How VICE Mischaracterized a Religious Movement Through Poor Research
by Dan Capp
Have you ever adored a creature so much you felt like you could smother it to death? If so, you’re not alone—it is a known phenomenon called ‘cute aggression’, apparently, and something similar was portrayed in the classic novel Of Mice and Men. Lennie—a migrant field worker in the story—kills his puppy while stroking it, and then a lady likewise. Lennie’s friend George quickly anticipates the vengeance to come and gives Lennie a painless resolution instead. Lennie’s story is a rather bleak yet philosophical tale I think you’ll agree.
An argument offered in metaphorical form can often cool a heated debate. Trigger words can be more easily avoided, and the opponent is invited to consider one’s point in a more objective sense. Our brief glimpse into Of Mice and Men underlines my metaphor of choice as I attempt to respond to an article which appeared recently in VICE Magazine: How a Thor-Worshipping Religion Turned Racist by Rick Paulas. The writer of that political piece set out to demonstrate the prevalence of racism throughout the Pagan religion which honours the Germanic pantheon of Gods and Goddesses; at moments with sound reason, yet at other times with a degree of slander that can only arise from the depths of a predetermined agenda.
The article which appeared in VICE ultimately dismisses any display of ethnic-exclusivity, for whatever reason, as racist and unacceptable. I know from my own experiences that those who take this position are often genuine, seeking a better world, but I would suggest that they are akin to Lennie in Of Mice and Men; so passionate about diversity that they inadvertently end up killing it. Multiculturalism is a wonderful thing – it maintains the rights of a multitude of rich and beautiful cultures (usually quite ancient) to be preserved. Yet for multiculturalism to succeed, cultures must be allowed to remain in the safe hands of those people who have historically guarded them. In this case, Paganism of the Germanic strain—popularly referred to as ‘Asatru’, ‘Odinism’, or ‘Heathenry’—is under attack for being overtly linked to people of Northern European ancestry.
Rick Paulas rightly identifies certain organisations—often based within the American prison system—as using Heathen symbols, words, and talismans to pursue a specifically political, rather than spiritual, agenda. I have encountered them myself. Some of these groups are undoubtedly populated by men and women who are hatefully racist bordering on violent, and in exposing this the VICE writer has done some justice to the title of his article. Yet there is a contradiction to this—in the author’s own words:
‘It’s not so much that the white inmates believe in the religiosity of Odinism as much as they need to be affiliated with religious organizations to be granted certain rights behind bars.’
You cannot label a religion ‘racist’ and in the same breath suggest that those example racists within it do not actually follow the religion. Any extremist organisation can co-opt a reserved and peaceable belief system, but misdoings should never reflect upon the vehicle, only its driver. We could look at the religion of Islam and how well-meaning Liberals insist that wrongdoings by its adherents do not reflect upon Islam’s teachings. Ironic then that the same people seem intent on giving Heathenry a very different treatment—ready to insist that when unsavoury people misuse its teachings that the religion has then ‘become’ bad. Truthfully, a more fitting title (and focus) of VICE’s exposé should have been: How an Ancient European Religion Was Hijacked by Gangs.
This contradiction is no innocent mistake. The VICE article is not one which adheres to fairness or logic, but is one driven by a deeply pervasive political worldview that attempts to redefine language and perception for its own nefarious purposes. This agenda can be illustrated by the following excerpt:
‘Generally speaking, in this in this context, “folk” actually means “racist”‘
A ‘folk’ are a definable body of people. In the context of Heathenry ‘folkishness‘ simply refers to those of the religion who hold a decidedly ancestral focus. Despite the kind of misconceptions born by VICE, folkish Heathenry does not imply racial hatred. In its unadulterated form, folkishness would only question why a person would choose to practice an ancestral religion which their ancestors did not, and in order to uphold that position effectively—for the good of all peoples worldwide—would exercise a sensible exclusivity. Stephen McNallen—leader of the Asatru Folk Assembly—is quoted by VICE thusly:
‘I never claimed that non-Europeans cannot practice Asatru. But I wonder why they would want to follow European native religion rather than the entirely valid and worthy native religions of their own ancestors. I wonder what their own ancestors must feel at being slighted so.’
This, apparently, is racism. We’re supposed to believe that there is no essential difference between the overtly violent, racial hate of some prison gangs and the worldview of a man who has risked life and limb for the natives of Burma, Tibet, India, and Africa (as his Wikipedia entry attests to). Stephen McNallen has his fair share of critics and their accusations generally centre around two things: his associations with people who hold political ideologies considered to be unacceptable, and his unapologetically folkish approach to religion (which is what VICE’s attack on Heathenry is really all about). We live in an age of fractured ideologies—seemingly a new belief system for every dozen believers. The strong man or woman must therefore be capable of finding common ground with those whose beliefs they do not entirely share, free from guilt-by-association. Not so, according to some. Apparently we’re all empty vessels waiting to be infected by the irrational hatred held by those we communicate with.
The only sense that can be gleaned from this kind of schizophrenia—whereby interracial philanthropy and mindless hate are tarred with the same brush—is that it all boils down to how we define ‘racism’. Despite needing to invoke examples of undeniable racial hatred—mainly confined to prison gangs—Rick Paulas badly wants his readers to believe that an innocent and timeless conception of exclusivity is some kind of evil that can only lead to strife. Meanwhile organisations, religions, and charities exclusive to people not of European origin exist in vast numbers across the Western world. I don’t imagine VICE will be flinging the ‘R’ word at many of them, but hey ho… At the risk of presuming to know what Paulas’ specific views are, people with similar gripes all-too-often operate a double-standard when it comes to issues of ethnic identity. The pride expressed by minorities is interpreted as hate when similarly expressed by a white majority, and this would suggest that the freedom to uphold one’s ancestral ways is determined by whether one is deemed to be a member of the dominant group in society or not. But Heathens are not a dominant group! Our ways are more endangered than many minority religions, and will become increasingly under threat if subjected to this type of dismemberment.
If you claim to favour the global patchwork that is multiculturalism then you cannot set about removing chosen patches from that quilt. You also cannot take it upon yourself to redefine any of those patches lest the cultures that they represent have set out to harm you—and even then you’ll be fighting the force of a million forefathers who have slowly woven that world for their descendents. This goes for any folk around the world—all of whom deserve control over the culture of their ancestors. In practical terms this control may manifest as a sense of exclusivity, but consider this: exclusivity maintains the boundary between one thing and another—forest and field; football and rugby; public and private. It is no more hateful an act than it would be to reject D♯ from a musical composition in the key of A-minor.
There is a famous quote: ‘If every man is my friend then no man is my friend.’
My editor and I felt compelled to challenge VICE on this subject precisely because the opening argument too often goes unchallenged. There is a lengthy debate raging out there as to why that is, but suffice it to say the precepts VICE put forth are handed down from above, academically and legally sanctioned in most cases. They are the precepts of a society which does not understand tribal spirituality and so projects all kinds of monsters onto it to keep onlookers at bay. Furthermore, the VICE article in question may well be intended as ‘clickbait’—a deliberately controversial piece which attracts enough attention to keep site-advertisers happy. It is a distinct possibility.
‘Bandy no speech with a bad man:
Often the better is beaten
In a word fight by the worse.’
This passage from the realm of Heathen lore is gnomic advice that I may wish I had heeded. Then again, those responsible for the VICE article probably aren’t bad men. They are likely just products of an era in which words are being redefined and perceptions skewed for the sake of the prevailing political ideology. That said. we at the Heathen Harvest Periodical enjoy demonstrating that we are not afraid of the dark, so to speak (and no, that’s not a deliberate pun). Musically we challenge the merit of mainstream music, where needed, and intellectually we challenge the politicisation of art and culture. On this occasion we deemed it necessary.
If and when diversity dies, those who unknowingly slaughtered it may wish that someone had attempted to stop them, particularly if it turns out—as is the case with Lennie in Of Mice and Men—that the unwitting killer is mentally limited.
[Heathen Harvest would like to also express our gratitude to Christopher Plaisance of the Journal of Contemporary Heathen Thought for his assistance on some matters herein.]