Like a Vague Malodorous Stain Seeping into the Theological Discourse

Photo Ervin Popisil

Photo Ervin Popisil


Note: I am aware that the words “male” and “female,” used to signify biology, have moved from the passe to the forbidden and are now considered by some to be offensive and bigoted. I am going to use them anyway, because I cannot make a coherent point without them. That is probably why these words have become verboten in these post-enlightened times. The road of postmodernism, if followed far enough, will end in the forced fealty to the idea that nothing exists. And yet the strong will still take from the weak.

This article discusses the parallels between fascism and political movements that view themselves as rooted in postmodern philosophy, especially Postmodern Feminism and Queer Theory. I wish to show how postmodernism is harming feminist religions just as it has ruined about everything else. I am not implying that fascism and postmodernism are the same thing; they are two very separate ideologies, albeit similar in certain presentations, self-conceptions, and tactics.

Fascism is classically defined as a version of romantic nationalism that became a political force a century ago in Europe. It was characterized by obedience to an authoritarian militaristic state. Postmodernism seems to be the polar opposite of this. It is characterized by amorphousness, lack of definition, and fuzzy boundaries. In fact, many people are unsure exactly what postmodernism is. At one time postmodernism simply referred to bad poetry and atrocities in the visual arts. Later it transitioned to mean obscure, unintelligible, and increasingly irrelevant academic papers. Although enthusiastic acceptance of the philosophy in academia implies some grounding in theory, the political and social manifestations of postmodernism are so contradictory to claimed post-structural origins that it is as difficult to link postmodernism to theorists Foucault or Derrida as it is to trace Nazism to Nietzsche. It is as if the Postmodern Feminist insistence that sex be replaced with gender identity were an example used to illustrate Foucault’s thesis that knowledge is used to regulate people. It is as if students who band together to prevent scholars critical of Queer Theory from speaking at their universities were demonstrating Lacan’s chains of signification on the unconscious self. Or maybe they are queering their role as students by performing the role of the uptight university president.

But I am not going to get lost here in the contradictions between social/political postmodernism and the theories that spawned it. Instead I want to point out a curious parallel between fascism and postmodernism in practice: both have been heavily promoted as progressive and youth oriented. Nazism was so expertly packaged for appeal to youth that, despite being thoroughly discredited with the majority of the population, a brief flirtation with the ideology remains a rite of passage for a subset of white males. Postmodernism and its demon children are also posited as edgy and new even though 1) being new and being progressive are not the same thing, as those early postmodern philosophers would have been the first to agree; and 2) postmodernism is getting long in the tooth. I was way too cool for postmodernism when I was in my early 20s, and I am no longer a young woman. In fact, I am one of those “second wave dinosaurs” that postmodern feminists and their ilk contend need to “die off” to make room for a feminism queer-identified males approve of.

The postmodern cult finally got a toehold in Paganism several years ago with the demand that Dianic priestesses admit trans women into our rituals on the grounds that biological sex has been theorized out of existence, or at least relevance, in favor of self-identified gender. It’s the new best thing. Gender itself is not defined because nothing in postmodern politics is defined. Definitions are passe, especially when they create boundaries you want to crash. Demands to admit males into female spiritual space have been present since the seventies, but now they are based on the argument that the old women, “on the wrong side of history,” need to step aside for the new generation with the new ideas, an argument that drips with ageism. Ageism isn’t particularly new, especially when applied to women. Go read about the witch hunts.

I am not going to expound in this article about the right of women to set our own boundaries or the reason Dianics have decided that trans women do not belong at many of our rituals. I set out the rationale for this position in my essay for the book Witchcraft Today: Sixty Years On. What I want to say is that I am tired of hearing the position that biological males are entitled to erase the boundaries of biological females argued as new and progressive. It is a position older than fascism, older than monarchism, and older than Aristotle even if it is wrapped in some version of postmodern non-speak. Please postmodern third wave progressive queer theorist feminists, stop trying to tell me what’s old and what’s new, because I’m old enough to know the difference. And I’m sorry I made fun of your poetry: it seems pretty harmless, compared to subsequent developments.

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2 Responses to Like a Vague Malodorous Stain Seeping into the Theological Discourse

  1. Labrys says:

    I wish I could think that such divisions over definitions meant that neo-paganism has in some sense “arrived”, but I’m not really sure. Now that the argument you discuss is out there, there is also the argument over whether polytheists can share space with “ordinary” pagans who might not be orthodox enough for some of them.

    In some senses, both arguments distress me for a similar reason — much as early Christianity lost it’s initial focus and tore itself into divisive schisms once legalized by Constantine, neo-paganism seems poised to rend it’s unherdable cats characteristics to bits, too. As a more humanistic pagan, I find myself every more solitary because while used to being given the ‘hell bound’ speech by dominant paradigm monotheists — it still shocks me to be verbally savaged by other pagans!

    While the current arguments are certainly important; it seems there is no way to address the issues that don’t cause a lot of pain and distress.

    • The issue of postmodern politics is bigger than Paganism. It’s just that it has only begun to affect the communities in the last five years, so we can’t pretend it doesn’t relate to us anymore. Addressing the issues isn’t what causes pain; it’s the censorship and self-censorship caused by the current political climate. Thank you for commenting. I encourage you to explore the issue of orthodoxy.