Fear of Theology

I’ve been thinking about theology lately and it has brought me to some thought provoking gems from other blog writers.  From Alison Leigh Lilly’s wonderful blog Meadowsweet & Myrrh:

Theology is a tricky thing. It’s no coincidence that the history of religion is just as full of heretics and apostates as it is of saints and theologians. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to tell which is which.

Imagine, for instance, the human body. Laid out on the table, splayed open, its skin peeled back, its heart exposed and raw. What does this valve do here? Well, nothing now. And this webbing of veins and arteries, furry with capillaries, rooted in flesh, wrapped around bone — now they are all limp with the loss of blood, deadly still and pale on the autopsy table. We imagine that when this body was alive, it quivered and thumped with the rushing pulse of life. We imagine that when this dead heart quickened at the sight of its beloved, a great deal might have happened within these dried up vessels.

This is the dilemma of theology, too. We want so very much to understand our gods, to know them intimately, to see how they work in our lives. It is tempting to dissect, to analyze, to categorize. And sometimes, it is necessary, even beneficial. We are categorizing creatures, we human beings. We pick out patterns as a matter of survival. When it comes to our gods, we reach for them not only with our prayers and offerings, but with our reason and our intellects — we would know them with our whole selves, in all their parts, in part so that we might know our own selves better in all our parts. The challenge is to delve into theology without killing its subject, to try our hand at analysis and critical thinking without pretending that the numinous divine is a dead thing that will hold still beneath our careful knives. Theology is not dissection. It is much more gruesome than that; it is vivisection.

I love that.  It is so raw and real.  I read the blogs of so many smart Pagans/NeoPagans/People who other people call Pagans but who say they aren’t and it can truly be intimidating.  I want so badly to be able to join in a conversation with them because I find their ideas fascinating.  But quite honestly, I am nowhere near their level.  They’ve examined and developed their personal theology to a point where they can describe, define, and defend their point of view on an academic level.  I feel like I am playing with crayons while they are painting with fine oils.

I’ve had transformative spiritual experiences in my life, close interactions with some sort of higher power. I don’t worry that my experiences or practice are shallow.  But when I try and define what I think this higher power is exactly, and what my specific relationship to it is, and whether or not this higher power has a feeling towards me that could be described as love–my scalpel begins to shake.

Step 2: Came to to Believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

Twelve step recovery programs are purposefully vague when it comes to theology.  They know people come in jumpy about the whole spirituality issue.  You’ve got people who still hiding from the angry Gods of their youth.  Some people feel betrayed and abandoned.  Others look at their past and can’t conceive that any cosmic force could possibly motivate the universe.  In order to overcome all that, the Twelve Steps say, “Believe whatever you want.  In fact, you don’t have to even believe.  All we ask is that you be willing to believe.”  Other than that, nothing else is said.  No one tries to define what God is or isn’t.  Some people use the word God for their higher power, some don’t.  Some use the pronoun He, some use the pronoun She.  Some don’t use any pronouns. I used to hear “the Lord” but that was only when I lived in the Midwest.  I haven’t heard that since I moved to the East Coast, but it didn’t bother me then and it wouldn’t bother me now.  Most people just say “my Higher Power” and leave it at that.

So there is no  pressure to define what you think your higher power is and how it all works in terms of a universal theology. But, most people share a general sense that there is a force, it wants the best for all living things, and you can somehow tap into its flow for positive benefit. So when I begin to set myself to the task of defining a personal theology, I admit that I wonder if I am treading on ground better left untrod. Recovery programs usually advocate keeping it simple, and theology can get very complicated. What happens if, upon critical examination and in an attempt to craft a cohesive theology, my current sense of what Divinity is collapses?

If I decide that I can no longer believe that there is a power that feels love for me, what would that mean in the future if it came to a point where my higher power was all that was in-between me and my compulsion? Would I be less likely to resist?Would I be able to cultivate the same sense of gratitude if I didn’t believe anymore that a divine force had personally intervened ten years ago and taken away the compulsion that was killing me? If in my darkest moments, I no longer felt that a great wave of Divine love and strength was rising up to meet me, would I still be able, or willing, to crawl out of them?

How could I live without fear eating me alive?

If I went down the path of trying to truly perform theological vivisection, and God/dess turned out to be nothing that could restore me to sanity, accept my burdens, help me remove my shortcomings, and hear my prayers–how would I  continue to work the 12 steps that saved my life?

I think about some of the people whose blogs I read.  I imagine themselves asking these questions, and I imagine that they would forge ahead.  The truth of the divine, the truth of reality being what matters. I imagine that they would be brave and determine that they would accept the nature of the divine as they found it, and work with it regardless.

But, as the Big Book reminds me, I am bodily and mentally different from my fellows.  That stakes are higher for this witch. This business is infinitely grave.  I might be willing to be ignorant, in exchange for continued access to the delusion (if that is, in fact, what it is) that assists me in remaining free of the compulsive behavior that enslaved me.

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