I’ve been surprised lately to see more than one piece of right-wing propaganda using “pagan” (sic) as a slur. I think when people use it as a negative, that’s a clear sign that they think something else – maybe Christianity? – is the positive force that ought to be shaping our culture.
In both instances where I encountered it, “pagan” was being linked with QUILTBAG people: Gay activists seek “paganization” of society and homosexuality as part of a “pagan” plot. (By the way, if there’s a massive Pagan plot going on, I think I might have noticed. We can barely get organized enough to run a Pagan Pride Day. There are purely practical reasons no one should be afraid that we’re going to take over the country.)
Both of these speakers seem to be making some kind of connection between Paganism and QUILTBAG relationships. While I will be the first to say proudly that Paganism is, on the whole, one of the religious traditions most welcoming and affirming of QUILTBAG individuals, I don’t think that’s what these guys have in mind.
I think they’re trying to make some kind of allusion to the idea that Greek and Roman cultures allowed or encouraged certain kinds of behavior that might be vaguely similar to QUILTBAG relationships. Since Greece and Rome were (mostly) “pagan,” I think this is supposed to be a dog-whistle calling up images of wine-soaked orgies and pedophilia and so on.
There’s two things that are problematic about this. The first is, as I noted, that if “pagan” is bad, then the speakers are implicitly suggesting that there is something else that is good. Since I don’t think these guys are terribly aware of the Neo-Pagan movement (although they might be using this language because it’s barely starting to impinge on their awareness), the use of pagan in the old sense of non-Christian catch-all implies that Christianity is that good thing.
As a result, any time people are railing against “pagan” behavior in this sense, they are implicitly trying to undermine separation of church and state and trying to make the US into a Christian society. This is not an acceptable argument, and it should be challenged at every turn, not just for Pagans or by Pagans, but by anyone who doesn’t want to live in the kind of theocracy these guys would like to put in place.
Secondly, has anyone else noticed how classical cultures are either the epitome of goodness (democracy! liberty!) or the pit of perdition (persecution! paganism!) depending on the argument of the day? I swear I’m going to start calling people on that, too.