Mental masturbation in the Pagan community… 7

Mental masturbation in the Pagan community…

“Between blind faith and critical thinking, I’ll take critical thinking any day.”

That’s a quote that I’ve heard no less than 4 times this week and it’s only Wednesday.  I happen to agree with it.

There was a time when (generally speaking) the Pagan community didn’t do much critical thinking and we’re happy to take any old story or myth as if it were proven fact. Many personal opinions, articles, blogs, etc. were (seemingly) entirely based on myths and urban legends.  Critical thinking was something that was for “scholars”, not spiritual people.  (GROAN)

Over the past few years, I’ve (happily) seen a trend in the Pagan community to draw from more scholarly resources. People have been willing and even enthusiastic to re-examine their personal beliefs and commonly held myths or stories in a new, more scholarly, light and have actively been looking for verification or confirmation to deepen their understanding of their practice and the history of the Pagan community/movement.

I was overjoyed at that turn of events, I can tell you.  I am no scholar or academic but I see a strong benefit for turning to independent sources to confirm, especially when there is interaction with folks outside the Pagan community and critical thinking and analysis can go a long way to deepening our understanding of ourselves, where we came from, and where we’re going.

However, can critical thinking be taken too far?  From what I’ve experienced on Pagan message boards in the past week, I’d have to say, yes.

It seems that there is a new trend on some of the boards that I frequent is to *over analyze* and critique every little thing down to the smallest detail. I’ve seen what were otherwise intelligent and practical discussions degenerate into nothing more than mental masturbation.  You know, where the purpose is to argue rather than discuss.  Where the predominant theme changes to “needing to define what is valid based on X, Y, or Z source” and then devolving further to analyzing “whether X, Y, or Z can even be considered valid sources”.  I’ve seen that generate pages and pages of people arguing over which source should be the authoritative source with which to judge the original question… if the original question can even be remembered… and who can contribute based on what they are basing their *personal opinion* on.  That’s the thing about personal opinions – they’re personal.

It’s one thing if the purpose is to have a scholarly discussion in order to resolve an issue. It’s another to use the guise of scholarly research and critical thinking to AVOID doing the work that the discussion is regarding or (gasp!) using it as a strawman to uncharitably invalidate another person’s point of view.

Sometime, you just have to get your ass out of that armchair and EXPERIENCE something BEFORE trying to analyze it. (Hint, that’s where the Mystery comes into it.)

It’s all well and good to discuss and analyze things like “who or what are the Gods”, “is this practice historically accurate”, “what if any practical benefits/changes does this accomplish”, etc.  However, all the critical thinking in the world is a poor substitute when it is used *in place of* actually having an experience.

I still believe that “Between blind faith and critical thinking, I’ll take critical thinking any day”.  However, I prefer to experience things and suspend dis-belief *first*. Then tackle the experience afterwards with a critical eye to better understand it.

Remember, when working with magic, spirituality, and religion, there is a quality of the ineffable.
Ineffable – “incapable of being expressed in words : indescribable

So, PLEASE make critical thinking a part of your practice without losing the sense of enchantment and magic and *PLEASE* get your ass out of that chair and EXPERIENCE.

Pfew, glad I got that off my chest!

Ciao e benedizioni a tutti,


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7 thoughts on “Mental masturbation in the Pagan community…

  • Anonymous

    Could be a difference between being critical of your own thinking and being critical of others’ thinking…especially if you are only ever one or the other.


  • S. Magliocco

    Thanks for this post, Vinny; very well put. You know how important I think scholarship is in relation to, well, most things. Raven makes a good point, though: we need both critical thinking and reflexivity — being aware of and critical of your own thinking. I always ask myself, before critiquing someone’s ideas, whether I have a stake in being right, and if so, why. Could both perspectives be correct?

    • Vincent Russo

      Yes, I agree! There are definitely time when both perspectives can be right.

      My mind was stuck on a recent conversation where the other person *seemingly* negated everything everyone else attempted to say because it appeared that he was unable to grasp the concept of metaphor or generalization. He kept killing conversations by insisting on (painstakingly) outlining exactly what was and was not acceptable (and please state WHY) regarding background material that lead to the expressed personal opinions.

      I think that accuracy and detail is VERY important but you shouldn’t have to write a dissertation every time you post to a message board. Example: it’s ok as part of a message introducing yourself to simply say “Ecology and spiritual are very important to me and I self-identify as a Pagan”. There is no need to force the person to define each word every time. :-)

  • stephanie barnard

    Oh, THANK YOU for posting this!! I, for one am fed up to the gills with pseudo-intellectual bullies just looking for a venue on which to unleash their pointed opinions – and Mother help you if you disagree, because then you become a target. If it happens that they have allies, it turns into a cliquish nightmare scene from high school. I’m just happy to see I’m not the only one who’s noticed!

  • Heather Alani

    Im spellbound by your words. I think Ive nearly made it through every article you wrote. I can only describe my experience as starving and am not yet full. Thankyou for helping me see outside of the box.