When Did the Pagans Turn Into Mr. Garrison?

Like most preteen boys, I was guilty of searching my house for the things that my parents kept hidden away so we children wouldn’t be exposed to them, and I found them, and I enjoyed them. I am of course referring to my parent’s George Carlin albums (what did you think I meant?) which I listened to after I got home from school but before my sister got home, like an hour later. Ah, it was pure bliss, not only to do something my parents had forbidden (or at least kinda discouraged), but because the material itself was brilliant. And it was brilliant not just because it was dirty (which it was) and not just because I’d never heard anything quite like it before (because it was dirty), but because it was so eye-opening to hear someone talk about dirty words and dirty thoughts and the good and bad aspects of a Catholic upbringing in such a meaningful and thoughtful way. And yet it was still hilariously funny.

I kept watching and listening to Carlin through the years, even when he wasn’t forbidden fruit, and as an adult I’ve bought several of his albums. One of my favorite routines from his later works is one where he compares Jesus to Joe Pesci (this was not too many years after Goodfellas came out) and he said he’s rather send his prayers for help to Pesci than to Jesus, because Joe Pesci seems like the kind of guy who can get things done. It’s funny, it makes us question the whole concept of prayer, and yeah, it might just be a little offensive to the Christians out there. And yet, I don’t remember hearing about any major protests or petitions when Carlin’s album was released. Maybe they’re just used to George Carlin saying those sorts of things, sure. Or maybe it just wasn’t that big a deal to the people who could have taken offense. Maybe they had better things to worry about, like helping the poor, or tending to their own spiritual needs, or mowing their lawns, or any of thousands of more meaningful activities.

So imagine my surprise when I wandered over to the few non-ADF pagan mailing lists I’m on, and discovered a flood of posts on Friday that accused Kathy Lee Gifford of hate speech against Pagans during one of her Today Show appearances. The posts refused to say what exactly she had said (a bad sign, if it was really that offensive people would be including the offensive quote and responding to it), and me being on dialup at home I wasn’t sure it would be worth the several hours of download time it would take, but fortunately it was a slow day at work so I managed to watch it there. What was the offensive remark? In a multiple-choice question being given to a future groom about the origin of the wedding ring tradition, one of the (incorrect) options was, “Pagans believed that carrying gold on the right side of the body was bad luck”. And Kathy Lee read it aloud as: “Pagans – those bad, nasty pagans – believed that…”

Wait, what? This is hate speech? That’s just an opinion. And not much of one at that. I’m not thrilled that she said it, of course. And if I somehow managed to get alone time with Ms. Gifford, (and that may be the most horrifying thought I have all day), I’d probably mention something about modern Paganism and suggest that we’re neither bad nor nasty. (Well, some of us smell nasty after we’ve spent a week at a festival without shower facilities, but that’s only temporary.) But even if I thought that Kathy Lee Gifford held any kind of sway over the hearts and minds of most Americans – and no, she doesn’t – this barely even counts as an insult. Heck, the 1988 movie Dragnet has probably done more serious damage to our image, just because I’ve talked to people who actually thought the word “pagan” was an acronym for “People Against Goodness And Normalcy”, which is taken directly from that movie.

So like any group of mature people, we all collectively shake our heads at the silliness of the comment and choose to get on with the real life of a neo-Pagan, honoring our gods and doing environmental work and… Oh, no, wait, we don’t. We set up online petitions to complain to NBC and demand an apology because (and I quote the petition site whose URL I’ve included below) “Ms. Gifford’s hate speech has done harm to American Pagans’ ability to live in peace with our neighbors of other faiths. By allowing her hate speech to be broadcast, her direct employer the TODAY Show, and their network, NBC, participate in that hate speech.”

Um. No. Hate speech is telling your neighbors to hurt you – I mean really hurt you, like with a gun or a club, not the word “nasty” – or at least stop to interacting with you. Hate speech is telling people blatant lies about your practices, like “Pagans eat babies” (I did eat a few Sugar Babies yesterday at work, does that count?) or that Pagans are godless (we have way more gods than Kathy Lee does, I betcha I betcha) or the like. “Bad” and “nasty”? The average review of The Love Guru had harsher language than that.

I would post this on the petition site, but I worry that my entry would be deemed a show of support, so I’ll just ask it here and hope that any of the 1735 (so far) people who have posted there will respond here. How the (F word from George Carlin’s list) has Kathy Lee’s comment really harmed you? Really? Heck, I’ll take anything more serious than “the clerk at the supermarket looked at me funny” as a valid answer. I really want to know why you’re devoting your energy to something that seems so meaningless, when we have so many problems to deal with that are actually – what’s the word I’m looking for – “real”.

In the meantime, I’ll go to my bedroom altar and pray to Joe Pesci to put a stop to all of the anti-Pagan hate speech in the world. Because he seems like a guy who can get stuff done!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Related Reading:

George Carlin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Carlin
For those who disagree with me and want to help with the “effort”: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/quotnasty-bad-pagansquot-protesting-hate-speech-on-nbc
And for those who don’t get the reference in the title: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weight_Gain_4000

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One thought on “When Did the Pagans Turn Into Mr. Garrison?

  1. (Comments from the original post on our old site:)

    Posted by Julie McDonald:
    Excellent points Rob – very well put!, I’ve seen people ranting about this on several other lists I’m on – personally, I feel they’re going way overboard with this silliness :P
    Monday, June 30th 2008 @ 10:01 AM

    Posted by Christopher Bogs:
    As my ancestors would have said it: AMEN. I think I lost my eyeballs somewhere in the top of my skull rolling my eyes when I heard about this. As a gay man I’ve heard my share of hate speech directed at people like me, and no matter how irritating Kathy Lee is, her “ad-lib” just doesn’t compare.
    Monday, June 30th 2008 @ 11:14 AM

    Posted by Rob Henderson:
    Thanks, Chris. I’ve often thought that the average GLBT person puts up with more actual nastiness in one week than the average neo-Pagan does in a year. Thanks for helping me with the reality check. >8)
    Monday, June 30th 2008 @ 11:40 AM

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