Though it was published only moments ago, my last post left me wanting to expand more on conflict in our small little religious community. More importantly, I want to look at how we handle conflict in our little community and what we can do address those issues on both a micro and macro scale.
When addressing conflict in the military, we used something called a force continuum. The central premise of the force continuum doctrine is one should apply only as much force is necessary in a given situation. Can we handle the situation with less than lethal means? If lethal force is necessary, what sort of munitions need to be used; can we use a bullet or do we need a bomb? Conflict in our religious community can get out of hand, often because there is no accepted norm of what “force” is necessary to resolve the conflict. Little things can get blown out of proportion quite easily, because someone brings a cannon to a seed-spitting contest. I want to address how we can avoid going in guns blazing to avoid escalating conflict and making mountains from mole hills.
First, what are the problems? In my experience, when conflict arises in Hellenismos, it comes in at least one of these three forms: conflicts of practice, conflicts of communication, and conflicts of culture. While these three aren’t the catch-all of conflicts, the majority do fall within one or more fo these categories. The inability to move past them hurts our community. So let’s take a look at how these conflicts play out, and how we can resolve them.
I’ll focus first on conflicts of communication, because these are probably the most numerous and easiest to resolve. It’s pretty common knowledge that the majority of communication takes place non-verbally. However, unless you live in a large metropolitan or urban area such as LA or Athens, chances are you probably do most of your communicating with coreligionists on-line. So, whenever you send a message, post a blog, or write an article, your audience is missing up to 90% of what you are trying to communicate. Add in the factor of ineffibility possessed of religious experiences, and congrats: you’re lucky if you get through at all! With the cards stacked against you, it’s easy to see how conflicts can arise. Simple passing statements or jokes can come off as offensive or even aggressive. People get hurt when they feel someone is attacking them, even if you don’t know that person. Even worse, some use the anonymity granted by a screen to actually make personal attacks.
Threat Level: Minimal
In my experience, the best way to resolve conflicts of communication are to either be as specific and detailed as possible, or to avoid saying something altogether. Free speech isn’t so much a right as it is a responsibility. Words can be like a loaded gun, and you have to know how to use them safely and deliberately. It’s also important that when you disagree, you go after the argument, not the person. For example I might disagree with a Dionysian like Sannion about the amount of freedom that is healthy for an individual and society. It is the idea I disagree with, not the person. If we lose that basic level of respect, everything from that point, every interaction, every comment, is poisoned by that lack of respect. Thankfully there’s room for a lot of divergence within Hellenismos.
This brings me to my next conflict type: conflicts of practice. A simple scan through the historical record will show how varied the cults of a single god could be. For example, as I described in an earlier post, Ares had two festivals where only one gender or the other could attend. Behaviors you could get away with at one temple could get you booted at another. In addition, different localities meant diverging traditions. And yet, we modern Hellenes seem to take this slightly out of context. Folks on either side of the continuum can take an extreme position, from Hellenismos essentially becoming an orthodoxy, to the other side of the coin wherein the religion is so highly syncretic as to be void of definitive features. Let’s take a common example of divergent opinion: opinions on magic. Some seem to want to grab the torches and pitchforks, others say bring on the spell books. History shows that while magic was certainly taboo, it didn’t stop many people from using it. Yet this minor deviation in practice has led to flame wars and groups fracturing.
Threat Level: Moderate to High
Figuring out how to address this sort of conflict can be tricky, because obviously style here is very personal. To avoid relations from souring quickly and permanently, honesty and a willingness to communicate concerns is a must. This is especially important when forming a group, and must occur from the outset. For instance, if you and friends decided you wanted to create a reconstructionist group, you still need to discuss what practices you want to reconstruct, and from what era. Little details like these can make it or break it for some folks. You need to decide on an appropriate level of compromise, too, which is also deeply personal. Assessing your own values and preferences is paramount; as the temple wall said, “Know Thyself”. It is also important to note when it’s not you, it’s me. If you’re the only one with an issue, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth causing a fuss over. That takes strength, but the community may be better for it.
The last major conflict zone is conflicts of culture. Hellenismos is an ethnic religion, so a certain amount of ethnocentrism is to be expected. There have been individuals who claim that one must be ethnically Greek to practice Hellenismos, and I don’t doubt some still hold that opinion. Political, social, and economic differences also fall in this category. Some interpret different sources, evidence, and philosophy as mandating specific views on how we should operate culturally. This of course affects how we interact with each other on the most base levels. Conflicts stemming from this zone get out of hand the fastest and do the most damage.
Threat Level: High
Unfortunately, these conflicts are seemingly impossible to overcome. As I see it, there are essentially two options: to ignore the conflict, or to ignore the conflicting party. Ignoring the conflict can be simple if it is smaller, but over time, resentment can grow and come to a head. Ignoring the offending party is the other option, but doing this without burning a bridge can be difficult, especially if you view that person as a trusted (or formerly trusted) resource. There is no easy answer for this one, and it helps to occasionally hit reset and hope to move forward. Again, it is important to know yourself and decide what you are willing to compromise in return for harmony.
Always remember that in such a small community, your words and actions have increased effect. As a religion, we must remain dynamic, relevant, and harmonious to survive and flourish; one big flame war is all it takes to kill a movement this small. To do this we much each be willing to play our roles responsibly, whether we take them or they are thrust upon us. With courage and patience, we can all rise to the occasion. The gods ask, and deserve, nothing less.