I’ve been a long-time fan of Doctor Who since long before it was cool. I started watching the adventures of the 4th Doctor back when I was 9 or 10 years old in the late 1970s. I followed him through his 5th, 6th, and 7th incarnations and also at some point caught up on Doctors 1 through 3. When the show went off the air, I followed the Doctor’s adventures through books and audio adventures. I watched the 8th Doctor’s television movie in 1996, and have followed every episode of the show since it’s revival in 2005. Doctor Who and one other show, Knight Rider, were defining and pivotal shows of my youth that have forever had an impact on my life and values. Doctor Who fights injustice wherever he goes. He doesn’t use guns, but uses knowledge, intellect, and technology instead. Knight Rider was similar in its own way – fighting injustice with intellect and technology rather than guns.
When I saw Sunday’s announcement that the upcoming Doctor will be a woman, I’ll just be honest and say I have mixed feelings. I’m not in the camp that the Doctor shouldn’t be a woman at all, but I’m also not in the camp that the Doctor should be female solely in the interests of diversity and representation either. I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t feel that everyone against a female doctor is a misogynist bro-flake. In fact, some of my female friends also have mixed feelings about the Doctor being a woman. I don’t think everyone who wants a female Doctor is a left-wing, radical, hippie extremist either. I think some women want a Doctor who can be their own role model. As a male, I’ve experienced what it’s like for the Doctor to be like “me,” and I know many women want to have the same experience. The same could be said for folks of other ethnicities and backgrounds looking for regenerational representation.
The reasons for my mixed feelings are complex. Doctor Who has always been male and essentially British. In the classic series, the Timelords were portrayed as stuffy, traditional, and sexless, so the idea of them changing gender seems a bit of a stretch to me. It’s only been since Missy showed up a few seasons ago that we even got the idea that Timelords could regenerate into the other sex. I was actually rooting for her to be the Rani, a strong female villain Timelady who showed up a few times in the classic series. The Rani was a good character on her own, so why not take her character and run with it instead of taking a classically male character and turning him into her. In my own opinion, Missy would have worked much better as the Rani – everything from the life-after-death experiments from Season 8 to the fact that her character was more amoral than outright evil. The Doctor himself while being of the male gender, has mostly been portrayed as sexless, being above relationships and sexuality – whether by choice, temperament, or necessity. Sure there was once that fling with that Aztec woman in his first incarnation, the 8th Doctor’s kiss with Grace in the television movie, and many of the new companions such as Rose, Martha, and Amy have had crushes on the Doctor, but time and time again he’s deflected focus away from his own sexuality. There was also that dance between the 9th Doctor and Captain Jack. In the series, I’ve enjoyed a number of strong female companions – Romana (a Timelady of equal stature to the Doctor), Ace, Donna, Amy, Riversong, and others.
So why exactly do so many people want the Doctor to be female? I think essentially it comes down to the Doctor being like “me.” That’s also the reason so many folks want a female Doctor. Many of the female fans want a Doctor they can relate to and can internalize as a part of themselves (not to mention cosplay). The same applies to fans of color or other demographics. The Doctor’s regeneration has always been about change and about bringing in someone different (sometimes radically different) than the one before. We balance out old with young, reserved with brash, serious with fun, humble with self-important, and so on and so forth. In that tradition, it’s really not that big a stretch to replace male with female.
As much as I loved David Tennant and Matt Smith in the role, I’m actually glad they didn’t bring in yet another Tennant-Smith clone. Those two Doctors were more alike than different, especially in the way they looked. That said, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and even Christopher Eccleston drew in a larger female audience to the show, and many of those young women weren’t interested in being the Doctor per se. They wanted to date him. I won’t lie. As a gay man, I did my own swooning even though I never thought of the Doctor sexually or romantically in the classic series – Peter Davison maybe, but not so much the other Doctors. As a man, the Doctor could be me. As a gay man, the Doctor could also be that mysterious, handsome, heroic, and unavailable stranger I could crush on. The same reasons attracted many young straight women who joined the fandom, but they couldn’t claim a male Doctor was like them. Therein lies the problem.
When I saw the announcement for a female Doctor, my biggest fear is that I won’t be able to relate to her and also that many of the show’s straight male fans may have a harder time relating than I do. If male viewers start turning off the show, will there be enough viewers to keep it going. Also, will the many straight female viewers who called for a woman Doctor be disappointed that the Doctor is no longer crush worthy? I know I will be, but the Doctor remaining male doesn’t guarantee this. Look at the falling demographics under Peter Capaldi. He wasn’t as sexy as his recent predecessors. Many of the women who liked Tennant and Smith and the borderline romantic relationships they had with their female companions tuned out under an older Doctor. With a female Doctor, I hope we’ll at least have some cute male companions or go back to a larger TARDIS team that is both male and female.
The biggest problem to me isn’t whether the Doctor is male or female. It’s why there’s such a call for him to be female, a person of color, etc. For me on some level it just bothers me to start changing demographics on an iconic character. It bothered me in the 2008 Knight Rider remake when they allowed KITT to transform into a truck. I wasn’t bothered that the new KITT was a Ford Mustang and not a Pontiac Trans Am. With a car, it really isn’t about race or gender, though I do have to point out that KITT has always been black. Changing types of car was fine for me, but there was something about KITT being able to change into an F-150 pickup that just felt wrong somehow. I have the same feelings about making Doctor Who a woman, or when they made Starbuck a woman in the new Battlestar Galactica. To me, it was about taking an iconic character that I’d grown up with and making them into something they weren’t originally. At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised by the all-female Ghostbusters remake, and I was able to totally crush on Chris Hemsworth’s “Kevin” character in a way I really didn’t feel about anyone in the original Ghostbusters cast.
As I was saying, the problem isn’t the gender or color of the Doctor, but why there are so few iconic and successful shows featuring female characters (or characters of color). We had Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Charmed Sisters, Xena, Wonder Woman, Captain Janeway, and Agent Carter, but I really haven’t been able to think of that many sci-fi and fantasy shows that were carried by a central female character. The numbers are less when you start looking at spacefaring and time traveling heroines. Of course, the gender of these strong female characters was an important part of their charm. Buffy wouldn’t have been as strong or complex a character if she’d been male, Xena would have been just another sword and sandal warrior, the Halliwell sisters might not have cut it as brothers, and Wonder Woman wouldn’t be the same if she was a transgender male.
Instead of rewriting classic characters as someone of a different gender or color, why don’t we have more original female and ethnic characters leading their own shows? I thought Star Trek did this wonderfully with Star Trek Voyager. They didn’t remake Captain Kirk as a woman. They created a new show in the Star Trek universe with a strong, original female lead. I loved Voyager and Captain Janeway brought something to the franchise that wouldn’t be there if they’d simply recast Kirk as a woman. Deep Space Nine brought in a strong African American lead in the form of Commander Sisko. These characters added to the Star Trek universe and the unfolding Star Trek story in a way that recasting the original characters never could have done. The same could be done in the Whoniverse. I’d love to see the adventures of Romana in her own TARDIS, or what about Riversong, Clara and Me in their stolen TARDIS, or some of the other new series companions, or even classic series companions. I loved the Sarah Jane Adventures. Could something similar, but unique in its own right, be done with other female companions?
Regardless of the gender, race, age, or other characteristics of the Doctor, I will continue to watch the show and give each new actor / actress the chance to win me over. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new Doctor and the new producer bring to Doctor Who. Hopefully it will be something good.
I consider myself fairly left of center when it comes to social issues. I believe in LGBTQ rights and sexual freedom. I believe that people of color face systematic oppression and that should be fixed. I believe women deserve equal pay and equal opportunities to men. I don’t believe it’s my choice, the government’s, or anyone else’s whether a woman has an abortion. I also believe that teaching sex education in the schools would prevent not just abortions, but the spread of STD’s. I believe folks’ religious beliefs should be respected regardless of religion (so long as those beliefs aren’t predatory or used to put down or oppress others). I believe marijuana is no more harmful to society than alcohol and should be legalized. I believe that most porn is okay and that sex work and sex workers should be given legitimacy so long as we’re talking consensual adults. I believe in “reasonable” gun control measures. I also believe that the working class should be given a break and that the super-rich should be taxed more. I believe that small local businesses should be held to different standards than large national and international corporations.
I don’t relate to the idea of a liberal bubble as has been put out recently in the media, but I believe there are some at the extreme left who are out of touch with reality. I believe the same about folks on the extreme right. There are liberal bubbles, conservative bubbles, urban bubbles, rural bubbles, religious bubbles, and so on and so forth. I think most of us surround ourselves with people of similar beliefs and interests. I also think that it’s human nature for us all to tend to watch news that supports our own biases and to balk at news that challenges our beliefs about the world. The problem with bubbles is that we lose touch with the needs of those who aren’t like us, if we even understood them to begin with. The rural dweller who has never experienced being the victim of a hate crime is clueless about why there’s so much animosity against the rebel flag, just as an urban socialite is clueless about the deep rooted affiliation a rural Southerner has toward the same flag. Many against the transgender bathroom issue are truly afraid of sharing the same bathroom, but what they don’t realize is that transgender folks are afraid too. What we need to be doing is looking for solutions that are fair to all and that break down the fears and biases we have against each other.
President Obama recently remarked on the concept of “political correctness.” (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/obama-suspect-trumps-definition-political-correctness-mine/story?id=44274981). This article underscores the deep division about what political correctness means. Like Obama, I’ve always believed political correctness was about calling people what they want to be called, avoiding calling people derogatory names, showing courtesy and good manners to others, and being thoughtful that not everyone has the same background or beliefs as I do. I grew up in the rural South and to me this doesn’t seem a far stretch from the concept of good old-fashioned Southern manners. There’s this idea that you may not like the person you are talking to, but you treat them with courtesy and respect (at least publically). Of course, for conservatives, “political correctness” is a code word for hypersensitivity and a feeling of victimization among minority groups. It doesn’t matter that minority groups are systematically oppressed in our culture, and maybe they have legitimate reason to be sensitive about being treated badly or being called certain names. Somehow they should be quiet about it and not get upset when it happens. Ironically, many on the right are also hypersensitive and cry discrimination and victimhood whenever someone challenges their beliefs. Religious fundamentalists are especially prone to crying “persecution” such as when they are expected to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples.
According to Dictionary.com “Identity Politics” is “political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity.” Conservatives seem to see this as only applying to liberals who rally around minority identities such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth, but the truth is most politics are based in large part on the beliefs one has based in their identity. The coal miner’s identity is based (at least to some extent) on their job and the values and norms of others with the same job. Rural Southerners have a group identity built on guns and the Rebel flag (among other things). Christians see Christianity not just as a set of beliefs, but part of their identities. The list goes on. For most LGBTQ people, our identities necessitate rallying against anti-gay policies and laws. People of color fight against racism. Many women fight for gender equality, because… guess what… it affects them. Many people have multiple identities and roles, so that’s why sometimes you see a gay Republican or a liberal Redneck (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTHsQd-vRXK1bp4vpifl6yA) .
Conservatives can be quick to label and shame, but so can we. I’ve been reading a lot of liberal media sites (especially since the election). While I’m in agreement with most of what is put forth on these sites, I have seen a disturbing tendency from some corners to quickly label folks as racist, misogynistic, or homophobic for holding differences of opinion and in some cases for being the wrong identity. I’ve seen white Liberal allies labeled as racist with little or any real justification. I’ve seen gay men and masculinity in general labeled as misogynistic and anti-woman for wanting to spend time among other men. Sure sometimes opinions and actions are built on hateful beliefs and unjustified biases. Other times you have people trying to live their lives, find the middle ground, or who mean well but just don’t have a full grasp of the issues. When we call out bigots for their racism, sexism, and homophobia, it’s often well justified. When we start throwing around these terms all willy-nilly at ourselves and our allies who have a subtle difference of opinion, we might be turning off well-meaning people from our cause. This also has an effect like crying “wolf.” If every minor thing triggers our name calling, it has less substance and impact when something major comes up that needs addressing.
Part of our challenge – especially in this new era of Trump – is to help folks understand (and agree with) our ideologies and not just our politics. We also need to be looking at the middle ground and not the extremes. Political correctness and Southern manners may be very similar in many ways, but getting folks past political rhetoric, ideology, and even simple misconceptions takes work and a real desire to find solutions that work for all and not just the extremes. Most people who are against political correctness don’t really want to go out calling Black people the “N-word” or gay people the “F-word”. Some do, but others have bought into the idea pushed by conservatives (and sometimes validated by liberals) that the “political correctness police” are out to punish them if they say the wrong thing, even a minor thing. They feel they have to walk on eggshells or fear being shamed. Many are afraid that if they call a Native American an “Indian” or an African-American “Black” they might be judged harshly even if they didn’t mean any harm. I will point out that many conservative Christians also get sensitive when you start talking about religion and they have their own brand of “political correctness” about what can and can’t be said about Christianity or their identities as Christians. The bottom line is that we need to be looking for shared values of civility and respect beyond our politics. If we do this, we might make greater progress than trying to push the politics themselves.
When seeking solutions we need to look for solutions that respect the rights of all, but also their fears, and also the cross-section of where everyone’s differing identities and ideologies meet. The Confederate flag is part of the identities of many Southern Americans who feel it represents their heritage. At the same time it is used as a symbol of many racists to promote their hateful cause. There’s probably no easy solution to this one, but perhaps there’s some kind of middle ground on this issue.
Transgender folks, like everyone else, need to use the restroom. They want to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity. They also risk being assaulted for using the “wrong” bathroom. Many straight folks truly fear sharing the bathroom with trans folks and also fear that bathroom laws will open the way for predatory behavior, not necessarily from trans folks, but from unscrupulous people using bathroom policies as a loophole. I honestly think the best solution (at least short term) is for public facilities to have individual bathrooms for folks with special needs. Many places already have individual bathrooms for disabled people; a number have “family” bathrooms which are basically unisex bathrooms anyway; so why not just extend their use to one more community.
Another issue that is often thrown about is why can minority groups celebrate their heritage or have special interest groups, but if someone from a majority group does so it’s shamed. A prime example often given is that folks can celebrate Black heritage or Gay pride, but not White heritage or Straight pride. While I think there is often more of a need among minority groups to celebrate their uniqueness in an often oppressive world, I don’t see why anyone should not be able to celebrate who they are as long as they are doing it in the spirit of history and heritage and not in the spirit of hate. Often the “White heritage” and “Straight pride” groups form from a spirit of hate and mocking rather than to share a positive history or identity to the world. Truth be told, there are a number of groups out there that do celebrate a mostly white or European heritage that don’t get shamed at all (at least not for celebrating their heritage). Examples include Irish Americans celebrating their Irish heritage; Italian Americans celebrating all things Italia; and there’s an annual Greek festival in my area that highlights Greek food, music, and dancing. These folks celebrate their unique foods and culture, not hating folks who aren’t white or who aren’t of their nationality.
It doesn’t always have to be all or nothing, sometimes the best solution is a compromise. Later on when folks are comfortable with the compromise, additional adjustments can be made if desired or necessary.
One last thing I’d like to talk about before wrapping up is how conservatives often take our language or make up code words and twist the meaning against us. I’ve already talked about how political correctness can be seen as either civility or oversensitivity. I’ve also talked about how most everyone’s politics are based around their identities. Conservatives have made these code words that they’ve twisted and injected with negativity. I’d like to suggest in this age of Trump that we start calling out their identity politics and their own versions of political correctness. We also shouldn’t fear not being “politically correct” when we call out racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the like in the Trump era. Just make sure it’s justified and make sure it counts!
I woke up to the news of the 2016 Presidential Election results this morning with horror. I was not the only one. Many other LGBT folks, women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and other minorities have reacted with the same horror and a very real fear of what a Trump presidency might bring about. Already bastions of hate and intolerance, including the KKK, the Alt Right movement, and other groups, have come out of the woodwork feeling validated by Trump’s rhetoric during his campaign and his unexpected election to President.
I rewind the clock to just under a year and a half ago when same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S. by the Supreme Court decision on June 26, 2015. As LGBTQ people we felt we had finally arrived. Many LGBTQ advocacy organizations shut down claiming their work was done. The average, mainstream gay or lesbian person became more interested in wedding planning than in activism. Those already privileged in other areas of their life, ghosted themselves from coalitions and organizations of people fighting for other causes – women’s rights, the rights of people of color, trans rights, sex worker rights, religious tolerance, helping the poor, LGBTQ youth, homelessness, and many others. Once we received some semblance of rights, many of us didn’t care to continue fighting for the rights of others. Those issues were someone else’s problem not ours.
Up until a today, the biggest LGBTQ concern on most LGBTQ people’s minds was the Trans bathroom issue. Little did we concern ourselves that the achievements we’ve made in the past decade could possibly come tumbling down. Progress only moves forward, right? We have marriage equality, gays in the military, record numbers of LGBTQ characters on television, and droves of LGBTQ celebrities and even sports figures coming out of the closet or in support of LGBTQ folks.
The mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub last June was a shock and a wakeup call suggesting that prejudice still exists against LGBTQ folks, against people of color, and against Muslims, but did we really heed the call? Sure there were vigils and speeches and the forming of LGBTQ gun control groups, but a month or two later after the hubbub and after all the summer Pride festivals died down, how much have we really done to address the underlying issues that caused such a tragedy to happen in our country in the first place? How many of us have gotten involved in any kind of actual cause as a result of the tragedy?
LGBTQ folks are not the only ones who became complacent under the eight years of Obama’s presidency. Many believed with an African-American serving as President, that racism was a thing of the past. While we’ve never adopted the Equal Rights Amendment for women, many folks believed women’s rights were also secure.
With Trump’s election and his pending presidency, we live in fear. Will he reverse same-sex marriage? Will he close down Planned Parenthood? Will he deport immigrants and Muslims, and close the borders? Will he give huge tax breaks to the rich, while the poor get poorer? Do we really want someone that unstable to have control of military forces and of nuclear weapons? Will he continue to incite the anger, hate, and divisiveness we saw in his campaign?
What about all the people who voted for him? Does approximately half of the country really hate and look down on LGBT folks, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, and anyone else defined as other? Were they just reacting to calls for sensible gun control and political correctness? Were they feeling frustrated and left out in a time when a number of minority groups celebrated increased visibility and increased rights? Could we really miss the subtle racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia brewing just below the surface of American society?
While I’m not looking forward to a Trump presidency, I hope we as a people can learn from the circumstances we’re faced with. Perhaps we will feel compelled to get involved, not just to secure our own rights, but to look out for others. Maybe we will learn to work together among our different disenfranchised or potentially disenfranchised demographic groups. Perhaps we’ll learn that an injustice to one group is an injustice for all. Perhaps the younger generations who grew up feeling they were totally accepted by society, will learn what the older generations already knew about prejudice and intolerance. Perhaps somehow they will become better people for it. Perhaps all those who voted for Trump will realize their mistake, when the people they love – their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, and their family members, start being affected by his policies.
It is a dark day, and we do not entirely know what a Trump presidency will bring us. Until then, we must be vigilant. We must stand together and we must not go quietly into the night!
November 9, 2016 | Categories: Social Musings | Tags: Activism, Election, Hate, Intolerance, LGBTQ rights, Marriage Equality, Orlando, Pulse Nightclub, Racism, Trump, Women's Rights, Xenophobia | Leave a comment
Over the years, I’ve been involved in a number of groups – some of them coed and others catering to a single gender, in my case “men’s groups.” I’ve also been aware of many women’s groups – whether Lesbian groups or Pagan women’s circles, among others. In college, I was part of the gay and lesbian student group (later we added more letters like “b” and “t”) and a gay youth group made of young gay men, women, and a few folks in-between. After college, I belonged to a few coed sci-fi clubs and also a gay men’s group and later a couple of Pagan men’s groups. Living in a pluralistic society, I’ve always seen room for groups of all kinds and niches. While I’ve heard the occasional cry of why can’t we have a club where everyone is “welcome” and everyone is represented, the very nature of clubs and groups is to segment around a particular topic or niche. This can be a hobby, religion or spiritual path, cause, orientation, gender, or any additional topic area or combination thereof. You don’t often hear the bowling league suggesting they need more basketball players to be representative, but when groups start forming around a specific identity ideas of representation are more fluid and open-ended.
As a human being, I’m part of many tribes and groups. There’s my tribe of birth made up of my family and extended family, my tribe of choice made up of my closest friends, the tribe of my profession made up of coworkers, the tribes associated with hobbies and various other groups I’m a part of. Each of these tribes play a role in my life and I might go to each tribe for different things – emotional support, professional development, intellectual stimulation, or because we enjoy the same activities.
Most of my adult life, I’ve been a part of one men’s group or another and sometimes a few. My reasons for being interested in an all-male environment might be different from someone else’s. As a gay man, my heart and soul long for a closer connections and bonding with men, and not just sexually. For me personally, I feel the need to actively seek out men’s groups and men’s spaces. Left to the natural order of things, I’d be surrounded completely be women.
In college, most of my very close friends were Lesbians. I love my Lesbian friends. I actually felt more of a connection to my Lesbian friends than I did to my gay male brothers. While most of the gay men around me seemed to be interested in only clubbing and the current fads. My Lesbian sisters were out there being activists and trying to make the world a better place. At least, that was the dichotomy I saw in the gay and lesbian community in that particular time and place in my life. Besides that, there was none of that sexual tension between me and my Lesbian friends. We weren’t sexually attracted to each other. We weren’t threatened by each other or too shy to communicate. We weren’t competing for the affections of the same gender. Life was generally uncomplicated, and if I had to sit in the back seat in the name of feminist equality, well that was just the way things were.
As a Pagan, most any Pagan circle or group (other than male specific groups) I might want to join are something like 80% women and 20% men, if not more women. Paganism is largely a feminine, Goddess oriented religion, though at its best it recognizes a need to balance the masculine and feminine energies. At its best, despite discussions of polarity, it also recognizes gender as a spectrum and not a binary.
I also work in a library, which is largely a female dominated field. Out of a staff of 70 or so people, there are about a dozen men in my workplace. This is actually more than it was even a few years ago.
As I said earlier, without a conscious effort on my part, I’d be completely surrounded by women. As a gay man, that just won’t do. I love women as family and friends, but the company of men completes me in a deep and profound way.
For gay men, men’s groups can provide a great deal of room for growth. In one of my podcasts, I mentioned how a number of gay men have ambivalent feelings about other men (I believe this might have been in Episode 5 related to my review of the book “Gay Warrior”). We’ve been taught to distrust other men. They’re our competitors, the people we fear most will judge us, and the people we’ve likely been damaged most by – whether it was a homophobic straight guy, an ex-lover, the catty queen at the bar, or even our own fathers. For many, it’s much easier to hang with our non-threatening female friends than to risk opening up and exposing ourselves to other men who have more potential to hurt us.
Both gay men and straight men have ambivalent feelings about “men’s groups.” Gay men are often concerned that men’s groups are full of macho super masculine homophobes. Straight men often believe that men’s groups are full of gay men having orgies at every gathering.
For straight men, men’s groups can also be an opportunity for growth. They can provide opportunities to share experiences, concerns, and even dare I say feelings in a safe environment among other men who might better understand where they’re coming from. It’s been said that “women are from Venus, and men are from Mars.” While that may not be the literal truth, men and women have been socialized differently and often have different concerns or may come at their concerns from different directions or with different perspectives about the world and their place in it. Men’s groups can also help men to become better. When men come together for spiritual or self-reflective purposes they can begin to disassociate negative, patriarchal ideas of masculinity and manhood like control, aggression, competitiveness, and domination, and replace these with more enlightened masculine ideal such as assertiveness, confidence, cooperation, and nurturing.
To be continued…
Not too long ago I was in a conversation with a Christian co-worker about life challenges and struggles. She’s a very genuine person and often has well thought things to say about life from a Christian perspective. In this particular instance, she said something both interesting and disturbing. She suggested that God gives us challenges and struggles because if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t need “Him.”
The idea stuck with me, not because I agree with it, but because I found the mindset disturbing. If we’d been talking about a relationship with another person – say a boyfriend, spouse, friend, or even a relative – the reaction would be “This person keeps you down so he can feel better about himself and to keep you hanging on and ‘needing’ him? You need to get away from that relationship or at the very least go through counseling together if the relationship is important.” Since this is God, the omnipotent ruler of the universe, of course this is different. It’s okay. I don’t actually buy that, but many Christians are willing to accept behaviors and conditions from their God that aren’t acceptable from people in their closest relationships, let alone from a mortal ruler. If someone ruled by keeping their people down, there’d certainly be a rebellion and in Christian mythology there supposedly was. If one is to accept Christian mythology as fact (as many Christians do), it makes one wonder about the other side’s version of things, since history is usually written by the victor and demonizes the opponent – in this case, literally. I’m not going to go down that line of reasoning, but I will leave it as food for thought.
Of course, being a co-dependent ruler who needs human worship and approval is not the only image of the Christian God. In fact, this idea of God is very medieval and feudal, coming from a time where feudal lords ruled, protected, and likely exploited the common people, and the people were happy to give up some freedom and perhaps even dignity because the system was still better than going it alone. Modern conceptions of God are more that of a loving parent, though often a strict disciplinarian. God wants what’s best for us, though we don’t always know what’s best for ourselves and we often have to accept His judgment. We are children, after all, or perhaps sheep. The loving shepherd is also a Christian God archetype. Still a parent who loves us, but keeps us down for his (or her) aggrandizement or to keep us needing them, doesn’t mesh with the concept of unconditional love, and again, I think we’d question that love if it was all about the other person and left us wanting.
For the Christians out there reading this, you’re welcome to justify your life challenges and struggles in a context that makes sense to you, and I know there are other ideas on this matter. As a Pagan and a polytheist, I feel free to pick and choose Gods, Goddesses, and even other spirits that resonate with me and with my conception of the world. I wouldn’t willingly choose a deity who kept me down, abused my trust, or exploited my struggles. For you monotheists out there, Christians and others, you only have one choice. You have to accept or to justify, your One deity’s actions and commands. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t mesh with your beliefs or your view of the world, you’re the one who has to adjust, adapt, and accept, or else risk going to Hell. I don’t believe in Hell. I actually believe in reincarnation. For me, struggles and challenges are part of a learning process. My struggles and challenges weren’t put there by “the devil” to trip me up nor were they put there by any god or goddess to keep me needy. If they were put in my path, it is so I can grow and so I can learn to fish for myself as the saying goes, rather than relying on handouts from the fisherman. Teach a man to fish… and all of that. In the grand scheme of things, struggles and challenges teach us and test us. I’m learning to be the best soul I can be, though it may take me several lifetimes to get there.
The Law of Reciprocity is a basic principle that we can relate to our spirituality, to our groups, to our social lives, and even to our jobs, careers, and businesses. The basic tenet of reciprocity is give and take. When you do something nice for someone else, they’re likely to do something nice for you. If you only take and don’t give back, folks are likely to stop giving to you. If you give too much and never get back, you’re likely to feel taken advantage of. It’s all about respect and balanced relationships. This can apply to your relationships with the gods and goddesses, with your guides and totems, with the people in your respective group or coven, with your friends and family, and with your co-workers, bosses, and clients. Reciprocity can be applied to material things like gifts. It can be applied to non-material things like your time, attention, and how you communicate. Reciprocity is about building relationships.
In our spirituality, this means paying attention to our patrons and guides. When Pagans “pray”, we often make offerings and libations. Our prayers often take the form of rituals – whether simple and solitary or complex and involving many others in our chosen spiritual community. We might leave milk and honey for the Fey. We might offer wine or mead to the deities. We might burn a candle or incense to take our prayers to the heavens. We might make an altar and fill it with symbolic items to build our connection between the appropriate patrons or energies. We often share food and drink with the deities and amongst ourselves with blots and feasts further building our spiritual and community relationships. Pagans often say “A gift for a gift” or “A boon for a boon.” Pagans generally don’t expect free handouts from the gods and goddesses. Instead we offer something in return, an offering, our devotion, or sometimes even a vow of some kind.
Reciprocity also applies to our communities, though this is an area that many Pagans need to work on. How often do we participate in or give back to our Pagan communities? How many of us are content to be “solitaries” only coming out of our shells periodically to buy something from our local Pagan shops or to attend only the big gatherings and rituals? Do we even buy from our local Pagan shops or do we order all our supplies online? Do we volunteer to help at the gatherings and rituals or do we just take what is offered? In our Pagan groups, are we a leader or a go-to person? Do we take responsibility or do we sit back and let others do all the work? Do we make contributions monetary or otherwise to Pagan causes or to other causes that are dear to our hearts? Do we give positive feedback to Pagan businesses, groups, and events or do we only give negative feedback when something is wrong? Do we share your esoteric knowledge and experiences with others or do we keep it to ourselves? How you answered these questions will let you know how reciprocal you are and whether you need to do better.
Reciprocity also applies to our relationships with friends and family, as well as our smaller groups and covens. One of my pet peeves in this internet age is the number of people who have forgotten how to really communicate. Sure we post cat videos and status updates to our Facebook feeds, but how often do we really engage with each other. I have a number of friends who never or rarely reply to messages online, or by phone or text for that matter. I’m Pagan not telepathic. I don’t know if my message (sometimes multiple messages) got lost in their feed, whether they’ve got everything under control, or whether they’re ignoring me. With some folks, I feel like I’m talking to a wall both literally and figuratively. I really do need to know if you’re bringing the food to our next gathering, if you’re meeting me at my house or at Starbucks, or if you’re picking Aunt Edna up from her appointment. My dozen or so messages to you across Facebook, text, and voicemail weren’t because I had nothing better to do with my time, but because I really need to know. The last time I saw you in person you implied you would, but that was over a month ago. If you can’t confirm, I need to make other arrangements. Reciprocity is taking responsibility for our communications and taking our responsibilities to others seriously because we’d want others to do the same for us. Communication, respect, and taking responsibility are all key aspects of reciprocity regardless of whether we are dealing with divine entities or with our mundane family and friends.
These same concepts can help us in our jobs and businesses. Do we do our fair share? Do we put off all our work on everyone else? Or are we the ones doing more than our fair share while others slack off? Do we treat our customers right? Do we treat them like someone with expendable money to buy stuff or do we honestly try to provide them a product or service to resolve their need or a want? Are we open to communication, comments, and suggestions?
Reciprocity is closely related to karma though perhaps it’s a little more personal than that. What you put out comes back to you. What comes around goes around. When you treat others well and try to help them, they’re inclined to do the same for you.
Are your spiritual and your mundane relationships reciprocal? If not, what can you do to make them better?