Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Neopagan Theology (2): Theology & Neopaganism

Theology is the science of Deity and of the relations between Deity and the universe. The term comes from the Greek words theos, meaning “deity,” and logos, which means “discourse.” In the narrow sense, theology has to do with the nature of Deity, but in a broader sense it covers the entire range of issues concerning man's relationship to Deity. Unfortunately, due to historical and cultural developments, the terms "theology" and "Christian Theology" are often used interchangeably in the Western world, although theology is not exclusive to Christianity, and this lack in distinction sometimes leads to the false assumption that theology is particular to Christianity, which quite often leads to the bias opinion that theology is somehow an invalid form of inquiry and spiritual expression, because it is incorrectly assumed to be in opposition to the "Neopagan way."

The aim of theology is to ascertain the nature of Deity and the relations which exist between Deity and the universe, in order to display the results of such an inquiry in a rational unity, as related parts of an organic system of truth. Theology recognizes the relations between revealed truths and the principles which unite them into a comprehensive organic system. In theology, the arrangement of these revealed truths and their relations is not optional, but is determined by the nature of the material with which it is concerned. Just as science is not constituted by facts alone–it is facts plus relations–theology is revealed truths (i.e. facts) in addition to and in conjunction with their relations.

Theology is important to us because it organizes our particular Neopagan world view into a consistent and coherent system of thought which defines our particular faith and is able to accurately express its meaning in a systematic and rational manner. Without theology we could not logically and effectively defend our faith against attack, study it, live it, or effectively share it with anyone who might inquire concerning the nature of it, because the teachings of our faith would have no real meaning beyond the incoherent interpretation of the individual. In other words, theology is important to us because it organizes and expresses the revealed truths and relations necessary to the our faith.

The Three Principles of Theology

Our theology, and indeed all theology, is grounded in the existence of Deity (know to us as God/dess), the capacity of the human mind to know Deity, and the provision of the means by which Deity reveals Deity's self to man. There are six common objections which are made against these three basic foundational principles of theology:

Objection #1: Since Deity and these relations are objects apprehended by faith alone, they are not proper objects of knowledge or subjects of science.

Response: Faith is a higher sort of knowledge than that which can be obtained by mere sense perception, it is knowledge conditioned by divine affection; and therefore, faith and only faith can provide suitable and sufficient material for scientific theology. Faith furnishes us with an understanding of realities which are inaccessible to sense perceptions alone, and thus is the highest kind of knowledge which is manifest as an operation of man's higher rational nature.

Objection #2: We cannot know Deity because we can only know phenomena.

Response: There are two types of phenomena which can be known: mental and physical. We are able to know the underlying substance of these phenomena through them, and our minds unite these phenomena not only with the knowledge of their substance, but also the knowledge of space and time, cause and right, and other such knowledge which is in no way phenomenal. The fact that Deity is not phenomenal cannot prevent us from knowing Deity anymore than we are prevented from knowing those other things which are not phenomenal.

Objection #3: We cannot know Deity because we can only know what bears analogy to our own nature and experience.

Response: Similarity between the knower and the known is not the only means of acquiring knowledge, nor is past experience. We are able to know by difference as well as by likeness, and our past experience is not a measure of our potential experience nor of our possible knowledge. Even still, if this were true we might still know Deity as we are made from Deity (creatio ex deo) and thus are very similar in our nature and our ability to experience.

Objection #4: We cannot know Deity because we can only know that which we can perceive in the sense of forming an adequate mental picture or image.

Response: We both conceive and know many things which we cannot form a mental image of, and which have no known correspondence to any other sort within reality such as: force, law and space. It is entirely possible for us to know Deity despite our inability to form an adequate mental image of Deity, just as it is possible to conceive of and know force, law and space.

Objection #5: We can only truly know that which we know in whole and not in part.

Response: We know nothing in whole, as we know no single thing in all of its relations. As creatures which are currently in a finite, and consequently, fallible condition, we are incapable of obtaining the whole of a thing; however, merely because we cannot know the whole does not negate the acquisition or importance of knowing the part. If we do not acknowledge the value of partial knowledge, then we lose all value to all knowledge. We may know Deity in part because Deity is composed of parts, and this knowledge is adequate to the purposes of science.

Objection #6: The revelation of Deity is a purely subjective experience and can furnish no objective facts that would constitute proper material for science.

Response: "Objective facts" is merely a term given in reference to similar entities experiencing similar ocassions in a similar subjective manner, as all known conscious entities experience and measure (i.e. interpret) their external reality in a purely subjective manner (cogito ergo sum). What makes a fact seemingly objective and scientific is that it works; that is, its pragmatic application, and not some sort of objective truth. In other words, objective facts are merely subjective facts made to work in one's wholly subjective and presupposed frame of reference – a posteriori flows from that which is a priori. It must be remembered that it wasn't until someone was able to make rocks falling from the sky "work" within their own rational framework that science even considered such a revelation to be proper material for science. If one finds that the purely subjective experience of the revelation of Deity works (which itself is a subjective interpretation in accordance with one's very personal frame of reference), then it constitutes proper material for scientific inquiry.

The Basis of Our Theology

Our theology is primarily derived from that which is revealed in nature. Natural Theology is the summary and explanation of the content of Deity's self-revelations through nature. By nature, it is meant not only the physical realm, or truth in regard to properties, substances, laws and forces of the material universe, but also the spiritual realm, or truth in regard to intellectual and moral constitution, as well as the orderly arrangement of human society and history. The universe is a source of theology, and the systematic presentation of the truths derived from observation, history, or science constitute natural theology, or the theology of nature.

It must be remembered when dealing with natural theology that it is merely a tool used to adequately explain Deity's revelation. If a philosophical argument or scientific fact is adequately refuted, found to be false, or seemingly found to be false, it should be remembered that such a refutation does not necessarily have a bearing upon the truth of our faith or its teachings, indeed, even if all natural theology were refuted it would not necessarily have any bearing upon the truth of our faith. Man is a finite and fallible creature with limited knowledge, a tendency to error, and an ego which tends to seek out what it desires rather than what is. What man deems true today may be shown to be false tomorrow.

On Doctrine & Teaching

Although the concept of any sort of doctrine may seem alien to Neopagan thought, it is really just another way of saying, "that which is believed and taught." The word doctrine comes from the Latin doctrina, which is from docere, and means "to teach." Doctrine is properly understood as that which is taught and believed to be true by a group. In various ways many groups will sanction their own "official" teachings and doctrines.

Our doctrines are developed over time and are influenced by natural theology, spiritual enlightenment, physical and spiritual experience, scientific discovery, contemporary cultural contexts, and other specific theological factors. So understood, it should be noted that various interpretations of doctrine can be fallible, some can be false, and still others can be widely accepted until found to be inadequate or in error. A doctrine is merely an individual or group's interpreted teaching of the revealed truth. A doctrine which is later found to be inadequate is not a nullification of the revealed truth, but rather a potential nullification of the way that truth is currently interpreted or applied. The fact that different religions exist which teach varying and often conflicting doctrines is testimony to the fallibility of interpeted teachings of revealed truth, which we call doctrine.

It is our position that no doctrine can be said to be the absolute truth; therefore, in our Neopagan world view our doctrines are meant to be looked at as "guides" rather than rigid and unbending truths that must be adhered to at all costs.

Principles of Doctrinal Development

In general, there are seven principles we use in our doctrinal development. All doctrine should be analyzed through the extremely fine-tuned lense of revelation, experience, reason, utility, current human knowledge, and ethical and traditional considerations. The following principles are most often used, but are not necessarily the only criteria used in, the determination of our doctrine:

  1. Revelation. The doctrine is of both a personal and natural revelation; and the doctrine is revealed by Deity to the mind of the individual or group and confirmed to be true in nature, in accordance with its proper context and content, as a whole.
  2. Experience. The doctrine is in agreement with an individual's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experience; the doctrine is able to be reconciled with past experiences; the doctrine is inclusive of; that is, considerate of the experience of the whole; and the doctrine is in agreement with revelation.
  3. Reason. The doctrine is reasonable as interpreted; the doctrine is coherent and consistent in context and content; the doctrine does not conflict with common sense in an unreasonable manner; and the doctrine is in agreement with revelation and experience.
  4. Utility. The doctrine works in accordance with currently held beliefs and understanding; the doctrine is of practical use in spiritual growth and understanding; and the doctrine is in agreement with revelation, experience, and reason.
  5. Contemporary Context. The doctrine is in accord with current human knowledge and understanding; and the doctrine is in agreement with revelation, experience, reason, and utility.
  6. Ethical Consideration. The doctrine is not in conflict with an ethical consideration of the whole; and the doctrine is in agreement with revelation, experience, reason, and utility.
  7. Tradition. The doctrine is considerate of the traditional understandings of the family; the doctrine is considerate of the traditional understanding of Paganism and Neopaganism; and the doctrine is in agreement with revelation, experience, reason, and utility.


Theology is important to us because it provides us with a logical and coherent system of beliefs for the purpose of guiding our spiritual enlightenment so as to cultivate the quality and enjoyment of conscious experience in the individual; and indeed, all which is within existence that is capable of benefiting from such spiritual growth. This is done through the development of doctrine which is brought about by observation, reflection, and an unceasing thirst for love and truth.

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