Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A theophany

Christian theologians (especially Orthodox ones) love to point out that Pagans are worshipping the creation, whereas they are worshipping the creator.

It is one of the first rules of interfaith dialogue to listen carefully to what others say they believe, rather than telling them what they believe.

This creator and creation thing is a bit of an old chestnut and not really true (it may be so in terms of some Christian theological systems, but it doesn't translate into ours).

In other words, Mu. (A Japanase word meaning, "your question is irrelevant in my paradigm"; kind of like "meh".)

Most Pagans see the Divine as immanent in the Universe, not necessarily as identical with it (and yes, don't tend to pay much attention to the unknowable, or believe in the transcendent aspect) so the categories of creator and creature are a bit meaningless, really... in fact I personally find the idea of an external supernatural creator offensive, because to me the Universe was born, not made. It is a theophany: a manifestation of the Divine.

As Sam Webster wrote in his 2007 article, How Close the Gods? Transcendence, Immanence and Immediacy in Pagan Religion (given at Pantheacon 2007):
Immediacy is a more modern term for wrestling with this problem, although one can find the idea discussed in the deep past. It is a subtle idea but its implications are vast. Here we would say, "the Goddess made the Tree and is present AS the Tree (not just IN the Tree)." To touch the Tree is to touch the Goddess. She is immediately present. Nothing is between us and Her. The whole World IS Her, made BY Her and OF Her, and by implication, there is Nothing BUT Her.
In this way of looking at it, it is not that we are focussed on the creation instead of the creator / creatrix: the two are identical, and so making a distinction between them is meaningless.


Yvonne Rathbone said...

I love Sam's take on this, although I do think his biases are showing. His ministerial approaches to folk who are experience the divine as more transcendent or immanent, rather than his favored immediate, seem a bit condescending. (I will, of course, give the caveat that I may be misreading Sam, but he does admit to this bias somewhat in the paper.)

To my mind, part of the Mystery of things is that the divine is transcendent, immanent and immediate all at the same time. And it does not have to tell us how it manages to do all three at the same time. Maybe it created the divine equivalent of a Kenmore washer/dryer and can just get more done in a day than we can. So experiences of the divine as transcendent or immanent are as necessary for a complete understanding of the world and our place in it as are the immediate. (But really, the immediate gets short shrift in most theological discussion so I’m all up for focusing more on it.)

All that, but not separate. I agree that the separate idea is a bit of a horror: God created a big trash heap of material existence in just 7 days. Yuck.

Oh, and now I have a Monty Python scene: the Knights who say Mu.

Yewtree said...

Ah you're a panentheist - nothing wrong with that.

I have no objection to people saying there is no ontological distinction between creator and created in Paganism; that's kind of true in their terminology - but it annoys me when they get all sniffy about our "idolatry" in worshipping the "creation". But I prefer the idea of theophany.

I like the idea of the knights who go Mu :)

Makarios said...

A few random thoughts, in no particular order:

Argh. One of the things that drives my Pagan fiends crazy is Christians telling Pagans what Pagans believe.

Interestingly, in some of the early cultures of the Fertile Crescent, the Goddess was perceived as being the Creatrix of the cosmos and the earth. For example, one ancient prayer to Ishtar:

Who dost make the green herb to spring up, Mistress of humanity? Who hast created everything, who dost guide aright all creatures! Mother Ishtar, whose power no God can approach!Regarding the concept of immediacy, as operationalized in the statement, "the Goddess made the Tree and is present AS the Tree (not just IN the Tree)." How would you distinguish this from pantheism?

Actually, most of the Pagans with whom I'm acquainted lean towards some form of panentheism--as, of course, do Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Some interesting takes on the God(dess)-world relation can be found in In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being; Panentheistic Reflections on God's Presence in a Scientific World, edited by Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke (no relation to Stephen, persumably).

Steve Hayes said...

Now this would be an interesting topic to discuss in the Religionrap forum (which has been rather quiet lately). Blog comments are really not adequate to do it justice.

But suffice it to say for now that just as Christians shouldn't tell pagans what pagans believe, pagans shouldn't tell Christians what Christians believe.

Haukur said...

Wonderfully dishonest Revelation quote there from your orthodox friend:

"Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees."

Oh, how sweet, almost animistic - maybe there's hope for the Bible after all? But wait, there shouldn't actually be a dot there after 'trees'. Let's have the full verse and the verse before it:

"And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads."

It's not a command to humanity not to hurt the earth, it's a command to the angels to halt the destruction for just a while so the Christians can be marked out first. After that, it's open season on the earth, the sea and the trees, as the following chapters make abundantly clear.

Yvonne Rathbone said...

But suffice it to say for now that just as Christians shouldn't tell pagans what pagans believe, pagans shouldn't tell Christians what Christians believe.Just to be clear, I am not in any way saying that (all) Christians believe any particular thing. I was talking about a specific belief that I was raised to believe and that at least a substantial minority do seem to believe. When I got to a certain age, this particular belief (that God made the world but the world is the source of sin) is one I eventually couldn't resolve for the reasons stated in my reply.

But Christianity is not monolithic. I once went on a hike with a Catholic nun who looked out at the beautiful parkland and said she believed that nature was the body of God. I said, yes, I believe it is.

Yewtree said...

Haukur - welcome aboard, nice to see you here (but please play nicely).

Steve - yes, we shouldn't go round telling you what you believe either. I might come and play on ReligionRap if it's a bit quieter.

Makarios - yeah but that was one form of ancient paganism. Actually a surprising number of Pagans do believe in a creative entity, but also about 90% or more believe in the immanence of the Divine.

Yvonne R - yep, plenty of Christian panentheists out there.

Haukur said...

Thank you, happy to be here.

Yes, I suppose I was a bit needlessly sarcastic. But I stand by the point, it's a dishonest quote.

Yewtree said...

I think his point was the way the monks were using it, not what it said in the original context of the book of Revelation.

Haukur said...

*shrug* The article doesn't say anything about the monks using that quote, the commandment they're talking about is said to be "not recorded in Scripture".

Anyway, this irritated me but I'll concede the bishop's article still has some interesting musings.

Yewtree said...

*grin* Just goes to show that you, a Pagan, know the Bible better than he does...

Anyway I disagreed with the basic premise of his article, though I am in favour of people being kind to trees, whatever their motives for doing so.