Wednesday, October 3, 2012

God is XYZ, pt.2: Unraveling Natural Theology


As I pointed out in one of my previous posts, God is XYZ , I discussed how the nature of the Gods and Goddesses is an irrelevant moot point when it comes to Contemporary Paganism as a whole. However, the rabbit hole does go a whole lot deeper, and the Gods and Goddesses do have a nature. I’m just going to briefly touch upon it.

There are two primary theologies when it comes to religion. It should be understood that these are the lateral outer limits of the spectrum and that a particular religion and more specifically an individual’s spirituality tends to fall somewhere between the two. However, when categorizing religious practice and or belief one or the other is generally more descriptive.

The first of these is referred to as Revealed Theology. All three of the Abrahamic Religions and contrary to popular belief Buddhism fall into this category.  This in no way makes these four the same in any accord. The key characteristic that quantifies a religion as belonging to either side of the spectrum has to do with how or where the basis of their theology originate. In Revealed Theology, the essence of the theology comes about from one or multiple revelations of some sort. Here are two very quick examples: Sitting under the Bodhi Siddhartha Guatama obtained enlightenment and became Buddha and the teaching of Buddhism originate there from; On the top of Mount Sinai Moses received the Ten Commandments.

At the other end of the spectrum rests Natural Theology. Natural Theology does not originate in some revelation or spiritual teaching that has been revealed but from observation of the natural world. In all fairness to Buddhism, there is a lot of this going on as well; remember I said that it is a spectrum. Contemporary Paganism in this regards is very much seated in Natural Theology. This doesn’t mean that our membership doesn’t have spiritual revelations, just that the root of our theology is not based on such. The Western discourse as it has been dominated by Classical Monotheism generally makes two arguments here; one is that the revelations of Revealed Religions are indeed natural as ordained by God and secondly that since revealed orthodoxy is the will of God any theology without such is a false theology. However, Contemporary Paganism, and the other religions grouped into this category, sees the interaction of existence not as one divine will but of the many, in many cases the many are aspects or derived of a great whole, but even here the whole is not exercising an omnipotent and singular will. Semantics aside, the usual rhetoric of Natural Theology is of the numerous, after all the world around us has many and varied wills.

The nature or essence of the Gods is thus part of this same ideological paradigm. Our understanding of them and how we interact with them is derived from Natural Theology. Herein there is room for many different "–isms" within our theological framework. It doesn’t matter whether one views the Gods polytheistically, monistically, pantheistically, animistically, etc… each one of these is derived from individual observations and interactions through the praxis within Contemporary Paganism to explain the essence of the Gods as existing immanently as a natural part of existence; not apart from it. As such, we define the nature of the Gods. Please note, I did not say that we determine the nature of the Gods but that we define it.

The Gods as each individual defines them are interacted with as a reflection of the nature of the individual who worships them. Some would argue that we make the Gods, others argue differently; as far as Natural Theology is concerned, both are true in the sense that our interactions with the Gods are based upon individualistic ideologies and not orthodox group ideology. The truth of the matter is a personal issue; this is the rhetoric of Contemporary Paganism. In fact the only point really made is that our understanding of the Gods is derived from a stance of observation, interaction, and personal experience.

As individuals our tendencies are to interact with Gods in the manner in which we understand them, but also the particular Gods that we interact with derive from our own essence. For example, a Humanist Pagan may understand the nature of the Gods as existing solely as archetypes and so their interaction with the Gods is inwardly from this point of view. As the axiom goes, “Like attracts like.” That which exists at the heart of the individual’s being finds kinship with certain Gods, thus personal and immensely strong bonds are often developed leading to the mutual relationship that exists between a devotee and their Gods. It is my belief that it is partially for this reason on why Contemporary Paganism has taken on such an emphasis in having a Patron Deity, that and the Reconstructionist Traditions within our mists have had a larger impact than they are usually accredited with.

Boidh se!

-Spanish Moss

"Lost in a thicket bare-footed upon a thorned path."

1 comment:

GreenFlame said...

Although I don't think we can ever determine "the nature" of the Gods (nor would I want that to happen), I personally don't think I would want to be in circle with an Atheist or Agnostic Pagan who did not believe in some sort of external reality to what or Who we were invoking. I'm happy for people to believe whatever they want to believe, but having thought about this quite a bit, I think we'd have to share some degree of -- yes, I'll say it -- orthodoxy between us in order to go to the same place.