Exploring Pagans and their relationship with that earthiest of earth symbols, money.
Pagans (mostly) like the idea of credit unions
As 2013 was winding down, I put out a call for indebted Pagans who would be willing to be interviewed as I began exploring our relationship with debt. One brave Heathen, Melanie Swaim, was willing to do so, and the post I wrote after we talked blew the doors off the Witches and Pagans Facebook page, garnering (at last count) 1,137 likes and 162 comments. I'm told it was, to date, the most liked post on the page for this site. That deserves some serious unpacking.
First things first: I took one idea from the many which came out of my conversation with Ms Swaim, and ran with it: that she had to seek out guidance and support for her financial challenges in a religious community other than her own, because hers does not have that type of infrastructure. To be clear, I interpreted this is simply an observable fact, not an incrimination of Heathens in any way. Most, if not all, Pagan religions have a fierce independent streak running through them. Anecdotally, it seems that individual responsibility is a more important value across Paganism than even community.
Developing institutions in Paganism, financial or otherwise, is going to run into conflict with these dearly-held values. Add to that the very small number of people in Paganism as a whole (and the smaller numbers practicing any particular faith in the community), and it's not surprising that the organizational maturity isn't quite there to develop safety nets for each other yet.
What you said
Commenting on the Facebook post, many readers chimed in that yes, a financial institution that catered to Pagans would get your support, especially if it were a credit union, not a bank. There were also a number of people who liked some of my other suggestions, or offered some of their own. Food banks, microlending programs, and alternative and crypto-currencies were all bandied about.
Some of you sounded a note of caution, either about Pagans becoming more involved in the monied economy, or about our ability to follow through on something as Establishment as a credit union. Points that leaped out as being representative of the objections included these:
- Would we discriminate against Christians they way they have against us? Would we hire only Pagans excluding all others the way we have been excluded? We are in danger of becoming the very people we claim to distrust .. (Joanna Martin)
- Pagans tend to support each other with physical things like produce and medicine, clothing etc rather than being drawn into the monetary world. (Neroli Donellan)
- Most any pagan would be in an uproar about a Christian bank. (Viki Thurman)
- You are not a true Pagan if you support this, it is the building blocks of corruption. (Tom Miller)
- I don't understand why any religion has to ooze into a business. Someone's religion doesn't dictate what kind of person or business owner they are.
Why would we wish to do business within our community? Would it enhance our credibility or heighten suspicion by outsiders? Is there a danger that greater involvement in finance would cause us to lose sight of our non-monetary values? These are questions worth seriously considering if a project like this were to move forward.
But move forward is what many, many people seem to think it should be doing.
There are models for religious-based financial institutions. Judaism has a long tradition of banking because they disagreed with their Christian brethren about whether or not it was sinful to collect interest. Quakers have institutions that invest based on their values. The vast diversity which is Hinduism is perhaps the best model of how to collaborate across broad diversity, so perhaps we can find some inspiration there.
As terrifying as it is for some, and as easy as it might be to make missteps along the way, the response I received tells me that there is a very strong desire for new ways that we can support one another in the Pagan communities. Credit unions fired up the imagination, so perhaps it is time to consider whether we have what it takes to make one, or if the People Under the Pagan Umbrella are still a bit too fiercely independent to move forward with such an ambitious idea.
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