In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution. - Alexander Hamilton
I’d like to thank all the readers who called the story about the raid on the Phoenix Goddess Temple to my attention; I first heard about the temple back in February when the Phoenix New Times published an article on it. When I read that article, I have to admit I was a bit confused, bemused and appalled. Some of their professed beliefs sounded a bit hokey to me, I thought it was odd and irregular to have males claiming to represent the female principle, and I was rather offended by the practitioners calling themselves “goddesses” (which is either hubris or garden-variety megalomania). But I could make similar statements about a lot of religious beliefs, just as I’m sure others find fault with mine; I have no right to tell others what they can or can’t believe, nor do I have the power to look into their hearts to divine whether those beliefs are sincere or merely some kind of dodge.
Police and prosecutors, however, have no such principles; like the healers of the Goddess Temple they profess themselves to be gods (of the little tin variety) and imagine that they have the ability to read minds and thereby determine guilt or insincerity. And since they have heavily-armed goon squads enforcing their pronouncements, no matter how divorced from reality those pronouncements might be, I was utterly mystified at the Temple’s allowing a reporter to describe exactly what went on in their rituals, even to calling their practice “new age prostitution”; it was as though they somehow failed to realize that they were inviting a pogrom. Of course, the cops are doing their usual strutting, crowing and slandering; the ones interviewed by Phoenix New Times for this September 8th follow-up story made the typical claims of having the witch-doctor-like magical ability to see guilt (“This was no more a church than Cuba was fantasy island”), projected their own criminality onto their victims (“They hid behind religious freedom to protect their crimes”) and lied (in the passive voice, of course) about their persecution tactics (“there are policies we follow, guidelines we use so we don’t entrap people…you can presume in this case that acts of prostitution were arranged.”)
As usual, the comments on online reports of the story are largely of the “why aren’t you losers fighting real crime?” variety; it’s clear that the computer-literate segment of the public is overwhelmingly in favor of either decriminalization or legalization, and equally clear that the self-proclaimed overlords aren’t listening. But this time there’s another type of comment, ones based in the religious freedom angle; though comments on a pagan site (called to my attention by regular reader Tonja) seemed divided between “we need to support their right to religious freedom” and “those dirty criminals give pagans a bad name”, the comments on mainstream sites were actually more uniformly supportive of the Temple and critical of the cops. And though some of the pagan commenters agreed with some atheist commenters (such as Furry Girl) that the law doesn’t allow exemption for religions, that really isn’t true; there are a number of cases of religions being granted exemptions for victimless crimes. For example, during Prohibition the Catholic Church was officially allowed to use sacramental wine, and American Indians are allowed to use peyote in religious ceremonies, despite the fact that it’s a felony for anybody else.
The truth is, religions get special legal treatment all the time, as long as they’re big enough (the “Native American Church” isn’t that large, but has a large political support base because Indians are practically the definition of an oppressed minority). There are lots of different pagan groups in the United States, but because they aren’t unified they can’t lobby for special treatment like the big boys can. The same goes for sex workers; if we were better organized (like certain other sexual minorities who have in recent years almost completely reversed their historical mistreatment) it would be much more difficult for the prohibitionists to shout us down. Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter whether a minority group is persecuted for the race, beliefs, ancestry, politics or sexual practices of its members; all that matters is that it is large enough and loud enough to be heard over the greatly-amplified voices of cops and politicians pontificating through their bullhorns about why it’s right and moral to oppress them.
One Year Ago Today
“Flavor of the Month” is essentially an autobiography of my bisexuality.