Queer I Stand
Belief, Trust, and Faith without Creedalism for Modern Pagans
Modified for my own polytheistic position, my preferred creedal statement would be, "In the gods, I believe." Now, some might not see the difference between this and the Christian notion of "believing in God," but there's an important distinction to be made. The Latin preposition in translates as "in" in English, but depending on whether it takes the accusative case or the ablative case, it can be understood as either "into" or "within."
The way that "belief in God" is usually phrased in Latin is in the accusative case (Credo in unum Deum), and thus it is much more like the arrow-and-target situation I described above. In the phrase "In the gods, I believe," one can understand "in" as "within," which gives a far more appropriate nuance. That is to say: it is only within the gods (and within one's experience of the gods' reality) that one can believe at all—believe not only in the reality of the gods, but in anything and everything that exists.
In the words of Simone Weil from her work Waiting for God: "It does not rest with the soul to believe in the reality of God if God does not reveal this reality. In trying to do so, it either labels something else with the name of God—and that is idolatry—or else its belief in God remains abstract and verbal."
When I found this statement in 1996, I realized I was not alone in my experiential understanding of belief, uncommon though it was. I was tired of what seemed to be an entire religious tradition that had an abstract and verbal relationship with God (i.e., the Catholicism and other forms of Christianity that I'd grown up with in my family). I was weary of the theology that said that the one-and-only "God" was transcendent and unknowable, and yet still had a great deal to say about what that supposedly unknowable god was, did, said, and preferred. It all seemed awfully "idolatrous" to me in terms of Weil's construction. Polytheism, on the other hand, offered an immanent experience of deities, and polytheist theology did not define deity in the "omni-" terms that are assumed of "any God worth its salt" in the Christian and Islamic religions.
When I was getting my religious studies M.A. in 1999, I encountered a similarly different understanding of "faith" and "belief" in a class taught by Leonard Doohan, a lay Catholic theologian at Gonzaga University. In our Ecclesiology course, he defined "faith" as one's experience of the Divine, and "belief" as an articulation of that experience. (A systematization of such articulations is called a "religion.") This is the definition of all of these terms that I have since preferred—with the caveat, of course, that "the Divine" be understood to include non-monotheistic or non-monistic divine realities, like the polytheistic universe of deities and other divine beings. These definitions are not commonly known nor accepted, however, either amongst Catholics or the wider Christian and non-Christian worlds. This is a pity, because they fit the experiential nature of many other non-Christian religions quite well.
A few months ago, in the alumni newsletter from Gonzaga University, Latin professor Fr. Ken Krall had a very good article about how many Latin words have a greater range of meaning than single English words do (as we saw above with the tiny word in!). One such complex word is credere, the verb "to believe," which is the basis for the English noun "creed" and adjective "creedal." While it is most often translated as "to believe," it can also equally well be translated "to trust." Knowing that, and knowing my preferred understanding of "believe in," imagine what is written on every piece of money in the U.S. In doing so, one can get a potentially liberating view of the phrase "In God We Trust"!
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.