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Theology is for Christians

I can think of nothing more controversial, personal, or sensitive to Pagans than the topic of Theology.  We can talk easily of sex, magic, and many other things without raised eyebrows or controversy (well...maybe) but what we believe, why we believe it, and how we reason about it can become a very touchy subject.  Perhaps its because the Theology goes to the heart of faith, to the most personal and inner places, and thus it becomes so hard to have a dialog instead of a monolog. 

So what better topic for a monthly column [1]?

Ok, so there are better topics.  Go read the sex magic column, then come back.  

I’ll start off the column by answering in my own way some of what I see as the common complaints about Pagan Theology.

“But its a Christian term, and something only Christians do”

In fact the term is most often used in the context of Christian apologetics, or the justification and defense of the faith.  Many people have had less than positive encounters with Christianity,  and they don’t want to introduce anything into Neo-Pagan practice that smacks of Christianity. 

Ok, but I’ll point out that the word’s origin is Greek, from “theologia” meaning an accounting of the Gods, or “theologos” “talking about the Gods”.   Just because we can’t stand the term doesn’t mean that the concept of understanding our faith, and studying the Gods and Goddesses is bad.

We could substitute another term in order to distance ourselves from the monotheists.  But then we risk the very real problem of nobody knowing what we’re talking about.  I say its about time we reclaimed terms of Religion for our own uses [2].  Monotheistic religions have no monopoly on understanding of faith, or of the terms we use in our quest. 

“It will lead to doctrine, and we don’t like doctrine.”

At some point in the future we can discuss doctrine.  Right now lets tackle the first part about theology leading to doctrine.  Doctrine, in my understanding of the monotheistic concept, is a body of written understanding and statements that if you agree with, you’re in, and if you don’t,  you’re out.  Doctrine begets legitimacy, something that I will have a lot to say about in this column, it also provides a foundation upon which some fortunate (Cathedrals) or unfortunate (discrimination) things can be built.  But I contend that theology does not necessarily beget doctrine, and I also contend that much of European Neo-Paganism is actually influenced by a kind of doctrine:  initiation and esoteric knowledge. 

European Neo-Pagans do have many different doctrines, and many different ways of excluding each other from various circles. 

The important thing, however, is the implicit link between theology and doctrine.  Doctrine is a political process that describes the ordering and relationship between people.  Doctrine forms the group, identifies the included from the excluded, the subject from the object.  Which almost always leads to tears.

Theology, while it can be used to establish doctrine,  can also be used for understanding.  In the pursuit of theological understanding we work to understand what is within us, the nature of our belief.  We give birth to doctrine as we try to impose our inner beliefs on the world, on others, and try and identify those who are outside of our beliefs.

Just don’t do it.

“But we already have a theology, we already have explained our faith”

Yeah right.  While I will be nailed for generalities let me summarize the current extent of common thinking about Pagan theology:

And, lest we forget, the moral center of Neo-Paganism:  “and it harm none, do as ye will” and “the threefold law”.

Ok, its pretty straightforward.  But I’m not buying it.  None of this answers any of the important questions, or has anything to do with love or faith or any of the other thousand reasons why people come to religion.  It begs one important question:  “is this pretty much the extent of what we believe?”

And, more interestingly, what would historical Pagan theologians say about the concepts of life, love, death, and the existence of the Gods and Goddesses?  One of the things I’d like to do in this column is explore this question.  

“All this is unknowable, and its just a nice conceit, we really don’t actually believe this stuff is real”

One word we don’t see spoken much in Paganism is faith.  Probably that association with monotheism again.  But faith does not mean simple-minded obedience, it can also mean the deep-felt knowledge of the Gods and Goddesses as they come into your heart.  If you open up your heart to the Gods and Goddesses you will know them in a way that defies reason. 

In fact reason plays no role in faith.  I repeat:  reason, for you scientists and engineers out there (and I am one), plays no role in faith.  Faith draws from the heart.  Faith draws from a knowledge that does not submit to the same rules, logic, or proof requirements as reason does.  That’s why its powerful, and dangerous.  And that is why we should not ignore it.   

The role of reason comes in when we start thinking about our faith.  When we start considering the implications of what is in our heart for what is in the world.  What does it mean?  How should we act?  What should we do? 

“Ok, I’ve read this far, where are your really coming from?”

Ok, since I summarized my understanding of the depth of Pagan theology in four easy bullets and two statements, let me explain myself in the same way:

And, finally, we do not examine our faith enough.  And unexamined faith is not worth having.  Hopefully you will be willing join in a journey to examine our faith.  If what I say does not appeal, figure out what does,.  If my concepts don’t work, find ones that do.  Its the dialog that’s important, not the answer.  Our speech will create the Holy.  And the Holy will be plural.   

And as our understanding grows so will the power of our faith.  Power to persuade monotheists to tolerance.  Power to speak for the Earth and her creatures.  Power to articulate a faith that is both personal, and part of a larger whole.  Power to affect our lives and the lives of others. 

What could be more fun, interesting, or Pagan than that?

[1] This column, like all those that follow it were first published on PaganPages.

[2] Well, I’m actually following in the tradition of the Unitarian Universalist President William Sinkford who has called for Liberal Religion to begin reclaiming and using a language of faith, http://www.uua.org/president/030112.html.

 

 

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