The Moral Maze and Ethical Considerations of Modern/Postmodern New Religious Movements

                                                                   Michael York
                                                               Study of Religions
                                                        Bath College, Newton Park


Like Jacques Lacan amd Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida is a post-structuralist who wishes to deconstruct and decentre the human subject, to deny any overall pattern in history, detach the signifier from the signified and exalt it over the extra-linguistic referent. [1] Post-structuralists argue that there is no signified which is independent of the signifier. In this view, because human consciousness is itself structured by language, the objectivity of linguistic analysis or description is itself deeply questioned. Since the signifier continually transforms into something signified and the signified into yet another signifier, meaning is dispersed throughout a chain of signifiers rather than located in one sign alone, and the interaction of the reader with the text is itself a ceaseless productivity in which truth has no ultimate status or finality.

For Derrida, the structural component of the sign is determined by the trace of the other which is forever absent. In other words, the sign is always coloured by the trace of another, non-appearing sign ad infinitum. The resultant instability of language means, according to Derrida, that we ourselves are unstable, non-unified entities, since, rather than language being primarily a means for communication, it is the very something from which we are ourselves made. As Derrida puts it, it is less a matter of our speaking language as it is that language speaks us. And since the very precondition of language, so Derrida argues, is writing, writing precedes speech. But rather than simply the notations of an intelligible sign-system on a physical medium, writing is for Derrida the name of the structure which is always already inhabited by the trace of the other.

An approach which denies ultimate presence, essence, truth or reality must deny the very quest of Western philosophy for an ultimate, `transcendental signifier'. Derrida claims that any transcendental foundation to thought, language and experience is a fiction. Foundational principles are always subject to deconstruction since they are defined by what they exclude. In other words, they always imply a binary opposition between what they overtly claim to be and what they subvertly exclude, between the real and the false, between the centre and the margin, between the self and non-self. But in drawing rigid boundaries between what is acceptable and what is not, ideologies become a means to write out the other, ignore its existence and thereby ignore its very being. But to deny the other is to deny the self, and the illusional foundation is itself simply a means by which to mask the self-alienating character of all social existence.

The ideology Derrida has foremost in mind is undoubtedly that which is engendered by Western ethnocentrism. Since all language is ethnocentric, it must be deconstructed in order to become emancipated from the single view and the single interpretation. Derrida's social agenda, according to Bill Martin's reading of Derrida, is `to hear the call of the other'. Part of this always doomed but always compelling enterprise rests on recognising the metaphorical nature of all language, that is, in understanding that language does not simply reflect reality but is a determiner of reality itself. It works through metaphor which is the transference of one kind of reality to another. Since metaphor allows for the possibility of different perspectives and awareness of alternatives, Derrida's approach is to turn the binary oppositions which are unavoidably inscribed within language on their head. In the pairings of masculine/feminine, rational/irrational, same/other and central/marginal, the first term in each dyad is the privileged one in an inherent or assumed hierarchy. Derrida argues instead for the primacy of the second, excluded term since the identity of privilege depends on that which is subordinated. By understanding the `politics of metaphor', Derrida's agenda is political or social and seeks to re-privilege the invisible foundation on which the established order rests. The unheard other comprise the disenfranchised, the marginalised, the invisible and disempowered on the basis of gender, sexual preference, economic status, ethnicity or religion.

The RADIO FOUR broadcast of its The Moral Maze programme last November 14th read like a microcosm of the contemporary debates centring on the conflict between science and religion, between established religion and marginalised religion, and between science and/or religion and magic. The programme had been occasioned by the Church of England's published report entitled `The Search for Faith and the Witness of the Church'. This was followed by Ruth Gledhill's article in The Times on the report which included an interview with Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester and one of the authors of the CoE report. The question which had been raised via the report but in the Times article expressly was the allegation that Britain was imminently in danger of losing its Judaeo-Christian roots - and hence its moral foundation - with the fast-growing advent of the New Age and Neo-pagan movements along with superstition in general. [2] The Moral Maze panel consisting of Geoffrey Robertson, David Starkey, David Cook and Janet Daley moderated by Michael Buerk questioned in turn Peter Atkins, professor of chemistry at Oxford, Ronald Hutton, professor of history at Bristol, Dr. Nazir-Ali and Marjorie Orr who writes the astrology column for The Daily Express and Women's Journal. In varying degrees of implicitness and explicitness, the refusal to `hear the voice of the other', to misrepresent it and to keep it relegated in a disempowered position could be detected throughout the ensuing discussions.

The `voice' I have here in mind is of course that of the cultic milieu as exemplified in marginal religious movements including not only occult interest in such pursuits as tarot card reading, clairovoyance, magic and astrology but also New Age and Neo-paganism as well as Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. Since, however, these last are essentially in keeping with the Judaeo-Christian foundations of Western culture, The Moral Maze programme and my paper look at the particular traditions which are in some sense extra-cultural and perceived, if perceived at all, as challenges to the ethical principles upon which Western culture has been predominantly based.

The first speaker was Peter Atkins whom Michael Buerk described as a `pure scientist'. The leading question behind the entire programme was whether those who sit within blue tents in Islington with eyes closed waiting to discover themselves were indulging in harmless, mindless entertainment or were instead a threat to society. In other words, `do people really believe New Age nonsense is a substitute for moral and political commitment?' Atkins argued that it is indeed deeply dangerous because it is anti-intellectual. His objections, however, were not necessarily restricted to paganism but extended to all religion in general. Science, he argued, is a global pursuit which is done rationally, publically and successfully `which religion has failed in and which paganism will be even worse because it has absolutely no intellectual structure at all'.

Because of Atkins' implicit/explicit attack on religion per se, he was in turn attacked by the panel virtually unanimously. In answer to the question why science has become alienated from the population, Atkins explained this as a result of science's having made such progress that people are fearful about what science exposes as their most cherished beliefs. However, by seeking signs of existence where science is impotent, `people turn to religion as a form of intellectual paganism and to paganism itself'. But having no intellectual root at all, in "new world paganism," anything goes; it becomes just "free-form religion." By contrast, truth and honesty in science come from the evolutionary and intellectual consciousness in human behaviour. For example, if a society condoned the eating of children, the society would not survive. But Atkins acknowledged science's debt to religion which he described as the chrysalis out of which the butterfly of science did arise. But in addressing the question of morality, Atkins claimed that such religions as Voodoo, Satanism and Black Magic were not all that different as forms of morality, none of which condone the killing of other people. At this point, however, the panel vociferously objected by claiming that Satanism is indeed about child abuse and child sacrifice. [3] Atkins was forced to allow that `Satanism is not a religion'.

The question came down to how does one judge between good and evil, and who programs one's moral values. For Atkins, the answer is society, but Janet Daley claimed that this was a circular argument. Atkins seemed unable to distinguish between Christianity, Judaeism and Islam on the one hand and New Age and Neo-paganism on the other when challenged by the panel and instead insisted that religious institutions and, more recently,  pagan intrusions simply promulgate a lie concerning a super being as an ultimate guardian. "I can prove only things on this side of the grave," he said, "and the things you believe you can only prove their existence on the other side of the grave." The panel's bottom line remained one of questioning scientific detachment and whether it helps in situations of emotional distress.

Following Peter Atkins, the next speaker was Ronald Hutton who was presented as a `leading expert on paganism'. If not a pagan himself, Hutton is certainly one of most ubiquitous defenders of the faith in public forums. Asked why the renewal of paganism in the West, Hutton explained that it is part of the way modern society is taking modern religion to itself. The main characteristic of the modern occult and paganism is that they are feminist religions, they try to reconnect human beings to their own imaginations, hence the natural world, from which science seems to have severed them. They are DIY religions in which people can perform the authentic religious experience in their own homes and learn it as they go along. This is, according to Hutton, `democratic religion' - one in which everyone can be a priest or priestess.

Michael Buerk asked if paganism is a threat to civilisation. Hutton responded that in a privatised and pluralistic society, it is not. It is only the established churches which are threatened, not churches as such. The real erosion, Hutton claimed, is from the house-churches. It is these which are vacating the churches. Paganism, in fact, is a science that deals in concepts like cognitive psychology, the supremacy of mind over body, psychosomatic ailment and quantum physics and in this sense is actually moving closer to magic than science has been able to do in the last two hundred years.

David Starkey asked if religions are a social product. `Is religion a human invention?' Hutton would not say. `I have no proof or disproof one way or the other', Hutton replied, `so I am not in a position to say it is an invention'. `Is paganism true', David Cook pursued, `since Christianity, Judaeism and Islam are interested in truth?' Hutton's answer was that it is true to the people engaged in the experience. `So truth is entirely subjective', countered Cook. `In the divine sense', Hutton affirmed, `it is. We have no objective test of divinity other than what it gives the world in terms of people being better off in themselves and with what they provide society.' The remainder of the dialogue proceeded as follows:

Cook: `Doesn't your very use of the word society imply there is a community? And isn't your privatised picture in fact totally false? Isn't in fact our society much more of a community in which community is a community of truth?'

Hutton: `Our society is a series of communities. So there might be a scientific community where there is truth and there are standards within that community.'

Cook: `So what are the kinds of standards in paganism?'

Hutton: `Paganism has quite rigorous standards. The main standard is that it does not believe there is a divine standard of ethics imposed from above through divine rule and punishments.'

Cook: `So everything rules and anything rules?'

Hutton: `Absolutely not. The second thing I wanted to say is that there is a humanist ethic in paganism. People take responsibility for their actions in this world. They are judged by the harm or good they do to the world as a whole - whether it be an eco-system - or to humanity or, preferably, to both.'

Cook: `So why do they worship Mother Earth?'

Hutton: `They worship Mother Earth as part of the desparate human need within developed societies to reconnect with something resembling a natural world - whether it be called the countryside or whether it be called the rainforest. They try to recover something of the experience of connection with the rest of the eco-system of which modern industrial living has deprived them.'

Cook: `So is there a genuine spiritual longing in the hearts and minds of people or not?'

Hutton: `I think in the hearts and minds of some people but not in all - which is why paganism and the occult only appeals to some parts of society, a minority. It is a certain group to whom it appeals, and it will always be that way.'

Geoffrey Robertson: `Surely what you are trying to do is to intellectualise what is no more than, by calling it do-it-yourself religion, what is really no more than a desire for a quick fix, for self-indulgence, to find happiness easily when in fact happiness cannot easily be found?'

Hutton: `Paganism and the occult are not a quick fix. They actually demand quite a considerable amount of training. It is actually quite difficult to perform a ritual so well that you do have that extraordinary sense of contact with the divine. So training lasts two to three years at a minimum in pagan groups. These are mystery religions, and they hark back to ancient symbols, quite well-known ancient symbols, in the classical and ancient world.'

Robertson: `But you are talking in defining it that way about a very small section of the population. Miniscule! I mean the people we are talking about who go to tarot card readings and sit under blue tents, who embrace New Age ideas, the Iron Johns who disappear into the wilderness to straight themselves. This kind of obsession with self is not the kind of people that you are talking about who actually study some kind of pagan rites according to mystic theology.'

Hutton: `By my head count, I am talking about 120,000 people in a land in which there are now just over a million people attending regular service in the national church. There are more practicing pagans than there are those involved with Eastern religions for the most part apart from Buddhism and ethnic groups. So we're looking in a privatised nation at quite a significant slice of the population.'

Michael Buerk: `But to paraphrase what Geoffrey is getting at, we're looking at weirdos who believe in their own tosh!'

Panel: [giggles]

Hutton: `Aren't all religions like that?'

Starkey: `Like people who rise on the third day, turn water into wine, or ...'

Michael Buerk: `David, thank you!'

Janet Daley: `I'm confused. You seem to have two very different views about the moral basis of paganism. On the one hand, you said to David that moral responsibility was thrown back on oneself completely in paganism, that you don't have this objective idea of authority, of moral authority, but, on the other hand, all religions and all cults or whatever have to be judged by the effects that they have, the good that they do, which seems a very utilitarian idea of morality. So what exactly is the basis for your moral judgment?'

Hutton: `There are two sorts of morality. There are those who are concerned within religion itself, complex religion, with how the believers see themselves and how they may be judged by those outside the belief system. The second ones ask if they would be happier if they were better members of society, if they were more stable and productive, if they produced good art and music.'

Robertson: `They haven't!'

Daley: `But I'm still not clear about what you feel is the relationship between your theological position and your moral position. Does your religion dictate a morality?'

Hutton: `A humanistic morality. You are judged by what you do in our present day to society and the planet.'

Daley: `You are into a fallacy. If we judge by what you do, how can we decide what you do is good?'

Hutton: `You judge by the results.'

Daley: `How do we judge whether the results are good or not?'

Hutton: `If you see people who are clearly made unhappy by being in a religion ...'

Daley: `Is happiness the only measure then?'

Hutton: `Happiness and productivity. And by productivity I mean those who are more charitable to their neighbours, those who are more effective in their jobs, ...'

Daley: `Oh, so the Christian virtue of charity then?'

Hutton: `That is only one of the Christian virtues. There are also many others. There are also many other pagan virtues.'

Daley: `You have an idea of charity that does not arise from your theology. You are superimposing it on your religion.' [4]

Hutton: `Well, how do you like the idea of a strong feminist presence in religion, of giving women their role as both divinity and ...'

Daley: `Doesn't interest me much, but that is neither here nor there. The point is you are superimposing a set of transcendent values (charity, productiveness and so on) which do not seem to arise from your pagan religion at all. You are judging your pagan religion by those values.'

Hutton; `No, they are embodied in the Ethic. [5] The famous jingo in paganism is "Do what you will, if it harms none." The idea being that we should learn to express ourselves but do not harm others at all. That is really quite a difficult thing to achieve.

Daley: `It's the same in Christianity. "Do as you would be done by." There is nothing new about that.'

Hutton: `Absolutely so, except there are no Ten Commandments in paganism. There is no sense of judgment, no sense of sin, salvation and sainthood, no sense of an external arbiter.'

Peter Cook: `But ritual and the way you have to fulfil it to be good, I'm just wondering what a pagan would say to the families in Dunblaine.'

Hutton: `The pagan would say to the families in Dunblaine that what happened in Dunblaine should not be blamed on any deity whatsoever. It is the result of a particular society with particular faults and weaknesses.'

Michael Buerk: `And in a word, is paganism good or bad?'

Hutton: `It's excellent among many other religions.'

The question was then put to Dr. Nazir-Ali about the danger of the renewed interest in paganism which, according to Ronald Hutton, is just one more well-meaning search for spirituality. The Bishop replied that the danger is the fragmentation which we see all around us. The grand narrative or big story that had related people to each other and to God is disappearing. The result is that people are `doing their own thing', and from the Church's point of view this is dangerous because it means we are losing the basis for civilisation `at least in this country'. If people are going to do their own thing, there is no unified moral and spiritual vision for society - with dire social and political consequences.

Janet Daley questioned whether the Church was in some way responsible for the current "supermarket view of beliefs and faiths" through its own tolerance and vacillation on ideas of absolute morality, absolute truth and moral standards. Nazir-Ali expalined the current dilemma of the Church as one in which it must acknowledge the experience of divinity within society and in all human beings but must also remain as the custodian of revelation. In its efforts to harmonise these two positions, it may now be necessary for the Church to emphasize revelation over experience. He also stressed the need to recover `the grand narrative that has kept the Christain faith together'. But David Cook wondered how it would be possible `to get people to move away from the false god to find the true God'. Nazir-Ali's suggested solution was for the Church to lower the barriers of language and idiom that it has unnecessarily created. In deciding what is false and true (such things which Michael Buerk referred to as virgin birth, resurrection, holy trinity and "all this sort of stuff"), the Bishop claimed that revelation and reason belong together. `We are not committed to an irrational form of belief,' since it is reason which makes accountability possible between the religions and between human beings of different cultures.

Throughout the panel's discussion with the Bishop of Rochester was an unarticulated Durkheimian assumption concerning the role of religion as a source of a social stability that is now being undermined by the current great diversity of faith as well a growing lack of faith. But Dr. Nazir-Ali denied David Starkey's `reductionist' allegation that the Bishop saw the essential role of Christianity as simply a form of social control. While religion is partly a force of social cohesion, it also contains transcendental and personal elements. Nazir-Ali insisted that politicians likewise have realised that without a basic moral and spiritual vision in society, the increasing fragmentation will lead to public squalour and private wealth. Spiritual fragmentation has, according to the Bishop, immediate social consequences: `pure diversity without an underlying moral and spiritual vision is a threat to society'.

In many ways, the Bishop of Rochester came under an attack as severe as that which the panel had levelled against both the scientist Atkins and the pagan historian Hutton. David Starkey claimed that `in the age when bishops did not have to go on radio clamouring to get people back into the pews, the Church incorporated most of those mysteries that we now see in paganism, many of them indeed borrowed from paganism'. Geoffrey Robertson accused the Church of a leadership failure which disenabled people to do their own thing with some kind of inspiration. He felt Nazir-Ali `came across' as condemning Neo-paganism, New Age religion and everything down to horoscopes and tarot cards but was surprised that the Bishop took `the supernatural nonsense so seriously' since most people pursue such things simply as "harmless entertainment." And Janet Daley argued that by trying to make the Church's revelation subject to scientific proof, Nazir-Ali was falling into the scientific trap - along with the political trap - which can be set for religion in the late twentieth century. But even though Michael Buerk contended that revelation by definition is not subject to scientific or rationally objective proof, the cleric defended his position with the claim that `the doctrine of the Incarnation demands that God is understood in ways that are open to human beings: otherwise, you are open to the charge that religion is simply irrational, and that charge has already been made on this programme.'

The irrational nonsense charge was also levelled by the panel against astrology and other paranormal pursuits. Marjorie Orr, however, rebutted by claiming that `astrology is the most rational of the paranormal field', but what she meant by `rational' was the intellect as `only one bit of the human experience' in the full range of having a body, a mind and a spirit. Astrology is simply one information source, but `astrology cannot be explained; there is no sensible reason for it', she concluded. Orr also criticised the modern church for having linked itself too directly to science and its `narrow intellectualism'. For the past two hundred or three hundred years, religion has gone with science rather than stay with the spirit. She felt that `if the sciences had more courage to take on board what they do not understand and what they cannot explain, we might be able to live in a more sensible world.' Instead, `Ignoring things that your granny knew, science has grown very arrogant.'

Nevertheless, Orr appeared to be in remarkable agreement with the critical attitude of the panel toward paganism whose rise along with "a lot of these very flakey belief systems" she declared not to be good - some of it `extremely dangerous,' `veritable tosh,' or `very dangerous stuff.' In particular, "Aleister Crowley is a much more dangerous aspect of paganism." All of this, Orr contended, is `an indication of a disintegration of a society and societal beliefs, and when that happens, people will grab for anything which stops them from drowning. '

When asked to sum up, the panel essentially reiterated the standard biases of ethnocentric and religiocentric thinking. Janet Daley surmissed that science had a very narrow view of rationality, that is, empirical verifiability, but she found it depressing that the Bishop had the same view. Belief without evidence, she argued, is not necessarily irrational, and the existence of love, altruism, or a sense of moral responsibility are taken by many people as evidence of religious truth. That science imposes rationality as the only criterion of evidence on these, Daley considered to be particularly perverse.

David Starkey denied emphatically that he had been impressed with Ronald Hutton and the idea that counter-religiosity is all about re-connecting with the natural world. Instead, what he was impressed with was Hutton's `very clear enunciation of the fact that religion takes its colour from society and is essentially a human product.' Nonetheless, he felt that both Hutton and Nazir-Ali were contending that contemporary religious diversity is leading toward social collapse or whatever, while his point is that religion is simply a product of the sort of society we have now, and there is nothing we can do about it. Daley then asked, `Can't you make moral judgments about it?' and Starkey said he was not excluding them at all but that though his view was utilitarian, he, like Daley, felt that `moral judgments are best judged by their consequences.' The view was then expressed by Robertson that Christianity has been completely absorbed into contemporary culture - for example, women as priests. Daley blurted out at this point that women priests are witches.

David Cook wondered whether the task of religion and Christianity is not one of countering popular culture by offering an alternative. The response to this query was that when the prophets or Christ questioned their own particular culture, they were then crucified. Nevertheless, Cook agreed with Daley that the prophetic ministry of the Church must go back to objectivity and ultimate standards, and in this process science and rationality are crucial. Neo-paganism posed a threat to society on the basis that fragmentation of belief means that people have no consensus over what the big story is and therefore no consensus about moral values. Cook was ultimately given the last word. He affirmed that the basis of morality according to the Bible is the fruit which results. Assessing the present situation, he concluded it to be "a moral vacuum that needs to be filled properly. Neo-paganism is a false religion. We need true religion and that requires revelation."

All in all, and the reason why I have lingered so long on this programme, The Moral Maze of last November 14th exemplifies many of the parameters of the late twentieth century moral debate in Britain concerning religion, modernity and ethics: the conflict between religion and science, the conflict between religion and magic, and the conflict between magic and science. But even more than these, the programme clearly delineates the emerging battlelines between a concept or even reality of a pluralistic society on the one hand and a traditional yet threatened or waning ethnocentric social view on the other. The debate was intensely emotional, and Buerk on several occasion had to call various panelists into order. Moreover, there were frequent sniggers of ridicule that could be heard from members of the panel throughout its questioning during the succession of speakers. The easy dismissal of superstition, the occult, paganism and new age can be read as readily conforming with Hegel's identity-logic regime of the Same which Derrida, in calling to hear the call of the other, has challenged and brought into the contemporary arena of intellectual analysis, that is, into the growing inquiry into the politics of representation and assimilation. [6]

The aftermath of debate between the participants of the British pagan list on the internet was vituperative and critical. [7] But I will have to leave to another paper any critical presentation and examination of their response and the pagan community's own on-going quest for an articulated moral position. [8] Judging from Felicity Goodman's anthropological understanding that in the long term the human being cannot tolerate ecstasy deprivation, we might consider Abraham Maslow's recognition of the `peak experience' as the quest which underlies much if not most of the current cultic milieu and the pentecoastal/evangelical movements. What these more non-rational rather than necessarily irrational religiosities seem to be seeking is the experience of ecstasy, the `standing outside' or what Derrida might be understanding as assuming the position of the `other'. In a pluralistic society such as the modern West, religious ecstasy itself, irregardless of its different packagings or sectarian identities, may be suggested as a possible foundation for moral consensus and a modus operendi toward social cohesion.

Derrida rejects the validity of any transcendental signifier as an attempt at `closure' and anti-signification. Renaming without closure becomes an empowering act. But to hear the call of the other, there must be movement, and "it is also a necessary consequence of the character of this call that movement will always be plural, in the form of movements" (Martin, 1992:29) such as we see, perhaps, in our present-day pluralistic society. Radical alterity in Derrida's understanding has an intertextual materialistic base. The ultimate `other' is matter.

The Derridian intertextual, relational ontology virtually reads in fact as pagan. For Habermas, Derrida is coming close to a form of Jewish mysticism. This would be, however, less the mysticism of the gnostic qabbala as it would of Spinoza's pantheism. In postmodern terms, paganism has consistently refused to privilege the supernatural as over and above nature. It has traditionally focused on the human entity or the natural world or both. Paganism's physical metaphor is found in the quasi-spontaneous laws of adaptation and organisation of the natural world. It can be contended, therefore, that the ecological preoccupations of New Age and Neo-pagan humanistic religiosities, in which humanity is sought as a holistic participant, constitute  in actuality a quest for a viable, moral foundation which can sustain the global community into and through the twenty-first century.



[1] Madan Sarup, An Iintroducory Guide to Post-structuralism and Postmodernism (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989:2-4).

[2] According to Michael de Ward (uk-pagans list, 16.11.96 at 12:11), The Times  report, unlike the earlier CoE Church Times article, includes the following explicit statements: "Even practising Christians held unorthodox, New Age-style beliefs, further evidence that society was in danger of losing its Judaeo-Christian roots" and "Britain was witnessing the upsurge of a form of `folk religion' epitomised by Mystic Meg and horoscopes."

[3] According to one uk-pagans list member, the Moral Maze "... frequently and equally clearly stated that satanists kill kids. No justification, no data, and not pagan-relevant, but another bone of contention ..." (14.11.96 at 16:13).

[4] uk-pagans list (14.11.96 at 12:21): "... the Xtian member of the panel ... said `Judging pagans by their charity is judging them by an external Xtian value,' and was allowed to get away with the idea that charity is a peculiarly Xtian moral stance..."

[5] The Pagan Federation phrases the Pagan Ethic as "Do what thou wilt, but harm none" and includes it as the second of the three principles of paganism - adding that this is "a positive morality, not a list of thou-shalt-nots. Each individual is responsible for discovering his or her own true nature and developing it fully, in harmony with the outer world." The first pagan principle is "Love for and kinship with Nature," and the third: "Acceptance of the polarity of deity." On 28.02.97 at 12:28, one uk-pagans list member argued that "The Wiccan Rede [i.e., the Pagan Ethic] is not trite. Doreen Valiente, IMHO, did not water down the Law of Thelema. She improved upon it by transforming it from an individualistic ethic to a social ethic. My problem with the Law of Thelema ["Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law; Love under Will"] is that while it may well be a true guide, it is not a sufficient one. ... The True Will will never do harm, but the True Will is a noble aspiration, not an achievement of being.

"In my limited experience, the two great dangers of the Pagan scene, and perhaps of the Occult scene generally, are paranoia and megalomania. It is too easy to believe that our own desires are in perfect accord with the Divine Reality, the True Will, call it what you like. ...but we'll always be fallible. ... I fear that the Law of Thelema can provide rather too much comfort for the occasional megalomaniac in our ranks. The Wiccan Rede offers rather less scope for self delusion."

[6] uk-pagans (25.11.96 at 10:40): "the panel showed a remarkable talent for being vastly amused by their own wit. They assumed that Paganism was a flight from rationality, that Pagans were incapable of understanding science, and that we were fundamentally inadequate people looking for a `quick and easy fix' for personal and social problems,... It was also taken for granted that `Satanists' sexually abuse and sacrifice children." The same list member added: "It is useful, before beginning a discussion, to define what the subject under discussion is. No effort was made to do so. Paganism (or Neo-Paganism if you prefer) is a religion rooted in reverence for nature, the acknowledgement of Deity as both Goddess and God, and a humanistic approach to ethics.  ... [In] `The Moral Maze' ... we were treated to an ill-mannered and worse-informed airing of prejudice."

[7] A typical response, made on 15.11.96 at 09:57, was the following: "For the dubious benefit of those who were fortunate enough to miss it, yesterday mornings `The Moral Maze' on Radio 4 was truly awful. It claimed to be examining whether or not the modern upsurge in Paganism posed a threat to society, or even to civilisation. It examined bugger all! Instead we found ourselves listening to a panel of rude, arrogant and opinionated fools venting every conceivable and ridiculous prejudice on all manner of nonsense from Satanic Ritual Child Sacrifice (which they appeared to take for granted) to a mysterious entity named `Mystic Meg'. The most evident fact in the entire broadcast was that none of these panellists had the faintest idea what they were talking about, and had not the least intention of troubling to find out."

On the 22nd of November 1996, Radio Four's Feedback programme included the previous week's Moral Maze airing and "the main points that ... emerged from the postbag were that paganism was a large religion, satanism was a Christian heresy, and child abuse was more proven to be associated with Christain clergy that paganism" (uk-pagans, 22.11.96 at 21:49).

On 25.11.96 at 11:29, a uk-pagans list member characterised the Feedback commentary as: "We're talking about a bunch of poor people who dance naked in the rain and sacrifice chickens" and "They're probably sticking pins into dolls of us right now."

[8] Discussing the pagan concept of `threefold return', one uk-pagans list member on 03.03.97 at 14:43 said: "I regard the concept of the threefold return rather important as it should (?) make us think before acting. ... The threefold numeracy is only important from a poetic point of view. It gives us a handle to grasp. Someone else mentioned `an eye for an eye' which will do the job just as well. ... The fact that personal responsibility is not mentioned in the `an it harm none, do as thou wilt' ... is my main objection to it."


the `an it harm none, do as thou wilt' ... is my main objection to it."