Volume 7, Issue 5: Disputatio
Gods and Goddesses
Douglas Jones and Diane Conn Darling
Ancient paganism and biblical faith have long stood in sharp contrast to each
other. In recent decades, pagan motifs about femininity/masculinity have played
an increasing role in Christian discussions about God, Scripture, and leadership.
At the same time, Neopaganism -- a contemporary revitalization of paganism -- has enjoyed
a resurgence throughout the country.
In the following discussion, the managing editor of Credenda/Agenda, Douglas
Jones and Diane Conn Darling discuss the philosophical conflicts between Neopaganism
Diane Conn Darling is the editor of The Green Man, a magazine which explores
paths for pagan men (Box 641, Point Arena, CA 95468). She has been active in
the American Neopagan movement for over a decade as a writer, editor, ritualist,
and lay priestess. She is also a Buddhist, a family practice nurse, and the mother
of a grown son, Zachariah. She lives in rural, northern California in a multi-species
household and practices simple living as a religious path.
DJ: Devotees of the goddess Gaiathose "true" pagans dedicated to reviving goddess
consciousness as found in, among other traditions, Canaanitic Ashera worshipappear
to speak at cross purposes. They regularly assume standards of truth and morality
in rejecting the masculinity of the biblical worldview with all its "negativity" of
transcendence, monotheism, commandments, etc . Yet they often simultaneously
claim that no one knows truth and that all religious expressions are human products.
Many embrace goddess worship because it satisfies their desires about life.
But if truth is a human construct, then how can they so dogmatically reject Christianity?
If truth is more than personal whim, then how can they so automatically trust
DCD: Neopagans hold the ideal of a return to balance to correct the dire environmental
and societal problems which face all creatures of the Earth. To this end, we
emphasize the feminine face of divinity, the Goddess, because She has been lost
to us for so long. Perhaps in the early days we overreacted, to the point of
ignoring or even disparaging the masculine face of divinity, the God. However,
today we know that it is the love of the Lady and the Lord together that comprises
the field of existence, literally and figuratively. Our critique of Christianity
is based on its exclusion of the feminine principle, immanent deity, and intuitive
ethics and wisdom.
DJ: That was helpful. You say "today we know" that the "Lady and the Lord" together
comprise "the field of existence." Can we ask for reasons for such a belief?
Why should someone be inclined to hold to the neopagan understanding of the
immanent Lady and Lord? And perhaps relatedly, can you say a little more about
what you mean by "intuitive ethics and wisdom." Does this intuitive ethic really
allow for your opening, rather universal ethical judgment about environmental
and societal imbalance? That judgment seems to assume some sort of absolute
standard of balance.
DCD: The Neopagan model for divine Creation is based on biology and physics.
To our pre-industrial ancestors the single most important event was the harvest.
They observed that with animals, ourselves included, it takes a male and a female
to create young, though this was long a mystery about plants, whose propagation
was (correctly) viewed as miraculous until relatively recent times. Today physicists
have demonstrated that it is the attraction of negative and positive polarities
for each other that binds infinitely small particles or waves into three dimensional
matter. This, and other manifestations, such as photosynthesis, we hold sacred
as the immanent Love of the Lord and the Lady, and thus know Creation is holy.
DJ: But couldn't such evidence lead someone to nonpagan conclusions as well?
Materialists would have no reason to infer anything beyond more matter from such
evidence, and others could say that human reproduction suggests a transcendent
Godafter all, a child is not identical to its parents. From another angle, the
Christian Scriptures take the pagan divinization of creation as evidence of culpable
denial and rebellionperhaps the prime example of those "who exchanged the truth
of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom.
1:25). Since neopagan evidence is rather inconclusive, doesn't neopaganism need
to ensure that it's not just another attempt at rebellion?
DCD: Certainly! We welcome such diversity of thought. But Neopagans long for
a personal relationship and identity with deity, so we personify or otherwise
invest the miracle of existence in forms we can love, visualize, pray to, give
thanks to, and celebrate. Nested in the godforms and sacred stories of our ancestors
we find wisdom and courage to carry on and hold hope for a green tomorrow. Paleopagan
(extant and extinct polytheistic cultures undisrupted by monotheistic overlays)
folk can hardly be accused of rebellion, considering they predate the monotheist
invaders, Hebrew, Buddhist or Christian. And, yes, there's a touch of the rebel,
the outlaw, the hidden ones, in today's Neopagans. You bet! We're good ones, too!
DJ: But my comments above didn't suggest simple diversity, they suggested that
the reasons for embracing Neopaganism were very poor and inconclusive. Is it
at all possible, from your perspective, that the Neopagan worldview is utterly
false and immoral? Or is it just an imaginary human construction that people
hold to whether or not it's true or false? Your judgments about existence, wisdom,
courage, etc. all assume that Neopaganism is true. Even your claim that polytheists
predated monotheists assumes that Hebrew-Christianity is false and Neopaganism
is true. So what sort of evidence would Neopagans accept as revealing the falsity
of their worldview?
DCD: The nature of your challenge illustrates a fundamental difference between
Christian (and other scripture-based and/or revealed) theisms, and the more fluid
outlook of today's Neopagans. You contend that if A is true, B must be falseutterly.
My stance is if A is true for you, and B is true for me, ain't life grand! That
polytheistic cultures predate the various monotheistic faiths doesn't make the
newer religions false. Neopaganism is only about forty years old, but it would
take a complete reversal of the laws of Nature and physics and a refutation of
human history and of the evidence of several major branches of science to make
this worldview false for Neopagans.
DJ : This response appears to confirm my opening point. You begin by claiming
that truth is fluid and subjective and personal, but then you close with a defense
of a very nonfluid and nonsubjective notion of truth which is at least open to
refutation. Which is it? If every claim can be "true for you and true for me," then
evidence and argument are out the window. In response to any counterargument,
Neopagans could always say, "Well, it's true for me." Are you really willing to
agree that Neopagan prescriptions about "dire environmental and societal problems" are
just personal fancies? Was the morality of the "Burning Times" of the pagans just
a matter of personal preference?
DCD: Religious truth is subjective and personal, in that every individual interprets
the evidence of the senses, heart, and, in some religions, of scripture, to
construct a model of the universe that works for that person. For Neopagans,
this worldview is under constant revision as additional data become available
on the nature of the three dimensional world, and as rituals and other practices
give rise to insight and inspiration. We see no virtue in attempting to refute
what your heart and scripture tell you, other than as friendly intellectual repartee.
Our frames of reference overlap with the inner teachings of Jesus Christ and
a few other historical persons. Beyond that, we are singing from different hymnals.
DJ: Here you've made a very bold declaration for truth being subjective, but
you don't appear to be able to live with such a claim. From the beginning, you
have also spoken as if truth were objective. You have appealed to laws of nature,
the findings of science and history, and moral absolutes. If truth is subjective,
then you can't legitimately appeal to any of those things. If truth is subjective,
then you can't morally object to the burning of pagans, since such a condemnation
would assume an objective moral standard. You yourself appealed to what "works
for that person." If Neopagans can't live up to their professed subjectivism, then
isn't their view most impractical?
DCD : I maintain that religious truth is a subjective amalgam of history, folk
wisdom, contemporary facts, individual and collective fantasies (including political
expedients), personal experiences and numinous events. The Inquisition/Burning
Times is representative of moral disharmonies between Christians and Pagans which
continue into the present. From our point of view, these centuries were characterized
by brutal imperialism, as the Church, abetted by various States, attempted to
consolidate to itself Europe's peoples, rich lands and cities, healing professions,
and access to deity. In subsequent centuries this cultural genocide has been
expanded to the New World and much of Asia and Africa. Religious conversion by
fire and rifle qualifies as immoral in my book, whatever the scriptural rationale.
DJ : Doesn't your latest response just confirm my previous objection? You open
by asserting that truth is subjective and relative and then immediately appeal
to objective and absolute moral standards to condemn the Burning Times. If truth
were really subjective, you should speak of "cultural genocide" in the way some
might disagree over ice cream flavors"Some like genocide; others don't. It's all
subjective; don't be so judgmental." That's what subjectivism looks like, but you
don't appear to be able to live with your worldview. Aren't you arguing like a
closet Christian, invoking absolute moral standards while rejecting their foundation?
Neopagan subjectivism robs you of any universal moral standards to condemn genocide
DCD : Religious truth is a highly personal thing. That is why it is so exciting
and inspiring to meet with people with whom we share aspects of our religious
truth. For example, amongst Neopagan rainbow-like diversity of thought, the Wiccan
Rede is subscribed to by a very great majority. The distillation of it is this:
"An' it harm none, do as you will." This is an ideal standard of behavior in the
light of which we consider our actions. It offers us perfect freedom to do our
own will, as long as it is not harmful to others, ourselves, the Earth, nor any
other sentient being. Though every action has consequences, the Rede keeps us
compassionate. It is our moral gold standard.
DJ : Notice the pattern here. I opened by pointing out that Neopaganism is
simultaneously devoted to truth as relative and nonrelative. You answered in
a nonrelativistic manner by giving objective reasons for your worldview. When
I challenged that, you turned to defend relativism. Now you are back to defending
nonrelativism, specifically an "ideal standard of behavior." I think this standard
fails to meet your own needs since it requires a person to be omniscientshort
term compassion could turn into long term harm. But the bigger problem looming
here is a Neopagan worldview which swings, pendulum fashion, from relativism
to nonrelativism and back again. Why can't Neopaganism live up to its own claims?
DCD : You are correct in noting that Neopagans recognize more than one kind of
personal religious truth. Increasing availability of sacred texts of the world's
great religions, including Christian writings, has stimulated a great flowering
of modern theological thought. Many Neopagans are well-read and fond of discourse.
We know from our love of science how even "facts" change as human understanding
increases. Our models for the divine Universe are responsive to the world around
us, where our scripture is found. Our idea is a green and fully conscious Planet,
harmless, free will activity, perfect love and trustare directions in which we
diligently progress, remembering that to err is human, to forgive, divine.
DJ: Once again, if truth is subjective, then this list of objective valuesharmlessness,
love, trustare empty fictions. If my worldview undermined itself in the way Neopaganism
does, I would have to rethink my commitmentsespecially if I realized that Christianity
explains that those who worship the creation instead of the Creator naturally
fall into such basic worldview confusions (Romans 1:18-32). Neopaganism appears
to be another fulfillment of the biblical depiction of rebellion against the
one, true God. Shouldn't that give some pause to Neopagans? Our only hope out
of such alienation is Christ, the victorious, sacrificial, God-Man who appeases
the Father's just wrath and transforms us by the Holy Spirit. Why continue to
rebel against the goodness of God with a self-defeating worldview?
Diane, thank you so much for your willingness to participate and your openness
in discussing these issues. I know you take them seriously, as do I. I wish you