Our Conduct Matters, Not Our Labels

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I have literally been overwhelmed by the debate in the Pagan blogosphere over the weekend. It’s been a chore simply processing all the information, and every time I found a point I felt I inclined to speak to, three new perspectives popped up and demanded my attention.

In this debate I have found perspectives and statements I find disheartening. The idea that the only way for a minority religion to be strong is by dismissing other minority religions, or that the only way to not be second-class religions is relegating our spiritual cousins to 2nd class status. The idea that our communities are so fragile that simply discussing this issue will tear us apart, or that some issues are best left unspoken. The idea that it’s ok to impose labels and values on others, or that it’s only proper that to have a place at the table of the tolerant and inclusive you must fight for it. The idea that it is ok to treat our individual deeply held beliefs as something whimsical and deserving of flippant remarks.

Yet I’ve also read things that have inspired me and fed my soul. While written in a humorous tone, the Canons Sannion set forth provided a lot of food for thought. Particularly his definition of Paganism:

“Paganism shall be understood as the natural and proper religion of humanity, excluding those people who have fallen into the ignorant and pernicious error of the accursed sons of Abraham.”

Snark aside, this resonates with my own view of Paganism. I could care less what word is used. I remember reading in a historical novel, and this may be a real quote, that when his detractors accused him of desiring to be King of Rome, Gauis Julius Caesar angrily retorted that king was just a word, and if he liked he could make the word “caesar” mean the same thing. The word is the least important part of this debate. The community, or, more properly, the relationship between communities is what is important.

What Paganism is, essentially, is the organic natural religious and spiritual manifestation of humankind. It is not a construct, but that which grew on it’s own from the rich soil of the human spirit. Like many organic and natural things, it is widely diverse and should be so. I believe strongly in the concept of spiritual cousins, those who practice differently, worship differently and use a different religious language from me, yet I recognize and resonate with the core values they are expressing. In my own twist on the concept of namaste, finding someone with whom I have a spiritual resonance results in a spontaneous “the humanity in me recognizes the humanity in you.”

By viewing religion in this way, I claim Shinto, Vodou, Santeria, Cherokee, Mari, Romuva, Lakota, Heathenry, OTO and many other paths as my cousins. We are not the same. No descriptor can comfortably fit all of us. None of us can speak for the other. None of us should treat each other’s faiths flippantly, or as a commodity, or as synonymous with our own faith. We are a diverse wood of many trees filled with bird song, and what we stand against is the pulp-wood farms of sacrificial homogeneity.

While I rarely engage in us VS them language, we are in truth Tree Ents who have only recently awoken to the fact that our forests have been cut down and our woods under siege. To resist Sauruman, we musn’t be hasty, but allow the Willow and Dogwood as well as the Rowan, Oak and Ash to speak and act their part.

The Pagan portal at Patheos will remain so named because it is the most useful descriptor, not the most accurate, yet I hope the content is always reflective of all our spiritual cousins, and I intend that this garden grow wildly diverse, even if that means separate fields at times. There will always be conflict, because it is the human way, but let the conflict not come because we aren’t listening to each other, respecting each other’s humanity or placing barriers in each other’s path.

I don’t care what you call yourself, but I do care how you conduct yourself. I should hope we should all of us, regardless of label or path, conduct ourselves in such a way that our being an ally brings our allies honor. Be strong, honorable, hospitable, sincere, honest, wise and know your boundaries. It is not our labels that bind us and make us strong, but our conduct and ability to form appropriate reciprocal relationships.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://twitter.com/MrsBsConfession MrsB

    Bravo!!

  • http://twitter.com/MrsBsConfession MrsB

    Bravo!!

  • Byron

    Hear, hear. This feels like another mis-timed uproar in a community that is easily swept up in issues of naming and claiming.  Like you, I don’t much care what people call themselves and rarely care what they call me.  There are so many pressing issues of building community and education and social services and interfaith and…I simply can’t get exercised about this one. But I’m perfectly okay with people debating and thinking and wondering…but I have to wonder:  ain’t you people got some planting to do somewhere? :>)

  • Byron

    Hear, hear. This feels like another mis-timed uproar in a community that is easily swept up in issues of naming and claiming.  Like you, I don’t much care what people call themselves and rarely care what they call me.  There are so many pressing issues of building community and education and social services and interfaith and…I simply can’t get exercised about this one. But I’m perfectly okay with people debating and thinking and wondering…but I have to wonder:  ain’t you people got some planting to do somewhere? :>)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ruby-Sara/100000260552542 Ruby Sara

    Whimsical and flippant remarks about deeply held personal beliefs are bothersome, but not when they’re directed at Abrahamic beliefs? I understand that Sannion’s comment was overblown and meant in jest, but  Christianity, Judaism and Islam did not arrive on earth via alien warship. They too are “organic” religions that arose out of their communities and times, and express themselves in an incredibly diverse set of ways. I may find a lot about certain manifestations of them that I disagree with, but they were not created in a lab, and I don’t think pagan religions are any more normal or “natural” than they are.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      It’s my understanding monotheism as we know it today developed from the artificial religious construct created by Akenaten. It’s origin point lies in Egyptian politics.

      Sannion’s comment was satire. That’s different from dismissing someone’s concern as being silly.

      • Ian

        You’ve adopted a profoundly speculative hypothesis about the origin of early Jewish monotheism and over-applied it.

        There are still substantive questions (some of which may be unanswerable) about what Akenaten’s monotheism entailed, what early Jewish monotheism entailed (and when it began), and the possible connection between them. Nor, given the scantiness of evidence, do we have the resources to establish what motivated Akenaten’s monotheism. There were clearly political repercussions, but that does not mean his faith was politically motivated (of course, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t; we don’t know).

        In terms of understanding contemporary ‘Abrahamic’ monotheisms, it is very odd to put such weight on Akenaten as a source. They bear the record of a long and complicated history of intellectual exchange. For example, you can see how their close proximity to Hellenic paganism’s philosophical monotheism shaped their development. That is pretty darned organic in my mind.

        • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

          I don’t see how the attempted destruction of the religion of Egypt can be seen as anything other than political.

          Akenaten attempted to impose widespread monotheism about 1300 BCE, which was surely a juicy bit of news in the Mediterranean and the time period in which some scholars believe the story of the Exodus originates. Xenophanes, the first Greek philosopher to promote monotheism, was born only 700 years later and would likely have been aware of the Babylonian conquest of the Kingdom of Judah, and the strange theologies being taught there.

          I’ve heard academics promote this theory. Akenaten’s experiment, whatever his motivation, would have been known to the people in the Fertile Crescent, and they themselves would have been widely known by their accomplishments in Jerusalem, namely Solomon’s Temple.

        • http://greattininess.wordpress.com/ Johnny Rapture

          Indeed. I’d suggest Johannes de Moor’s “The Rise of Yahwism” as an excellent place for those interested in the topic to begin research. It’s a multifaceted work, but the author does suggest that Atenism had limited direct influence on Israelite monotheism. (Though he does point out that Psalm 104 resembles a known hymn to Aten.) Rather, he suggests that Yahwism, henotheistic worship of El-Yahweh above other gods, arose among many similar movements in which certain gods became associated with a particular ethnic group or city-state resulting in the sublimation of other gods into the One. This can be seen, for example, in the ascendency of Ashur in Assyria, Marduk in Babylon, and even Amon-Re in post-Amarna Egypt.

          Interestingly, de Moor suggests that it was the various mass movements of the Israelites that morphed Yahwism, which he believes was formerly only the technical theology of a certain population of priests, into the theological stance of the entire population. That is, he asserts that the movement of the Israelite population necessitated that their hithertofore landbase-derived religion be made “portable,” as it were. So, El-Yahweh becomes supremely transcendent (all other deities becoming his much less powerful “angelic” underlings/aspects) and omnipresent, and as a result the Israelites could maintain some vestige of their religion even in exile.

          That is, de Moor’s hypotheses suggest (to me) that the development of monotheism was 1) a very lengthy process, and 2) couldn’t be described as anything other than “natural,” whatever that is supposed to mean…

          Have you ever wondered why henotheism might be so popular among Neopagans in America? My theory is that contemporary pagans are experiencing something akin to what happened to the Israelites: We are disconnected from the land-bases that gave rise to our mythologies, and so we are likely to afford the gods (who once were local, “on Olympos” or “of Delos) a greater ability to move around (thus we can have Athena “in Chicago.”)

          Maybe this leads to us also giving these gods more knowledge and power, to the point that our “patrons” become in a sense omniscient? Sounds to me like we’re experiencing the birth of many mini-monotheisms! (Is that “natural”?)

          All I’m saying is that the parallels are potentially interesting!

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Hmm…not exactly.  Even Akhenaten was more a henotheist than a strict monotheist; some creedal monotheists like to put their origins back to him to give their notions a “pagan legitimacy” and a heritage older than it actually is (in the old notion of “older is better”), but it’s not necessarily accurate to do so.  There has been an attempt to historically link Akhenaten to the period around or before the Exodus and Moses, which is just reading myth as history and giving it a legitimacy and a factuality which it doesn’t actually inherently possess.

        Monotheism as such didn’t start until Christianity; pre-Rabbinic Judaism was generally henotheistic as well, and in many cases still is, with the belief being that the god of Israel was the god of Israel, but other peoples had other gods, and Jews simply weren’t to give those other gods any of their religious regard.  Christianity has never said anything like that, and their insistent monotheism has carried over into Islam as well to an even greater extent–as it is often translated in English, “there is no god but God” is a statement one only really gets in Islam, and not in the earlier religions.

        Also, I do think that a lot of satire is intended to result in dismissive viewpoints of those who are satirized.  Holding someone or something up to ridicule, which is the point of (modern) satire, tends to result in one dismissing the person or viewpoint involved as silly, irrelevant,  fallacious, or not deserving of one’s regard…Jon Stewart doesn’t satirize Fox News to give their viewpoints greater credence, he does so to highlight their erroneousness, and thus to dismiss those viewpoints.  While Sannion’s overall project was to be satirical and provocative, the point in that particular section was pretty pointed, as it were…

        • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

          Ok, true, it is henotheism, but it was enforced henotheism.

          I don’t think the Jews made up the Exodus. It’s too keen a story to not be related to some past sense of oppression, even if quite a few details got changed along the way. The Bronze Age collapse seems as likely as any origin point for this story, and at that time stonemasons and craftsmen would have passed on the story of Akenaten for a few generations.

          Sannion satirized an entire religion. I didn’t see him specifically respond to someone who had a concern and dismiss it out of hand.

        • http://greattininess.wordpress.com/ Johnny Rapture

          Wait, so you’re saying Akenaten gets to be “more of a henotheist” than Christians? I think Trinitarianism, which one can easily call henotheistic, would belie that assertion. But then again, really the terms are too slippery. Who’s to say who’s a henotheist and who’s a monotheist? Is emanational theology henotheist or monotheist (or polytheist, as many a pagan seems to suggest)?

          And your treatment of Islam is missing the mark as well, I think. Monotheism in Islam didn’t simply “carry over” from Christianity; rather, evidence (such as the explicitly monotheistic inscriptions at the Dome of the Rock) suggests that Islamic monotheism developed in response and rebuttal of Christian Trinitarianism, which the early Muslims viewed as an equivocation of Mosehide/Noahide monotheism.

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            As for Akhenaten, from what I’ve understood, he enforced Atenism in Amarna, and wanted it to be the religion of all of Egypt, but he didn’t as actively suppress the worship of other deities elsewhere in Egypt, or state anything about the deities of other peoples.  (Indeed, in the Amarna period, which really only lasted for his time as pharaoh, there is all sorts of evidence for other peoples and their deities being worshipped in Egypt, even in Amarna itself.)  So, even though he was insistent on the truth of his own viewpoint, Akhenaten wasn’t as monotheistic as many other religions have been, since he didn’t as actively suppress worship of other deities elsewhere.  Which, in many ways, was highly sophisticated of him–rather than try to re-do all of the temples in Egypt and cleanse out the influence of other gods, he instead just started all over from scratch and build his own city in his own way according to his preferences.  I tend to associate monotheism as a totalizing and universalizing viewpoint, which states the existence of one god over all of humanity and the cosmos, thus effectively invalidating the religious viewpoints of all others; and, Akhenaten wasn’t exactly doing that.

            (Joseph Campbell, for what it is worth, said that “Many people say Akhenaten was the first monotheist; I think of him as the first Protestant”–and in many respects, that sort of fits!)

          • http://greattininess.wordpress.com/ Johnny Rapture

            So he’s “less monotheistic” or “more henotheistic” because he *failed* at his *attempts* to suppress other religions?  You say…

            “I tend to associate monotheism as a totalizing and universalizing
            viewpoint, which states the existence of one god over all of humanity
            and the cosmos, thus effectively invalidating the religious viewpoints
            of all others; and, Akenaten wasn’t exactly doing that.”

            And yet, I seem to remember a whole lot of murals with gods’ faces scratched out from the Amarna period, and that (according to de Moor) the suppression of other religious practices, while surely incomplete, was effective enough that its failure brought about an immediate resurgence and renaissance in the old cults! Attempting to invalidate others religious practices seems to me to be *exactly* what Akenaten was up to. The fact that he failed and Egyptians kept up the old ways doesn’t really say much about his theology.

            Sorry, I just can’t get behind your attempts to reclaim Akenaten as not-a-monotheist.

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            I’m not trying to reclaim Akhenaten as anything at all; I’m simply repeating something that some Egyptologists who know far more about these things than I do have said to me when I’ve mentioned Akhenaten as a monotheist.

            If you don’t think that’s the case, that’s perfectly fine; I’m not convinced that he was a monotheist in the same sense that other monotheistic systems have been, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above.  If he were described as an Atenist, that would be one thing; but, everyone (including yourself) has been saying he’s a monotheist, and I don’t think he is in the same way that Islam and Christianity have been monotheistic.  Just as the term “religion” may not apply to things like Shinto in the minds of Japanese people, for example, so too may the term “monotheism” not really be applicable to or appropriate for Atenism.  Henotheism may not be either, but from what I’ve heard from the Egyptologists with whom I’ve spoken, that was the word they used.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

        Regardless of the exact evolution of monotheism and it’s relative organicity vs artificiality, you’re on to something here. Perhaps a better gauge of what you may be driving at is this: how many polytheistic/pagan religions were taken up by people at swordpoint? How many came to monotheism that way? (The entire Western Hemisphere, for starters). How many pagan religions carried out multi-generational highly organized campaigns of cultural and physical genocide for the primary purpose of getting their conquered subjects to adopt a new religion AND to reject all previous forms of belief?

        • Kora Kaos

          I’m not replying to anyone in particular here so much as this whole tree of comments.  I am a satirist myself (having studied under the same leadership as Stephen Colbert, so it is even the same kind as Jon Stewart’s if that is what you take for an example of true satire) and I enjoy satire.  I employ it often.  While it may have been in jest, this attitude about monotheism bothers me a little (which is partly my own problem.  I know I am not enlightened if I allow myself to be bothered).  I follow both Pagan and Abrahamic traditions.  Yet Sannion would call me accursed and ignorant.  And he would call Islam fundamentally flawed.  I see these comments as hateful, joke or no.  I do not think my religion is erroneous or at all like Fox News, though certain members of my faith certainly act like it- make a joke about something specific, sure, but to say that we are all ignorant?  I wouldn’t make a joke like this about all pagans.  I mean, I guess not everyone’s into racist or anti-homosexual humor either, so maybe it’s just me.  Yet, a comment like his seems a little counter-productive to interfaith communion and highly divisive… but hey.  He can practice religion however he wants, and if he values division over union, that’s what he can have.  I, however, disagree, and find such attitudes and approaches to life, spirituality, magic, etc. highly disuseful, and am thusly inclined to dislike him… but, I personally know I must forgive him and love him.  I, personally, do not associate him or his hateful comments with all of Pagan-ry either, and I do not blame him for them, as he is only human, though I can see how, if someone makes offensive remarks, it would make someone else rather off-put to that person’s religion.  Conduct does matter, in that regard, causing division and all that.  Many people are rather egoic, asleep, and not forgiving.  So yeah, counter-productive is how I see it.

          Oh, and while I find Akhenaten interesting, I am a little unsure what point you are all trying to make about him?  Are you just trying to see whence monotheism came?  I find such discussion slightly irrelevant, but only because I am looking at the Universe as a self-creating, never-begun, never-ending entity, so I don’t see how either “monotheism” or “paganism” ever began- I see it as that they were always around, because indeed, they are both perfectly organic.  Before humanity sang the praises of the Cosmos around our fires in the jungle, the stars sang their praises around the galaxies.  Before that… well.  I can only remember that sort of thing in deep trance; there is no human-brain memory or historical record.  But as for me, I believe there was no finite beginning.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

            Sannion’s words are very obviously tongue in cheek. On another level however, there is something hardwired into monotheism which will probably prevent us from ever living in full harmony with them. At least in the Abrahamic strains of monotheism, there is nothing in doctrine which promotes, or even allows, for true tolerance and coexistence. There is one god, period. Anyone who refuses to recognize that is either wrong, evil or both. There is no provision whatsoever for “live and let live.” At a minimum, followers are obligated to “love bomb” people into conversion. At the other spectrum of course, is “convert or die.”

             There are lots of individual Abrahamics of course who are much more open minded, the gods bless them, but only because they’re willing to color outside the lines of what their religions, at their core, require of them.  You’re a prime example of that.  Viewed from within Abrahamic traditions, there is no such thing as a person who “follows both Pagan and Abrahamic traditions.” None at all. To them, you’re either a pagan, an Abrahamic, or a heretic.  All three of those faiths did, or still do, reserve some particularly gruesome punishments for heretics.

             That’s my only point as regards the origins or “naturalness” of monotheism. It arose for a lot of reasons and people adopted it for a lot of reasons, including freely formed conscience. On the other hand, if it were truly meant to be humankind’s default , self-evident “right way to live,” it’s advocates wouldn’t have needed armies of missionaries and soldiers to “bring people to the light.”

            Pagans aren’t guiltless in this regard either. There were many instances where invaders forced public honor of their gods or gave their own religion the privileged place, or to terrorize their subjects as part of political and financial gain, but so far as I know, they never felt compelled to cleanse all other beliefs and replace them with their own, to wage religious war for its own sake.

            Sonnion’s jokes aside, I have no basis nor desire to tell a monotheist they’re “wrong.”  There is nothing at all in paganism that I know of that mandates or even encourages us to “save” others from their “errors.”  So long as monotheism has that imperative, we will never truly be at peace with them. We can and should seek peace with the many Abrhamics who don’t hew to that, but there will never be peace with their institutions and mainstream leadership so long as they regard the deepest yearnings of our hearts and minds to be Satan’s work or a problem for them to “fix.”

          • Kora Kaos

            You know, now that I read Sannion’s
            article, it is clear that it was proper satire and not just the bad
            form I’d come to expect. I see how he has been playing a character
            lately. It wasn’t clear in this article itself. I guess shame on me
            for just reading this article, being uselessly offended, and not
            reading the source material. His comment about Islam was not
            satirical, however, so, you can see how I made the mistake. So I
            take it back. This COULD be a good example of satire- when taken in
            context as part of its performance, as it would have been onstage
            with myself or as displayed by any on Stewart’s or Colbert’s crews on
            TV. It is quite possible that he is not generalizing Abraham-ists
            after all and that he is not actually insulting us, if he does not
            mean what he is literally saying there. I suppose it is even
            possible he likes Muslims now.

            Yet I disagree wholeheartedly that
            Abrahamic religions and Pagan religions should not be compatible, and
            I disagree wholeheartedly that I am at all “coloring outside the
            lines” from my “core” as you say. I know that they both come
            from the same truth, I know, have seen, and have BEEN that core, and
            I know that there is one God incarnated into the infinite play of
            forms. It is not that there is “only” one God and that everyone
            else is doin it wrongz but that there is ONLY God: There is ONLY the
            Universe/Nature/Reality/Now. My religion at its core is not whatever
            boxed-in-preconceived notions you are considering, so I suggest you
            dispel yourself of them. They are the delusions of insane persons.
            However, I do not really feel like once again debating how these
            religions are compatible because time and again people seem to think
            I’m raping them with words when I try to explain, and they complain I
            treat them like they don’t understand, and then they generally don’t
            want to talk to me. I don’t want to rape anyone! The Law is Love,
            after all.

            But who cares if someone would have
            burnt me and hung me a thousand times over? It happens again and
            again to those who tell the truth. Like the guy who was killed for
            believing the sun is a star and that the universe is infinite. It
            doesn’t matter if some old dude says I’m a heretic; it’s still the
            truth and I will worship God as such, and yes, still claim my same
            religion. Jesus was called a blasphemer too, because of stupid old
            priests who didn’t know someone was just trying to tell some truth,
            strange as it may have sounded. He called himself Jewish even though
            he worked on the Sabbath ZOMG heresy.

            I don’t know why you guys are so
            worried about “naturalness” or or which is the “right way to
            live”. Don’t worry! :) It’s going to happen however it needs to
            happen, in whatever religion. Neither faith needs missionaries. It
            is only reality. Reality does not need someone preaching about it in
            order for it to exist or in order for me to celebrate it. Just BE,
            yo. Be. That is organic. I practice the same religion as the stars
            themselves; that is organic. It has been and always will be- or,
            more correctly, Am. Of course, I call it Catholicism, and others
            call it Thelema, and others call it Santeria, and others call it…
            infinite labels.

            I only want to save others from their
            errors insofar as telling them that two plus two does not equal five.
            It is only like correcting a math problem. I like to use logic.
            That’s all. If you want to get into theoretical math, well, that’s
            cool, but two plus two does still truthfully equal four. Usually the
            old men get Hell and Satan and saving completely screwed up, but, I
            don’t want to get into that either. I’ll tell THEM they got their
            math wrong, not you. I’m already talking your ear off. But you’re
            right, they can be buttholes about it, because they don’t know what
            they’re doing.

            I agree that many leaders today are
            keeping a divide between us all, and I would say that many of them
            are criminal (and criminally insane/stupid).

          • Kora Kaos

             …I totally didn’t mean to do that in some apparent poem form.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ruby-Sara/100000260552542 Ruby Sara

    Whimsical and flippant remarks about deeply held personal beliefs are bothersome, but not when they’re directed at Abrahamic beliefs? I understand that Sannion’s comment was overblown and meant in jest, but  Christianity, Judaism and Islam did not arrive on earth via alien warship. They too are “organic” religions that arose out of their communities and times, and express themselves in an incredibly diverse set of ways. I may find a lot about certain manifestations of them that I disagree with, but they were not created in a lab, and I don’t think pagan religions are any more normal or “natural” than they are.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      It’s my understanding monotheism as we know it today developed from the artificial religious construct created by Akenaten. It’s origin point lies in Egyptian politics.

      Sannion’s comment was satire. That’s different from dismissing someone’s concern as being silly.

      • Ian

        You’ve adopted a profoundly speculative hypothesis about the origin of early Jewish monotheism and over-applied it.

        There are still substantive questions (some of which may be unanswerable) about what Akenaten’s monotheism entailed, what early Jewish monotheism entailed (and when it began), and the possible connection between them. Nor, given the scantiness of evidence, do we have the resources to establish what motivated Akenaten’s monotheism. There were clearly political repercussions, but that does not mean his faith was politically motivated (of course, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t; we don’t know).

        In terms of understanding contemporary ‘Abrahamic’ monotheisms, it is very odd to put such weight on Akenaten as a source. They bear the record of a long and complicated history of intellectual exchange. For example, you can see how their close proximity to Hellenic paganism’s philosophical monotheism shaped their development. That is pretty darned organic in my mind.

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

          I don’t see how the attempted destruction of the religion of Egypt can be seen as anything other than political.

          Akenaten attempted to impose widespread monotheism about 1300 BCE, which was surely a juicy bit of news in the Mediterranean and the time period in which some scholars believe the story of the Exodus originates. Xenophanes, the first Greek philosopher to promote monotheism, was born only 700 years later and would likely have been aware of the Babylonian conquest of the Kingdom of Judah, and the strange theologies being taught there.

          I’ve heard academics promote this theory. Akenaten’s experiment, whatever his motivation, would have been known to the people in the Fertile Crescent, and they themselves would have been widely known by their accomplishments in Jerusalem, namely Solomon’s Temple.

        • http://greattininess.wordpress.com/ Johnny Rapture

          Indeed. I’d suggest Johannes de Moor’s “The Rise of Yahwism” as an excellent place for those interested in the topic to begin research. It’s a multifaceted work, but the author does suggest that Atenism had limited direct influence on Israelite monotheism. (Though he does point out that Psalm 104 resembles a known hymn to Aten.) Rather, he suggests that Yahwism, henotheistic worship of El-Yahweh above other gods, arose among many similar movements in which certain gods became associated with a particular ethnic group or city-state resulting in the sublimation of other gods into the One. This can be seen, for example, in the ascendency of Ashur in Assyria, Marduk in Babylon, and even Amon-Re in post-Amarna Egypt.

          Interestingly, de Moor suggests that it was the various mass movements of the Israelites that morphed Yahwism, which he believes was formerly only the technical theology of a certain population of priests, into the theological stance of the entire population. That is, he asserts that the movement of the Israelite population necessitated that their hithertofore landbase-derived religion be made “portable,” as it were. So, El-Yahweh becomes supremely transcendent (all other deities becoming his much less powerful “angelic” underlings/aspects) and omnipresent, and as a result the Israelites could maintain some vestige of their religion even in exile.

          That is, de Moor’s hypotheses suggest (to me) that the development of monotheism was 1) a very lengthy process, and 2) couldn’t be described as anything other than “natural,” whatever that is supposed to mean…

          Have you ever wondered why henotheism might be so popular among Neopagans in America? My theory is that contemporary pagans are experiencing something akin to what happened to the Israelites: We are disconnected from the land-bases that gave rise to our mythologies, and so we are likely to afford the gods (who once were local, “on Olympos” or “of Delos) a greater ability to move around (thus we can have Athena “in Chicago.”)

          Maybe this leads to us also giving these gods more knowledge and power, to the point that our “patrons” become in a sense omniscient? Sounds to me like we’re experiencing the birth of many mini-monotheisms! (Is that “natural”?)

          All I’m saying is that the parallels are potentially interesting!

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Hmm…not exactly.  Even Akhenaten was more a henotheist than a strict monotheist; some creedal monotheists like to put their origins back to him to give their notions a “pagan legitimacy” and a heritage older than it actually is (in the old notion of “older is better”), but it’s not necessarily accurate to do so.  There has been an attempt to historically link Akhenaten to the period around or before the Exodus and Moses, which is just reading myth as history and giving it a legitimacy and a factuality which it doesn’t actually inherently possess.

        Monotheism as such didn’t start until Christianity; pre-Rabbinic Judaism was generally henotheistic as well, and in many cases still is, with the belief being that the god of Israel was the god of Israel, but other peoples had other gods, and Jews simply weren’t to give those other gods any of their religious regard.  Christianity has never said anything like that, and their insistent monotheism has carried over into Islam as well to an even greater extent–as it is often translated in English, “there is no god but God” is a statement one only really gets in Islam, and not in the earlier religions.

        Also, I do think that a lot of satire is intended to result in dismissive viewpoints of those who are satirized.  Holding someone or something up to ridicule, which is the point of (modern) satire, tends to result in one dismissing the person or viewpoint involved as silly, irrelevant,  fallacious, or not deserving of one’s regard…Jon Stewart doesn’t satirize Fox News to give their viewpoints greater credence, he does so to highlight their erroneousness, and thus to dismiss those viewpoints.  While Sannion’s overall project was to be satirical and provocative, the point in that particular section was pretty pointed, as it were…

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

          Ok, true, it is henotheism, but it was enforced henotheism.

          I don’t think the Jews made up the Exodus. It’s too keen a story to not be related to some past sense of oppression, even if quite a few details got changed along the way. The Bronze Age collapse seems as likely as any origin point for this story, and at that time stonemasons and craftsmen would have passed on the story of Akenaten for a few generations.

          Sannion satirized an entire religion. I didn’t see him specifically respond to someone who had a concern and dismiss it out of hand.

        • http://greattininess.wordpress.com/ Johnny Rapture

          Wait, so you’re saying Akenaten gets to be “more of a henotheist” than Christians? I think Trinitarianism, which one can easily call henotheistic, would belie that assertion. But then again, really the terms are too slippery. Who’s to say who’s a henotheist and who’s a monotheist? Is emanational theology henotheist or monotheist (or polytheist, as many a pagan seems to suggest)?

          And your treatment of Islam is missing the mark as well, I think. Monotheism in Islam didn’t simply “carry over” from Christianity; rather, evidence (such as the explicitly monotheistic inscriptions at the Dome of the Rock) suggests that Islamic monotheism developed in response and rebuttal of Christian Trinitarianism, which the early Muslims viewed as an equivocation of Mosehide/Noahide monotheism.

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            As for Akhenaten, from what I’ve understood, he enforced Atenism in Amarna, and wanted it to be the religion of all of Egypt, but he didn’t as actively suppress the worship of other deities elsewhere in Egypt, or state anything about the deities of other peoples.  (Indeed, in the Amarna period, which really only lasted for his time as pharaoh, there is all sorts of evidence for other peoples and their deities being worshipped in Egypt, even in Amarna itself.)  So, even though he was insistent on the truth of his own viewpoint, Akhenaten wasn’t as monotheistic as many other religions have been, since he didn’t as actively suppress worship of other deities elsewhere.  Which, in many ways, was highly sophisticated of him–rather than try to re-do all of the temples in Egypt and cleanse out the influence of other gods, he instead just started all over from scratch and build his own city in his own way according to his preferences.  I tend to associate monotheism as a totalizing and universalizing viewpoint, which states the existence of one god over all of humanity and the cosmos, thus effectively invalidating the religious viewpoints of all others; and, Akhenaten wasn’t exactly doing that.

            (Joseph Campbell, for what it is worth, said that “Many people say Akhenaten was the first monotheist; I think of him as the first Protestant”–and in many respects, that sort of fits!)

          • http://greattininess.wordpress.com/ Johnny Rapture

            So he’s “less monotheistic” or “more henotheistic” because he *failed* at his *attempts* to suppress other religions?  You say…

            “I tend to associate monotheism as a totalizing and universalizing
            viewpoint, which states the existence of one god over all of humanity
            and the cosmos, thus effectively invalidating the religious viewpoints
            of all others; and, Akenaten wasn’t exactly doing that.”

            And yet, I seem to remember a whole lot of murals with gods’ faces scratched out from the Amarna period, and that (according to de Moor) the suppression of other religious practices, while surely incomplete, was effective enough that its failure brought about an immediate resurgence and renaissance in the old cults! Attempting to invalidate others religious practices seems to me to be *exactly* what Akenaten was up to. The fact that he failed and Egyptians kept up the old ways doesn’t really say much about his theology.

            Sorry, I just can’t get behind your attempts to reclaim Akenaten as not-a-monotheist.

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            I’m not trying to reclaim Akhenaten as anything at all; I’m simply repeating something that some Egyptologists who know far more about these things than I do have said to me when I’ve mentioned Akhenaten as a monotheist.

            If you don’t think that’s the case, that’s perfectly fine; I’m not convinced that he was a monotheist in the same sense that other monotheistic systems have been, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above.  If he were described as an Atenist, that would be one thing; but, everyone (including yourself) has been saying he’s a monotheist, and I don’t think he is in the same way that Islam and Christianity have been monotheistic.  Just as the term “religion” may not apply to things like Shinto in the minds of Japanese people, for example, so too may the term “monotheism” not really be applicable to or appropriate for Atenism.  Henotheism may not be either, but from what I’ve heard from the Egyptologists with whom I’ve spoken, that was the word they used.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

        Regardless of the exact evolution of monotheism and it’s relative organicity vs artificiality, you’re on to something here. Perhaps a better gauge of what you may be driving at is this: how many polytheistic/pagan religions were taken up by people at swordpoint? How many came to monotheism that way? (The entire Western Hemisphere, for starters). How many pagan religions carried out multi-generational highly organized campaigns of cultural and physical genocide for the primary purpose of getting their conquered subjects to adopt a new religion AND to reject all previous forms of belief?

        • Kora Kaos

          I’m not replying to anyone in particular here so much as this whole tree of comments.  I am a satirist myself (having studied under the same leadership as Stephen Colbert, so it is even the same kind as Jon Stewart’s if that is what you take for an example of true satire) and I enjoy satire.  I employ it often.  While it may have been in jest, this attitude about monotheism bothers me a little (which is partly my own problem.  I know I am not enlightened if I allow myself to be bothered).  I follow both Pagan and Abrahamic traditions.  Yet Sannion would call me accursed and ignorant.  And he would call Islam fundamentally flawed.  I see these comments as hateful, joke or no.  I do not think my religion is erroneous or at all like Fox News, though certain members of my faith certainly act like it- make a joke about something specific, sure, but to say that we are all ignorant?  I wouldn’t make a joke like this about all pagans.  I mean, I guess not everyone’s into racist or anti-homosexual humor either, so maybe it’s just me.  Yet, a comment like his seems a little counter-productive to interfaith communion and highly divisive… but hey.  He can practice religion however he wants, and if he values division over union, that’s what he can have.  I, however, disagree, and find such attitudes and approaches to life, spirituality, magic, etc. highly disuseful, and am thusly inclined to dislike him… but, I personally know I must forgive him and love him.  I, personally, do not associate him or his hateful comments with all of Pagan-ry either, and I do not blame him for them, as he is only human, though I can see how, if someone makes offensive remarks, it would make someone else rather off-put to that person’s religion.  Conduct does matter, in that regard, causing division and all that.  Many people are rather egoic, asleep, and not forgiving.  So yeah, counter-productive is how I see it.

          Oh, and while I find Akhenaten interesting, I am a little unsure what point you are all trying to make about him?  Are you just trying to see whence monotheism came?  I find such discussion slightly irrelevant, but only because I am looking at the Universe as a self-creating, never-begun, never-ending entity, so I don’t see how either “monotheism” or “paganism” ever began- I see it as that they were always around, because indeed, they are both perfectly organic.  Before humanity sang the praises of the Cosmos around our fires in the jungle, the stars sang their praises around the galaxies.  Before that… well.  I can only remember that sort of thing in deep trance; there is no human-brain memory or historical record.  But as for me, I believe there was no finite beginning.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

            Sannion’s words are very obviously tongue in cheek. On another level however, there is something hardwired into monotheism which will probably prevent us from ever living in full harmony with them. At least in the Abrahamic strains of monotheism, there is nothing in doctrine which promotes, or even allows, for true tolerance and coexistence. There is one god, period. Anyone who refuses to recognize that is either wrong, evil or both. There is no provision whatsoever for “live and let live.” At a minimum, followers are obligated to “love bomb” people into conversion. At the other spectrum of course, is “convert or die.”

             There are lots of individual Abrahamics of course who are much more open minded, the gods bless them, but only because they’re willing to color outside the lines of what their religions, at their core, require of them.  You’re a prime example of that.  Viewed from within Abrahamic traditions, there is no such thing as a person who “follows both Pagan and Abrahamic traditions.” None at all. To them, you’re either a pagan, an Abrahamic, or a heretic.  All three of those faiths did, or still do, reserve some particularly gruesome punishments for heretics.

             That’s my only point as regards the origins or “naturalness” of monotheism. It arose for a lot of reasons and people adopted it for a lot of reasons, including freely formed conscience. On the other hand, if it were truly meant to be humankind’s default , self-evident “right way to live,” it’s advocates wouldn’t have needed armies of missionaries and soldiers to “bring people to the light.”

            Pagans aren’t guiltless in this regard either. There were many instances where invaders forced public honor of their gods or gave their own religion the privileged place, or to terrorize their subjects as part of political and financial gain, but so far as I know, they never felt compelled to cleanse all other beliefs and replace them with their own, to wage religious war for its own sake.

            Sonnion’s jokes aside, I have no basis nor desire to tell a monotheist they’re “wrong.”  There is nothing at all in paganism that I know of that mandates or even encourages us to “save” others from their “errors.”  So long as monotheism has that imperative, we will never truly be at peace with them. We can and should seek peace with the many Abrhamics who don’t hew to that, but there will never be peace with their institutions and mainstream leadership so long as they regard the deepest yearnings of our hearts and minds to be Satan’s work or a problem for them to “fix.”

          • Kora Kaos

            You know, now that I read Sannion’s
            article, it is clear that it was proper satire and not just the bad
            form I’d come to expect. I see how he has been playing a character
            lately. It wasn’t clear in this article itself. I guess shame on me
            for just reading this article, being uselessly offended, and not
            reading the source material. His comment about Islam was not
            satirical, however, so, you can see how I made the mistake. So I
            take it back. This COULD be a good example of satire- when taken in
            context as part of its performance, as it would have been onstage
            with myself or as displayed by any on Stewart’s or Colbert’s crews on
            TV. It is quite possible that he is not generalizing Abraham-ists
            after all and that he is not actually insulting us, if he does not
            mean what he is literally saying there. I suppose it is even
            possible he likes Muslims now.

            Yet I disagree wholeheartedly that
            Abrahamic religions and Pagan religions should not be compatible, and
            I disagree wholeheartedly that I am at all “coloring outside the
            lines” from my “core” as you say. I know that they both come
            from the same truth, I know, have seen, and have BEEN that core, and
            I know that there is one God incarnated into the infinite play of
            forms. It is not that there is “only” one God and that everyone
            else is doin it wrongz but that there is ONLY God: There is ONLY the
            Universe/Nature/Reality/Now. My religion at its core is not whatever
            boxed-in-preconceived notions you are considering, so I suggest you
            dispel yourself of them. They are the delusions of insane persons.
            However, I do not really feel like once again debating how these
            religions are compatible because time and again people seem to think
            I’m raping them with words when I try to explain, and they complain I
            treat them like they don’t understand, and then they generally don’t
            want to talk to me. I don’t want to rape anyone! The Law is Love,
            after all.

            But who cares if someone would have
            burnt me and hung me a thousand times over? It happens again and
            again to those who tell the truth. Like the guy who was killed for
            believing the sun is a star and that the universe is infinite. It
            doesn’t matter if some old dude says I’m a heretic; it’s still the
            truth and I will worship God as such, and yes, still claim my same
            religion. Jesus was called a blasphemer too, because of stupid old
            priests who didn’t know someone was just trying to tell some truth,
            strange as it may have sounded. He called himself Jewish even though
            he worked on the Sabbath ZOMG heresy.

            I don’t know why you guys are so
            worried about “naturalness” or or which is the “right way to
            live”. Don’t worry! :) It’s going to happen however it needs to
            happen, in whatever religion. Neither faith needs missionaries. It
            is only reality. Reality does not need someone preaching about it in
            order for it to exist or in order for me to celebrate it. Just BE,
            yo. Be. That is organic. I practice the same religion as the stars
            themselves; that is organic. It has been and always will be- or,
            more correctly, Am. Of course, I call it Catholicism, and others
            call it Thelema, and others call it Santeria, and others call it…
            infinite labels.

            I only want to save others from their
            errors insofar as telling them that two plus two does not equal five.
            It is only like correcting a math problem. I like to use logic.
            That’s all. If you want to get into theoretical math, well, that’s
            cool, but two plus two does still truthfully equal four. Usually the
            old men get Hell and Satan and saving completely screwed up, but, I
            don’t want to get into that either. I’ll tell THEM they got their
            math wrong, not you. I’m already talking your ear off. But you’re
            right, they can be buttholes about it, because they don’t know what
            they’re doing.

            I agree that many leaders today are
            keeping a divide between us all, and I would say that many of them
            are criminal (and criminally insane/stupid).

          • Kora Kaos

             …I totally didn’t mean to do that in some apparent poem form.

  • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

    I’ve been away at a festival this weekend, so I’ve missed the uproar.  Not sure I want to crush my festival high by reading up on it, either.  Thank you for being a voice of sanity against the Balkanisation of our … erm… community?  Movement?  Widget?  Aardvark?  Whatever.  :D

  • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

    I’ve been away at a festival this weekend, so I’ve missed the uproar.  Not sure I want to crush my festival high by reading up on it, either.  Thank you for being a voice of sanity against the Balkanisation of our … erm… community?  Movement?  Widget?  Aardvark?  Whatever.  :D

  • Sithyogini

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  • Sithyogini

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  • http://twitter.com/IarasChamber amanda

    Very well said!! 

  • http://twitter.com/IarasChamber amanda

    Very well said!! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000072876580 ‘Veronique Choiseul

    I think you’ve nailed it:

    “What Paganism is, essentially, is the organic natural religious and spiritual manifestation of humankind. It is not a construct, but that which grew on it’s own from the rich soil of the human spirit.”

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      Which, interestingly, is what some Shinto people say of Shinto.

    • Henry

      what religion is,essentially the natural spiritual manifestation of humankind.
      it’s not limited to ‘paganism’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000072876580 ‘Veronique Choiseul

    I think you’ve nailed it:

    “What Paganism is, essentially, is the organic natural religious and spiritual manifestation of humankind. It is not a construct, but that which grew on it’s own from the rich soil of the human spirit.”

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      Which, interestingly, is what some Shinto people say of Shinto.

    • Henry

      what religion is,essentially the natural spiritual manifestation of humankind.
      it’s not limited to ‘paganism’.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Lots to agree with here, Star!  Very nicely stated!

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Lots to agree with here, Star!  Very nicely stated!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1345086873 Matthew Hunt

    “I claim Shinto, Vodou, Santeria, Cherokee, Mari, Romuva, Lakota, Heathenry, OTO and many other paths as my cousins.”I am trying to understand where you are coming from with this statement. Do you consider them to be Pagan? If not, why? If you do, do you realize that most of these folk that practice all the above listed religions consider themselves to be separate communities and separate religions?

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      I don’t consider them Pagan in the modern sense. I consider them to be separate communities and religions, but when it comes down to brass tacks, I have a greater resonance with their religions than with Judaism, Buddhism or Christianity.

      Minority faiths don’t need to share a common label, but they do need to support each other. I’m willing to stand by many faiths, regardless of how they identify.

    • Anonymous

      I long for the day when we can all just say we’re siblings and embrace the diversity as it is, learn to understand and appreciate each other, and not try to box each other up or argue over who has ownership on spirituality. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1345086873 Matthew Hunt

    “I claim Shinto, Vodou, Santeria, Cherokee, Mari, Romuva, Lakota, Heathenry, OTO and many other paths as my cousins.”I am trying to understand where you are coming from with this statement. Do you consider them to be Pagan? If not, why? If you do, do you realize that most of these folk that practice all the above listed religions consider themselves to be separate communities and separate religions?

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I don’t consider them Pagan in the modern sense. I consider them to be separate communities and religions, but when it comes down to brass tacks, I have a greater resonance with their religions than with Judaism, Buddhism or Christianity.

      Minority faiths don’t need to share a common label, but they do need to support each other. I’m willing to stand by many faiths, regardless of how they identify.

    • http://thehomespunlife.com Sisterlisa

      I long for the day when we can all just say we’re siblings and embrace the diversity as it is, learn to understand and appreciate each other, and not try to box each other up or argue over who has ownership on spirituality. 

  • Anonymous

    That is fabulous.

  • http://thehomespunlife.com Sisterlisa

    That is fabulous.


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