In political philosophy “pluralism” refers to agnosticism about an ultimate good or ideal way of life. Political pluralism supports an open society where multiple cultures can form communities and cooperate on shared interests. Without pluralism communities would fracture across differences and could not tolerate even simple disagreements about value. As such, pluralism enables large and diverse communities that can benefit from an array of strengths and perspectives.

In a theology “pluralism” refers to neutrality among different concepts of the divine. Theological pluralism admits that humanity can only have incomplete knowledge of the divine either because of humanity’s limited capacity or the divine’s inherent complexity. Contemporary Paganism embraces theological pluralism in the absence of a unifying systematic doctrine. Pluralism has allowed contemporary Paganism to form communities united primarily by methods and practices rather than by a shared concept of the divine.

These approaches represent different senses of “pluralism.” Political pluralism allows multiple valid frameworks for defining the good life but also provides boundaries for acceptable frameworks. Only ways of life that are compatible with disagreement and alternative values can be admitted to a functional and peaceful pluralist community. Views of the good life that demand conformity from others irrespective of their beliefs or consent introduce fundamental conflict into the community. One might consider this form of pluralism “strong pluralism” because it provides some structure and boundaries that protect the continued coexistence of different views.

The religious pluralism that shows up in the Neo-Pagan community lacks a comparable organizing character. Instead, Pagan theological pluralism enables community in the absence of wide agreement or shared experience. The contemporary Pagan revival enjoys a diversity of fraudulent claims of tradition that stretches back to its origin with Gerald Gardner’s publication of Witchcraft Today. The community that developed around theatrical personalities, flawed scholarship, and escapist imagination preferred unity to fragmentation, so substantial discourse on theology, metaphysics, and morality cannot rise beyond sharing beliefs and experiences and evaluate those beliefs critically. Without any protective boundary confidence artists and abusive personalities prey on people seeking spiritual experiences or knowledge, and the community at large can do little more than warn and condemn at a distance. Neo-Pagans have no way of identifying a shared value that cannot be diminished by appeal to personal insight.

Traditions that embrace the mystical experience tend to formalize a stronger pluralism. Teaching lineages in Buddhism protect against harmful divergence from the philosophical heart of the tradition. While not a perfect preventative, lineage holders can censure or disown harmful teachers who borrow credibility from the tradition in order to exploit or abuse others. Zen Buddhism in particular stresses continued examination and criticism of insight from both intellection and mysticism, often with the assistance of a more experienced teacher who can direct the student back to fundamental prinicple.

Using such a model Paganism could have a stronger community with boundaries that do not enable predators. Lineages of initiation that value cultivating insight critically provide the means to diminish abuse of personal gnosis for personal gain or domination. Strong pluralism does not require dogma, only boundaries and the means to maintain them.