The British government has, after a lengthy vetting process, recognized Druidism or Druidry as a religion and granted it charitable status. The commissioners in charge of such decisions apparently had a hard time getting their collective heads around the idea that not all religions are monotheistic, textual, dogmatic, priestly, hierarchical, institutionalized, or systematic.
As the Toronto Sun reports, it took the commission four years to investigate the Druids and reach a decision:
The 21-page final report released by the commission states, “The Board members concluded that The Druid Network is established for exclusively charitable purposes for the advancement of religion for the public benefit.”
“The Charity Commission now has a much greater understanding of Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, so other groups form these minority religions — provided they meet the financial and public benefit criteria for registration as charities — should find registering a much shorter process than the pioneering one we have been through,” said Emma Restall Orr, founder of The Druid Network, a website devoted to the religion, in a statement.
Although there are many news reports on the British government’s recognition, few say much about what Druidism or Druidry actually is — most simply call it animism or neo-paganism and associate it with nature worship. The BBC’s comments are representative:
Druidry’s followers are not restricted to one god or creator, but worship the spirit they believe inhabits the earth and forces of nature such as thunder. Druids also worship the spirits of places, such as mountains and rivers, with rituals focused particularly on the turning of the seasons.
Although Druids contend they are simply reclaiming the supernatural beliefs and practices of their ancient Celtic/Gallic ancestors — those who built Stonehenge and other megalithic structures throughout Northern and Western Europe — it is hard to know whether this is indeed the case. The Druidic Celts did not, after all, leave any writings from which the issue can be judged and our knowledge of their beliefs comes primarily from Roman sources and secondarily from archaeology. One thing is certain — modern Druids do not practice human sacrifice as did the early Druids.
While the British government’s decision seems eminently reasonable and the US government already recognizes Druidry as a religion, not everyone is happy about it. The UK Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips is apoplectic and spouts the sort of drivel one expects from those who believe in universal and exclusivist forms of monotheism:
Will someone please tell me this is all a joke. Until now, Druids have been regarded indulgently as a curious remnant of Britain’s ancient past, a bunch of eccentrics who annually dress up in strange robes at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice. However, according to the Charity Commission, they are to be recognised as a religion and, as a result, afforded charitable status, with the tax exemptions and other advantages that follow.
Some might shrug this off. After all, the Druids don’t do any harm to anyone. What skin is it off anyone else’s nose how they are categorised? Well, it actually matters rather a lot.
Elevating them to the same status as Christianity is but the latest example of how the bedrock creed of this country is being undermined. More than that, it is an attack upon the very concept of religion itself.
This is because Druidry is simply not a religion. Now, it’s true that religion is notoriously difficult to define. But true religions surely rest on an established structure of traditions, beliefs, literature and laws. Above all, they share a belief in a supernatural deity (or more than one) that governs the universe.
By these standards, Druidry is surely not a religion but a cult — a group defined merely by ritual practices but which stands outside mainstream religion.
Horror of horrors — a double attack on Anglican Christianity and the very concept of religion! Phillips would do herself an immense favor (and sound less foolish) if she did some reading in the history of supernaturalism and religions.
Deities of the kind she considers characteristic of “true” religion do not appear in that history until after the Neolithic Revolution, or some 6,500 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt. It surely is no coincidence that the elites of the earliest city-states — ruled by divine kings — were the first to conceive of all powerful, anthropomorphic deities that govern the universe. As it is heaven (macrocosm), so it shall be on earth (microcosm).