Notes towards a “natural systems theology” – part 4

And so we come, at last, to theology.

We have seen that humanity seems to have an instinctive reverence for “important” natural systems. If highly complex natural systems can attain consciousness, can become, in fact, persons, then it seems reasonable that this reverence – evidenced even in a cultural context without overt polytheistic influences, such as early modern America – would transform easily enough to worship when confronted with evidence (whether objective or personal) that the object of veneration is alive.

It is a commonplace in the study of Hellenic religion that the Gods were understood differently in different places and times; the Demeter honored in Sparta is not the same as the Demeter of Corinth, to paraphrase an old saying, nor is the Athena of the founding of Athens necessarily identical to the Athena worshipped there at the coming of Christianity. It is also true that even the Gods most often identified by their “civil” attributes – Athena, Zeus, Apollo, and others – have strong earthly, nature-centered attributes as well.

Both of these facts make sense from the perspective of natural systems theology. “Agriculture” can be seen as a very highly complex system, including both the natural systems upon which plant growth depends, and the human culture that organizes and facilitates that growth, turning “plants growing” into “agriculture” in the process. If “Demeter” is the name given by the Greeks to the manifested spirit of the agricultural system, then it makes sense that She would not be same from place to place – even setting aside differences in climate, soil and plants available for growing, the human communities are different in each place, and this affects the whole system. Likewise, if “Athena” in Athens is the manifested spirit of the polis, then She would necessarily change over time, as Her body (the city) and soul (the people) change.

However, let me be clear that I am NOT suggesting the Gods are “just” the manifestation of natural systems, any more than “I” – whatever that “I” may actually be – am “just” the manifestation of my body system. I believe that I have/am a spirit that has an existence beyond the life of this body; but I am reasonably certain that during this lifetime my spirit is inextricably bound up with the life of this body – and that I can learn from my body certain truths about my spiritual dimension (which is part of what my Aikido practice is about).

Just so, remembering that the Gods did not create the universe, but are part of it, I suspect that while transcending the physical world They are also inextricably bound to it – and that we can learn essential truths about Them through study of and relationship with the natural world. Zeus is the father of laws, but He is also the storm-bringer; Persephone is the Queen of the Underworld, but as the Kore she is the Spring. What lessons do They have to teach? [Corrected to read: What lessons does this have to teach about Them?]

It is my sincere hope that others will find these ideas worthwhile enough to at least think about. It is my dream that some may find in them some nugget of truth, and perhaps be moved to expand upon it, to deepen our theological discourse and contribute to the growth of our faith with their own particular wisdom.

So may it be.

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6 thoughts on “Notes towards a “natural systems theology” – part 4

  1. Feral Boy

    > the Demeter honored in Sparta is not the same as the
    > Demeter of Corinth, to paraphrase an old saying, …

    This is why I despair of those who espouse the “one god fits all” paradigm … and who are either dismissive, or actually militant about it. There is a natural variation in the aspects of the gods perceived by a culture, at a particular time, and also between every single one of us.

    My view of the Mother, or family in general, is very different from yours, given our different upbringing. My Forest is a shrine and refuge; my friend might see it as the lair of all things venomous and poisonous. The Shadow can shelter you, or conceal danger from you.

    I welcome all other views (at least those that aren’t a threat to my wellbeing!), and cherish those with whom I may share the view to the greater realities that I have found.

    — Feral Boy

  2. executivepagan Post author

    Well, that’s a whole other level to discuss.

    It has occurred to me that, by process of simple extension, one could proceed up the chain of complexity to a monistic Godhead, and so wind up (more or less) right back where Hartshorne did. At this point I know of nothing in natural systems theology that would preclude the possibility – and indeed, for those who are monistically or monotheistically inclined, it would still provide an additional mandate for “creation care”. (I also find this compatibility somewhat reassuring, both that perhaps I am on a valid track, and because it still fits with the ecumenical orientation of this blog. There’s nothing here, I think, that would bother a monotheist who is not already offended by “pure” process theology.)

    I didn’t go there in this series, mostly because of my gut feeling that the further up the chain you go, the more abstract and purely theoretical it all becomes. NST is, for me, a very *practical* theology in the sense that it provides a framework for understanding my lived experience, and for considering how I should be in the world.

  3. Ephy

    I just finished reading all four parts in the series and may I say how impressed I am by the thought that went into it and by the clarity of the writing style.

    I might describe myself as a monistically inclined polytheist. I’m trying to expand my polytheism a bit by opening my mind to the possibilities, rather than living in the theoretical spaces that focusing on monism (only) brings.

    There are two books that I can think of that are a pagan exploration of process theism.

    She Who Changes

    Hidden Circles in the Web

    The first one I’ve read, the second one I haven’t. I enjoyed “She Who Changes,’ but it definitely falls into the abstract and theoretical category, but then that’s the nature of process thought. :)

  4. executivepagan Post author

    Thanks for the kind words and the recommendations! I’ve heard a little about the first book, but the second is new to me… sounds like I’ll have to check them out.

    Thanks for reading,
    Erik

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