To the critics

Concerning the critics of my piece on “Humanist Paganism”, recently published on TWH, and how I responded to those critics.

I’ve been thinking about my words a little more carefully over the last few days, and I’ve consulted some friends of mine whose judgment I trust.

I am now reasonably convinced that my first responses to my critics were written in anger. This is partly because some of the critics were, at least to my eyes, obviously attacking a straw man, and doing so in a profoundly personal way: accusing me of “elitism”, for instance. It’s also the case that there’s a number of stressors in my personal life right now (which, if you don’t mind, I’ll not list here), and my frustration with those stressors was coming out in my responses. Add to this heady combination the fact that I live alone, and so I can’t turn to a friend sitting next to me to ask, “Hey, does this sound to you like it might be patronizing?”

The result is that my first responses to my critics were, shall I say, not very wisdom-loving. I have therefore removed them from my blog.

I think I’m in a better position now to understand why some critics felt aggrieved. As they saw it, I had implied that those whose paganism is primarily devotional and practical cannot be intellectual, too. Nothing of the sort was implied as far as I was concerned. But I think I see better now why some people felt that implication was there.

I do try to hold my writing to a high standard of research and rationality, although I hold my blog posts to a somewhat lesser standard than my books. My last book, CM/LF, had 284 footnotes, most of them from primary sources. OSV had sixteen pages of bibliography in it, also mostly primary sources. (Although it also had at least one colossal factual mistake, for which I’m still embarrassed). I think that reason and rationality is a spiritual thing, and that the pursuit of knowledge is one of the ways we can relate to the divine. But it’s fair to say my recent piece on TWH represented that view rather poorly.

I will take a few days, maybe a few weeks, to collect some sober second thought, and prepare a better discussion.

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8 Responses to To the critics

  1. Tim says:

    Thank you Brendan!

    This short post confirms to me what I already knew about you: that you are simultaneously a rational and compassionate individual. It also confirms what I finally (after a reread and some long time of contemplation) came to realize was your intention in your article “Humanist Paganism on the Rise”.

    But most importantly, this post shows that you recognize in what way you angered those of us (myself included, on the first read-through) who took offense to that article. It pleases me that, with this, your abilities as a scholar and your body of work return to their places of high respect and esteem in my estimation.

  2. John Beckett says:

    Could you have been more circumspect in your choice of words? Probably. But if we’re apportioning blame, the vast percentage of it belongs on those who took insult where clearly none was intended.

    A large portion of the Pagan community needs to grow up. My rant is here:

  3. I agree with John on this one, Brendan. I thought your post on the Wild Hunt was articulate and intriguing. Maybe there were places where you could have stated things better, but then that’s always going to be the case. It is very easy to tear down the work of others and pick it apart for any imperfection, any slip of human fallibility that might show through. It’s harder to be on the other end, trying to craft writing that is thoughtful and clear and doesn’t shy away from a challenge. I think the work you do is very good, and while I think it’s always good to see where critics are coming from and learn from their perspective as much as you can, I hope you’re not too hasty in giving an ear to words that seemed (to me, anyway) to often be written with unjustified anger and defensiveness. You have an obligation to consider carefully what choices you make when you write… but commenters on blogs aren’t exempt from that responsibility, either.

    I’m glad that you’ll be thinking and writing more on this topic, and I look forward to reading! I’m thankful that the criticism of your piece hasn’t discouraged you — we need voices like yours in our community, even if sometimes even you are only human.

  4. I appreciate this real apology very much. I was among the many left confused by the previous discussion.

  5. I wonder about humanist pagans and their sense of the sacred. Alain de Benoist says the sacred is what we have unconditional respect for. Is there anything you have unconditional respect for? And if so, how do you express that?

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