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Pagan theology by Constance Wise

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 6 months ago

What would a contemporary Pagan theology look like?


by Constance Wise (a response to Yvonne's thoughts on Pagan theology)


YA: It would have to take into account the wide variety of beliefs within the Pagan movement (Polytheism, Animism, Duotheism, Henotheism, Pantheism, Panentheism, Monotheism, even Atheism); 


CW: OR, it could focus on the beliefs/practices of a specific tradition, as my own work does for Feminist Wicca. If so, the author should be explicit about what specific she/he is addressing. I actually think a “broader” omni-Pagan theology would be difficult at best and might be so watered down to fit all traditions that it would be nearly meaningless. I firmly believe that theologies (attempts at systematic statements about one’s religious beliefs) arise in the context of religious communities (not out of the singular minds of their authors).


YA: It would describe how the various beliefs can exist alongside each other;


CW: OK, if one were to try to write an omni-Pagan theology, it would necessarily need to describe how it pertains to all Pagans. To fail to address this issue would be sheer hubris.

YA: It would be descriptive not prescriptive (it would describe people's beliefs and practices rather than telling them what to believe); as a result it would also be multivalent and have multiple perspectives;


CW: Descriptive, yes, and not prescriptive. I agree with this requirement and try to comply in my own work by offering “suggestions” for the consideration of the community (in my case Feminist Wiccans) rather than statements of what they “must” believe. Thus I write in the context of, and hoping for the response of, my community. Theology is, by definition, an interactive enterprise. To hold to private, singular beliefs, and not care what others think, is dangerous, immature, and irresponsible.

YA: It would need to account for the problem of evil (theodicy), since the majority of Pagans do not believe that the world is fallen; 


CW: Theodicy, yes, and soteriology; that is it would need a “salvation” component in the sense of how one addresses the problem of evil. Most Pagans address the problems in their individual lives and in our society not by turning to some transcendent perfect good the God of Western monotheism), but by drawing on and aligning themselves with the forces/elements at work in THIS world that promote their values, enhance their lives. For some Pagans, working magic is their soteriology. Much more could be said. My main point here is that there is a theological vocabulary for many of the issues/concepts a Pagan theology needs to address, and working with these concepts as we re-define them is helpful in making one’s theological work more systematic. Other concepts include epistemology (one’s understanding of knowledge), anthropology (one’s understanding of the status/nature of humans).


YA: It would focus on the mutuality of theory and practice (you can't have one without the other);


CW: YES! And for me, that means one’s theology necessarily arises in the context of religious community. I recognize here the reality of community established over the internet, or even by simply reading books.

YA: It would draw upon both current and ancient sources, without treating them as canonical;


CW: I agree, but a better word might be “authoritative” rather than “canonical,” since Paganism does not have an established canon. The issues here are to what sources does one grant authority and to what degree?

YA: It would explain how Pagans can identify as Pagans without having to subscribe to a standard set of beliefs (and in some cases, without ever reading any books about it at all, or going to events)


CW: Not my issue. I’m OK with “Pagan” being a matter of self-definition. But again, I’m convinced that participation on a community within one’s tradition is important.


YA: It would explore ethics - can or should they be codified? Are virtue ethics enough?


CW:  No, virtues ethics are not enough, though defining one’s virtues, and hence one’s values, is a start. So, yes, ethics would be one important component of any systematic Pagan theology.


YA: It would be about embodiment (being in the body, in the world, actually practicing one's religion); but it would also discuss the nature of the soul and what happens after death


CW: Since Paganism is by definition a Nature religion, yes, Pagans affirm their bodies as natural phenomena. This would be one important aspect of one’s anthropology (understanding of the human condition). Your link of the term “soul” with the question of what happens after death seems to me to imply immortality of the human soul, a concept I question, especially if one means subjective immortality. I agree these are important questions to address in any Pagan theology.


YA: To start with, one would probably need to focus on quite small areas (like theodicy, ethics, or a particular tradition), rather than trying to cover the whole topic. At the moment there are a few books on Pagan theology, and people are starting to discuss it, but it's not a full-blown discourse as yet, more a bunch of memes; hence my question, what would it look like (not what does it look like).


CW: I strongly agree we need more work in this area. My book Hidden Circles in the Web (Roman and Littlefield, 2008) sets forth a proposed thealogy for Feminist Wicca based on the twentieth century philosophical system known as process thought. I strongly believe any theology of any religion needs a philosophical base, which grounds it and open it to even more areas of inquiry such as cosmology.



YA: What should it be called?


CW: Call it theology. There’s nothing wrong with the word. If one explores only feminine aspects of the divine (only the Goddess/es) one can call it thealogy (as I do), but it doesn’t have to be about divine personages at all. In the academy today the word has taken on a broader meaning as many scholars now recognize that one’s “theology” is a systematic attempt to consider and describe answers to the deepest questions about the meaning of existence. For example, José Cabezón, a noted Buddhist scholar, writes Buddhist theology, reclaiming the word for his work although he clearly understands Buddhism to be a non-theistic religion. The point is that “theology” is a systematic and deeply serious approach to whatever one considers to be ultimate, not that it’s about theos per se.

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