In response to posting the link to the original, long form version of my article on Problematic Pagan Definitions (originally titled “What is Paganism, Really?”) article, I received this reply from a member on the Crooked Cauldron Forums:
I don’t have anything terribly disagreeable with this new definition. However, I have a personal definition that I would like to bring to the table? In that, I see Paganism as the umbrella for a bunch of religions that have such a small following that they seek community with other non-Organized World Religions or Indigenous Spiritualities. [But] Calling oneself Pagan, for me, is a way to share in a community that is larger than the religion or personal practice. If that makes any sense?
PS- The entire article is really informative, though quite a read!
I want to touch on the last bit a tad because it brings up something that hadn’t even crossed my mind before as a necessary topic for discussion when talking about redefining the Pagan Umbrella. That is the subject of defining a religion by its Community.
With Pagan being used as an umbrella term now I can really understand what the commentor means by saying that for them calling themselves a Pagan is a way to share in a community that is larger than the religion or personal practice- one that is larger than what they would simply have access to by sticking solely to their individual Pagan religion and it’s personal community under the umbrella.
However, there are more than a few problems with the idea of defining a Religion- or even an Umbrella Term- by its Community. The main problem comes mostly in that you have your religion, and then you have the members of the religion- or the community… And while these groups certainly impact one another, they are not actually the same thing.
Like I spoke about in Theism vs. Religion and Spirituality, Religion is a specific set of organized beliefs, doctrines, etc, that dictate our Spirituality and our Interaction with the Divine, our ideas on the Afterlife, and more. Religion is indisputably defined by its beliefs and practices, and in order to be a member of a specific Religion you must believe in and abide by them; uou are not a Mormon if you do not believe in the Core Tenants, God, Doctrines, and Theology [sic] which make up the Mormon faith.
A community, on the other hand, is a social, religious, occupational, or other group of people who share common characteristics or interests, which perceives itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists; in other words, in this aspect it is a group of people who share similar interests, goals, views, etc.
When you join a religion (any religion) you are undeniably becoming a part of a community which focuses on and is defined by the religion you have joined; the members of the religion are the community of people who belong to this religion. You cannot be a member of the Mormon Community if you are not a member of the Mormon faith, and being a member of the Mormon faith automatically means that you are a member of the Mormon community- even if you are not an active participant (just as I am not an active participant in the Pagan community, despite being a member of a religion which can disputably be classified as Pagan under many of the currently accepted definitions).
In other words, the people are the community, the religion itself is not– and this does not change when you enter into a religious umbrella term such as the Pagan umbrella. The only thing it changes is that you could now, by proxy, belong to two communities: the community of the Greater Umbrella, and your individual Religious community if you are a member of any specific Religion; Christianity and Paganism (greater Umbrella) vs. Mormonism and Wicca (specific Religions).
Now there is a sort of mutual back-and-forth effect that Communities and religions do happen to have on one another.
On one hand, the communities- both large and small- may impact the Religion or Umbrella by demanding a change of the Religion in any form. An example of this would be Pagans working together to solidify a working and acceptable definition of the Pagan Umbrella- which therefore impacts it and the religions beneath it.
On another hand, redefining the religion therefore re-defines the parameters of the community of that religion- therefore either expanding membership to other people who would not otherwise have been considered a member of that religion, or rejecting people who were previously members before the changes were made; once we better define the umbrella, that change will trickle down into the community and therefore re-establish parameters under which one is considered a “member” of such community.
Individually, though, a Religion is and remains the specific spiritual tenets, practices, beliefs, and doctrines, etc.; it defines and shapes the community- just as the community itself may, on occasion, shape the religion- but it is not the community. Ultimately establishing a solidified definition of the Pagan umbrella doesn’t have much to do with community at all- except in that the community at large must agree with the definition being established in order for it to become a valid and accepted definition, and for the change to happen, and in that redefining the religion will inevitably impact the community and who is considered a part of it.
What I mean to say is that better defining the religious umbrella (or category) is about defining the religion / umbrella itself- and individual Religions are dictated by and defined by their beliefs and practices first and foremost, and cannot be defined in such blase terms as “a Community of people [who have an extremely diverse range of viewpoints which- most times- aren’t anywhere within a football’s throw of being similar to one anothers’]“; the definition of community cannot be substituted for the very much needed solidified definition which defines the parameters of membership- or the umbrella of Paganism itself and what it means to be Pagan- and therefore a member of its community in the first place.
This has to be taken into account when defining the general Umbrella or classification under which these Religions fall.