“Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light” – John Cash “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
I am moved this week to think about theological basics and foundations and how they fit into building and sustaining community and culture. My friend Dan Miller, an Asatru gothi, has beautifully summarized Natural Theology and embodied theology as; “That is wise which helps the health and wholeness of the chain of the generations”. We are links in the chain of generations that goes from our remote Ancestors through us forward to our remote descendants, a chain which necessarily includes the relationships that link out to other people that we are not biologically related to, and to the world of nature which feeds us and inspires us and provides the foundation to everything that we build as human beings.
At the core of this chain, the strongest link, is our immediate biological families. Our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers and our own children. In a natural theology the goddesses and gods are real and expressed in and through our bodies and through the relationships centred on family.
The ethics of this theology is about human flourishing as fully human beings, so a key consideration is identifying human nature (and human IN nature). Natural theology depends, in details, on that understanding of what human nature is, and what the natural world is. These definitions are culture-bound, so dogmatism needs to be avoided and constant attention to what IS, not what SHOULD be.
From this theological perspective taking children away from their parents (as has been done repeatedly – through selling slave children away from their families, kidnapping Indigenous children and forcing them into residential schools, the Nazis separating children at Auschwitz and sending them off to the gas chambers, and the current actions of the American government on its southern border) is wrong. It directly attacks the central link in the chain of generations, the present biological family.
Do all human beings possess an inherent dignity AS human beings? There is the notion of the soul, a non-material essential ingredient which gives life to a person, where our humanity is found. Do all people have this thing? If they do, then treating persons as things is a violation of their humanity and an evil act. So, slavery, murder, and taking children away from their parents (except in the extreme case of the need to prevent abuse and direct harm to them) are evil acts.
If all humans do not possess the same dignity, then who does? In the past women were defined (and in some places still are) as lacking souls and therefore needing to be treated as property. In the same way racial minorities have been treated as things rather than as beings. Typically, the enemies of the powerful rulers of a society have been said to be less than fully human – working class people, religious minorities, the people of nations that the rulers wished to go to war against.
This discussion above seems so abstract. I am so angry that I shake when I think of the two thousand or more children that have been separated from their parents at the US border in the last two months, because of a policy of the President. I cried when I heard the audio recording of that brave little girl reciting her aunt’s telephone number to guards to try to get herself out of prison there. I am sick when I think of the dehumanizing hatred and racism of those that defend this policy, and when I reflect on the similar actions of racism and inhumanity I mention above.
There are many goddesses and gods and some of them are not kind and loving. Some of them might endorse this racist cruelty (certainly there are some people that I have recently interacted with that have used religious justifications for vile and despicable actions). But I refuse to have anything to do with those deities. I refuse to join or work with any temple or any religious community that endorses the version of Jehovah that “taketh and dashes thy little ones against the stones” (KJV Ps 137:9) or sees the All-Father Odin as only the White people’s god: “where you recognize evil, speak out against it, and give no truces to your enemies” (Havamal 127).
How can we build lasting religious community, except by beginning with a solid foundation? We must begin by understanding ourselves in the chain of generations, in the present but growing from the past and extending to the future, not forever tied to this place and time. We must also begin with connection and relationship, with community. Community that includes difference, hospitality, kindness, the virtues. It is not the raw power of the oppressor that builds nourishing community, but the power of kindness and of love.