This post has been turning itself over in my mind for a week or so, due to some interpersonal conflicts that ended with the other party (who shall remain nameless) saying “at least I didn’t START A RELIGION” and leaving. Their abrupt departure from my life left me with a lot of residual anger, and one question: Why does everyone think GT is a religion, and how can GT get them to stop?
The idea of the Gallifreyan Tradition Society as a religion in the commonly understood sense of the word is an idea that the Gallifreyan Tradition Society itself has not held since 2015, and yet, it still persists as one of the public’s most prevalent stereotypes about our organization. It follows us everywhere we go like a bad penny– “isn’t GT that religion that worships Rassilon,” “GT is some weird otherkin religion that started on tumblr,” et cetera, et cetera. Saying that GT never claimed to be a religion would be a lie, as there was a period (the period when I found Jediism in early 2015 and thought “I could do that”) where I embraced, or at least did not reject, the label. But it isn’t a lie to say that GT has not claimed to be a religion for a very long time, or to say that I have no clue why this particular misconception keeps gaining traction.
So I’m going to address the biggest misconception right here: GT is not a religion. You’re thinking of Gallifreyan pop culture paganism, which can be practiced by everyone regardless of to what organizations they may or may not belong. Granted, a lot of the pioneering work on Gallifreyan pop culture paganism was done by members of the GT community, but that work was not ordered by GT, it sprung up independently and organically. And even if GT was commissioning or otherwise asking people to write about their spiritual experiences with Gallifreyan pop culture entities, that wouldn’t be an issue. As a rule, such things should be written down for posterity, unless they’re of a private or sensitive nature.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of why people think we’re a religion in the first place, so I’m going to try to do that.
First of all, GT attracts a lot of religiously similar people. Most of us are Pagan of some sort, and most of us incorporate elements of modern media into our practice. Some of us do stuff with the Gallifreyan mythos, some of us work with other universes. Some of us have past lives that resemble things from fiction. Some of us are plural for spiritual reasons. Some of us believe in the multiverse theory. GT as an organization does not hold pop culture paganism, belief in past lives, metaphysical plurality, or the multiverse theory as doctrine, we just attract a lot of people who see those things as important to their faith. There have always been people in GT who are in it for the fandom aspects, or the cultural and ethical aspects, or the community, and don’t touch the spiritual aspects with a ten foot pole.
Second of all, GT places a high value on the importance of ritual and ceremony. However, while many of them center around the lessons and contributions of Gallifrey’s founders, GT ceremonies never assume that participants believe in anything other than the values we share as an organization. Members are welcome to participate in our ceremonial observances or not, and if they do participate, they are welcome to take any meaning they’d like from what they experience. And besides, I don’t see anyone calling the Girl Scouts a religion.
Third of all, the infamous Rants of Rassilon. People. Please. You need to understand that there’s such a thing as comedy, there’s such a thing as satire, and there’s such a thing as wanting to have fun with our own reputation. When you hear a Rant of Rassilon on Radio Free Arcadia, it’s not an actual sermon– it’s a lighthearted way of lampooning the same stereotypes you’re using it to justify, while also addressing serious topics that need to be addressed. The message is supposed to be taken seriously, but the medium in which it’s delivered has always been an intentional mocking of GT’s reputation.
So, yeah. GT’s not a religion, except maybe in the same way that Unitarian Universalism is a religion. We have a common set of values that can basically be summed up as “learn all the things, be kind, keep your promises, and be true to yourself.” We have traditions and ceremonies that aid in teaching these values, and that are constructed in such a way as to allow people of all spiritual traditions to feel comfortable participating. We don’t endorse any particular religious doctrine, even though people of a particular religious subtype tend to congregate in GT spaces. Spirituality is a part of what some people get out of GT, but it’s not the only part, or even the most important part. And even though some people might say that GT is a part of their religious life, myself included, reducing everything GT is to the opinions of an admittedly tiny part of its population is both reductive and dishonest.