Archive for August, 2017

Christ and the gods

My youngest son Robin (age 8) was recently accepted to be part of a kid’s advisory group for a well-known national youth magazine. Lots of fun! One of Robin’s first tasks was to send in some possible questions for a “you asked” column. Some of his questions were pretty normal: how does a chameleon change colours? how many bricks would it take to build a life-sized Lego person? Solid questions! He also generated this question: what proof do we have that any gods exist?

Now, Robin is a baptized Christian, in a solid Anglican household. He knows about God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. But he’s also pretty curious and passionate about the gods. The Greek gods are his favourite pantheon, but he also digs the Roman gods, and the Egyptian gods, and the Norse gods. For a young boy, nothing out of the ordinary. All my kids have been reading Rick Riordan’s stuff for a long time, and they love it. Riordan makes the various ancient deities feel very contemporary, and there is plenty of solid mythological detail lacing the stories. So it comes as no surprise to me that when Robin asks about divine “proof”, he’s wondering not only about the God of his own faith, but also about the gods (and demigods and various magical creatures and spirit beings) of other religions.

As a ChristoPagan, I’m deeply intrigued by Robin’s question. I’m thoroughly interested in trying to imagine and articulate the relationship between the Triune One which our family worships as Christians, and the various other deities who have been (and still are) worshipped throughout the world. Of course, various answers to this question have been posed. Rigorous monotheists have shrilly insisted that all other gods and goddesses are just demons in disguise, to be avoided at all cost. Vigorous polytheists have responded that the deity of Christians, Jews, and Muslims is simply one god among many, and that “he” should mind his own divine business rather than getting up everyone else’s nose. The Jungians wish we could demythologize the whole discussion just a wee bit. And of course the atheists are just plain tired of all of it.

So what might a ChristoPagan response to this question be? Of course, there are as many different ChristoPagan responses as there are ChristoPagans, but for me personally, here are a few thoughts. Firstly, even though the biblical scriptures and monotheistic traditions tend to default into a crude and often violent polemic stance against “idolatry”, there are other voices within Judaism and Christianity (and I’m assuming Islam as well, though I don’t know that tradition deeply enough to comment) which have a different take on “the gods”. Within the psalms, for instance, there are multiple references to the God of gods, and the “council of the gods”. These references are often interpreted metaphorically, but if they are taken as they stand, they seem to refer to a whole host of divine or semi-divine beings who have a role to play in the governance of the universe. Jump to the new testament, in the epistle of Paul to the Galatians for instance, and you have reference to the powers and elemental spirits who play a similar role for the Gentiles as the Torah plays for the Jews; these spirits are basically guardians and tutors for the human nations. While worship of them is extremely problematic, these spiritual beings are presented as part of God’s good creation, appointed to lead all the various cultures and peoples (other than Israel) to a knowledge of the Creator, and finally to a saving knowledge of Christ. Paul’s argument is complicated, of course, by his Jewish prejudice against the gods of other nations, but I think that he is basically building on an older tradition which sees the divine council as responsible in some mysterious way for the Gentile nations of the earth.

Biblical theologian Walter Wink has done a wonderful job of unpacking the language of “powers and principalities” which we find in the scriptures, and opens it up to a much more useful and complex discourse than the gods=demons rhetoric. Basically, from Wink’s perspective, the gods are real, the gods (like humans) are created good, they are fallen, and they are being redeemed. In short, they are woven into created universe by the Triune Uncreated Creator, and have their own part to play in relation to the ultimate destiny of said universe.

As I encounter more perspectives from the “hard polytheism” communities within NeoPaganism, especially from Heathen thinkers, it strikes me how much their gods and goddesses are seen to be stronger, wiser, and older versions of ourselves. Deities are not perceived as eternal; rather, they have a beginning and an end. They are a part of the wider spatio-temporal reality of the cosmos. What is eternal (perhaps) is Wyrd itself. For me, as a ChristoPagan, I can’t help but be reminded of Christ as the Incarnate Wyrd. Like Tolkien, my own spiritual imagination is illuminated with a vision of godlike beings surrounding the throne of the Creator, each garnering strength and wisdom from Sophia, the Queen of Heaven, the Spirit poured out giving life to the whole creation. Tolkien calls this the Flame of Anor, or the Secret and Undying Flame. His vision, outlined in the Ainulindale and the Valaquenta (which should probably be treated as sacred lore by ChristoPagans), sees the Ainur and Valar as angelic beings, who function as the divine council does within the psalmic scriptures.

As more NeoPagans shift toward polytheistic relationships and practices, I will be interested to see how polytheist thealogy evolves. What is the nature of these gods and goddesses? How do they relate to each other? How do they relate to Wyrd / Great Mystery / Eru / the One? And ultimately, is there a different form of relationship and devotion appropriate to the Uncreated, than toward the created forces and powers?

Robin and I will be working on these questions together for quite some time! And regardless of the provisional insights we come to, we will continue to worship the One who dwells in the midst of angels, and archangels, and the whole company of heaven and earth. Blessed be Her Name.

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