Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is Christ Special?

Continuing along my recent theological ponderings about polytheism, I return to a question that I've been asking myself for several years now. Growing up in a fairly open and religiously liberal atmosphere, I have always been exposed to religious traditions other than Christianity, and my identity as a Christian was based largely on a sense of inheritance (it was the religion of my father and his family) and community (it was the church I attended). Once in college and somewhat removed from these two aspects of my religious life, however, I began to consider the theological foundations for why I considered myself Christian. (Incidentally, though I've been meaning to write this entry for the past several days now, Cat's recent blog post "What is a Christian?" over at Quaker Pagan Reflections finally provided the spark of inspiration to do so. Thanks, Cat!) Until this point, a somewhat vague relationship with God as loving, watchful Guide and pervading, sustaining Spirit had defined my personal religious life; but I knew already that this particular spiritual attitude was not the sole property of the Christian tradition, but was held in common with several other Western monotheistic religions, with echoes and shadows in many other traditions as well.

Christian Theology as Something New?

So what, then, was Christianity about?

From a theological point of view, for me the answer seemed fairly obvious: Christ. That is, not the historical person of Jesus, or not only this, but the spiritual concept of the Divine manifest and incarnate in humanity, the loving sacrifice of God in order to demonstrate and reveal that love, and the role of Christ-the-Reconciler as the Bridge between the transcendent Father and immanent Holy Spirit in order to complete a Trinity of Divinity that resolves the paradox of union and uniqueness on a higher spiritual plane. Yes, I came up with that definition in college. I loved big words and complicated imagery. (Still do.)

But of course, Christianity does not have the monopoly on trinities, sacrificial dying-and-rising gods, panentheism, or love and Spirit, so I still hadn't really answered my question. And this is the point I return to today, in my contemplation of polytheism. For, if I acknowledge that Jesus the Christ just happens to be my "patron" deity out of many available Reconciler deities from other cultures and climes , then it is possible to argue that I am (and perhaps always have been), in fact, a polytheist who has a personal relationship with the Divine or Source through a Christ-based pantheon. On the other hand, if Christian theology actually offers something substantially new and revolutionary in the development of the spiritual life, if the figure of Christ is not "just another deity" but embodies a strikingly and essentially new way of thinking about our relationship to the Divine, then there is something more than just a label, heritage or common social institution underlying my Christian self-identity. If this latter is the case, it might even mean that I will remain "Christian" in essence, even if I build relationships with deities from non-Christian pantheons and cultures, as long as I continue to pursue a relationship with the Divine in a markedly or uniquely Christian way.

Which brings us to the central question: Is Christ special?

This, for me, is a different question from "Was Jesus special?" regarding the historical person of Jesus and my beliefs about him, as well as the beliefs of the Christian community at large. In the past, I have attempted to answer the question, Is Christ special?, by exploring my beliefs regarding the unique manifestation of Christ as Jesus-the-historical-person. I've struggled to articulate the necessity of believing that Jesus, unlike figures such as Buddha and other Savior deities of the past, did not attain to Christ-consciousness (or, that is, to a conscious embodiment of Divinity) but rather was the unique historical expression of that consciousness itself. Simply put, he was born that way--a paradox, or Mystery, both fully human and fully Divine. But this just seems to confuse the issue, since I'm not even fully committed to this belief. My intuition, instead, is to reply that we are all both fully human and fully Divine, and yet this statement seems to relegate Jesus once again to just another deity incarnate or, alternatively, an ordinary person who's attained to full Divine consciousness.

The real dilemma, for me, is whether or not the very notion of the Mystery of the Fully Human/Fully Divine paradox is not itself a unique contribution by Christianity to the evolution of religion, or whether this idea existed in pre-Christian times. When I ask, is Christ special, what I am asking is if the idea of Christ as developed and explored within the Christian tradition is a new way, and perhaps a more highly evolved way, of understanding our relationship with Spirit.

A Tale of Two Fishes

This question has come to the forefront again as I've been reading Emma Jung's and Marie-Louise von Franz's work The Grail Legend, which applies Jungian psychological analysis to the narrative(s) of the Quest for the Holy Grail. In their discussion of the material, they seem to suggest repeatedly that the beginning of the Christian Age (which corresponded with the Piscine Age, an age not of one but of two fish) marked a new revolution in religion: that of emphasizing individuation. The Grail legend, which suddenly increased in popularity after 1000 C.E., is a response to the ending age of the "First Fish," which was characterized by an unbalanced emphasis on the light and masculine aspects of Christ. This imbalance, absorbed into tradition as defining features of the collective Christian consciousness, resulted in an intensified conflict between opposites: light and dark, masculine and feminine, man and nature, Christ and Antichrist. To redress this polarity, a shift into the age of the "Second Fish," began--the Grail legend with its knightly Masculine seeking an elusive and often ambivalent Feminine was the mytho-poetic expression of this shift--in which these opposites were, ideally, to be reconciled on a conscious level in order to achieve greater individuation and a wholeness of Self.

This conscious reconciliation or re-union is distinct, they explain, from the unconscious unity existing in the "primitive" pre-Christian pagan religions, in that it allows for personal, and not only collective or communal, relationship with God. In their analysis of Perceval's adventure in hunting a white stag and returning with its head to win the love of a water nixie, they discuss the imperative that the "question of the Grail" (i.e. the question about the Grail's origin and purpose, the asking of which would heal the King and restore the land) lays upon the hero. "A mere regression into paganism would be equally meaningless, so that this state of suspension, this crucifixion of the animal soul and the agonizing conflict bound up with it, must be maintained until the growth of consciousness striven for by the unconscious, namely the question concerning the Grail, has been achieved. [p. 275, emphasis added]" In other words, once one realizes there is a question to be asked--once the tension between opposites has been recognized, which inherently points towards the question of their resolution--returning to the pre-sundered state is meaningless, if not simply impossible. This, in itself, is rather obvious, but the fact that the authors designate paganism specifically as the religion to which it would be meaningless to return is likely to cause some objection, if not outrage, among the modern Pagan (i.e. NeoPagan) community.

Pagan Possibilities

On the other hand, Jung and von Franz also seem to speak of Christianity and the Christian aeon with a certain amount of ambivalence themselves, as if, given Christianity's second millennium that followed the supposed shift to the age of the "Second Fish" and should have seen the resolutions of the first age's polarities rather than their exacerbation or intensification, they're not so sure the Christian tradition may be up to the task. (Keep in mind, this is my own impression of some of their more subtle statements, and I'm by no means an expert on Jungian psychology on this point.) When discussing the origins and development of the Grail symbol a thousand years ago, for instance, they write, "The return to Celtic and Germanic mythological material on the one hand, and to some apocryphal traditions of early Christianity on the other can all be explained psychologically by the same need: to complete the Christ-image by addition of features which had not been taken sufficiently into account by ecclesiastical tradition. [p.104, emphasis in the original]" But couldn't such a statement be just as applicable to today's alternative spirituality movements, many of which have modern roots in a reaction against Christianity's continued patriarchal, dogmatic and ecologically-ignorant attitudes?

The difference of course, as Jung and von Franz argue, is that the Grail is still an inherently Christian symbol, and the incorporation of other mythological material as an attempt to expand the Christian tradition, not reject it completely. Yet later, in exploring the occasion of Perceval (now acknowledged, at this point in the story, as the best of all knights) crossing the "Bridge Over Which No One Crosses," they write:

This is only half a bridge, but it turns round on its centre when the right hero steps on to it. Being only half a bridge alludes, no doubt, to the fact that Christianity permits only the one, light half of the transcendent function to become conscious but does not allow for the psychic law of reversal of all opposites (enantiodromia), which is surprisingly and frighteningly manifested in the turning round of the bridge on its own axis. It is precisely because of this, however, that Perceval is enabled to reach his goal. In doing so he walks back over the same half of the bridge, but goes forward towards the opposite bank.

This incident seemingly represents a regression which nevertheless leads forward, an impressive indication for modern man with his apparent turning back to a quasi "pagan" attitude which nevertheless does not lose the religious and ethical values of Christianity but broadens them through further progress. [pp. 280-81]
Once again, here we see an ambiguity: on the one hand, Paganism seems to be dismissed off-hand as a "regression" or at best a "quasi"-urge, while on the other, it is presented as offering solutions to the problem of Christian polarity and imbalance. As usual, the authors seem to imply that the only way "forward" is within and through the Christian tradition, but one wonders exactly why this should be the case. Isn't it possible, instead, for modern humanity to acknowledge the tensions and polarities brought into consciousness by the Christian aeon, and then more forward from these to a conscious but still essentially Pagan spirituality? (Is this possibility also on the minds of the authors when they write, "For in those days, unlike the present, the recognition of nature could have implied a dangerous loss of direction, because it would have seduced naive medieval man into the abyss in which he would no longer have been able to find his way. The primitive in him was still too close to the surface. [p.286, emphasis added]"?)

So... Is Christ Special?

We seem to have strayed far from the original question at this point. Indeed, it seems obvious from Jung's and von Franz's writing that their answer is an unequivocal, "Yes, the Christ figure as god-image within the Christian aeon is 'special'--it is a new development towards individuation within religion, one which cannot be ignored or abandoned without consequence." If they are correct (and I have no idea whatsoever if their analysis is confirmed or supported by archeological, anthropological, historical and sociological studies or not), then the question becomes: How do we respond to, reject or incorporate the unique aspects of the Christian tradition into our own spiritual lives?

My choice to identify myself as "Christian" hinges, in part, on the answer to this question, though in another sense it is only a small matter of semantics. Whether I choose to identify myself with mainstream Christianity in the future, the Christian tradition is already firmly established as a core aspect of my heritage and the shaping of my personal spiritual consciousness. Indeed, I know already that I will never be satisfied with any religion or spiritual path that does not have the capacity to bring into conscious tension the many polarities and opposites which the process of personal individuation requires; just as I will never feel comfortable within a fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity that refuses to reconcile or transcend those tensions, to unite Christ with his Shadow, the Anthropos with his Anima.

Happily, the path of Druidry--in particular that inclusive Druidry embraced by OBOD and AODA--do not demand an outright rejection of Christianity (OBOD even has a link off the mainpage of their website to an article devoted to discussing "Christianity and Druidry"). Instead, both of these Orders readily acknowledge the importance of all of Druidry's development throughout history, including the period of Mesopagan Druidry that was highly influenced by Christianity.

I feel as though I've finally come home!


  1. 'This incident seemingly represents a regression which nevertheless leads forward, an impressive indication for modern man with his apparent turning back to a quasi "pagan" attitude which nevertheless does not lose the religious and ethical values of Christianity but broadens them through further progress.' [pp. 280-81]

    Once again, here we see an ambiguity: on the one hand, Paganism seems to be dismissed off-hand as a "regression" or at best a "quasi"-urge, while on the other, it is presented as offering solutions to the problem of Christian polarity and imbalance. As usual, the authors seem to imply that the only way "forward" is within and through the Christian tradition...

    A. That the "meaningless" return to paganism would be one that turned completely back to the ancient model, without acknowledging and retaining the good things that Christianity has brought.

    B. That the "pagan" impulse they saw in their own culture was indeed "quasi", inasmuch as most people were not saying "here we are, worshiping the ancient pagan gods".

    C. In some sense, *all* of us in the West have had to make our way forward through the Christian tradition, as you acknowledge about yourself - even those who were not raised to be Christian still grew up in a culture that was/is steeped in Christian imagery and assumptions. We are all fish swimming in an ocean of Christianity.

    Isn't it possible, instead, for modern humanity to acknowledge the tensions and polarities brought into consciousness by the Christian aeon, and then more forward from these to a conscious but still essentially Pagan spirituality?

    Now, in America and certain parts of Western Europe, I think "yes". At the time and place the authors lived, probably not. "Paganism" in the German-speaking world is a somewhat different animal than in the Anglophone world, even for culturally-American (or -British) Heathens... and surely this was even more true in the shadow of National Socialism.

  2. Quick addition - I know the book was not published until the 60s, but Emma Jung had been working on it for several decades prior to that.

  3. I vaguely remember reading the book, but not being very impressed with it as it begs some very serious questions. The first, of course, is the nature of the Grail. The assumption that it is largely Christian in nature is based on Medieval Grail stories that Christianized an existing mythos - the quest for treasures that will restore life. And this has inherent in it the further assumption that the Grail is an object (cup, platter, stone, cruet, and so on depending on author) which also needs careful consideration. The second, perhaps larger assumption, is that modern psychology is the correct tool for investigating ancient beliefs. Our view and understanding of the world has profound effects on our psychology and we cannot assume that people a thousand or two thousand years ago saw the world as we see it. Until those two major questions are adequately discussed and dealt with, I believe anything else is one shaky ground.

  4. Erik,

    I think one definite (though only natural, at that point) limitation of the book's discussion of "paganism" is that it seems clear they are specifically not referring to the kind of self-identifying Paganism of today's culture. Given that they never bother to elaborate on a definition of the term, every time I came across a mention of "pagan" attitudes or ideas, I found myself wondering exactly what they intended the word to refer to. (One passage in particular, I remember, identified Islamic culture with "pagansim," which seems to imply their use of the medieval definition of "anything non-Christian"; but then, do they mean this to apply, also, to their references to "modern man's 'quasi' pagansim" or do they mean something else?) Honestly, I'm still not sure...

    Regardless of the authors' definition of paganism, though, your third point (c) was exactly the issue I was grappling with. For it seems obvious that modern Pagans have no trouble relating to deity and/or Divinity in a way that allows for the conscious tension between opposites--but does this mean that such an approach was an aspect of ancient pre-Christian paganism, or is it one that we project backwards into the past from our predominantly Christian culture? (This has a bit to do with Graeme's comment, too, I think.) On the other hand, part of me suggests that even that question has its problems--that the concept of an unadulterated and "purely factual" view of history is itself a product of the modern Western scientific mind, anyway... And so here we are, back entrenched in the present once again.

    Your last remark was especially interesting. The very fact that, in our current culture we can answer that question in the affirmative, while the authors would probably answer in the negative--seems to me to imply either (a) that views of Christianity and Paganism have evolved to the point where such a change in response is possible (which would itself be a form of or first step towards "moving forward" through and beyond the Christian aeon, wouldn't it?), or (b) that certain cultures are in some way "stuck" or in need of Christianity (or, alternately, must simply abandon it altogether and cannot see their way through it to something else--I'm not sure which you meant to suggest in your discussion of the differences in flavors/types of paganism)...

    Does any of that seem reasonable/applicable? I have to admit, I'm currently feeling very dull-brained, which is usually a sign that I'm wading through material that I have very little familiarity with and haven't had much time to digest--which is true, really, of both Jungian psychology and European history. (Either that, or I haven't had enough caffeine today.)(Actually, it would be both.)

  5. Graeme,

    Though I see where you're coming from, I don't think either of those two questions are relevant to the book's scope, really.

    The authors' make it clear in the introduction that it is precisely the (very obviously Christianized) medieval Grail stories that they will be considering, and that other research on the origins and multi-cultural influences on the idea of the Grail and other such holy objects/treasures/quests/etc. is readily available elsewhere. This is akin to, say, analyzing geometric art in Muslim mosques during a particular historical period, without suggesting that Islam invented religious geometric art or that it has sole claim to it.

    It also strikes me that this book is really an exercise in application--i.e. applying particular theories in Jungian psychology (especially those discussed in Jung's Aion, which the authors' warn in the introduction is assumed prerequisite reading (a warning which I flagrantly ignored!)) to a particular historical example (in this case, the multiple documented medieval Grail stories). In order to level criticism against the book regarding the relative appropriateness of using modern psychological analysis to glean insight into historical cultural artifacts and myths, you have to ask at least two distinct questions, "What precisely is the nature of the tool (e.g. psychological analysis) being used?" and "Is the tool appropriate for the aims of the work it is being used for?" The first question is about Jung's theories in general and the kind of information and insight they provide (something someone who knows more about Jungian psychology would be better than me at answering, as I told Erik). The second is whether or not the kinds of insight his work can provide is relevant to a given subject (in this case, the Christianized Grail legend).

    I'm usually hesitant to declare that any given tool for analysis is inappropriate for a given subject matter. One could use the tools of biology, poetry, psychology and economics to understand a flower, for instance, and come away with drastically different views of what a flower is and what it does--does this mean that one or all of these approaches are inherently inappropriate for the subject matter? No, it just means that they each have particular uses in particular contexts. When it comes to psychology, the fact of the matter is, there is no such thing as pre-modern psychology, since it is a field that only developed in recent history. If what we are interested in is the possible psychological sources and/or influences of certain myths, beliefs or other cultural phenomena in history (recent or ancient), we are stuck using the tools and approaches that modern psychology provides. Otherwise, we have to declare all of history as "off limits." At the same time, we're never restricted to using only one tool or approach, and in fact using multiple approaches often serves to give us a broader understanding of a subject within which we can put potential new discoveries or ideas into context in order to judge their likelihood of being accurate.

    So, once again, as this is the very first book on Jungian psychology I've read, and I'm no history buff to boot, I'm simply not in the position to make that call. If there are particular reasons why you think the authors' use of psychological analysis contradicts other views developed from historical, scientific or religious approaches to the subject, then I'd really like to hear them. In general, though, I'm not sure I can agree that psychology is just a bad approach to ancient myths and beliefs.

    It seems to have worked well for Joseph Campbell, anyway, as I never seem to hear the end of his praises being sung. ;)

  6. Ali and Graeme,
    I'll have to come back to this tomorrow for a proper answer, but before I forgot I wanted to recommend to Graeme Richard Barber's excellent recent book The Holy Grail Barber's position is also that the Grail is essentially a Christian symbol, but he makes a point of explaining why and how Weston and the other writers of that generation over-reached the limitations of the evidence in claiming it to be a Christianized version of Cerridwen's cauldron (or various other pre-Christian items).

  7. Erik,

    I actually just stumbled across that book recommended to me on Amazon (and it's now added to my "Wish List"). In general, I think there was a lot of over-reaching in finding patterns and mutual influences in world mythology/religious studies during a certain period in the academic world (I'm thinking Frazer, Graves, even Mircea Eliade though I like his work). If anything, that's my real criticism of Jungian interpretations of mythology (and Campbell in particular)--is claiming that this or that symbol has some inherent psychological significance, instead of looking closely and rigorously at the particular cultural and historical circumstances out of which a given symbol arose in this given case. On the other hand, I think the authors' do a fair job of taking history and culture into account in The Grail Legend, and really I only ever read psychological works for the intriguing possibilities and insights they suggest--that is, the way symbols, myths and themes can function--and not as if they're the gospel truth.

  8. I think that you wonder *Is Christ special?* in part because you have a background as a Christian to sink your roots into. That nourishes you.

    I don't have a Christian background, and so I don't find the question so compelling of an answer. I don't look at the Christian era as markedly different because Christ is spiritually new or metaphysically unique. My consciousness, evolved or devolved, has little to do with *Christ consciousness.*

    The way I see it, Neo-Paganism is a sufficient expression of spirituality in itself. An alternative response to a Grail Question, a response rooted in direct esperience of Deities in their many-ness rather than Christ in a one-ness.

    I guess that I saying that Christ may well be special for you and for other folks with a fondness for Christ, but that other Deities may be similarly special for those of us who feel fondness for them.

  9. Pitch,

    I definitely understand that this question might not be as fascinating for some people, in the same way that basic Christian theology in general is of very little interest to most Christians, let alone the general public (and all the moreso, the actual development of Christianity, to anyone but the Neopagans objecting to it ;).

    I should confess, I am approaching this topic partly as an academic with an interest in the history of comparative religion. My first thorough research into Neopaganism was during some college thesis work in which I was investigating the "origination patterns" of counterculture spiritual movements in relation to their "parent" mainstream traditions. In the same way that I found particular things about the Neopagan response to today's culture (modernity, postmodernism, skepticism, science, materialism, etc.) to be uniquely new ways of relating to the Divine, I'm now intrigued by the idea that Christianity has, to some extent, a certain similar legacy of evolution. Asking questions like "Is Christ special?" is one way of investigating this possibility, looking at how Christianity may have been a response to, and not merely an usurper and repressor of, ancient polytheistic tradition.

    At the same time, as a spiritual person myself, I like to keep things complicated, to guard against anyone becoming too dogmatic or self-satisfied. So if suggesting that Christianity made some positive, unique contributions to the world ruffles a few Pagan feathers, I'm glad to do it. If I can bring to light again and again that, raised a Christian, I was able to develop a spirituality that was not so unlike a Pagan spirituality and that was also supported and encouraged by Christian tradition itself, then maybe people will pause before going on anti-Christian tirades (or just dismissing Christianity as unimportant, as if it didn't permeate our own cultural upbringing, for good or ill, no matter what religion we officially embrace later in life).

  10. Hey, Ali,
    I very much enjoyed this post--I've filed it away for later re-reading and reflection, in fact. My first, and probably more lightweight, thought, is that of course, Christ is special--as are all the deities. And I find myself thinking of how each relationship of a human to a god or goddess they have a particular bond with is unique, and coming up with illustrations based on Pagan worship.

    But my second thought focuses more on the distinction you draw between Jesus and Christ--and it's a different distinction than the one I might draw, in that you seem to be talking about Christ in the sense of--to put it in Pagan terms--the tutelary deity of Christianity. In a way, you seem to be asking whether, in the history of ideas and religions, Christianity is special.

    I would have to say, yes. Very much so. Speaking as a Pagan who is not a "hard polytheist", and as someone who finds the concept of panentheism meaningful as a descriptor of her own religion, I find myself thinking about the ways that, though I have never been a Christian, Christianity has formed many of the ideas that shaped my Paganism. I know that neo-Platonism was an idea that arose in the late Classical period, and I've come to the conclusion that it arose at least partially in reaction to that (then) upstart, Christianity. The idea of emanations of godhood and ultimately, all existence and all life, from a single source, speaks to me today for partly the same reason (I suspect) it spoke to Pagans then: it's a way of making sense of polytheistic experience in the face of the logical claims of monotheism...and vice versa.

    I'm skeptical that, in the classical world, at least, adherents of Pagan religions worried too much about such things. But in the face of the challenges of Christianity to Pagan philosophy, the question became important. (Is Erik still reading this thread? I hope so, because I know I can count on him to set right any distortions of ancient Greek religion I may put forward.)

    I'm only looking at one tiny piece of the puzzle here, obviously. But I'm going to stick my neck out here, and maybe get a reputation for being much more Christo-centric than I am, and guess that, as regards your larger question, "if the idea of Christ as developed and explored within the Christian tradition is a new way, and perhaps a more highly evolved way, of understanding our relationship with Spirit?" the answer is probably, "Yes."

    I'm presently reading Marcus Borg, a Christian theologian who urges we take a "historical-metaphorical" perspective in reading the Bible, and that the Bible be understood, not as words from God, but as words about God by people, over centuries, who were in relationship with Him. I might be tempted to go a little farther, and say that all our sacred texts are the records of such relationships, and that, as we are exposed to the experiences others have had with the world of Spirit, all our understandings of our relationship with the divine evolve. Christianity, by virtue of its documentation and historical hegemony, has had a lot of chances to influence all of the world's religions--and all of our understandings of our relationship with Spirit. But it's more than having a cultural influence. If there is one Spiritual world we all inhabit, as any of us grow in relationship with it, and share those insights, well, we all have the chance to deepen.

    I think I'm saying that, as a species, we are growing up in our relationship with Spirit, and probably becoming more interesting to Spirit as a result, as we take whatever things are wise and true from our religious traditions, share them, and further deepen in our relationship with the Spiritual world in part through them, and in part not. This is as true for the ways that Christianity can be deepened by taking in the Truths about Spirit that Pagans and polytheists have to offer that tradition as the other way around, of course.

    Too many words. And I'm afraid I'm giving a false impression. I'm not saying just that Christianity influenced other world religions, though--more like, Christianity influenced other world religions to ask new questions of Spirit, and we got new answers as a result. And some of those answers went on to be asked by Christians in their turn, and so on.

    Because, in the long run--longer than history, as long as there have been humans, for instance--it isn't really about the growth of religious traditions, but rather of the growth of humankind in its relationship with the Spiritual world.

    God/s really is too big too fit inside one religion. But each religion, including Christianity, adds to the language we can use to encounter Spirit, and deepens the relationships we, collectively as a species, get to have with the Sacred.

    Oh dear. Wordy and pompous. Many apologies! It is past time for bed...

  11. Oh, yes! You might be interested to know that I've designated this post one of several in a Spontaneous Blog Carnival on the subject of the interface of Christianity and Paganism, over at MetaPagan, in case you'd like to check out some of the other offerings. :)

  12. Cat,

    It's awesome you've responded (I mean, I owe the final blurting out of all this in part to your own post, after all! :).

    I think you touched on a couple of key ideas. You said, for instance, "The idea of emanations of godhood and ultimately, all existence and all life, from a single source, speaks to me today for partly the same reason (I suspect) it spoke to Pagans then: it's a way of making sense of polytheistic experience in the face of the logical claims of monotheism...and vice versa."

    I just began reading Jordan Paper's book, The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology in which he begins, in the introduction, by somewhat denigrating the idea of theology as a monotheistic invention. Monotheists, he says, only developed complex theologies because they had to constantly justify themselves as counter to the (supposedly inherent) polytheistic nature of human beings. But I'm much more inclined to agree with you on this matter--that eventually, reason and the intellect were bound to start turning their attention to the realm of the sacred (as well they should, I think, if one seeks an integrated spiritual life), and Christianity and the other monotheistic traditions provide something new and valuable on this front, if only in provoking further contemplation among Pagans and Christians alike. When you say, "Christianity influenced other world religions to ask new questions of Spirit, and we got new answers as a result," I feel like responding "Yes! Exactly!" I also feel as though this may be the point Paper might be missing, and why I find his attempt at explaining a personal polytheist theology disappointing, because it seems to ignore such questions or dismiss them as irrelevant (but that's a-whole-nother blog post).

    In the end, I think we see eye to eye on the question of spiritual development as a species, and how humanity grows and evolves in its way of relating to Spirit and the Sacred/Numinous with each new turn and development in all the different religious traditions of the world. This is why the history of comparative religions (and, increasingly, comparative mythology) has always fascinated me. I mean, god knows otherwise I'm no history buff! ;)

  13. Comparing Christianity (those denominations that hold one of the traditional creeds) and Neo-Pagan Craft, I note that the two differ in a number of key tenets and principals. I think that the differences are so great that, if examined, they can scarcely be reconciled.

    Christianity is monotheistic. Craft is polytheistic.

    Christianity revolves around a dynamic relationship of sin, salvation, and agencies of salvation. Craft revolves around a dynamic relationship of tranformation via direct experience of Deities that does not recognize sin, even as it does recognize wrong doing and bad feeling.

    Christianity is mediated by clergy. Craft is not mediated.

    I find various mixes and attempts to blend Christianity and Neo-Pagan Craft perplexing. Intellectually and metaphysically

    One of the motivations for these attempts to mix of blend, I think, has to do with the notion that *Chist is special,* somehow. Therefore Christ, Christianity, ought to be brought into Neo-Pagan Craft. When I read your post, I realized that, to me, Christ was not special, despite many assertions to the contrary found in spiritual commentary.

    I suppose that something about Christianity showing up in Neo-Paganism, in Craft, does ruffle my feathers. But it's an intellectual ruffling, not a ruffling of practice. Direct experience of Deities invokes transforming energies that exceed doctrine and habits of observance. Transformation in the light of Christ has been a problem within Christianity all along, and mystical expressions have taken legions of forms.

    I don't question that, given direct experience, a person may *develop a spirituality that was not so unlike a Pagan spirituality and that was also supported and encouraged by Christian tradition itself,* as you say.

    But I wonder about the effects of such spiritualities on Neo-Paganism, and I wonder, a little, about the effects on Christianity.

  14. Hey, Ali, hey Pitch.

    Pitch--I think some of your comments reflect a simplistic model both of Christianity and of Paganism. You write:Christianity is monotheistic. Craft is polytheistic. And I gotta say: not always so. For instance, the Craft of the Arthens of Glenshire Farm and EarthSpirit is non-theistic, some Dianic Witches shade into Goddess monotheism, and some Gardnerians (and others) have a kind of very soft polytheism that is almost monism--that sense that all things are One at some unknowable, but still meaningful, root level.

    And Christianity has always had that fraught question of how it can be monotheist and yet worship a Trinity, let alone the place of the saints in Catholic Christianity. (Looks a lot like polytheism to me--and to a helluva lot of Afro-diasporics over the centuries, too. One of the reasons so many gods have been able to "hide in Mary's skirts" is that Mary's skirts have always been quite capacious.)

    You also write: Christianity is mediated by clergy. Craft is not mediated. And again, I have to differ with you. Quakers, up until late in the twentieth century, were most certainly Christian. But the entire point of George Fox's teachings was that Christianity need not (and Fox would have said, absolutely should not) be mediated by clergy; every Friend was to partake of direct encounters with the Light of Christ. Yes, such groups (Quakers are not the only ones) tend to be exceptional and small, but they have also been remarkably persistent.

    And as for Craft being un-mediated by clergy... well, I can agree with this as an ideal, but if you'd met some of the High Priestesses I've met, you'd know there are plenty of Craft folks out there who at least seem to be working hard to be sure that no one in their coven has any unmediated encounters with anything!

    Not to mention the fact that Craft is far from the entire Pagan movement. Among reconstructionists, I suspect that the movement against clergy-mediated religion is less vigorous, because there are important historical examples of Pagan clergy to build on.

    Again, let me remind my listening audience out in Pagan-land, I am not a Christian. (I don't even play one on television.) I just see more nuances and shades of grey in this particular discussion than some do, I think.

    Finally, though I wish I were going to have the chance to give your most recent reply in this thread the time and thought a decent response deserves, Ali, I'm excited to see us building on one another's ideas like this. Synchronicity lives! And probably always has. After all, it's not just you and me, or even you and me and our cultural and religious training, mutually influencing one another. We are all in a dialog, not just with the history of religious ideas, but with the history of ideas AND with Spirit.

    For another interesting example of synchronous thoughts along these lines, you might be interested in reading the article I found this evening, Polytheism and Non-Duality, with a Jewish look at the subject. In it, Jay Michaelson writes,
    polytheism and polymorphism are more accurate, not less, than traditional monotheism, because they recognize that whatever the ultimate is, it cannot be expressed in a single manifestation. Again, this is not necessarily radical: the psalmist knew this, the ancient polytheistic Israelites knew this, and anyone who is willing to be curious about spirit can know it as well. The pious may label some of these instantiations of the divine as demons, or foreign gods, or worse, but to the nondualist, these are all, from the sublime to the sinister, pathways of knowledge of the one.

    Pretty cool stuff...

  15. "the role of Christ-the-Reconciler as the Bridge between the transcendent Father and immanent Holy Spirit in order to complete a Trinity of Divinity"

    ooh, I hadn't thought of it quite in that way before...i kind of like it!

  16. Interesting and thought-provoking article which I deeply appreciate. Comments are also helpful to continue consideration of the topic. Thank you to all who have shared.