Mark Wallace's new book, When God Was A Bird, represents a well-intentioned first step along the path towards Christian animism. Unfortunately, it is the same first step that Christians have been taking for hundreds of years. Can they do better? ...maybe.
Earth Day has long been a holy day for me, and I've marked it through personal and family rituals for years. But this year, I was especially blessed: I had the chance to help out with the Earth Day service offered by my UU church this past weekend. And it was nothing short of marvelous.
On the same day I published "Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mists," Irish animist Traci Laird also shared a piece in which she confronted the issue of anthropocentrism in modern Western Paganism more directly. She points out, very rightly I think, that "the belief that human-persons are the most significant species on the planet, plays out within paganism in subtle and tricky ways." The response to our two posts has been incredibly varied, with writers across the Pagan blogosphere grappling with notions of anthropocentrism that range so widely at times it seems they're hardly talking about the same thing at all. The more responses and reactions I read over the past couple weeks, the more I realized that the issue of anthropocentrism in Paganism is incredibly complex and at times very confusing. Subtle and tricky ain't the half of it! And so I wanted to spend some time teasing apart some of these ideas about anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism in Pagan ritual and theology.
We want so very much to understand our gods, to know them intimately, to see how they work in our lives. It is tempting to dissect, to analyze, to categorize. And sometimes, it is necessary, even beneficial. We are categorizing creatures, we human beings. We pick out patterns as a matter of survival. When it comes to our gods, we reach for them not only with our prayers and offerings, but with our reason and our intellects — we would know them with our whole selves, in all their parts, in part so that we might know our own selves better in all our parts. The challenge is to delve into theology without killing its subject, to try our hand at analysis and critical thinking without pretending that the numinous divine is a dead thing that will hold still beneath our careful knives. Theology is not dissection. It is much more gruesome than that; it is vivisection.
Timothy Morton, author of Ecology Without Nature and The Ecological Thought, is attending the conference on Eastern and Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainability and Conflict Resolution at the University of South Florida this week and has done those of us philosophy-grad-student wanna-bees an amazing service by making the audio recording and slide show of his talk, Disturbing Gentleness, available on his blog. Morton's understanding of nonviolence resonates deeply with my own. It is not a passivity or denial of violence and death, but something that arises from and gives rise to existence itself. We are inconsistent beings, and the rift within our very selves is what allows for movement, spaciousness, beauty and death. Nonviolence is simply allowing this inconsistency in ourselves, and others, without trying to reduce it or extrapolate away from it. In this sense, perhaps the deepest expression of nonviolence is acceptance of things as they are — it is in fact the very opposite of denial.