Last morning, I woke up to this controversial news about Paul Haigh, a serial killer who has murdered seven people and will be serving six life sentences for it, who has asked to have a deck of Tarot cards with him in prison, claiming that they are a tool for his Pagan practice.
This has brought up all kinds of opinions, thoughts and points of view. First of all, there’s the big question “Why a deck of cards?” Sure, it is a polemic thing to ask for, probably he doesn’t really want them and he just wants to make noise or divert the attention. Fine, but, if we look past all of this. What does this really mean?
Some people within the Pagan and Tarot Community have said that you don’t need a deck of Tarot cards in order to practice Paganism. And I agree! But, if you apply the same argument, you don’t need a Bible to be a Christian.
Meeec! Apparently the Bible is a holy book. Dammit! We Pagans don’t have any! But again, a Christian convict could have a rosary. You can pray without a rosary, but it is considered an spiritual tool for Christians. Now what do we do?
It is curious how a deck of Tarot cards can touch up so many topics. For instance, there have been several lines of argumentation.
– “When you commit such crimes, you go to jail, meaning losing your privileges.” Right. But then, are we into reinsertion or vengeance? What is the role of the whole Justice system, keeping dangerous individuals out of society for good, or trying to make their lives count and teach them that they can do better? It is definitely food for thought!
– “He could create a weapon.” Yes, and you can hit someone’s head with a Bible. Is this more of a real concern, or our deeply rooted Abrahamic bias?
– “Tarot is not a religious tool.” Here we arise the difference between religion and spirituality. While the use of Tarot is not “mandatory” in any religion, it is a huge part on some people’s spiritual practice, so those who abide by a “Book religion” are allowed to keep on with their spiritual practices, while those who live a free spirituality are restrained. We need to draw a line, sure, but isn’t there a hint of hypocrisy here?
– “Personal beliefs should be excluded from the State and the Law.” Look at the bills in your pocket, “In God we Trust” and tell me about it later.
I have made further research on the matter, since as many of you know I am not american, therefore I lack the knowledge about how the Law goes in there, and this is what I’ve found.
What qualifies as a religious belief?
“The Supreme Court has never defined the term “religion.” However, in deciding whether something is a religion, lower courts have asked whether the belief system addresses “fundamental and ultimate questions,” is “comprehensive in nature,” and presents “certain formal and external signs.”… In addition to proving that something is a religion, you must also convince prison administrators or a court that your beliefs are sincerely held. In other words, you must really believe it. In deciding whether a belief is sincere, courts sometimes look to how long a person has believed something and how consistently he or she has followed those beliefs.” (See more.)
So, for starters, there’s no real definition of what is religion and what is not. “Sincerely held beliefs” is a concept with non-defined borders, honestly, it seems to qualify as a “free for all” but it is a “free for some” instead.
Let’s talk about Commandments. A Christian convict of murder asks for a Bible. Hello? Let me introduce you the Fifth Commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Is that consistent following of a system of beliefs? Let me doubt it. However, they would get their sacred book in the blink of an eye. This is getting muddy…
As well, there is a story of Court failures in favour of dietary restrictions, so Jews have been allowed to eat kosher feeding, Muslims have been allowed to avoid pork or to adjust their feeding to Ramadan, Christians have been allowed to skip meat during Easter. So the Abrahamic gang gets the food, the literature and the religious services. Question is there’s no question, because the holy books contain such commandments, but when it comes to non-traditional religious beliefs, our minds just blow!
What do we learn about all of this?
First and foremost: Religion and State are not, and have never been a separate thing. The point here is that while our biased thinking makes us accept some of its manifestations in the blink of an eye, we get offended when somebody steps out of the norm and intends to get privileges that are not denied to others in their situation.
Second of all: We tend to judge these people more harshly. Plenty of comments have gone along the lines of “He’s a serial killer and he can rot in Hell!!!!” Sure he can, but has there ever been even a question about the right of any other convict to own their acknowledged holy book? Have they been judged for it?
To conclude: What is the solution? Surely, the best thing to do would be separating Church from State once and for all, but being realistic, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Blind acceptance? Not a good idea either. Should those of use who profess a belief as a minority join under the same principles? What’s the point of personal gnosis and spirituality then? The truth is that, there is no good resolution, but at least, this has given me the chance to examine my own responses to determined situations. And this is growth!