These are my responses to an interesting on-line discussion which I had recently:
I know I am coming into this discussion late. In my opinion, there is no one “pagan” view of things because there is no one “pagan” religion. Modern folks who capitalize the word are usually (though not always) Wiccan, neo-wiccan, goddess-centered spiritualists, etc. These are all fairly recent (as in the 20th century). I am a polythiest who is a part of the movement to reconstruct the religious practices of ancient Greece. However, as a student of Biblical literature, I have to say that early Christian theologians (ie. Augustine) did not understand the actual point of view of the Hebrews who first put their stories down in writing during the Babylonian captivity (that’s right – it was actually quite late no matter what others might want to tell you). The Hebrews were a sub-group of Canaanites. Many of the chapters following the Torah (the Tanakh), were actually a story of the transformation of a previously polytheistic group into a monotheistic one. In all probability, tales of Akhenaten and his new religion did come to them through trade. Then, on the other side, in Persia, was being transformed into a Zoroastrian culture (very Gnostic). It was Augustine who created the idea of an Original Sin against their god (I don’t know which name you favour; but I use the small letter) that needed to be atoned for – not the writers of the canonic Gospels. The Hebrews (later Jews) also had/have no belief in original sin. In order for mankind to grow into an ethical/moral being they HAD to leave the garden. It is not good to remain a child forever. It is actions rather than words or a dogmatic belief that count. This was also the basis for ethics in all the surrounding polytheistic cultures. In this regard, I really do recommend “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” So-called good and bad exist – and all of us, regardless of our particular faith, has been called to recognize it and to avoid, if at all possible, to refrain from unethical/immoral acts as our consciences dictate.
OK. For me Nature itself isn’t sacred; however, it contains within it deities and demi-deities. I am not a dualist (gnostic meaning), either. Things just are. There is no good and evil except in ethics, which is a human construct which came when our brains developed to the stage when we were no longer just an instinctual animal. Good and evil are behaviours which have been codified by humans over millennia and are subject to change as new discoveries are made (ie, there is no such thing as biological race, sexuality is a continuum, etc). Things which also were considered normal in the far past (ie. child marriage) are no longer considered right because of new knowledge. Personally,I feel that religion should concern itself only with the worship of the gods. Ethics and science are the province of mankind.
;-) Now we’re getting into some interesting territory. First, I believe that the gods (all gods) are both material and spiritual because they are a part of the cosmos. It never made any sense to me that god could only be a spiritual construct. That gives the deities pretty short shrift, IMO. I know, personally, that I came very close to atheism when I tried to say that my religious experience just imagined the so-called great god to be a different “facet.” There absolutely has to be a material reality to divinity – and this is multiple. Nothing in the cosmos is “single,” so why would we say that there can only be one god. This also leads to a very important issue in philosophy: the mind-body problem. I don’t see the mind and body being separate from each other as mind has materiality as well. (I’ve also called myself a religious materialist.) There are eleven dimensions to the cosmos, according to M Theory (a type of String Theory, which has only ten). I do not believe that the gods preceded the cosmos, creating it ex nihil (out of nothing). They are as much a creation of the cosmos as we are; however, they are The Deathless Ones. Once the process started, I am sure that the gods assisted in the further development of the cosmos as we know it. We are different beings entirely from the gods. We die. I do not believe that we should try to emulate the gods because all gods have their “bad” sides. ;-) This is where ethics and morality come in. However, when these things were grafted onto a divinity as being “The Law of God”, I think a very bad thing happened. So, instead of just committing violations to another person, we supposedly do the very same thing to the divinity. This does not make any sense to me at all. Yes, there were in the far, mythic past, things that we could do to a divinity which would cause a great deal of detriment to ourselves (Niobe: who boasted that her children were more wonderful than Apollon and his twin Artemis, who then shot them dead with their bows, dooming Niobe to eternal tears in Tartarus; the House of Atreus: cannibalism – they served their children as dinner for the gods).That was an interesting story about Glykon (I hadn’t heard it before). However, as a “hard” polytheist, I do not know how many gods there acually are. I do feel a little weird, sometimes, about “synthetic” gods such as Serapis; however, I don’t say “heresy!” or claim that they don’t exist. Now I will relate my religious journey. I am 59 years old; however, when I was a bit younger than 7 I realized that there was more out there. Even though I was brought up in a Lutheran household and was confirmed – and, later, attended a LCA associated college – I did not feel Lutheran. I did not have the “belief” in salvation – never did, in fact. Before I turned ten, I thought that whole dogma was ridiculous and felt that missionaries were a bane, nuisance, etc. I felt that people had perfectly good religions which were being put-down because they were not The True Religion” (r). No such thing – and there will never be such an animal. Anyway, I had religious experiences with the gods of the ancient Hellenic pantheon. It did take a long time for things to coalesce for me because I also loved and respected my family. In spite of what some might say was rebellion, my experience was far from that. In this way I can empathize with the homosexuals who don’t feel whole until they come out of their closet. Golly, that’s a lot right now;-).
I wanted to think through my response: You wrote: I always imagined that the actual worship of Greek Gods must have been quite different from the Greek myths that have come down to us. For one thing it must have been very localised – and Artemis in one village might have differed quite a bit from Artemis in another village.Yes, this is indeed the case. This can especially be seen in the worship of Artemis. In Attika, She is primarily worshipped in her role in the wild as well as the protector of children. Little girls would become Artemis’ “Little Bears” and at the shrine at Brauon they would have a major part in her worship. She was also honoured as helping the Athenian navy defeat the Persian navy at Salamis. However, in Ephesus she was worshipped more as the Babylonian Astarte, who was interested in fertility. Personally, I am not sure if the Ephesians renamed Astarte or not; but, they were definitely interested in this as a possible aspect of hers.
You wrote: It only gives deities short shrift if you imagine the spiritual and the material to be separate and divorced. And I’m not sure I do.That is definitely NOT the case with me ;-). However, there has always been conflict within Christianity on this. This was exceptionally true in the first 4-5 centuries of the common era, when there were many differing cults within its overall aegis. (I use the word cult/cultus as an ancient would. It was basically worship and had none of the negative connotations which have been put upon it.) The inner intricacies of the dogma which drove the rest underground or out of existence is usually far too complex, ie. especially the dogma of physical resurrection. Most people believe that the soul goes immediately to heaven. Actual dogma is that the dead sleep until they are awakened (see: Handel, Messiah).
You wrote: The Christian idea is that in harming other people we harm God – not because God is separate from us and thinks “I made this arbitrary rule about not harming others and now some worm has broken it and I’m offended! Weren’t they paying attention to me?”– but because God’s love for and identification with humanity is such that He is in all of us feeling our hurt, misery and bruised egos with us.Now, I don’t believe this at all ;-). My gods do NOT identify with me because they are different. They definitely appreciate our worship and on occasion show their presence to us. I also have a problem with this in that if this god were so concerned he would not have allowed Augustine to come up with such a nefarious idea as original sin. In my opinion, it does sound hubristic that we would expect a divinity to identify with us. Arete is a very important goal. We are supposed to reach – and possibly fail, probably fail.
You quoted Terry Eagleton: For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.I know a former Jesuit who has a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of Paris who does not believe in “god”; but, rather like Teilhard de Chardin, says that cosmos is evolving towards god. We speak together on occasion about our differences in theology ;-). Yes, I do believe that the gods are material beings because they are as much a part of the cosmos as I am. However, they are “other”, made of something else and inhabit dimensions which we cannot usually perceive. The problem with divinity being beyond the cosmos is that it leads to circular argument, which is inherently false, and creates false dichotomies and claims of universality.
Again, I hope that I have been clear even if it seems that no one can ever really see through the glass.