Monday 1 June 2009

Pagan Generosity

Holy Moly! There’s a Pagan group that’s tithing! And they call it tithing! Not 'Gyfu' or the ‘Rainbow Exchange of Love’ but tithing! Is this just another Christo-Pagan group wanting the best of both worlds? A naive bunch of amateurs getting woefully confused?

Actually, it’s Z Budapest in her beautiful magazine ‘Goddess’.

Z has been eclipsed in recent years by the blossoming of Paganism but she is one of the founding Mothers of Paganism and has remained honourably true to the Goddess rather than watering Her down to suit a post modern, psychobabbling world. And yet she uses the term ‘Tithing’.

The yearly tithing of the membership fees from the Susan B. Anthony Coven Number One go directly into the WSF. Those funds are then used for everything from goddess festivals to websites.

I remember an afternoon dreaming with a friend about where we saw Paganism being in 10 years time. She nearly leaped out of her skin when I suggested tithing such was her indignation, and I’ve learned to never mention it unless I wanted to deal with a barrage of hooting. It’s the word that triggers people. Tithing is associated with Christianity and far too many of us have come into Paganism because we perceive it to be the antithesis of Christianity. In fact, it’s just a form of supporting the things we say we hold dear, whether that’s a magasine or the National Health Service.

As Z acknowledges, we already pay a sort of tithe in membership fees. But membership fees are a flawed concept in spirituality and simply feeds the paradigm of inequality, unfairness, un-earned privilege and the abuse of power. The more money you have the more access to ideas, community, support, shared experience, information and in some groups, Deity, you have. Access to newsletters, magazines, camps, training, experience, participation is increasingly dependent on income and frankly it’s easier to be dedicated as a person on a decent income when much of the dedication depends on shopping. It’s a self-perpetuating system, where those who can afford the ideas and experiences then contribute further words and create further experiences. A very small group indeed will hear about the experience of a Pagan who can’t afford a computer.

Tithing is a way of addressing this head on. 10% of £3,300 (what a single person on Job Seekers Allowance receives per year) is proportionately the same as 10% of someone who’s on £25,000 or £250,000. Each demonstrates their commitment proportionately. As it is, someone on £30,000 a year contributes proportionately a minute fraction of what the person on a low income pays out in membership fees.

The average British annual income is around £20,000 which would result in a 10% tithe of £2,000. If you were to give £2,000 a year to a Pagan group you might be responsible for the sudden maturity of Paganism. Such sums would allow Pagan groups to achieve meaningful goals; you would be empowering people to be employed as professional Pagans, able finally to end unsatisfactory voluntary work in their spare time to devote themselves professionally to a cause; you would make sure that such causes were worthy, meaningful and grounded in reality because £2,000 is not a little money to waste; already successful organisations would be able to build on their work; whereas now Pagans who are unable to pay can work their way and Pagans on a low income who can’t work because of age or infirmity are sidelined, a proper sliding scale of fees for camps and so on would become possible(and camp workers would not all be expected to be poor, and the poor all expected to work in a way that the well off are not); and you would be right in expecting transparent financial and annual reports.

What has this got to do with Pagan chaplaincy? If Pagans believe that we want a specialist group of Pagans (to do anything that the majority won't or can't do, but feel is valuable) then we have to find money to manifest it. Properly funded Pagan organisations can in turn contribute a tithe to support such specialists. A Pagan organisation with 100 members will have an annual income of around £200,000 and could contribute £20,000pa to any group it felt worthy.

Imagine that!

Some of us, imagining such things, will feel fearful about where the demon of money will lead us. Having spent most of my working life in the voluntary sector I’ve learned that money is clean and the ultimate enabler, it’s people that mess it up. Bad work practices occur routinely in the voluntary sector that would not be tolerated in the private sector where money rules. The more money-focused an organisation is the better it tends to function. Where shareholders demand a return private companies keep control of their practices – in everything from bullying and equal ops to capital investment and expansion - or it loses its shareholders. Those groups that contribute to a dedicated Pagan chaplaincy organization would be shareholders.

Are we ready for such heady accomplishments? The fact that someone as radical and old school as Z Budapest will use the word ‘Tithe’ suggests that we might be.

Image by Elena Ray, with generous permission


Bo said...

Interesting idea. Unfortunately there aren't many people I'd trust to oversee such an operation....

The absence of cash was something that used to piss me off. When I did public rituals at the white horse of uffington, I used to spend time, effort and money making things look *beautiful*. It was always spoiled by someone turning up with tesco's flapjacks as an offering.

Clare Slaney said...

Nothing wrong with a tesco flapjack, but I am against hummus.