Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quaker Pagan Q and A

Q: What is the difference between Pagan and Neo-Pagan?

A: Pagan is a term, often derogatory, that refers to those who practice spiritualities outside the Abrahamic religions. Pagan is also an umbrella term that includes Neo-Pagans. Neo-Pagans are Pagans who believe that we cannot return to the "Old Ways" whatever they were. We are modern people who are dependent upon modern philosophies, technologies, and morality. The spiritual solutions of the ancient world cannot work for us even if we wanted them to. Our worldview is dramatically different than theirs. Neo-Pagans are interested in consciously creating an earth/body centered spirituality. For Neo-Pagans, immanence rather than transcendence of the divine is stressed as a matter of faith and practice.

It is critical to understand that there is no single definition or doctrine that can help us with a more accurate description of Neo-Pagans. They resist organization and categorization. The most populous branch of Neo-Paganism is Wicca but there are multiple varieties and interpretations of this manifestation. I am not Wiccan. In fact, my beliefs and practice related to Wicca are similar to the beliefs and practices of a Christian Friend in relationship to a Roman Catholic.


Q: What are Goddess women?

A: Goddess women are scholars and practitioners who are interested in reintroducing the idea of feminine divinity into the discussion. They are those who consciously include feminine metaphors into religious dialogue and who often find that such metaphors are the most powerful and helpful in their lives. Goddess women are feminist theorists who do their work in religion studies and thealogy and are typically post-Christian in their approach.

Q. What do you mean by thealogy spelled with an A?

A. There are two possible meanings of the word thealogy. I use the word to describe the intellectual process of studying the feminine divine. It is a useful word for Goddess studies, which is a part of the research in which I am engaged. I also use it to refer to that religion studies work undertaken by those who are specifically interested in the relationships women have with their religions and spiritualities. It is gynocentric religion studies. I do differentiate between thealogy (which tends to be done by Goddess women and Neo-Pagans) and feminist theology which is done by feminist Christians. Both offer significant contributions to the discussion. I am indebted to both.

Q. Do you believe in God?

A. I believe in the concept that many liberal Christians and other spiritual people call "God." I believe the word itself is problematic inasmuch as it holds a great deal of sexist, imperialist, and racist connotations which it has gathered over time. Such things happen to words as they travel with us through the ages. I prefer not to attach a sullied word to a concept I honor with the deepest part of me (although sometimes expediency requires it).

In English, the word "God" is gendered because of the existence of the word "Goddess". Because the word goddess is derivative, the message of the word god is that such an entity typically excludes the feminine (which is derivative rather than primary). I find that even those people who believe that the exclusion of the feminine from the Godhead is sexist silliness, are affected by this linguistic limitation. Words have intense power over us at an unconscious level.

I reject the word God as a default term because it is anthropomorphic. The overwhelming cross-cultural perception of a "god" is of a male deity in a human form. Adding a capital G to the word does very little to effectively challenge that perception. The popular media continues to promote the notion of God as an old man. I prefer to think of Mary Daly's advice that we consider God as a verb rather than as a noun. I sometimes write "God/dess' as a means of indicating duality and inclusion. This also shows that God is included in the term Goddess. I'm not overly thrilled with any of these approaches. Too often when it comes to conversational treatment of the Ineffable, I just muddle through and expect that others are doing the same. I'm careful about terms but rarely deeply offended. In the end, it is important that we not confuse noises and scribbles for the Divine Itself.

My solution to what I see as a language problem with the word "God" is to vary my ways of expressing the concept of divinity. By changing up my metaphors, I remind myself that I do not have the ultimate power of naming the Divine. In believing that none of my varied words is right, that a thousand other complementary and even seemingly conflicting word can be applied, I remind myself that I am dealing with something far outside my understanding. Therefore, God is also Goddess and Death, Life, Light, Compassion, Righteousness, Nothingness, Depth, Height, Child, Lover, Beloved, Space, Time, Nature, and Cosmos. The divine energy is also found in smaller and humble spaces; in grief and laughter, in sex and humor, in searching and in doubt. I do not wish to be like the Millerites climbing onto haystacks to wait for a Christ to swoop down from on high. Such people will always be disappointed. I prefer to look for the divine even in my dishwater. I see holiness peeking around every corner.

Q: Since you are a Pagan, does that mean that you are a polytheist?

A: Because I use multiple metaphors and honor multiple cultural narratives to discuss the nature of divinity, I appear to be a polytheist. One of the stories that has the most profound influence on my sense of myself as a spiritual person is a German story in which "God" appears as several persons. If I say I honor Hel, the German Goddess of the Underworld, I do not imagine her as an actual person with a separate existence. She is a thought form and a cultural tool that assists me in understanding my relationship to death and failure just as Balder helps me understand my relationship to rebirth. I am a great fan of cross-cultural spirituality. I enjoy finding commonalities and subtle, nuanced differences in various accounts of the human quest to understand its nature. I love to see repeated themes of sin, suffering, death, rebirth and redemption across a wide range of spiritual stories. I do not think it diminishes the story of the Christ to also know the story of Persephone, of Tammuz, of Balder and of Asherah.

I don't use the word polytheist to describe myself. I prefer the term pantheist. For me, the Universe is imbued with Divinity. It may appear that the many forms of divinity that I acknowledge mean that I see different Gods. In truth, my pantheism is a complex monotheism. Because I am a process thealogian (note that a instead of an o), I see the Divine as not separate from Creation but working within it and through it, sharing in its destiny. We are co-creators with the Divine and the manifestations of our work together are infinite.

Q: So do you see yourself as equal to God?

A: No. I see myself as a tiny facet of the ongoing story of revelation in which all life takes part. In that sense, all life is Holy but I am merely bios to the Divine Zoe. I am a flash of revelation, insignificant in many ways but beloved because I alone can offer up my story. I believe we are each called toward this process of revelation. I believe that sin is the failure to acknowledge our yearning for our Source. To fail to answer the call to ourSelves is a grave sin. To stand in the way of another who is engaged in that process is perhaps a graver sin.

Q: Is that the only Sin? If everyone is called to do their own thing, is there really anything anyone can do that is wrong?

A: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Lk 10.25-27) As a Neo-Pagan, I understand that all things are of the body and mind of the OverSoul. My understanding is that physically and spiritually, we are all of one Body. To fail to love my neighbor (and ecology tells me that all life is a neighbor to me)is to fail to love "the Lord my God." So while the Pagan Rede begins with "Do what you will shall be the whole of the Law," it is important to recall that it ends with "So long as you harm none." Sin, therefore exists when we turn away from our Source. It exists when we turn away from each other.

Q: You quote from the Bible. What is your source of authority?

A: I love the Bible and find myself utilizing its riches frequently. I also find what biblical scholar Renita Weems has called "texts of terror" within its pages. I reject the process of canonization or that any man or group of men (or women for that matter) have the right to put limitations on the expression of Truth. My source of authority is wisdom which I view as the meeting point of rationalism and compassion. My wisdom is imperfect and immature because I am human and I am young. I therefore continue to check my understanding against the wisdom of those who seem to me to be full of the love I seek to learn. I look to a broad range of secular and religious texts to assist me in this process. Such texts are the echoing voices of a community of wise people and are of great value to me. However, I discipline my readings with skepticism and caution recalling that even beautiful words must be understood within context. I therefore employ various methodologies of biblical criticism and other critical theories to assist me in my discernment process.

On the other hand, sometimes I find that I must trust my heart. I believe that we are given the gift of knowing, deep within, that we all belong to each other. Love is not a feeling but a Reality, a golden thread that links us together in spite of our violent differences. Life is a Mystery and our journey in it is often long and lonely. Love is the clue that will eventually lead us Home, hand in hand.

Q: You seem content with your Paganism. Why do you also wish to be a Friend?

A: I long for a beloved community. I long for those who will challenge me toward growth, honor my individuality, and hold me to a corporate standard of decency. I believe in the Friends' testimonies of simplicity, integrity, equality, community and peace. I wish to partake in their historic witness of these testimonies. I find that, for the most part, even when our language differs, I find my soul in deep agreement with Friends' motivations and methods. When I am with Friends, I am more centered. I have found a trembling tenderness in their presence that intellect alone has denied me. I know they have done me good and I am hopeful that I will be able to offer something of myself in return.

1 comment:

Lone Star Ma said...

A very nice Q&A - I had not seen thealogy before.