Up-Loaded 05 August 1997
I. What Is Theology?
Theology is not the mere quoting of scripture to tell you the word of god, although that may be what some fundamentalists do. Literally it is "a (rational) discourse concerning god," from the Greek theos( god) and logos (discourse or reason). The Christians are not the only ones to carry on such a discourse. As theologia, it began at least with the ancient Greeks, with such people as Hesiod, with his collecting and organizing of myths, and continuing with philosophers like Aristotle.
Thomas Aquinas distinguished between truths of faith and truths of reason. Other thinkers bound philosophy and theology tightly. Still others saw theology as quite separate from philosophy. Protestant theology tends to rely less on reason than Catholic theology and more on faith, scripture, and revelation. Natural theology is considered to be a theology which rests on reason rather than revelation.
Even within one single sect of Christianity, not all theologians agree on all the issues. Judaism has its theology and, just like Christianity, answers to the basic questions will vary from one branch to another (Orthodox, Chasidic, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or Renewal). Islam is primarily divided among the Sunni and the Shi'a along issues including those of theology. Buddhism as well has its many ways with differing issues. Theology in any religion remains an on-going discourse.
II. What Are the Main Issues of Theology?
A. Theology (thee-AW-lo-jee) (light "th")
1. Theology basically concerns itself with three questions:
2. In traditional theology, there are three basic arguments for the existence of god/ the deities:
As science has developed, the credibility of both teleology and the teleological argument have been greatly reduced.
B. Theogony (thee-AW-go-nee) (light "th")
The Story of the Origins of God/the Deities
Seems to be rather left out of Christian discussions of Theology, since their god is assumed to exist a priori. But it was of concern to the ancient philosophers and still concerns us today.
Some forms of Neopaganism include a theogony, a story of the coming into being of the deities. These stories vary from tradition to tradition. Often they begin with undifferentiated energy which gradually takes on form, becoming the originator, usually a goddess, called in a number of traditions the Star Goddess. She brings forth, in some manner, at least one other deity, usually a god, with whom she has sex and from their union eventually come forth the rest of the deities and the cosmos.
C. Cosmogony (koz-MAW-go-nee)
The Origins of the Universe (from Greek, kosmos, world, plus gignesthai, to be born)
Refers to the accounts of the origins of worlds, and applies equally to the speculative accounts of modern astronomers and the mythical accounts of various cultures, including the Bible.
D. Cosmology (koz-MAW-lo-jee)
The branch of metaphysics concerning questions of the origin and structure of the universe, its creation or everlastingness, vitalism or mechanism, the nature of law, space, time and causality
As differentiated from ontology, cosmological analysis seeks to discover what is true for this world, and ontological analysis to discover relations and distinctions which would be valid in any world.
The philosophy of cosmology may include the contingency, necessity, eternity, limitations, and formal laws of the world, as well as questions of human freedom and the origin of evil
Currently the chief cosmologists are scientists - astronomers, theoretical physicists, and mathematicians - speculating on the origin and development of the universe as well as its present structure.
There is even Acosmism (from Greek "a" meaning "no, not" and "cosmos" meaning "world") in which Hegel posited that the world is unreal and that only God exists. This actually fits, to some extent, various forms of pantheism and even Buddhism, although for Buddhists there is no being which is god; rather, there just the ultimate oneness of all. And while there are deities, the deities, too, devolve into the prime oneness.
A System of Social and Personal Behavior
Ethics comes from a Greek term ethikos, from ethos meaning "custom" or "usage." Moralis was introduced by Cicero as the Latin equivalent, although there is considered to be some difference today between ethics and morality. In general, ethics is understood to concern acting in terms of the good and the right. This begins a series of arguments concerning the definitions of and origins of these terms and behaviors.
As usual, there are no simple approaches to the issue, and no simple answers. Neopaganism proposes some guidelines, but leaves most decisions up to the individual. Since once again there are no absolutes, Fundamentalist Christians will often claim that Neopagansim has no ethical teachings. This is untrue, as the issues of ethics have never been resolved in any absolute way by philosophers of any culture or theologians of any religion.
Among the issues under consideration are:
The problem here is that for many Christians and Moslems there is an absolute evil, usually called Satan or the Devil. But the relationship of Evil to God and to humanity varies from one sect of Christianity to another, depending on whether one accepts free will, predestination, etc.
Moreover, the existence of an Absolute Evil is NOT common to all, or even most religions. That it does not exist in Neopaganism is no "error" on the part of Neopagan theology. It could, perhaps, be pointed out in arguments with Christians, that the Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus do not believe in absolute evil. This won't matter much to a Fundamentalist, but it puts Neopagans in "good company."
Developing through philosophy and religion, one arrives at a number of ethical systems. One arrives at systems of Normative Ethics, designed to provide guidance in making decisions concerning good and evil, right and wrong, and systems of Meta-Ethics, analyzing the logic of usage with respect to "good" and "evil," "right" and "wrong." Most ethical philosphers have combined the two into their systems, but as ordinary Neopagans, we may be most concerned with the issue of Normative Ethics.
A. Normative Ethics
1. What is Good? versus What is Right?
a. The Good
The ancient Greeks concerned themselves with good, distinguishing between intrinsic goods, which are those things good in themselves, and intrumental goods, which have their value in making possible another good.
Good extends beyond "what ought to be done in the way of conduct where the actions of individuals intersect." Not only does it include those actions, but extends into the aesthetic, that which deserves to be appreciated and the true, that which deserves to be believed.
The Greek philosophies concerned themselves also with the summun bonum, the highest good, but they do not all agree on what this is. For Aristotle, it was eudaimonia, happiness; for the Epicureans, pleasure (which has a rather specific definition within their philosophy), and for the Stoics, serene resignation. For the Confucians it is li, translated as propriety or good manners. For Christians it is agape, love.
b. The Right
The right is often considered to be "what ought to exist in its own right," while good is "what one ought to do." Right has also been related to both reason and eternal law, and is sometimes considered to be Objective.
c. The Good Compared with the Right
For some modern ethicists, good derives from attitudes of approval in society, while right derives from attitudes of disapproval, such as prohibitions. Good is sometimes considered to include such qualities as creativity, pleasure in the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
Within an ethical theory only one, either good or right, will usually dominate.
2. Stressing the Good - Axiological Ethics versus Teleological Ethics
When the good is considered to be the key to ethical behavior, the ethical theory is characterized by value fulfillment, right becomes one aspect of that fulfillment, namely the set of obligations to others which must be respected in reaching the good. These theories are termed either Axiological, stressing their value aspect, or Teleological, stressing their orientation to final goals.
Teleological Ethics analyzes the right in terms of the ends of actions. The emphasis is on the consequence likely to flow from a decision. Since the good is an end to be achieved, teleological ethics may be said to be the approach to ethics which evaluates the conduct in terms of its likelihood to produce good.
3. Stressing the Right - Deontologica versus Formalistic Ethics
When the right is considered to be the key to ethical behavior, the ethical theory is oriented to the ideas of obligation and duty, centering around the statement of principles of behavour, rather than, as in the former case, in the tracing of consequences. These theories are termed either Deontological, stressing obligation, or Formalistic, stressing principle.
B. Ethical Objectivism versus Ethical Subjectivism
Both good and right can be viewed as either objective, standing for a real factor in things, or subjective, simply standing for a human proposal, thus Ethical Objectivism or Ethical Subjectivism.
1. Ethical Naturalists versus Ethical Intuitionists
Those which regard the good and/ or right as objective may be further divided. This division turns on the epistimological question of how the good and right are known. Those who claim that the good and right can be known as natural objects are known, and that empirical verification is possible in ethics, are called Ethical Naturalists. Those who claim that the good and/ or right can be known only by a special intuition are called Ethical Intuitionists.
2. Non-Cognitivist Ethics
Those whose theories hold that ethical terms do not stand for anything objective may be called Non-Cognitivists, since for this group ethical terms and judgments stand for emotions, attitudes, proposals, recommendations, etc. The Non-Cognitivists can be further subdivided. Those who ground ethical terms in emotions expressing attitudes of approval or disapproval have been called Emotivists. Non-Cognitivism in which the attitudes of the group determine the meaning and the force of value terms may be called Cultural Relativism, or Ethical Relativism.
C. Situation Ethics - A relatively recent development in ethics
First propounded by Joseph Fletcher in Situation Ethics, published in 1966, its position is that any action may be good or bad depending on the situation. What is wrong in most situations may sometimes be right if the end it serves is sufficiently good. There is also a school of Christian situationism which turns on agape, a love characerized by "thankfulness." An example may be murder - this is considered wrong, but if someone is tryng to kill you and the only way to prevent this is to kill them, one is in such a situation. If one feels one's own life doesn't matter and ethical principles matter more, one is not a situationist. Perhaps an even stronger example would be a situation in which someone is trying to kill your small children. Most parents would consider doing whatever is necessary to protect their young. Another situation may be theft - this is considered bad. But if the choice is stealing some food or starving to death, one may find oneself stealing. Living is a greater good for most individuals than obeying an ethical principle.
Situation ethics is a principle underlying many Neopagan decisions. Other than the two "laws" stated above, there is no well-developed ethical code within Neopaganism like the "Ten Commandments." Much teaching is presented on a case-by-case basis. Stress is placed on the responsibility of all individuals for our actions, and that we will each experience the consequences of our actions. Of special concern is the use of magic. When is it permissible to do magic involving people other than the magic worker? Is a particular type of magic NEVER to be used? Or is it perhaps only suitable in extreme situations, when one is willing to bear the attended threefold return, because the end good as a whole is more important than consequences to the individual magic user? For every act of magic, the magic-worker must consider this.
The Wiccan Rede and The Law of Threefold Return
Two ethical principles are often stated as being part of Wicca and are cited by many Wiccan-influenced Neopagans, who are not necessarily Wiccans in the true sense of the word. These two principle are commonly known as "The Wiccan Rede" and "The Law of Threefold Return".
IV. What is Sin
Sin is a theological concept, not an ethical concept. Most religions do have concepts of right and wrong, that is, a system of ethics. But the concept of sin is distinguished from a moral wrong in that, while the latter is committed against humans, a sin is a transgression against God.
Of course, the issues of right and good, of wrong and evil, concern Neopagans. But as sin does not exist within Neopaganism, this is an issue which does not really need to be deeply addressed by Neopagans, except to understand it as a concept. In fact, the concept of sin also does not exist within many other religious systems.
One must beware, however, when reading translations of the works of other religions, for often the word "sin" is used to translate a concept which is really somewhat different, and while it may be a "moral wrong" or an "error of behavior", it is not identical with "a transgression against God." The use of this term reflects the religious beliefs of the translator and not necessarily the system presented in the text.
The concept of Original Sin is entirely unique to Christianity. The idea is that humans are born in a state of sin because of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Even. It did not enter Christianity with Christ. Early Christians were without this concept. Nor have all Christians since the time of Paul accepted the doctrine of Original Sin. Obviously, this is not an issue for Neopagans, except, again, in dialogue with certain Christians.
Bars, Bullets, and Buttons courtesy of Debbie's Button Bonanza