Posted by: aediculaantinoi | May 26, 2012

Christianity Through a Polytheist Lens

Let me begin this blog entry by saying that I am not entirely comfortable nor happy to be writing about this, for a complex variety of reasons.

[Get a nice beverage and make sure you're seated comfortably, folks: this will be a rather long ramble, I suspect...]

The first reason is one that I was thinking about last night. As you’ll notice on the sidebar to your right on all of my blog pages, there is an alphabetical quasi-“word-cloud” there which notes the most frequently used tags in my entries. (And, yes, I’m an excessive tagger…even though I don’t need to, I use tags like they’re an index, and I’m an excessive indexer when it comes to making those, too!) I’ve often studied this and tried to gauge what it says about me and my preoccupations in this blog. Of course, “Antinous” is the largest and most frequently used tag–probably more than 19/20ths of the entries I’ve written have him mentioned at least once in them, which is only appropriate since this is a virtual webspace that first and foremost honors him and (hopefully) informs others about him in doing so. But, others are large, too, and I’ve often paid particular notice to which deity-names get a “large” presence there as well. And, that varies quite greatly; new ones get added and come to prominence, older ones eventually get smaller and smaller.

What preoccupied my attention last night was that in the third rank of size in that word-cloud, one can find “Christianity,” which is larger than most of the deities and spiritual beings there, with the exceptions of Antinous, Hadrian, Dionysos, and Hermes. “Christianity” is larger than “Jesus,” too! (And, while there are a billion things that could be said about that, both in relation to my own religion and the religions of others, I simply note it here as something upon which to chew stale popcorn kernels.) But, contrary to the common statement, size IS important, and while I’m totally not a size-queen in terms of a variety of things for which people commonly are (*ahem*), I am when it comes to literary output, and in particular with words. If I’m using “Christianity” more as a tag than, for example, Hathor or Persephone or Hekate or Osiris or Apollon or Polydeukion or Serapis or Sabazios or Cú Chulainn or Lugus (or any other deity that I regularly worship), then there is a problem, I think.

I’ve often heard over the years that there is too much emphasis in modern pagan discussion on debating or actively attacking Christianity, which is ultimately to our detriment because a lot of important time, space, and energy is wasted in that effort: we’re not going to convince most Christians that we’re a better religious option than they are, and we certainly don’t appreciate it when they constantly try the same thing on us. Our complaining about many of the things in Christianity that make things difficult for pagans, queer people, non-males, and a great variety of other types of human (not to mention the wide, diverse, beautiful, sacred, ancient, majority, and actively being destroyed non-human world on this planet) is not going to change that other religion’s viewpoints on these matters, nor will it reverse what the industrialized capitalist cultures that have been supported by Christianity are continuing to do to those various groups. So, what’s the point? And with this, I agree very much.

Thus, I think I’m writing the present post partly as a kind of “get it out of your system for a while” cathartic matter, and I do hope it succeeds in that effort.

[I do offer here, however, that for the first three centuries and beyond of Christianity's existence, it wrote quite a bit (slanderously most of the time) about pagan religions, practices, and deities, which is why we have some of the information we do on Antinous. This is both a good and a bad thing, of course, but I digress...I mention this because we're only really about 60 years into the widespread and public existence of modern paganisms and polytheisms, and despite many calls to stop talking about Christianity, and how ragging on it is a kind of juvenile position and demonstrates an insecure and immature spirituality--with which I somewhat agree--nonetheless if we're still talking about the dominant religion of the western world, in which we quite literally (and unfortunately) "live and move and have our being" (with apologies to T. Thorn Coyle) whether we like it or not, and which can thus cause us great harm in a political and a physical sense in many concrete ways--and in fact it is doing exactly that right at this very moment in the lives of many people--then we would do well to continue speaking about it, and it would be totally understandable to be preoccupied with it. If one never mentions the elephant in the room, especially if it is a hairy and unruly rabid mastodon that is also equipped with poisonous tusks and would for the most part rather see us trampled and our houses destroyed, then it would really be a good idea to talk about it, I think!]

But, a number of fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) things have arisen in the last few days that have made me pay an increasing amount of attention to the matter of Christianity. Some of it has been relatively benign and peaceful food for thought, as a result of some interesting questions on the Ekklesía Antínoou Yahoo!Group; but, some of that was also influenced in no small part by a post on The Wild Hunt the other day; and the post on The Wild Hunt today, and the other Patheos.com post (by a Catholic) upon which it is based, really set the present post in motion and made it rather unavoidable.

I’m practically a thousand words into this post, and I am only just now getting around to introducing the topic…like I said, long ride–make sure you hit the loo before resuming, dear friends. ;)

Of the two books mentioned in The Wild Hunt’s post the other day, the book that interested me far more was the second one: Mark Townsend’s Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ. I can tell you right off that though I’m very interested in the subject matter, and what some of these various luminaries of modern paganism have to say on this matter, I’m also finding I’m already in major methodological and theological disagreement with the text because of its title, or rather its subtitle, and that is over the use of the word “Christ.” The term “Christ” only has theological valence within the (oddly-named) Christian tradition; no other religion views the figure of Jesus as being the “anointed” messiah, as originally described in the Jewish scriptures, and understood through the Greek language. (I always used to joke, with my Irish Catholic friend, who is both an historian and a theologian very conversant with New Testament Greek, that the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ could equally well be translated “The Troubles of the Greasy-Head,” and in fact would probably sound a lot more like that to ancient non-Christians!)

In one of the bits of this book that Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt quoted in his entry on the book the other day, he quotes Maxine Sanders as saying the following, amongst other things: “Who am I to deny the Christ’s validity?” And, while I can see and to some extent agree with the sentiment here, I again don’t agree with the language, because speaking of Jesus as “the Christ,” and in particular using the definite article, is a Christian theological notion that is not at all appropriate to non-Christians, whether we see him as a valid teacher–or even as a valid deity–or not. Our adoption of these terms without any thought for them is an unwitting concession to the validity of their theologies.

But, what exactly do I mean by that? Am I saying that Christian theology isn’t valid? I’m saying that it may be very well and valid for them; it’s as good as most of them have been able to do (with the exception of the Gnostics, but they’re another matter!) under the circumstances, and thus it may carry many truths, beauties, and validities for them. However, to speak of it in this way for ourselves and to give it that kind of credence by our choices of words and our adoption of the terms they have created to prove their own exclusive possession of truth is not only inappropriate, it is actively damaging to our own theological strength as polytheists.

All that from the little word “the”–yes, dear friends, semantics are a HUGE deal, and we would do well to pay far more attention to them than we have often done.

I need to further unpack some of the above positions, however, and discuss how this might influence my views and actions within an interfaith context (particularly since some of the interfaith posts I’ve done over the last two years have been perennial favorites by hit-count). So, let me give you part of what I wrote in my Ekklesía Antínoou post yesterday, with a few slight revisions…

I, personally, certainly acknowledge the reality of the Jewish god (Iao Sabaoth), the Christian’s Jesus as being related to but neither synonymous with nor in some sort of Trinitarian relationship to that god, and of Allah as a separate and independent Arabic deity. However, I do not accept what some Jews, most Christians, and all Muslims say theologically about their various gods in a number of manners (e.g. the singular and true/only supreme deity, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, transcendent, etc.), nor am I required to do so since I am not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim. Just because I’m tolerant of those religions, and am accepting of their members, doesn’t mean I have to agree with them nor do I have to affirm the reality or the veracity of their theological claims, whether generally or in a specific interfaith context; and, I can do this while still giving them the utmost respect they deserve as humans.

I am quite certain that no matter how nice Jews, Christians, or Muslims (or Hindus, or Sikhs, or various other religious practitioners) are to me generally or within an interfaith context, they do not in any way affirm the reality or the veracity of my gods, my religious experiences, or my theologies–nor should they, since they are not polytheists like I am. And, that’s fine with me. We can treat one another with respect as humans without having to say “We’re all equally right” or “Many paths to the one source” or what-have-you that is such a prevalent (and useless, I might add) message in a lot of liberal religious discussion, interfaith work, and so on.

[End of excerpts from said Ekklesía Antínoou Yahoo!Group post, fyi.]

So, here’s where things went from “this is an interesting opportunity to articulate my position on a matter that is important in a peaceful and uncomplicated manner” to “[there are not enough symbol marks on a keyboard to express how upset I am right now]” in relation to it.

Before I move into that part of the discussion, therefore, let me just quote a few lines of a song I’ve been listening to quite a lot for the last month, by the incomparably wonderful S. J. Tucker, called “Go Away Godboy”:

Go away godboy
your gospel doesn’t work on me
you’re stuck inside your dogma
and your karma’s getting messy
your holy head is up your ass
your message ringing clear…

[I highly recommend you all go and listen to the full song if you aren't familiar with it!]

There I was, with some of the above ideas floating relatively benignly in my brain, when I read today’s The Wild Hunt post, and then sought out the other post that prompted it. Crikey…where does one begin with this nonsense?

Let’s start first with the heading under which the ever-insightful Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt couched his discussion: this nonsensical (and might I add, inherently sectarian theological) notion that somehow, monotheism represents the pinnacle of a process of evolution of religions. One finds this exact idea in works by Huston Smith (like Why Religion Matters) and many others who come from a creedal monotheistic religious background, especially as they treat the subject of other world religions. The evolutionary view of religion insists that poor, dumbfounded, “primitive” humans began their religious life with lots of naïve superstitions, false notions, and quasi-magical practices; and once they became a little more advanced, one can understand their religion as a somewhat more conceptually defined animism. Next, they abandon animism (and animatism–i.e. a very material approach to animism, in which things don’t only “contain” spirits, they are embodied spirits) for a more transcendental and personal theological approach, which is polytheism: it has individual, identifiable deities with particular characteristics, but who do not usually have continuous incarnate form. (There are exceptions, of course, like animate statues, shrines, nymph-haunts, etc.) In human history, an “axial age” occurred in the 8th through 3rd centuries BCE, in which “philosophical” thought emerged, which removed itself even further from some of the conceptual underpinnings of polytheism, and laid the way for…yup, you guessed it, MONOTHEISM! Then, of course, once monotheism comes along, everything’s great, we have attained the pinnacle of what we’ve been meant to attain as humans, and that’s that–write off millennia of religious history and a huge majority of the global population throughout that time, because it’s all irrelevant in comparison to THE TRUTH.

Huston Smith’s book mentioned above takes a slightly different approach, and suggests there are four “religious types”: atheists, polytheists, monotheists, and mystics, and in the sequence given here, they improve upon and subsume the previous types. (I’ll talk more about mysticism shortly…) Sir James George Frazer has a somewhat simpler evolutionary concept: human society progresses in the ways it thinks about and understands the world from magic to religion to science. I don’t remotely agree with either of these ultimately evolutionary views of religion, but the latter one is interesting in its implications, and should be explored a bit further here.

The monotheist-privileging evolutionary view of religion essentially stops 2400-1400 years ago (depending on which sort of monotheist is discussed), and anything going in a different direction is assumed to be “backsliding” or “apostasy.” (Nonsense!) However, it ignores some further developments in the Christian situation in particular that continue the trend of reducing the divine world in scope and number, from immediate and tangible to more transcendent and less-populated. The reformation happened, and then the (so-called) enlightenment, which re-introduced a great deal of polytheist literature, theory, and influence generally speaking into the Christian intellectual climate of Europe. Not too long after this, deism began to proliferate, and it lead to some very useful things indeed, like the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution with its First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. And, as time went on, and as science continued to expand, it lead to humanism and eventually atheism–let’s simply remove the question of all deities and things that are not immediately visible and tangible, and only deal with the material. (In a certain sense, this is a reversion to animatism without the anima!) The same people who are proponents of this monotheism-privileging evolutionary view of religion are often the most opposed to actual evolution and many other scientific advances where they contradict their religious viewpoints (which is almost everywhere!). I’m not looking at humanism or atheism as a “bad thing” in and of itself, but for the moment, I will note that many atheists use the same sort of evolutionary view of religion to argue for the redundancy of religion: we’ve outgrown it as humans and it no longer serves any useful purpose other than division and difficulty. It’s another matter entirely to discuss why that’s not an adequate notion…

In the field of religious studies, one tends to have a phenomenological approach to methodology in today’s world. What that means is that religious phenomena–texts, rituals, beliefs, regalia, sacred objects, experiences of divine beings and realities, and so forth–are simply taken for what they are, as “things” which can be studied and interpreted. This is far more preferable to the theological or sectarian approach to religious studies that has often taken place (and still does take place), which interprets religious phenomena from a particular religion’s own viewpoint on religion, which generally involves notions of “we’re right, and others aren’t” (whether they’re totally wrong or just flawed or incomplete in their knowledge varies based on the religion concerned). The evolutionary view of religion is inherently sectarian, therefore, and thus not appropriate to religious studies; yet, it still gets taught this way in many places and in many cases, including some I’ve seen and been a part of (not willingly nor without dissent) personally.

While this is a slight digression to my main points here, I promised to discuss this subject above, thus I want to address it briefly before moving on to the next issues.

Mysticism often gets a kind of “pass” in so many ways within religions, and it is often assumed that mysticism is more or less synonymous with monism, which is why a “more mystical approach” is so popular in interfaith contexts: because “we’re all talking about the same thing.” Mysticism is often praised as a kind of end-point of spiritual evolution as well: one should endeavor to be in contact with whatever one’s conception of divine reality or divine beings happens to be if one truly devotes oneself to one’s spiritual path and practice. In reality, mysticism is often the starting-point for religion (theologically and structurally), as it should be: some perception or other of divine realities or divine beings is the point of most religions. As a polytheist, that’s certainly my own viewpoint: everything I write about or speak about in relation to Antinous would be utterly useless and meaningless if it did not have a basis in my own experience and my attempts (which aren’t always successful) to understand those experiences. I’ve discussed in other places and on other occasions how I think this notion of one’s experiences of divine beings and realities, which bolsters one’s confidence in one’s spirituality and with which one attempts to have fidelity, is the best way to understand the term “faith.” (And, read Finnchuill’s post on this matter–it’s excellent! though he does not agree with some of my own views on this matter–though I’ll also point out that Sannion has also written on the matter of faith over the last few months.)

I find the monotheist definition of mysticism, however, has often overwhelmed the polytheist (and other) understandings of it, because it tends to favor the apophatic over the cataphatic–which is to say, the “wordless” and “imageless” experiences of mysticism are considered superior and preferable to the ones which can be described. This sort of definition of mysticism relies upon the characteristics of the monotheist deity as being utterly transcendent and “beyond human understanding”; and yet, the people who experience the transcendent monotheist deities always seem to know it’s their particular god…but that god is “like no other,” and thus how can one know that’s really their god at all? If one has never seen a Rubik’s Cube, one won’t know what it is or what it does, and wouldn’t know where to begin unless one had someone who knew about it there to explain it. Why are these unknowable monotheistic deities that are unlike all other gods (and all other things, including categories of being, thought, and perception!), then, so damn easy to “know” when they happen to come along in a person’s life? Sure, mystics within Christianity have often been subjected to severe persecution, and the least lucky of them get branded heretics (like Marguerite Porete), while others get to be doctors of the church (like St. John of the Cross, or Hildegard of Bingen–who recently became a saint, and whose mysticism is considerably less apophatic than many others). And saying that such experiences are “beyond words” and “cannot be told” seems like a major cop-out to me (as a polytheist, for starters, since my gods do have characteristics and can be clearly identified when they show up–in my own experiences of Antinous, sight and sound, but sometimes touch and smell are all deeply involved, as well as other sensations that seem to be harder to characterize). The most effective mystics, like St. John of the Cross, were able through poetic metaphor to describe their experiences of their transcendent gods, and thus in some manner to describe–even if it is by “negative theology”–their apophatic deities and experiences through cataphatic methods. If what they are experiencing is not their transcendent deity, but something else, then that suggests there may be some flaws in their thinking and theologies (and often, there is); if what they are experiencing, and are able to identify, is their transcendent deity, then that suggests that the deity isn’t transcendent at all. I’m reminded here of something someone I knew in Oxford (who was Catholic) once said in relation to mysticism: “warm glows aren’t proof of the existence of God, they’re proof of the existence of warm glows.” Indeed, indeed…but, then the question is, is the warm glow “something else” (i.e. another spiritual being), or is it actually the deity that the mystics often think it is?

Of course, we’re never going to know the full realities behind these things, whether we’re polytheists or monotheists, whether we employ cataphatic or apophatic manners to discuss them–that’s the nature of all metaphysical things, I think. Nonetheless, in my own experiences, I thus find the polytheist understandings of these experiences to be far more convincing, useful, and productive, both for me and for others, than monotheist understandings. This digression will have further relevance to other matters below…

But to return to the sparking-off matters for the present ramble, there’s the other Patheos.com post that The Wild Hunt referred to, which makes many egregious errors and is quite offensive on many fronts (which have been discussed in the comments to The Wild Hunt post on this matter, as well as in the other post itself). The one that I most object to at present, however, is something that Christianity has been quite good at doing from the very outset: cherry-picking evidence in other religions to bolster its own truth-claims. They did it with Judaism first; in fact, Christianity would not have been possible without Judaism…and yet, Judaism finds the very most basic premises of Christianity (the divinity of Jesus) to be entirely questionable and objectionable, and does not understand any of the parts of its own scriptures that are taken as “definitive proof” of Jesus’ divinity by Christians to mean anything of the kind. The other post referred to by The Wild Hunt does some of the same kind of thing with ancient polytheist religions. (And, not always correctly nor factually–the example of “pagan heroism” that the author gives in relation to Ireland was done by an Irish Christian against a possibly pagan Viking.)

Selective reading of other religions’ theological artifacts (particularly literary ones) to bolster the truth-claims of the religion doing such selective readings is, in a sense, a direct admission that one’s own religion can’t stand on its own two theological feet and its own inherent merits. Forget appeals to being a continuation of another tradition, or to have a venerable ancestry in pre-existing traditions (especially when the premises of the religion concerned also explicitly invalidate or demean those earlier religions), that just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Why does something that should be self-evidently superior to all other possibilities (like two major creedal monotheistic religions claim they are) need to look to anything outside of itself to support its own claims? Really, what’s going on in those cases–and certainly in the case of this other blog post–is that a complex set of mental gymnastics is being engaged with in order to theologically justify one religious adherent’s liking of things in other religions that aren’t considered valid: “fragments of truth” in other religions that are, by definition, “untrue” doesn’t make any sense in comparison to a religion that claims to have the whole and unadulterated truth. (Unfortunately, Islam’s insistence on this view of itself in its early centuries is what lost the remnants of the Library of Alexandria to posterity, because “what is true therein agrees with the Qu’ran, and is therefore no longer necessary; what is untrue therein is no longer desirable.”) Liking things in other religions is a very natural human tendency, and wanting to adopt them and incorporate them into one’s own religion is the basis of a great deal of syncretism. But, heavens forbid someone actually admit to liking something in another religion if one is of a particular religion that self-defines as the only one that is true, valid, or right!

I’ve said it a number of times: why are circular arguments only allowed in monotheist theological discussions? Circular arguments, and the appeals to authority that they very often rely upon or seek to support, are both textbook definitions of logical fallacies. Using any of these to try and argue for the correctness of one’s religion over all others, therefore, is an extremely weak and naïve move…and yet, it happens all the time. (And it happens in the blog post mentioned above, and in several of the comments on both The Wild Hunt’s post and the other.)

And, this is where an important further dimension of the question of mysticism enters into the picture once again. My own religious and spiritual experiences, which include a number of experiences involving Antinous (but a variety of other gods as well, including Iao Sabaoth), are things that, in my opinion, ultimately don’t amount to a lot for the rest of the world. Sure, I can relate these experiences, and in so doing, and in further discussing some of the ideas that might follow from these experiences, other people may be inspired, have questions answered, and gain insights into their own experiences of divine beings and realities (whether they are Antinous-related or not). However, I am in no way arrogant nor presumptuous enough to suggest that any of my own personal experiences are in any manner binding in their meanings or interpretations on anyone but myself–and this is despite the fact that some people have attempted to make my experiences binding on all people (including in this very blog). That’s not how polytheism works, and I suspect that’s not how most religions work. We might get assistance from others on some occasions for discerning what our own spiritual path and best actions in life might be, but rarely do we absolutely force others to follow whatever it is our experiences seem to indicate. We never presume that our theological notions that flow from our experiences are binding upon all other people, and that they have no choice whatsoever in this matter because we are the sole possessors of “The Truth.” And yet, the latter is the basis for the entire system of monotheistic theology, at least in its two most widespread and successful forms on the planet today.

Thus, while I’ve gone rather all over the place with the present post, and have gone on far longer than even I had expected in worst-case-scenario fashion that I would go, I find myself arriving at the following conclusion. I am a polytheist (and an animist) because I find that these viewpoints best describe my own experiences to me, and they are the framework in which I can best understand and use those experiences toward productive ends for myself and for many (though not all) others. Yes, I love my gods and I love that they have been a part of my life: that is the very basis for my experiences. But when understanding myself theologically, this is the position I find myself in, and I think it’s a good one. My viewpoint on the gods tends not to invalidate their possible existence in other religions, thus I am very happy to concede that Iao Sabaoth, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Allah, various angels and saints, and a number of other divine beings exist; I still worship and interact with a few of these from time to time, to varying degrees of success, and some of them have had transformative and powerful influences on my own spiritual development and experience over the years in the past, which I do not wish to ever forsake or invalidate. However, I’m under no obligation to think of these deities in the same manners as those who are members of religions who consider these deities to be the “only” deities in existence. Gentlidecht, as well as the practices of many other people that I respect a great deal as spiritual colleagues and co-religionists, do not have difficulties with the beings of these other religions, and some of the practices and ideas that arise from them; but, they’re still polytheists, at the end of the day. While monotheists’ own theologies within their religions are perfectly valid for themselves (unless they actively harm others, which they do far more often than all of us non-monotheists would prefer), I will not by any means grant them a validity outside of that relative validity; even the best-intentioned among them would do no more than that for me, and I’m fine with that. And–I fully realize the following will not be liked by many people, but nonetheless here we are–because my religious viewpoint allows me the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the divine beings and experiences that other people in other religions have, I think it’s a great deal more preferable to have this viewpoint than it is to be a member of any religion that makes a business of invalidating any other theology and that denies me (and other polytheists and animists) the benefit of logic, or any show of good faith in our benevolent human intentions, suggests that our religious experiences are false and delusional, or that our revered divine beings are in any way lesser than their own.

And, no, not all members of the Christian or Muslim religions do act in those ways toward other religions, which is a good and wonderful thing; I wish their co-religionists would learn from their good example far more than they have up to this point in history.

The three gods of Christianity are three among millions and millions that have existed throughout human history and that have interacted with humans, and which continue to exist and to interact with humans; they are no worse than any other such deities, and they are certainly no better.

Okay…I hope this particular spirit is well exorcised for the moment, and I won’t have to return to it for a while. ;)


Responses

  1. Lord, there’s a lot to think about in this post!

    The post on Bad Catholic is, I think, revealing of one of the cognitive struggles going on here. I don’t think that the challenge is that different people think different things and that one bunch of people think the others are wrong – this is merely a description of how everybody has approached every issue ever. What’s lacking is an ability to recognise the difference between considering someone’s views valid and considering them correct. What we need is more people who can say “I think you’re quite wrong. Now let’s go to the pub.” rather than “I think you’re quite wrong and *therefore* your views are not worthy of being listened to or respected.”.

    The ‘paganism naturally evolves into Christianity’ idea is perhaps more of an attempted solution to the issue than an attack. It’s a naive and condescending attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. It says “you’re on the right track” in the same way that a patient teacher tries to encourage an intelligent student who has guessed wrong – it recognises the validity of the guess but not the proposed answer. While that’s appropriate in, say, maths, it’s pretty offensive when dealing with religion in which the questions are not settled.

    I read Bad Catholic occasionally (skipping out anything that seems to touch on the matter of homosexuality, because Marc’s views there get my blood up), and my impression is that Marc simply does not understand how anyone can think about the issue and come to a different conclusion from him. He writes quite beautiful posts about the Real Presence in the Eucharist or what’s great about Purgatory – and that is maybe why the rest of his output is so condescending towards everyone else. He’s in love with the Church and like a lover, can’t understand why others don’t hold the beloved in awe the same way he does. For instance, he has sneered at Anglicanism as being the product of Protestants longing to be part of the Catholic Church again – because that is the only reason he can conceive of for adopting a High Church stance. “If they do something, it must be for the same reasons that I would do it” in effect.

    A similar facet I encounter is the conflation of ‘there is an absolute truth’ and ‘I have found it!’. Mostly coming from people who have read their Chesterton and missed his point there is an all-or-nothing approach to personal knowledge. It is not enough for someone to say “I am convinced that there is one God and Jesus Christ His Son”, they must somehow turn this in to an all-encompassing (a ‘catholic’, in fact) philosophy. For a similar reason – a conflation of ‘people have differing and entirely valid views’ with ‘there is no objective truth’ – I’m afraid I disagree with you on the matter of ‘The Truth’ being a destructive concept (if I’ve understood you correctly). To propose that ideas should be capable of co-existing is a nice response to the problem of getting people to co-exist, but it does rather limit (in my view) the availability of ideas. What we need, I believe, is not an absence of objective claims (as in aesthetics – beauty-in-eye-of-beholder) but a way of recognising the subjectivity of our objective claims (as in an academic dispute – there are reasons for both branches of the dichotomy and while mutually incompatible that does not mean they are not both deserving of consideration). If that makes any sense.

    • I don’t disagree with what you’ve said at the end of your comment here at all–the way you’ve phrased it is far more compact and elegant than my own attempts above, so I’m sorry that your very valid point got lost in the shuffle. Indeed, recognizing the subjectivity of our objective claims is exactly the problem I’m seeing, and is what I’d like to see more of in inter-religious dialogue.

      It would alleviate really all of the problems that many of us were objecting to in this particular situation, and a great many others as well. However, I don’t sincerely think most monotheists are ever going to get to that point. It’s the best outcome we can hope for, but almost all monotheist religious bodies and authorities are entirely against “relativism,” which is what they’d see this position as an expression of, and thus I don’t know that we’ll be able to make progress in this regard on anything other than an occasional, individual level.

      (And, many of those individuals are likely to be monistic-leaning mystics…which, while still not preferable and a little bit presumptuous in themselves, are far preferable to the absolutist one. Interestingly, both involve an all-or-nothing, no choice, everyone’s in whether they like it or not approach. The absolutist monotheist says the truth they espouse is inviolable and their god has lordship over all, and you can either go with that–like they usually think they do–or be damned to hell. The monist says that we’re all ultimately one, whether one likes it or not, and you can either realize that and be as peaceful and wonderful and enlightened as they are, or you can choose to continue in ignorance and delusion of that truth and have all the problems you continue to have. At the end of the day, they’re not that different, it’s just that the monist ends up be a lot less judgmental in an eschatological sense–because if we really are all one, then me going to hell would mean they’re also going to hell, and they simply won’t have that.)

      • the ‘subjectivity of objectivism’ .Objectivism would suggest that the same thing is being viewed. So what is being viewed? the idea of “God”?
        I think you hit close to the mark when you write “but almost all monotheist religious bodies and authorities are entirely against “relativism,” But I’d say that isn’t limited to monothiests. even in this discussion the terms of theological isms, as it were, as being thought of as absolute. There’s too much absolutism in regards to theological isms.In what you write in regards to monism, I supose I could be considered a monist in that yes I see a ‘oneness’ of being, but not in the sense of identity. More in the sense that there is a oneness of water in that it is an atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen, but the experience or ‘fate’ of one molecule of water isn’t shared by all others.
        In regards to monotheism, Part of that reflects directly on the idea of “God”. A question I often put to my students to think about is Who are the Gods of the Gods? The present monotheist religions don’t have a monopoly on that idea, though they have taken it to it’s extreme. The idea of one god to which all other beings including ‘gods’ give reverence, honor or even worship wasn’t invented with their rise.
        I do agree with what you write in your main essay, that semantics is at issue, as well as the objective/subjective thing when the thing being viewed is rather ambiguously or rather relatively defined, i.e ‘God’.

  2. Whew, that was long, but well worth it. Thanks for your insights on this.

    • Thanks very much for reading and commenting! I appreciate your interest greatly!

  3. I <3 this post so hard. I will have to read it through a few times to absorb it.

    • Thank you, dear friend!

      Considering the prevalence of the “TL;DR” syndrome, I’m glad anyone is reading it, despite the warnings!

      (I’d love to have the “Beware, this is going to be long” bits above done by animations of the stone faces from Labyrinth!)

  4. Not too lengthy by any means – at least not for me. I really enjoy your process and conclusion, and heartily agree. I will re-read, and mull over certain points to be sure.

  5. Of course I knew what you were going to say before reading this. I have become quite familiar with your reasoning and agree with it completely. I remember reading this message – we should not accept Christian theology or its language because we think that is simply the tolerant (and thus good) thing to do – and being surprised by it. Surprised, because it was the first time I came across it within the pagan blogosphere. And also because I realised how remarkable it was that no-one every stated this before, since it seemed so natural and moreover, logically sound!

    I sincerely hope that you will write a full book on this wider theological issues. I would buy it instantly. And I think there is a great demand for it in the pagan community. Or even just a collection of your existing blog-posts (somewhat similar to Dver’s new book) on this issue, that would be awesome. I haven’t bought any of your works before – I haven’t met or honered Antinous as of yet, and I am not a big reader of poetry – but I would love your theological essay in print.

    • Thanks very much indeed!

      Yes, this was sort of a “summary and review” post in many respects, sparked off by these different matters that have arisen recently. I’m happy about the feedback that’s come in thus far…

      I have a few theological books planned for the future. Studium Antinoi: The Doctor’s Notes, Volume Two will have a lot more theological essays in it; and I have a subject-specific theological book that just needs some editing and revision that I also want to put out. I may also do an anthology of some stuff from the blog here at some stage (and possibly one that is an anthology of “Queer I Stand” posts, and/or one that collects my various essays from the different NA/BA devotional anthologies together…but the latter is a few years off yet, I think).

  6. Your post was definitely very dense and thought provoking (as usual with your posts), and I agree with some of what you said. For example, I don’t agree that all religions naturally are evolving towards some form of Monotheism (although, towards the end of the Roman Empire, it seems that Monotheitic ideas were quite popular, even with the “beloved” emperor Julian that so many (American) Pagans like (for some reason, I personally don’t find anything to admire in him, but, then, I’m not a neurotic anti-Christian as some Pagans seem to be, who I’m sure you’ve seen countless online)), but, I don’t think Monotheism is the “big bad” that so many Pagans seem to make it out to be.

    For example, many Pagans seem to think “Monotheism = intolerant”, and that Monotheists that aren’t are somehow “not true Monotheists” (these Pagans will also love to read books by Jan Assmann and the psuedo-scholar/journalist/lawyer/jack of all trades Jonathan Kirsch), but, I find that whole argument to be total BS, because, it just cherry picks things from history. For example, they’ll bring up the Inquisition, Crusades, Jihads, Witch hunts, etc, probably without ever having read any actual history book on the subject (by a qualified specialist), and seeing the complex situations that produced horrors like the above.

    When the question of Pagan horrors are brought up (like the Roman persecution of the early Christians, Witches, followers of Bacchus, Jews, the rape of Boudicca’s daughters, honour killings which are most certainly not just an “Islamic thing”, but existed in the ancient world, etc), these are somehow “excused” or brushed aside, usually with the retort that “well, the persecutions of the Jews and Christians was political, and if they had just worshiped the same Gods, it wouldn’t have happened”, which is hardly a “defence”, it’s a bit like saying, if only the Aztecs hadn’t practiced human sacrifice and had just submitted completely to the Spanish, then the Spanish persecution wouldn’t have happened, or like saying if Christians, Jews, Siberian Shamans, and countless others had just renounced their religions in the Soviet Union, Stalin “wouldn’t have” sent them to the Gulags, etc.

    For myself, violence, whoever perpetuates it, is wrong, whether it happens to be the Church, Islamic extremists, Pagans, Hindu Nationalists, certain Buddhist extremists, or whoever.

    So, while I can understand Jason refuting the idea that “all Religions lead to Monotheism or to Christ”, and while I understand your post, and agree with what you said, I don’t like the negative stance that many Pagans seem to have of Monotheism (and, no doubt, I can just imagine the anti-Monotheism crowd loving Jason’s new post, probably saying things like “Monotheism is evil”, “down with Monotheistic religions”, etc, of course, this moronic crowd don’t seem to realise that both Judaism and Ba’hai have no crimes because of Monotheism in their past (I know some love to use “the Conquest of Canaan” as an excuse to bash Judaism, but, there’s no archaeological evidence for such as “Conquest”, and, at best, represent memories of tribal battles, which actually means Jews have usually been the victims of such genocidal campaigns, not its perpetrators, not to deny that Judaism doesn’t have its Shadow side, like other religions and traditions as well).

    There was a great quote I read in a history magazine recently that, basically, said history is far more interesting when we understand that it isn’t black and white, and we move beyond blaming others, while some would love to paint Monotheism, or, indeed, all Religion as the “big bad”, and make it responsible for all the world’s woes, the world just doesn’t work like that, and, to get Jungian, it seems to me people need to find a scapegoat and project their Darkness onto them, whether it be Christians, Pagans, Jews, Muslims, LGBT people, Liberals, Conservatives, right-wing, left-wing, Atheist, anyone that can be painted as “the Other”, etc.

    Personally, I don’t tend to find the terms “Monotheism” or “Polytheism” helpful, because, while I believe in countless Gods (especially new Gods, as you’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, which is really great to see!), I also tend to believe in an Underlying Power behind them, which I either call God/The Divine/Ein Sof/Brahman, but, I respect those who don’t share that belief (I can’t remember where I read this, but, I’m sure I read somewhere of a Jewish proverb that, in the end, all will be proved to be right, which is quite cool, IMO, but, obviously, don’t ask me to say how that’ll work out).

    Also, interestingly enough, many scholars are actually recognising that early Christianity and ancient Judaism weren’t Monotheistic (at least, not in the sense that modern people think of the term), April DeConick, Margaret Barker, Larry Hurtado, Michael S. Heiser have all written excellent works on this idea.

    Anyway, sorry to write such a long, long reply, but, like I said, you’re post was very thought provoking, and I got some thoughts down that I’ve wanted to express for awhile now.

    As usual, your blog posts are definitely some of the best that I read, compared with most of the Pagan blogs I’ve seen, at least anyway.

    • Thanks for reading! And, no worries on long replies/comments–one good turn deserves another, or, more appropriately, one ridiculously lengthy post may prompt a longer-than-typical response, and I have no problem with that! ;)

      Certainly, Judaism isn’t anywhere near as monotheistic as Christians and Muslims seem to think it is and always has been; it was pretty much henotheistic from the Babylonian Exile until the destruction of the Second Temple, and quite obviously so to anyone who has actually bothered to read the Hebrew Bible in a decent translation or in the original. And, of course, the early Christians (and many of the “heterodox” groups of Gnostics, etc.) fell into the same category.

      Just to clarify, I don’t think monotheism is bad in and of itself. There are a number of monotheistic religions–the Sikhs, for example–who don’t seem very keen on forcing their opinions on everyone else. And, as I mentioned above, I know and am friends with many monotheists who are perfectly wonderful, accepting, open-minded people. It would be nice if the institutions that are the loudest proponents of monotheism didn’t issue statements on their one-and-only rightness in terms of religion periodically, however, or that many of their members would not loudly trumpet how right they are no matter what, etc. There’s been a lot of that in the arguments within the comments on both of the posts mentioned above…

      I’m not a monist, myself, so I don’t necessarily agree on some of the views you’ve outlined here; but, I can respect them, particularly because they don’t do me any harm and don’t suggest that I’m wrong, sinful, or damned. If that’s as far as it goes, and you don’t try and convince me how in error I am and how correct you are, then there’s no problem. (Unfortunately, there have been monists who have commented on my posts on this matter previously, who have tried to do otherwise, and it is very annoying and upsetting indeed…particularly because if their monism were really as true as they claim it to be, then they wouldn’t have to convince me, since I’m already them and they’re convinced…!?!)

      And, I certainly agree that violence is not a good thing, no matter where it arises and who does it, and I’m very much aware that my own spiritual ancestors were capable of awful acts of violence in the name of their religions. (I don’t know if you’ve read some of the posts I’ve written in relation to Communalia and in particular with the very troubled and effects-still-present-in-today’s-world history of Hadrian and the Jews, which bothers me not only because Hadrian is divine to me, but also because I have Jewish ancestry on both sides of my family. I’ve done about as well as I can to come to terms with those difficulties, but I’m still aware that the history is there, it won’t go away, and it would be very disingenuous and damaging to ignore it, so I make sure it is mentioned from time to time. Likewise, that there were Christian martyrs in Antinoöpolis also troubles me to a very large extent; however, no Christians will engage with me on that topic, because to truly be sorry about that heritage in one of my holy cities, I’d have to see the error of my ways by converting, and I just won’t do that. I have yet to hear any Christian attempt to apologize for the atrocities that occurred during the post-fourth century forced conversions of all the polytheists…

  7. I am of the “Jesus never existed because there is no evidence of it in Roman records and the Biblical account has too many anachronisms” persuasion, but I very much agree on most other points.

    During the early days of my blog, I decided that I would limit my discussion of Christianity because many of my sentiments about it are somewhat venomous and quite stressful to articulate into words. The desire to make my blog about polytheism instead strongly moved me towards censoring most of my thoughts about it. It’s just too exhausting and I don’t need the stress headache.

    You’re right that “we would do well to continue speaking about [Christianity], and it would be totally understandable to be preoccupied with it” in this context. However, I think that carries significant risks. I greatly enjoy Apuleius Platonicus’s blog, especially the posts about paganism and polytheism, but much of the content relates to refuting Christianity and Islam’s teachings. (There is a certain niche that he occupies quite well.) Elsewhere, I think we should only discuss Christianity when it is absolutely relevant to polytheism, with the focus on said polytheism. I think you’ve done an admirable job of that.

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and for your compliments! I appreciate it greatly!

      The matter of the “historical” Jesus is a contentious one, and if I were to comment briefly on it, I’d say that I think the actual reliable evidence for his existence is extremely slim; some of what Paul says almost makes him sound non-literally-existent as well at certain points. The gospel narratives have so many inconsistencies in theology that they cannot be relied upon at all for anything approaching factuality. And, I think biblical studies itself is a deeply flawed field, because despite having no evidence of an actual written gospel from 70 CE, that is universally taken as the “date” of Mark, and then the other three gospels follow it, and all further gnostic discoveries get carbon dated as 3rd-5th century, but are put to no earlier than the 2nd century–whereas the oldest manuscripts of the canonical gospels are often not even as early as the 2nd century. That sectarian interests and theological interpretations have been taken as historical in studying the textual history of the gospels would be anathema and heresy to the academic establishment on this matter, not to mention the theological…and yet, it seems pretty obvious to me, as a person who has nothing to gain by proving the historicity of Jesus, that one would have to at least question this particular set of assumptions seriously if one were to be doing scholarship that should be taken seriously. Apparently, I’m in the minority in that regard, however…

      But, after all of that having been said: it isn’t as if that therefore means that Jesus doesn’t exist as a divine figure simply because he didn’t exist as a historical human one, like his proponents claimed he has. (And, it’s unfortunate that so many of them say that it is pointless to believe in him if he wasn’t a real figure and is only metaphorical or mythical…what an impoverishment of imagination, for starters!)

      I do want to stay away from stress headaches of this nature for a while in the future, if possible, though, so hopefully 4000+ words on the matter will hold me over until I can reduce the size of “Christianity” in the word-cloud over the next 100 posts or so. ;)

      • The third paragraph makes a very good point, one that I hadn’t actually considered before. You’re right that Jesus’s lack of historicity shouldn’t make much of a difference, but I think that a lot of modern Christianity relies on historical concreteness to the point that Revelations is a literal apocalypse. I don’t really know if there is an easy way to get beyond this amount of inertia.

      • Indeed–I think you’re exactly right, and thus it’s a shame that that’s the baseline position most of them are coming from when entering into these discussions at all.

        I think relying on the notion that everything about Jesus is literal sort of saves people from having to do any hard spiritual work themselves. If one can just say that one believes in all of the truth of the scriptures and the various dogmas of Christianity, then one doesn’t have to go through the often difficult and by no means assured route of seeking and then having a spiritual experience, discerning over it, going through the turmoil and “dark nights” and so forth that often accompany it, and then arriving at a position where belief and literalness are no longer applicable. But, that would be too hard. And, as the relatively small number of Christian mystics who have gone through that full process and emerged on the other side as still Christian got hell and worse from their co-religionists, I can see why many wouldn’t be very willing to give it a shot. But, what do I know? ;)

  8. A thoughtful and well-written post. Some topics will take a few more words to address. I am personally an agnostic pagan (I can’t really begin to explain exactly how that works, lol) with a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, so I usually try to avoid the subject for the most part. Most Christians seem absolutely unwilling to discuss theology rationally, and I still carry a smudge of bitterness on the subject, so it is pretty difficult for either of us to approach a debate without rancor. This is my first exposure to your blog, but I am glad to find another (The Wild Hunt has been on my favorites list for years) that I can enjoy and respect. Good work.

    • Thanks very much! I appreciate it!

      I certainly understand agnosticism–it makes an awful lot of sense to me, always has, and probably always will.

      I suspect a lot of Christians think they’re being quite rational when they discuss theology; and, the ones that are and that manage to do so are usually trained theologians. However, the “internet theologians” who are responding on the various Patheos.com posts (and that, in the case of BadCatholic, are writing some of them), are not nearly as rational or logical. They pretty much seem to think “I’m right, you’re not,” and therefore no matter what they say, or how badly they say it, that’s going to be the outcome, which is not a very good incentive toward working to put one’s self and one’s ideas across in a better manner than what one can barf up at a moment’s notice. Alas.

  9. Lot’s of great stuff here to think about. I’ve really been enjoying this resurrected discussion on Christian and Pagan relations. I feel, if nothing else, it’s a worthwhile exercise and important for our culture. Out of curiosity, how do you differentiate or contrast Gnosticism from other main-stream monotheisms? You’ve brought it up before but I don’t think we’ve ever gone too terribly in depth on it.

    • In brief, I think that because Gnosticism generally has a “don’t tell me, show me” approach to spirituality, and one that emphasizes experience and knowledge over belief, that it is on an entirely different track, in a different stadium, with other rules that are completely outside the league of creedal religions like mainstream Christianity.

      As I said in one of the other comments on this post, if one has experientially gone through the process of having an encounter with a deity, then things change considerably, even if the “end result” of that process is still an experience that is in line with what orthodox Christian teaching says about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God, etc. Having the “out” of saying “I believe in the Church, its dogmas, and its scriptures” saves people from having to go through that difficult, painful, unpredictable, and extremely rewarding process; and, it is far better for keeping general order, because when one goes through that process, it’s almost inevitable that new revelations, new notions, new theologies, and–not to put too fine a point on it–new gnosis, comes about. If there is even the slightest chance that the new gnosis might be an alternative to old established doctrines–even if it isn’t in opposition to those doctrines, just an alternative, or going in a direction the original sources didn’t cover, etc.–then it is a potential threat in the self-created orthodox world that institutional Christianity has built itself over the last 1500+ years.

      So, because the rules of engagement are different with gnosticism than they are with non-gnostic Christianities, they’re on a much different footing. Yes, some gnostics didn’t like other gnostics, and got into some of the same kinds of squabble over “we’re right, everyone else is wrong” that mainstream Christianity still engages in as its bread-and-butter; but, because none of those groups ever had a totalizing and unquestioned hegemony over an entire continent and eventually much of the world for centuries on end, it’s much easier to forgive them for it, I think.

  10. [...] Christianity Through a Polytheist Lens (aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com) [...]

  11. Some of those xian posters on the Wild Hunt seem like parodies, I mean the guy calling Protestants heretics! Where do these people live?

    I prefer to reserve Jesus for the man, who had no idea what a bizarre myth and theology was to be created in his name. I think he weeps copiously for what has been done in his name. I reserve Christ for the Son of the Father in the Christian Trinity. But you make a good point about the definitive article in front of that name.

    I wish more Christian would study the best historians of the development of their religions like Burton Mack whose _Who Wrote The New Testament_ is brilliant. Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t see him as a god or Son of a God.

    • The depths of the ignorance on display over there by the Christian factions is hard to believe. (Though some of the outspoken pagans aren’t always quite on message or on factuality either, alas…) And, almost all could use a lesson or two in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation…but, oh well…

      Early Christianities, including some forms of gnosticism, just make so much more sense, I think. It’s too bad those who are claiming to be the truest and oldest Christians are neither, despite being the loudest. (And their denigration of modern pagans as not having any teeth like the ancient ones did is an accusation that, if anything, is more appropriate to themselves than to us, I think–or, at least equally so…majority status and total hegemony really does make one lazy, I think.)

  12. Excellent post. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

    • Thanks very much! (And sorry for the delay in responding…)

  13. [...] Read the full article [...]

  14. [...] about other people’s gods and religions. Adopting Christian terminology gives it credence. Here Sufenas rightly states that to adopt  “the terms they have created to prove their own [...]


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