Arguments without Evidence—or without Ethos?
I spent a big chunk of yesterday afternoon reviewing a book that purports to prove the existence of a self-conscious, Goddess-worshiping Paganism in 19th-century America. The evidence? An idiosyncratic reading of one writer’s literary output, writing that never uses the words “witch,” “Pagan,” “fairy,” “goddess,” or anything like that, but openly espouses Protestant Christianity.
If I did not feel the obligation to walk the reader through through my thinking—and if the journal’s book review editor involved had not argued persuasively that “to the degree that popular or self-published books inspire us to think more critically and innovatively then perhaps we should be more inclusive”—I would have just written one sentence: “[The writer] is delusional.”
Call it wishful thinking, call it unverifiable personal gnosis, call it “I know that I am right even though there is no evidence.”
Another example of UPG-fueld writing appears to be a book called Trials of the Moon, which purports to challenge Ronald Hutton’s historical books on Paganism without, y’know, actually having to do the depth of research that he does.
It’s sort of like wanting to bat against the San Francisco Giant Tim Lincecum’s pitching but demanding that you get to keep swinging and swinging until you hit one over the fence—none of that “three strikes and you’re out” stuff.
Some people like it even while admitting that it “offers no alternate theory or proposes any possible history” for Wicca.
At The Witching Hour, Peg starts out gently,
But I also noted a number of statements that don’t inspire confidence. By his own admission Whitmore is not an historian, nor even an academic. And this shows in his failure to observe the most rudimentary rules of objectivity and neutrality of stance.
But by the end of her review, she is reduced to “HUH? HUH?”
If you can’t offer evidence, at least try for a believable enthymeme. Truly ancient Pagans, along with inventing the academy, invented a wide range of persuasive tools.
As a Pagan in academia, I like learning those tools and using them. Of the old persuasive trilogy—logos, pathos, ethos—maybe it is really ethos that is in short supply. UPG has a place, but this kind of writing is not it.