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Thealogy
by Kila
Beltane 2003, Vol 2-3
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MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
"Gebo" mixed media sculpture (c) Elizabeth Ross
Gebo
Copyright © 1999, Elizabeth Ross.
Used with permission.
The Thealogy of One:
Unity, Diversity and Goddess in Troubled Times

We are in dark times in our history. Newspapers, television news programs, academic journals and popular news magazines are full of stories, analysis, conjecture, and opinion about the war with Iraq, about the economy, about terrorism. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with messages of fear and suspicion. We are on the threshold....

As I write, people are being jailed without charges, secret evidence is being collected, legal representation is being denied to detainees, people are being falsely deported. Rabid zealots who were once haters of Jews and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, lesbians, and all "others" now make common cause with some of their old enemies. The Crusades are still being fought while religious insanity wears the cloak of piety and seeks followers to sacrifice on its altars. We are on the threshold, indeed.

What will make a difference in the coming years, when we'll see more clearly the damage done to our society and the need to fight to regain what was lost? Our consciousness -- whether or not we are asleep or awake.

So we must talk now about what we believe in terms of the Goddess. Specifically, is She one or many? Why now, when this seems to have no connection to our current political climate? The fact is that the personal is the political. Our beliefs about the concepts of unity and diversity make a difference in what we can tolerate in our societies and in our leadership.

A few definitions:

(From Wikipedia.org) Theism is the belief in God/dess as unitary being. There are four major views of the role of God/dess in the world in this context:

  • proper Theism is the view that God/dess is immanent in the world, yet transcends it;
  • Deism is the view that God/dess created the world but does not interact with it;
  • Pantheism is the view that the world is identical to God/dess; and
  • Panentheism is the view that the world is entirely contained within God/dess, while at the same time God/dess is something greater than just the world.

Polytheism is belief in, or worship of, multiple gods or divinities.

Monotheism is the belief in a single, universal, all-encompassing deity.

(From Kila): Mono-panentheism suggests that no matter what god/goddess one follows, one is still a part of the Divine, whereas traditional monotheisms have separated themselves from both the Divine (in an I/Thou relationship) as well as from those who subscribe to different theologies.

I propose a thealogy of unity, as opposed to plurality, as the basis for a philosophy of non-violence, toleration and liberation. In a sense, I am introducing a small part of a larger liberation thealogy.

Some pagans are polytheistic in the truest sense -- believing that there are discreet deities who are not part of one whole. I hope that I can make enough of a case here for mono-pan-en-theism to evoke contemplation, not just critique or dissension. I also hope to make as credible a case as possible that concepts of deity that are truly polytheistic make separation and categorization of people more easily justifiable than does a thealogy of monotheism when both are carried to their logical ends. This is not to say that in practical terms monotheists have been less divisive than polytheists. My argument is not a historical one, rather it is a practical as well as thealogical/theoretical one because I believe that theory and thealogy should shape our future as we try to overcome our history.

Let me start first with a simple observation. A majority of the pagans I've met believe that we are part of the Earth. I could say the same about the belief that we are all a part of the Divine or have the divine within us. Trees and plants are friends, animals are our extended family, the stars are our teachers, the rivers our musicians, the mountains our philosophers. Somehow, this all resonates within us and we understand what it means to belong to the universe or the multiverse. Standing in the morning sun, we can sing, we are starlight, we are golden -- a part of all that is. We believe this is true. Yet we cannot comprehend in a practical manner that we are one race, one people, one in humanity. In other words, though we are comfortable with seeing ourselves as part of nature and even a part of divinity, we do not equate these beliefs with a radical notion of human equality and unity. And many of us have a deep-seated discomfort with or suspicion of notions of monotheism even while claiming to worship "the" Goddess.

...though we are comfortable with seeing ourselves as part of nature and even a part of divinity, we do not equate these beliefs with a radical notion of human equality and unity.

Yet belief in one deity reaches past possibilities offered by polytheism when it comes to building a society in which equality and unity are not compromised by diversity. There are two ways to look at this issue. First, we can make the argument that our concepts of the Goddess reflect how we view society or at the very least how we'd like to order society. Or, we can argue that the way in which we conceive deity is a reflection of how we see ourselves and a reflection of our needs. In my opinion, the relationship is dialectical, running in both directions. What we need informs how we conceive of deity and that naturally affects the way we see society and the changes we attempt to make.

A thealogy of unity, where the Divine is one entity of which we are all a part, allows us to articulate at the lowest common denominator a concept of sameness. That is to say, if there is only one Goddess and we are part of Her because we are created through a process of emanation, then we are made of the same stuff even though we are individuals.

With this core belief, the fact that some of us are Jews, some of us Christians, some of us Muslims, some Pagans, Buddhists, Atheists, Africans, Chinese, Indian, Europeans, and so on should be a cause for celebration, not a cause of hatred.

If the baseline belief is that we are all ultimately the same, then a thealogy of unity would suggest that difference can never be more important than our underlying unity. Consequently, a society with such a core belief would attempt to order society to celebrate diversity while never losing sight of the ultimate underlying and ontological unity that is always more important. And because this is understood, there is no need for homogenization just as there is no need for everyone to have blue eyes.

The bottom line is that if we truly embrace and practice a thealogy of unity, of union, of one-ness, ultimately mono-panentheism (we are in Goddess and she is in us but she is also separate -- perhaps we are in her womb?), then we cannot justify the taking of life except for food, we cannot justify hierarchies based on anything other than merit and effort, and it makes it hard to ravage and kill the environment because it is the very cauldron that is the Goddess also.

Polytheism in its truest sense, one that posits discreet deities who are never part of a whole divinity, can justify all these things with far greater ease. If we believe that our deities have the nature of people, if they war, if they remain separate and if different pantheons are separate, it makes it much easier to believe that humans are separate. Unity is no longer the strongest binding principle, something else is. It is also far more acceptable to believe one pantheon stronger than another pantheon, that "we" are better than "others". A hyper-chauvinistic extrapolation of this point of view could lead to the dehumanization of "others" and the justification for their torture, genocide and enslavement.

Let me underscore a few points. First, mono-panentheism is not the same as the dominant monotheisms with which we are all familiar. Mono-panentheism suggests that no matter what god/goddess one follows, one is still a part of the Divine, whereas traditional monotheisms have separated themselves from both the Divine (in an I/Thou relationship) as well as from those who subscribe to different theologies. Second, even though a pure polytheistic theology can be used to support separation, this is not necessarily always the practical outcome. Polytheism not taken to its logical end may, in fact, support diversity in many ways, but that does not diminish its logical limitations. Finally, the overall point that I am making is that whatever the practical applications of these theologies, we must think about our beliefs holistically. To that end, for me, it is more consistent to believe that we are all part of the Divine and that we are all essentially the same because that belief supports my desire to see a world where "us v. them" arguments are harder to make.

This is Goddess thealogy's gift: the ability to appreciate and engage different points of view and different people while always bearing in mind our ultimate, essential connectedness and sameness.

Living in a world grown small, with different cultures and beliefs bumping up against each other, it is vital that we all think about the questions of difference and sameness and their relationship to each other. It is equally important to understand that our beliefs cannot be contingent on the behaviour of other people. That is to say, we must believe in the sacredness of all things and hold fast to our thealogy regardless of what our opponents believe or do to us. This is Goddess thealogy's gift: the ability to appreciate and engage different points of view and different people while always bearing in mind our ultimate, essential connectedness and sameness. Even when we are trying to change someone's mind or behaviour, we can still respect the "goddess" in them.

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+ Gebo, Copyright © 1999, Elizabeth Ross. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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