generally speaking, no. Now that may sound harsh, but it is a question of where to draw the line, and that is exactly how Religion is now in danger of being consumed and undermined by political lobby groups. They find well meaning humanitarian Priests, and convince them to support this or that lobby group. And if we concede one point, where would be draw the line? We would be at risk to gradually slip into becoming a tool for a political faction.
THE ROLE OF THE PRIEST
Let us take a step back here and ask ourselves, what is the function of Religion, and what is the role of the Priest? Religion is an organized effort to transmit ideas of spirituality in a regular fashion, so that people in a community can come together in their religious experience. So religion has per se the task to be communal, to bring people together, and that makes the idea of serving a faction or lobby a contradiction of the very idea of religion. Religion, while consumed and interpreted by the individual, differs from mere spirituality insofar as it aims to bring people together. While there are many single practitioners, of course, the general aim of a religion is to be part of a community. And injecting politics into this is a great danger of a potential explosive device into a community. Religion is a form of spirituality, where we learn and develop. Together! We learn from one another and before the Gods we leave behind what sets us apart, whether we are rich or poor, men or women, black or white, and we stand before the Gods as people, as human beings and of course as individuals, not merely as a part of some identity group. Injecting the modern day struggles would quite quickly corrode the very meaning of religion. And it becomes more clear when we look at the role of the Priest.
A Priest is a servant of both Gods AND Men. I am always very clear about this in the Schola Aetii. Pontifex is a word for bridge, so a Priest is a bridge between the Divine World and the World of Men. While being dedicated to the Gods, his duty to the Gods is of course higher, since he wants to bring the favor of the Gods to men, he is also a caretaker of the human souls of his group and, generally, of everyone coming to him. The Roman Sacerdos or Pontifex is one who has an open ear for all people seeking him out, not only the fellow Cultor. Many times it is just that: to listen. To give a troubled soul an ear, and you don't have to comment or say much, just try to be understanding. The Priest always tries to understand anyone who comes to him. That doesn't mean he has to agree or condone, but it is not the task of the Priest to turn those away who seek his ear or his council. Any human being, and even the worst, has the right to speak to us, because we are the Servants of the Gods and they must always have the chance to speak to the Gods. It is not our right to deny someone this chance, a chance to find council, divine guidance, salvation and repentance, if need be. The judgment of men lies with the Gods alone, it is not the task of the Priest to condemn the people, but the Gods. I am quite fundamental in this view, that a Priest must never reject a person the basic service. You may limit the service, when you are really uncomfortable with a person, but I think it is not our task to reject someone based on any prejudice, although you may as I said limit it.
There is of course your right to protect your life and safety, in the case for example if you were faced by a dangerous criminal, who might harm or even kill you, where a Priest has of course the right to protect himself. That is ultimately a matter of individual conscience of each Priest to decide, a balance between personal safety and the task to be caretaker of every human soul seeking you as a Priest and hoping to find guidance and if need repentance in the face of the Gods.
SEPERATING PRIVATE AND PROFESSIONAL
Of course that doesn't mean a Priest or a Religious Group does not have to have a message. We have a Philosophy, maybe a Theology. A Priest or a group may share the values of Plato or Seneca, for example. But these are views of timeless Philosophy, and here again the individual is the instance which makes the decision. The Priest only suggests, highlights, tries to give clarity. It remains a difficult to tread line, of course, and requires constant self-introspection. No Priest is always perfect. But as Priests of the Gods, we try to look at things from a higher perspective, a larger view than the short trend struggles of human politics.
Now that does not mean that the individual Priest must be unpolitical as a person. Every Priest is also a human being, and the Roman Religion does not forbid political activity. In the past, the highest ranks of Roman Clergy were forbidden of being political at all. Like a Rex Sacrorum or the highest ranks of the Flamen, the Flamen Dialis for example, and the Vestal Virgins. It does make sense that the highest religious officials actually stay out of politics entirely, like not holding any political speeches or not supporting any political party. But for the local and middle rank Priesthood, I do not see that as a necessity. However, any Priest must keep his politics strictly out of his profession. It is similar as if you were a psychological councilor or a psychiatrist or a social worker. You may have a political view as a private citizen, but in your profession you help anyone who comes to you, no matter what his political view is. Like a therapist or a social worker does not reject one simply because he has different political views, so the Priest must do as well. Ideally you do not let the people coming to you know your political views. It is not that you have to make them a secret, but the aim of giving religious guidance is NOT to turn a person to a certain political view.
Now sure, each Pagan religion and each Polytheist group will likely develop its leaning. That is probably hard to avoid in our days. But I regard every Pagan Priest as helper not only of the people of his group, but first every Pagan of his religion, and of course every human being coming to seek his ear. A Priest must nurture this universal humanism, and through meditation achieve a level of being calm and relaxed, no matter what worldly events transpire. We are given great responsibility, and if we involve ourselves in the world in our role as Priest, I have found that we gradually also lose the connection to the Divinities. I write this, being a very political person myself, and I have been so since I was a teenager, so trust me, I know the hardships of keeping politics out of religion. It is not something that comes easily to me, as maybe to someone who is generally unpolitical. But especially because it is so, I try to nurture a spiritual humanism, trying to help every human being coming to me, and making anyone feel welcome, no matter who he is or what his personal life is like. I do not have to voice agreement with anything, but being conscious that I am a councilor, I am constantly learning to guide, to give people perspectives, open their eyes to see the matters of life from different angles. But I respect that each human being makes his or her own choices, and the Priest must never rob someone of the individual responsibility. That is in my view a distinctly Pagan ethos: we believe in individual choice, in individual responsibility.
We do NOT have a Holy Book, a holy truth. Even though we may consult the Gods, through oracles or vision, if we can, and if someone would seek the Oracle of the Gods. But we as humans being Priest are not in the role to decide for someone else what he or she should do with his life. We may highlight perspectives, try to help the person to find out what he really wants, what really brought him to this place in life, and what might be coming to him, if he walks on this or that path. We illuminate, like Socrates, if you wish, we are midwives of someone else, to help that person to achieve his own understanding, come to his own conclusions.
The role of the Priest is a bit modeled after the ideal parent. We guide and wish those who come to us the best, but we are not shaping them, manipulating them or “talk them over” into some view. Especially in conflictive times such as these, the Priest acts as an anchor of calm reliability, a person everyone can trust. I hope I don't have to say it, but of course that does include absolute confidentiality. What a person reveals to you as Priest must remain secret between him, you and the Gods alone. I take the view of the Catholic Clergy as my own as well, where anything confessed in religious council, the Priest must never reveal. Only if we stick to such a strict code of confidence, do we deserve that people in trouble come to us, and this value must be an absolute rule. Now we Roman Cultors have no canonical law, but the law of the Churches say, a Priest must not reveal what is confessed to him, EVEN if a life is threatened, including his own. A Priest may, in grounds of a great crime, deny a person further service, especially when he does not give himself to the police. But I personally would suggest that the confidentiality of our Priests should be absolute, and at least I bound myself to that by oath. I understand myself as Servant of the Gods, and such I must remain a person everyone can speak to about his dark experiences or actions, for only then can people hope to grow; in this life or another life. I understand that especially this is a difficult topic for the Priest, the question of confidentiality. But even if you handle it different, you have to let the person coming to you know before he speaks, what your stance in the question of confidentiality is.
As Pagan religions grow, such hard questions will be placed before us, so it is a topic we can not entirely avoid, even though it is full of controversial topics. Understand that we are just servants of the Gods, not the Gods themselves. They will judge and decide. Our task is to give hope, to have an open ear to all who seek us out, to be a person to trust in, one who is balanced and open minded, helping people to find their own council and see perspectives. All these are at times difficult questions, so being a Priest is a huge task and the duty of a lifetime, not something you can do just as a hobby. It requires the deepest commitment and the greatest responsibility, to take the grace given to you very seriously. In the end, when you are conflicted, meditate and pray, for the Gods will give comfort to their Priests, and in connecting with them, I have found peace and calm time and again.
Pontifex means bridge. So be one.