Saturday, July 2, 2016

I'm not one of those lucky (or unlucky?) ones who have had a direct experience of the divine or supernatural. I've never, as far as I could establish, seen a ghost or had a vision of something "beyond". For me, then, talking about God is automatically talking metaphor. I tend to think, whether because of inborn personality or upbringing, that someone(s) or Something is out there, and also maybe "in here," but I don't claim to know. I don't believe it's possible for me to know, beyond a doubt, though circumstances of my life might from time to time make me suspect things which are statistically unlikely are happening.

The most conventional metaphor, at least in the West, is God, capital G, somehow or other "male," if gender makes sense for spirit. The most conventional view among westerners is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all talk about and worship the same God and that other beliefs are wrong, or at least different. The consensus in Hinduism, as I understand it, is that polytheism is in fact a kind of literary convention, that behind the many is the One. But Westerners are unlikely to grant that that One is the same as YHWH, that Hindus (a term that Hindus don't generally like) don't worship the same God. Buddhists are divided--some believe there is no divinity at all; others believe in many gods or demons or spirits of one sort or another. And other beliefs posit other explanations for life.

Oddly, since I was raised in fundamentalism, I am most attracted to polytheism as a metaphor and explanation for the wild diversity of life and experience. I don't mean to imply that I actually "believe" that there is an Apollo or a Re behind the appearance of the sun, or an Artemis of the moon, but rather that this method of interpretation is more graspable for me, more sensible, more logical even, as a way of approaching our confused and conflicting feelings as humans, and even such recurring questions as why bad things happen to good people, and vice versa; why horrors like the Holocaust are allowed; how God can be both omnipotent and loving. The disagreements and tussles among the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology feel more keyed to what happens on earth than the image of an omniscient, omnipotent omniphile who nonetheless seems mostly to have stepped away, like the Deists' great watchmaker. If I lived in India, I would probably be perfectly happy going to the local temple to chant and leave offerings, but doing so here, in this land so foreign to Hinduism, seems wrong for a non-Indian, for someone who would have to come as an outsider and interloper and convert, someone wanting to grab onto what belongs to someone else. I'm suspicious of conversion which somehow feels too self-willed, too bald-faced an attempt to remake an essential core: I'm not saying it's inauthentic for others, but would feel so for me. The Greek stories, though, feel like mine, feel like a part of my heritage, feel like a making sense of the universe which has always been there for Westerners, which lies behind the very heart of our understanding of life and the universe. They feel like home. Hey, Zeus!

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