Tonight on our Pagan Primer, I wanted to talk a bit about the various ways that we view deity. I wanted to talk about the differences and similarities that we enjoy.
In our world today, weíre all caught up in this strange idea that if one of us is right, that any conflicting viewpoint must be wrong. Weíre taught that only one answer can be correct. Even in the multiple choice questions, E is usually ďall of the aboveĒ, and any single answer of ďA, B, C, or DĒ is incomplete, and necessarily wrong.
So, the question is this: is there any religion that is correct to the exclusion of all others? If the God of the Christians is right, are all we pagans necessarily wrong?
Weíre taught by many, especially conservatives, that relativism is an evil. Weíre taught that there should be a single set of rules that should apply equally to all, and that any deviation from those rules is a step away from the sacred to the profane.
Weíre living in a world that is largely shaped by monotheism, a jealous male god, who has managed to shape even much of modern paganism. Many of us pagans are still trying to hang on to the idea that if one view is correct, that competing views are wrong. We seemingly make exceptions for other pagan paths, as ďNot ChristianĒ, but really, many of us still cling to a fundamentalist mindset, looking for ďThe right wayĒ.
I think that one of the easiest places to see this is in many
of our attitudes toward a Christian / Pagan syncretism. I recall a bit over a
year ago reviewing a book called ďChristian Wicca: The Trinitarian TraditionĒ
by Nancy Chandler Pittman . I spent some time
discussing this concept on various boards on the web and heard so many people,
both Pagan and Christian who completely discounted the possibility that such a
thing could exist. Even before speaking to
Iíve since learned that the definition of prejudice is ďcontempt
without prior investigationĒ. When I spoke to
Since then though, Iíve come to understand that if someone wants to sit on a fence, what business is that of mine? Why do I get upset when someone believes something that I personally disagree with? Really, I think this is just a hold-over from my upbringing, the fundamentalist idea that if someone disagrees with me, that one of us must be wrong.
Now to be perfectly fair, Iím not going to go so far as to say that someone can build anything, with no regard to reality or internal consistency and have it be valuable. Iím not going to take bits from Dr. Seuss and Bugs Bunny and create a viable spiritual path. But to hold contempt for a viewpoint without investigating it first is just as bad on my part as is the contempt that most Christians hold for paganism in general.
What I see in paganism today, and what frightens me at times, is a growing fundamentalism among those who are relative newcomers. Weíre fighting to have the proper pagan viewpoints. Itís looked on as a sign of a pagan maturity to look down on certain publishers, and possibly tossing out many babies along with the bathwater.
Are there good authors and bad authors? Certainly. Iíll admit straight away that there are authors that Iíll steer clear of, and that Iíll tell students to avoid. But Iím not so quick as to discount anything a publisher offers just because they happen to publish a particular writer.
I tend to judge authors individually, and often individual books by those authors. Doing a bit of writing, I know that I can have good days and bad. I can write my own share of drivel. But few are the authors who produce nothing but pearls or nothing but junk. I think that itís a good idea to keep an open mind and to judge each book on its own merit. Over time, the authors of multiple titles will show their place.
Itís also important to recognize that not every book is suited to every reader. We need some paganism 101 books and courses. We need some rituals for beginners. We need some public rituals for non-pagans, or for seekers. There is little that suits everyone.
But on a deeper level, as far as how we worship, we need to recognize that there are differences that go beyond seeker or dedicant, beyond beginner or experienced. I know that I donít view the world through the same eyes as my co-host, or the same eyes as my listeners. Weíre all different. I donít even see the world in the same way I did 20 years ago Ö Iím not that same person. My spirituality today wouldnít have suited me then; certainly the spirituality of 20 years ago wouldnít serve me today.
Some of us are more Goddess oriented, and there are still some pagans who are quite god oriented. Some of us are monotheistic, some polytheistic, some pantheistic or panentheistic.† Are any of these right or wrong? Can panentheism exist along with pantheism? Can a polytheist and a monotheist both be right? Certainly, if there is only one god, there canít be multiple gods, right?
Well, this is the trap that fundamentalism leads us into. Weíre told that logic will prove that if one viewpoint is right, that a competing viewpoint must be wrong. Philosophers will tell us that a thing canít be, and not be at the same time.
Folks, that philosophy, that logic, fails. Science can show us today that a single object can be in two different places at the same time. That an object can be both a particle and a wave at the same time. In a world in which the very nature of matter can be indefinable, why is it that we regard competing views of deity, some being that exists beyond matter, to adhere to our simplistic rules of logic?
We need to move beyond the idea that because something is true for one of us, that it must necessarily be true for all of us. This is an out-dated hold-over, an antiquated artifact of a form of logic that was once useful, but which now simply cannot work for everyone.
If we canít define a photon as a particle or a wave, if our definition depends on our observation, how can we decide that any single view about anything is right?
And if weíre unable to say that a particular view is wrong, are we able to say that our own is right? Actually, there we do have some latitude.
While itís probably not in anyoneís interest to say that any particular view is wrong for one who holds it, itís not impossible to say that our own positions are right for us. If we live in a world where multiple realities can co-exist, that means that our reality is right for us. A contrary reality for someone else doesnít invalidate our own reality. We can have faith in our own paths because they work for us. We try them, we use them, we work with them, and they work for us.
For me, itís important to try my faith, to test it, to use it. If Iím able to see it work, to make it work for me, then it becomes real. It doesnít matter whether some competing viewpoint exists at the same time. Just as a particle of matter can exist in two different places, so can two different realities exist. One doesnít negate the other.
Polytheism and monotheism can co-exist, just as a single object can be in two places at the same time, just as a photon can be at once a particle and a wave. We donít have to be bound by rules of logic that have already been shown not to be binding.
There doesnít have to be a reason why any particular religion can be both right for one person and not right for another. It is the ultimate of hubris to think that whatís right for one of us must necessarily be right for all of us.
And yes, this means that the Fundamentalist Christian can exist in the same world as the Pagan. While their views might be valid for them, this doesnít mean that we need to accept them for our beliefs. Their religious viewpoint works for them because of their belief.
The moment we give ourselves the authority to invalidate anotherís beliefs because they conflict with ours, thatís the moment that we give them the very same authority. When we declare something as invalid, we are making the declaration that there is some objective authority of validity. It is in accepting anotherís beliefs as valid for them that we eliminate the sting of their condemnation of our own beliefs.
Maybe each religion is merely a paradigm, a framework, a lens that shows us eternity. That doesnít really matter, because, at least in this life, we donít have the access to the answers. What really matters is finding a faith that works for ourselves. Accepting that all paths are valid to those who believe them gives us the freedom to make that important choice for ourself.
© 2009, Deirdre A. Hebert