This just kind of makes me go ARGH. I think Lon has nailed it on the head, and I’m trying not to throw my hands up and give up.
If the response to a technical clarification is an emotional outburst, no amount of clarifying the technical terms will assuage the emotional problem. But no amount of emotional outburst will actually change the need for the technical clarification, either. So you’re at an impasse.
As a religious scholar, words like “Pantheism” and “Panentheism” mean very different things to me. “Monism” is very clearly different from “Monotheism”. But to people who aren’t familiar with all these words, “Monotheism” and “Monism” sound interchangeable, and the difference between “Pantheism” and “Panentheism” is hard to understand. “Polytheism” seems really straight forward to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s straight forward to anyone who isn’t used to it as a technical term. Where does Polytheism end and Syncretism begin? Or do they overlap? Is one required for the other?
It wouldn’t be that hard to write up a glossary, but if what Lon is saying is true, I’m not sure a glossary is the only thing missing.
Still, I should write up a glossary soon, just for the sake of having it, I suppose…
[Edited to add] This may need some clarification:
I’m not saying it’s stupid to HAVE an emotional outburst, I’m saying that it’s frustrating to realize that the problem one has been trying to solve isn’t the problem the other person is actually having. Part of Lon’s point, and part of my realization, is that the difference here is that what is to someone like me a technical term, is to other people an identity label.
Moreover, that identity label: “Polytheist”, has become equated so consistently with another identity label: “Pagan”, that there is confusion when someone points out that the movement of Paganism encompasses a much wider range of theology than the term “Polytheism” encompasses, and that many people who are indeed “Pagan” are not necessarily accurately described with the technical term of “Polytheist”.
But for people who equate the two as identity labels, trying to say “No, the beliefs you describe aren’t polytheism” or even “the beliefs you describe ARE polytheism, but they’re not the only form.”, it feels like being told, “You aren’t YOU. You’re not allowed to think you’re you anymore.” and that’s incredibly threatening.
Naturally, that leads to a very strong emotional response. Moreover, it leads to a very strong emotional response that can’t be assuaged via clarification of the technical terms alone. Which means any attempts so far that have been grounded in clarifying the terms have be nearly useless, because they’re not addressing the underlying problem of people feeling threatened around major identity labels by which they define themselves, their lives, and their experiences.
That’s no small thing – and it means we have a LOT more work ahead of us than I thought we had when this all started.
Recently, I was interviewed on the This Week in Heresy podcast. (You can listen here) The first few of comments to the interview are in, and they’re enlightening.
To sum up some of my points in the interview, I said that we can have a solid spiritual communtiy dispite differing theologies if we can communicate clearly and without judgment about our spiritual expereinces. Key to this is having defined terms with which to do this communicating. Polytheism means the worship of many gods, duotheism means the worship of two gods, and monism means the worship of a single divine entity, experienced (perhaps) one small part at a time. None of these are better or worse than the others (if the gods want to reveal themselves to me as many and to someone else as one, I’m not going to tell them to do otherwise), but they are different, and…
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