Deity Is Also Outside the Circle

When I grew up Catholic in the 1950s, Jesus was always the Lord of Glory, somewhere up there. We didn’t even pray to him, only to his mother. Nice Jewish girl, she could guilt-trip him, right? After the Holy Spirit booted me out of Catholicism in order to save my life (that’s one way of describing an indescribable experience), I soon discovered the myth of Aradia and became fascinated (still am) with the concept of the Divine as Feminine. Some of my reading was about Jesus, Christian origins, Gnosticism, but I did not think Jesus had been other than an extraordinary human being.

About ten years after helping found the NROOGD, and about three months after passing my doctoral comprehensive exam in New Testament Studies as a nonbeliever, I finished my research, knew I no longer could stop myself from taking the first drink, went to my first AA meeting, and, in order to never take that first drink, began to rethink my concepts about divinity in pragmatic terms. It seemed obvious that any Higher Power worth the name could restore me to sanity, but, despite that Awakening at age 14, I was not sure whether a Higher Power would do so. I had to suspend my Craft activity; it was just too painful and risky to be in circle, which had been my favorite (and toward the end my only) place to drink. Finally, after nine months of complaining, I realized that I still had not taken that first drink, even though I knew I had no more power to control my drinking than I’d had on at my first AA meeting. The impossible had happened, had been done for me. My conclusion was a variant of Descarte’s Cogito ergo sum: I don’t drink; therefore I’m alive; therefore a Higher Power must exist. That opened the gateway to taking religion much more seriously than I had since childhood.

One issue was that a Higher Power who lived in Heaven would be useless. I needed one who could and did step in instantly to eradicate any impulse to drink. One dubious benefit of thinking that you must “go to church” in order to be in contact with divinity is that, converserly, you can be fairly sure that said divinity will not bother you if you are not in church. That was not good enough. I needed a divinity, a Higher Power, who could bother me at any time and place. I had known in theory from my own experience, and from reading Alan Watts, that logically an omnipresent infinite deity has to be totally present at every time, in every place, but I needed that concept to become for me a daily experience, which, on enough days, it did.

When, after ten years, neither my conscience nor my illness would allow me to be a practicing Catholic any longer and I again became active in the Craft, I realized that, always before, I had been assuming that, if I were not in circle, the Gods would not bother me—but I could no longer assume that. The Goddess was and is just as effective as any other aspect of divinity for keeping me sober, as long as I am always aware of Her presence.

Another aspect of such distancing from the Divine is the way that people misinterpret that truly Rabbinic prayer taught by Rabbi Joshua to his students, the one that begins, “Our Father.” It is a general-purpose prayer and is not solely Christian. I remember one night, at the end of the meeting, when we get up and hold hands in a circle, I was holding hands with the Jewish man on my left and the Muslim man on my right, and we said “The Lord’s Prayer” together. The concepts in the prayer can be useful to Pagans as well, if they can get over their knee-jerk reactions to its vocabulary. Rewriting the beginning as, “Our Father and Mother in Heaven, Blessed be your names,” is a step in that direction and is perfectly sound theology.

Anyway, consider the lines, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” I’m afraid many people understand that as meaning, “When your kingdom comes (whenever that might be and whatever it might be like), may your will (whatever it is) be done—by whoever is around at the time.” No, a future event that might never happen is of no use for maintaining my sobriety. I have to understand those lines as meaning, “May your will be done NOW—and I’m the one who has to do it.” One then, of course, must deal with the issue of knowing what the Divine will is. If one does not have the luxury of assuming that the Torah and the Gospels are an adequate exposition of that will, one has some work to do.

I rather like the insight in the line, “It is by doing the will of God that we know the will of God.” It’s got a sort of William James Pragmatic feel to it. It’s also akin to Aristotelean Virtue Ethics. And it leaves open the possibility that the Divine Will for you might not be the same as the Divine Will for anyone else. In practice, one ends up saying, “I tried that and it did not work out well, so I bet that was not the Divine Will.” Or, “Once I tried following the instructions, I realized that’s what I was supposed to be doing all along!” For this approach to work, you have to be willing to realize that you know nothing at all about what the Divine or a Higher Power is like, except that He/She/They have your best interests at heart. You cannot assume that anyone else’s beliefs or opinions about the Divine are at all accurate. A second-hand religion will do nothing for you.

I could now logically go on about how the concept that “God punishes sins” is not only absolute nonsense, but also intellectual cyanide—but that will be better dealt with some other day.

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