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Author Topic: Finding a tradition's leader's attitudes offensive  (Read 2772 times)
stephyjh
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« Topic Start: March 12, 2011, 09:38:57 pm »

The other day, while I was in Greensboro, I went to Edward McKay's Used Books and Music. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it's the kind of used book store that is every bibliophile's wet dream. Seriously, I've been in grocery stores that were smaller. I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I found the out of print, almost impossible to find Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism by the late Isaac Bonewits, founder of ADF, the druidic organization to which I belong.

Short version: I've now posted the thing on eBay, hoping someone else will be less disgusted with Bonewits than I am. He claimed to be a progressive liberal, but he created a scholastically-irresponsible pseudohistory in which the Yoruba people of west Africa were actually of Indo-European descent, and used it as a reasoning for why black people should be welcomed into druidic groups.

Now, to me, that seems incredibly racist. Of course people of non-Indo-European descent should be welcomed into druidic groups--not because of some fake history that Bonewits pulled out of his nether regions, but because it would be wrong not to. To claim the core virtues of wisdom, integrity, hospitality, etc., is to put them into practice, and that means not trying to whitewash someone's identity to make him/her more acceptable to the group. Every person comes to the gods by hir own path, from hir own background, and there's no one background that is more acceptable than any other. The ancient druids don't have to be a person's genetic ancestors for him/her to hear their call; rather, by walking a path rooted in theirs, we become their descendents and heirs in spirit. The core virtue of hospitality means, "This is what we believe and what we practice, and all who have a genuine desire to participate are welcome," not something to the tune of "Oh, you want to join us? Well, most of us are white, but...I guess if we pretend that the orishas of Yoruba tradition are really Indo-European gods wearing blackface, then that would make your presumed ancestors' religious traditions close enough to ours that we could allow you to play in our sandbox if you act grateful enough for it. Plus, having you around will be a great way to screen out any weirdo skinheads who might want to join, so...bonus, I guess."

Now, these racial attitudes wouldn't be shocking if I'd read them in a book that was written in the fifties, sixties, maybe even early seventies--it was a different time, before the concept of equality was well understood. But this book didn't even come out until 2006. There's no way he could have possibly not known better. I understood the doctrine of archdruidic fallibility, but...there's something disconcerting about reading an attitude so deeply anathema to the core virtues of our tradition and knowing that it was written only a few years ago by the tradition's founder.

I've been really struggling with this over the past couple of days. I'm not sure how to reconcile the virtues I hold so dear with the attitudes Bonewits has presented. Any thoughts?
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« Reply #1: March 12, 2011, 10:07:03 pm »


I've been really struggling with this over the past couple of days. I'm not sure how to reconcile the virtues I hold so dear with the attitudes Bonewits has presented. Any thoughts?

I have heard it said "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Are the two the same?  If not, why think accepting one, means you must accept the other?
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« Reply #2: March 12, 2011, 10:30:07 pm »

Short version: I've now posted the thing on eBay, hoping someone else will be less disgusted with Bonewits than I am. He claimed to be a progressive liberal, but he created a scholastically-irresponsible pseudohistory in which the Yoruba people of west Africa were actually of Indo-European descent, and used it as a reasoning for why black people should be welcomed into druidic groups.

While I always liked Bonewits the person, I'll admit that he could really play fast and loose with history (and even reality) when he needed to to make things fit his views. There never was a good excuse for it.
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« Reply #3: March 12, 2011, 10:52:14 pm »

I've been really struggling with this over the past couple of days. I'm not sure how to reconcile the virtues I hold so dear with the attitudes Bonewits has presented. Any thoughts?

<shrug>  I've yet to read about an established tradition with which I don't have some kind of irreconcilable difference.  That's why I'm where I am.

Brina
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« Reply #4: March 12, 2011, 11:27:50 pm »



I hear you about Bonewits - I just don't read his stuff anymore.

If you ever get to Portland, Oregon check out Powell's Books.  New and used - right next to each other on the shelf.  Enormous.  Talk about a wet dream!
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« Reply #5: March 12, 2011, 11:28:57 pm »

<shrug>  I've yet to read about an established tradition with which I don't have some kind of irreconcilable difference.  That's why I'm where I am.

Brina

So your neck of the woods is for people like you??? (ducks and runs)
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« Reply #6: March 12, 2011, 11:38:20 pm »

So your neck of the woods is for people like you??? (ducks and runs)

Having been to my neck of the woods, you must certainly know that my neck is expressly not for my ilk.  My neighbors seem bent on making that clear on a semi-regular basis.

Brina

p.s.  Yee-haw.
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« Reply #7: March 13, 2011, 12:22:31 am »

Now, these racial attitudes wouldn't be shocking if I'd read them in a book that was written in the fifties, sixties, maybe even early seventies--it was a different time, before the concept of equality was well understood. But this book didn't even come out until 2006. There's no way he could have possibly not known better. I understood the doctrine of archdruidic fallibility, but...there's something disconcerting about reading an attitude so deeply anathema to the core virtues of our tradition and knowing that it was written only a few years ago by the tradition's founder.

I've been really struggling with this over the past couple of days. I'm not sure how to reconcile the virtues I hold so dear with the attitudes Bonewits has presented. Any thoughts?

My basic take on it is that people are human, and flawed. That doesn't mean we can't - or shouldn't - talk about those flaws and concerns, or that those things shouldn't influence our decisions, but it does mean there are probably some better and worse ways to approach them.

I think there are ways in which race is particularly tricky: there's a whole generation of people who grew up and came of age in the civil rights movement, who continued to do various good things in the communities they cared for, but who - for whatever reason - did not keep up with the ongoing conversations about race, identity, and various other related topics. That doesn't automatically make them horrible people - we'd need more data to figure that out. It does mean they're out of date on that issue, and might be out of date on others. And that we should factor that awareness into our interactions with them, or with their work.

That's part of the reality of people being human: adult human beings, who are juggling everything from holding down a job to raising children to caring for elderly parents, to dealing with their own health crises, to putting time and energy where and when they can into their own particular beloved projects - well, we all get the same 24 hours of time every day, and none of us is going to be well-read in everything. None of us is going to keep up with the current conversations and awareness of every topic. And, of necessity, some topics are going to get more of our time and energy than others.

I pay attention to the race conversations, and to the access and disability conversations, and to the gender conversations, and to the questions of cultural heritage that is not directly related to ethnicity, and to any number of other things. But I'll be honest and say that I am as attentive to those conversations as I am because I work with school-age students, and because I'm a librarian who cares about the collections I develop serving the full range of the community I work with, more than because I think it's my job as a priestess and witch in a particular path. And I am fully aware that there are times that that reading, and that learning, and that trying to understand better takes me away from things that are more directly related to my religious commitments and community.

I'm okay with that trade-off. But I'm not going to delude myself that it isn't one, or that other reasonable, thoughtful people, who are passionate about other topics, other ideas, other concepts, might not make different choices for very good reasons. And I have a particular sympathy for anyone like Bonewits (and like me, this last year) whose time, energy, and ability to focus are limited by long-term health issues: there's only so much that the brain can handle in a given day, and often that's a lot less than I want, and *something* has to give.

Now,  I do think that authors looking at larger publication do have something of a greater obligation to get feedback and "Hey, is this off-base?" when they can. But I also know that sometimes publication dates, and the realities of the publishing process, and who has time to give you opinions and time to discuss them in detail at a given time compete against that.

So, I come back to two things:

One is the fundamental nature of the sharing of knowledge as a discussion. If I have an issue with something in a book I've read, enough that it's really bugging me, then what can I do to change that? That might be writing a review. It might be starting a discussion, like this one. It might be quietly committing not to do that thing in my own work (and taking steps to make sure I don't). It might be any number of other options, all of which will add new voices and considerations to the larger conversation. (Same goes if I find something I really like: talking about it is great. I am in fact, pausing in writing up a review of a play I saw tonight to write this post, but I want to finish that blog post because I want to let other people know they should check out the production and the company.)

The other is putting my money (and my time, and my attention) where my ethics are: I make a point of spending my money on the works of writers (and artists, and musicians, and community projects) that match my ethics, and my hopes for the world.  In the case of buying a used book, the effect is neutral (the store benefits, but the author doesn't directly), but in the case of a new book, or encouraging other people one way or the other, the effect can be larger.

But that doesn't necessarily mean tossing out everything else by an author, or teacher, or creator: other parts of what someone does might be very insightful and thoughtful and valuable, and I can often (not always, but often) support those things without necessarily agreeing with everything someone has done or thought.

Now, I do see a difference between something like what you describe here (which is misguided and something many people now quite reasonably see as offensive - but that is not, for example, outright threatening or directly hurtful or whatever) and some of what, say, came up in the recent discussions around transgender folks and the Dianic community (some of which was people coming from very different perspectives, and trying to learn more, and some of which was really nasty, dismissive, and hurttful.)

I don't like hanging out with people (or encouraging people) who think 'hurtful' is a good solution, whatever the topic.

I'm willing to give more time and grace to people who are at different places than I am in the process of learning. Because I hope - I have to hope - that all the people who are further along the path on that topic than I am - will do the same for me, at least sometimes.
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« Reply #8: March 13, 2011, 11:22:21 am »

My basic take on it is that people are human, and flawed. That doesn't mean we can't - or shouldn't - talk about those flaws and concerns, or that those things shouldn't influence our decisions, but it does mean there are probably some better and worse ways to approach them.

I think there are ways in which race is particularly tricky: there's a whole generation of people who grew up and came of age in the civil rights movement, who continued to do various good things in the communities they cared for, but who - for whatever reason - did not keep up with the ongoing conversations about race, identity, and various other related topics. That doesn't automatically make them horrible people - we'd need more data to figure that out. It does mean they're out of date on that issue, and might be out of date on others. And that we should factor that awareness into our interactions with them, or with their work.

That's part of the reality of people being human: adult human beings, who are juggling everything from holding down a job to raising children to caring for elderly parents, to dealing with their own health crises, to putting time and energy where and when they can into their own particular beloved projects - well, we all get the same 24 hours of time every day, and none of us is going to be well-read in everything. None of us is going to keep up with the current conversations and awareness of every topic. And, of necessity, some topics are going to get more of our time and energy than others.

I pay attention to the race conversations, and to the access and disability conversations, and to the gender conversations, and to the questions of cultural heritage that is not directly related to ethnicity, and to any number of other things. But I'll be honest and say that I am as attentive to those conversations as I am because I work with school-age students, and because I'm a librarian who cares about the collections I develop serving the full range of the community I work with, more than because I think it's my job as a priestess and witch in a particular path. And I am fully aware that there are times that that reading, and that learning, and that trying to understand better takes me away from things that are more directly related to my religious commitments and community.

I'm okay with that trade-off. But I'm not going to delude myself that it isn't one, or that other reasonable, thoughtful people, who are passionate about other topics, other ideas, other concepts, might not make different choices for very good reasons. And I have a particular sympathy for anyone like Bonewits (and like me, this last year) whose time, energy, and ability to focus are limited by long-term health issues: there's only so much that the brain can handle in a given day, and often that's a lot less than I want, and *something* has to give.

Now,  I do think that authors looking at larger publication do have something of a greater obligation to get feedback and "Hey, is this off-base?" when they can. But I also know that sometimes publication dates, and the realities of the publishing process, and who has time to give you opinions and time to discuss them in detail at a given time compete against that.

So, I come back to two things:

One is the fundamental nature of the sharing of knowledge as a discussion. If I have an issue with something in a book I've read, enough that it's really bugging me, then what can I do to change that? That might be writing a review. It might be starting a discussion, like this one. It might be quietly committing not to do that thing in my own work (and taking steps to make sure I don't). It might be any number of other options, all of which will add new voices and considerations to the larger conversation. (Same goes if I find something I really like: talking about it is great. I am in fact, pausing in writing up a review of a play I saw tonight to write this post, but I want to finish that blog post because I want to let other people know they should check out the production and the company.)

The other is putting my money (and my time, and my attention) where my ethics are: I make a point of spending my money on the works of writers (and artists, and musicians, and community projects) that match my ethics, and my hopes for the world.  In the case of buying a used book, the effect is neutral (the store benefits, but the author doesn't directly), but in the case of a new book, or encouraging other people one way or the other, the effect can be larger.

But that doesn't necessarily mean tossing out everything else by an author, or teacher, or creator: other parts of what someone does might be very insightful and thoughtful and valuable, and I can often (not always, but often) support those things without necessarily agreeing with everything someone has done or thought.

Now, I do see a difference between something like what you describe here (which is misguided and something many people now quite reasonably see as offensive - but that is not, for example, outright threatening or directly hurtful or whatever) and some of what, say, came up in the recent discussions around transgender folks and the Dianic community (some of which was people coming from very different perspectives, and trying to learn more, and some of which was really nasty, dismissive, and hurttful.)

I don't like hanging out with people (or encouraging people) who think 'hurtful' is a good solution, whatever the topic.

I'm willing to give more time and grace to people who are at different places than I am in the process of learning. Because I hope - I have to hope - that all the people who are further along the path on that topic than I am - will do the same for me, at least sometimes.

People are human. I find that whatever I am reading , it is best to do so with descernment. I get curious, like who knows what I will find.
Now granted that some people are misinformed, a little crazy, prejudice, untrusworthy and so on. It might even be hard work to sift through that, but at the end of the day I still decide how I want this information to effect me.

Despite who founded the religious system, it is still up to the individual to decide how they will apply it to themselves if they so choose.

I agree that there are flaws but there are constructive and unbeneficial ways that they can be discussed and handled.
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« Reply #9: March 13, 2011, 12:35:59 pm »

He claimed to be a progressive liberal, but he created a scholastically-irresponsible pseudohistory in which the Yoruba people of west Africa were actually of Indo-European descent, and used it as a reasoning for why black people should be welcomed into druidic groups.


That's just gross.

It's possible to separate the creator from the creation, however. (Not always, for me, but sometimes.) I still enjoy listening to old Elton John songs, even though, from a gay political perspective, I think he's an idiot.

Your problem is more complex, in that Bonewits's idiocy is related to his creation. Still, the idiotic part seems easily excised from the rest.
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« Reply #10: March 13, 2011, 03:13:22 pm »

Having been to my neck of the woods, you must certainly know that my neck is expressly not for my ilk.  My neighbors seem bent on making that clear on a semi-regular basis.

Brina

p.s.  Yee-haw.

Yes, well, your neighbors are just too conformist.

We'll be on that side of the Cascades around the 21st looking at property.  The one I like best is up by Kendall (past Maple Falls) - 38 acres!  Not developed at all, but we are seriously considering it because it looks so good and would be cheaper by far than less land with a thrashed house.....and not NEAR anyone if the house isn't by the road.
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« Reply #11: March 13, 2011, 05:32:41 pm »

If you ever get to Portland, Oregon check out Powell's Books.  New and used - right next to each other on the shelf.  Enormous.  Talk about a wet dream!

Oh Powells I am having withdrawls from you. I have not been there in about three months and that is a sin.
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