This was the title of one of my favorite essays by Lenin. The title itself is a powerful comment on the human condition. I can imagine early humans taking two steps forward as they left the canopy of the never-ending forest to see the clear blue sky overhead. Then they took one step back because the unfamiliar is frightening. Then they took two more steps forward. Then another step backwards. Eventually the bolder amongst them took three steps forward and one step back. Then four steps forward as the more timid fell behind. Soon the tribe broke up as the bolder went on to explore the savanna and the rest returned to the familiar gloom of the forests.
The more things change the more they stay the same. To this day we still have the explorers and the chickens. The explorers go forward into uncharted territory while the chickens huddle in the familiar as they are determined to fight change at any cost. The problem is that change is the only guarantee in life. The more the chickens fight change and huddle together for warmth and security, the more change happens. Back in the old days, the tribe that stayed in the forest was forced backwards as the forest receded to changing climate. The tribe that went forward founded the modern civilizations. The tribes who stayed in the forests tried to keep civilizations from happening.
Of course this is an oversimplification. Dynamics are rarely black and white. Absolutes do not occur in nature, but two steps forward and one step back describes life as we know it. Take Christianity for instance. I know Christians who are very progressive, yet Christianity as a whole is regressive institution. While Dr. King was leading the civil rights movement, Christianity as an institution was doing everything it could to hold him back. White preachers condemned him outright, or begged him to hold off until society was “ready” to accept African Americans as equals. There were many African American preachers who condemned him as a dangerous radical.
Today there are Christians who welcome gays into their congregations. There are Christians who will support a “separate but equal” condition for gays (“why do they have to call it marriage?”), and Christians who actively discriminate against gays. There are even Christians who will murder gays. Yet there are Christians who deny that there is any correlation between gay rights and Dr. King’s civil rights movement. Oh, how I remember the Southern Crackers who trotted out the Bible to tell us why civil rights were a sin! Gays are facing the same religious resistance today.
The few exceptions do not justify the whole. The fact that there are a few progressive Christians does not justify Christians resenting being classed together with other Christians. Very few progressive Christians do anything to protect their good names from being lumped together with Fred Phelps. Most progressive Christians are not doing anything to stop discrimination in the name of Christ. There are no Christians suing Pat Robertson for hate speech. At the very least I will say that progressive Christians are not active abusers. A very few are making a token attempt to improve their own ranks. The remainder are enablers who are allowing abuse to happen by trusting God to stop it rather than changing their lifestyles and stopping it itself.
Just so Christians don’t feel as if I am picking on them exclusively, I can toss in other religions as well. Walk through San Francisco’s Chinatown and you will see Buddhist Temples as ridiculous and bigoted as anything Pat Robertson could think up. The Islamic countries are famous for their discrimination against people outside of the tribe. Over the last twenty five years I have watched the Pagan movement become more and more like the Christians to the point where the Goddess looks like Jesus in drag (except in one notable instance where she was Joseph Smith in drag, but that’s another story.) My attempts to talk CAW into acknowledging the rapes and sexual assaults that happened amongst them have fallen on deaf ears. That’s the thing about religions, they think they can get away with anything because some make-believe higher power loves them.
I think that Starhawk made a huge mistake when she tried to graft anarchism onto religion. What she created was the social equivalent of a nuclear reactor. What is a nuke plant but a giant steam engine powered by the most unstable energy source on Earth? Religion is as reactionary as a steam engine, and anarchism is certainly a very unstable political system. The two have been in the middle of a meltdown where many branches of Paganism are taking on the most unsavory aspects of mainline religion: arrogance, intolerance, and the Protestant Work Ethic. Any religious movement, no matter how well meaning, eventually becomes a social anchor, and limits the believers to events that happened in the past rather than that which is to come. Be it Paganism or Christianity, religion is the force that makes us take one step backwards for every step forward.