For some time now I have been pondering the influence within paganism of the western centric worldview. No doubt other minds have pondered this very thing, and written about it. The sure knowledge that pagan scholars (or any scholar for that matter) have grappled with this topic (or any other that might rumble in my brain) has created a sort of lethargy in expressing my own views. Why add to the noise of the cultural milieu? I know this is silly thinking….
As with any thought you try to contort into a coherent one, you need a beginning. My beginning was living in Ireland, and then looking back over the water (as it were) at the way U.S. pagans take localized deity forms and transplant or interact with them on other continents. [bias warning: This tendency has always irked me because it feels like the “daddy god” syndrome I dislike in Christianity – “You are a floating up there ever present caretaker that loves me and desires to communicate with me wherever, whatever, I am.”] In fact, let me take a moment to express why this irks me. It seems the height of nonsense (and arrogance) to imagine that a being more complex or vast than myself would have the slightest interest in listening every time any of the several billion there are of us currently on this planet needs a parking place or has a headache. I don’t always listen to my partner, and he is only one person who is intimately important to me, and often located in the same room! Now, back to the point. Here in Ireland it is clear to see how modern pagans take a personal god or pantheon and then interact with them in much the same way Christians interact with their god. Why this became so clear to me while living here on this land is for another post.
So, this coddled, narcissistic [my bias showing] view that some complex, powerful being is paying attention to every little whim of humanity smacked of foolishness from the beginning. It irritated me within Christianity for both religious and political reasons. It is incredibly human centric and is at the core of the western-centric worldview: a term I first heard in a comparative religions class. Most people reading this will know that the idea of worldview arose from the word “Weltanschauung” and was a concept fundamental to German philosophy. It is understood as “the fundamental cognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions a group of people make about the nature of things, and which they use to order their lives.” You can see how understanding a particular religion’s, or culture’s, worldview is imperative for scholars studying them comparatively. It is equally as important to identify your own worldview when engaging in ANY study – whether that be the sciences (both hard and soft), philosophy, or religion. In fact, I think the great work of the 21st century may be untangling our sciences from the grip of a western-centric worldview.
If we take just a moment to consider what has shaped our fundamental views, which include such seeming secular things as human rights, rationality, individuality, freedom, separation of church and state, etc, we find very quickly several factions of Christianity. This one religion, along with strong helpings of Greek philosophy, has utterly shaped our perceptions, and the way we view our world. Since most pagans I know were brought up within a western society, none of us has escaped this conditioning. The tangled web of our western worldview utterly influences our current understandings, and practice, of a neo-pagan religion which originated pre-western society (unless you are a Hellenist).
Now to my pondering. A few of the underlying tenets of Christianity that I see shaping western worldview are:
- There is something called “truth”, and usually just one of it, i.e., THE Truth.
- The human race is a special creation of a personal, loving god. Which means that humans have a purpose for being alive and this personal god is active in each and every one of our lives.
(I’m a mother, and this notion of being active in every human life makes me tired on a whole new level!)
I am not finished pondering (not by a long shot), but I will close this post here. If paganism is to become a growing and robust religious movement we must grapple with the issue of worldview, and not on a superficial level. Unless I still believe in a human centric universe, why in the world would I cling to the notion that some god form (or as I prefer to call them, incorporeal persons) is attentive to my every whim and is portable, like a pop-up tent? In a community of non-human and human persons, what makes the human so damn special?
I propose that the human is only special if we are still living, moving, and having our being within a western-centric worldview which is shaped by Christianity and its belief that the human race has a purpose and is a special creation.
…..more to come.