Evolution? – Not Bloody Likely!

I swear I need to avoid email and facebook first thing in the morning. One of these days it’s going to give me a heart attack. Today, I woke up and, as per my norm, grabbed my phone to check my email. I like to know right up front if there are any fires I’m going to have to put out work-wise. Today there weren’t, thankfully, but I did have someone comment on one of the discussions I’m having on facebook that ‘maybe one day we’ll evolve beyond religion.’ Yeah. Nothing like a well-meaning but utterly appalling comment like that to get my sorry, achy, non-morning-person ass out of bed. There’s a lot in that statement that I think warrants both a challenge and a bit of unpacking.

Firstly, I want to say up front that the person who made this statement is a caring, committed person deeply engaged in her community and in social justice. She made this comment in the midst of a discussion about the devastation Christianity had caused and continues to cause to indigenous and polytheistic religions. I believe the comment was made in response to the anger and pain expressed by myself and other polytheists in relation to this. My parsing out this comment should in no way be taken as an attack on the very caring individual to originally made it. It does however, point out an attitude and approach that I often encounter both in certain dark corners of academia and in the interfaith community too, this idea that social and cultural, human evolution must necessarily involve abandoning religion.

My initial response first thing in the morning, before I’d even crawled out of bed, was sharp: I’d rather see us end as a species first before we further abandoned veneration of the Gods and ancestors. We did that once, generally under force, when Christianity swept across Europe. It didn’t go so well. Moreover, as human beings I very strongly believe our purpose, one of them, our duty is to venerate the Gods according to Their wishes and doing so is a joy. It is the natural hierarchy of things. It is what ensures balance and fruitfulness in the world. It is what ultimately brings peace, what the Romans might have called a ‘pax deorum’ the peace of the Gods, the peace, sustainability, and strength brought as a result of maintaining proper reverence for the Gods and ancestors. I would go so far as to say that we are hard wired spiritually for such connectivity. Polytheism, after all, is deeply relational.

So needless to say, it puzzles and concerns me to hear, from many quarters this idea that ‘evolution’ somehow means abandoning religion. Cicero, the great Roman orator and statesman (and probably great pain in the ass to those in power too) defined religion as “being bound to the rites and ways of our ancestors.” He based this on his etymology of the Latin word religio. It’s a good definition from a polytheistic standpoint. I think that part of this pervasive idea that evolution somehow means abandoning religion stems from what my friend Raven once termed “Urdummheit”: the misguided idea that our ancestors were stupid. I mean, we’ve been entrained to assume this. Our addiction to progress at any cost demands it and so does the monotheistic worldview with which we were both raised and educated. I even see it in academia all the time.

The study of religion as an academic discipline evolved in an academy developed and deeply influenced by British colonialism, and the idea that modern, white, Protestant culture was inherently superior not just to native peoples across the globe, but to their own non-Christian ancestors. The idea of a ‘hierarchy of religions’ was introduced, one that at first placed Protestant Christianity at the top, and later agnosticism and/or atheism. The idea that evolution somehow must equal no religion doesn’t stem from any social sense; it comes from our own inability in white Christian culture to comprehend, respect, and leave in peace those indigenous, often polytheist religions that differ from our own monotheistic norm. It comes right out of our racism and prejudice, our ingrained arrogance and sense of entitlement as a culture. It presupposes that our ancestral religions were not effective or good enough and that the hegemony of Christianity was inevitable “progress.” It erases a legacy of conquest, domination, genocide, forced conversion, and brutality. It also erases a polytheistic legacy of reverence, respect, innovation, creativity, and piety.

I see the results of this deeply ingrained attitude all the time even in contemporary polytheisms. I think one of the biggest issues in Heathenry, particularly with our approach to the Gods and our ritual structure, is that we’re ashamed of our ancestors. No one will say that, but we go to great lengths to reinterpret lore in ways that reinforce a very Protestant worldview. This is our norm and what we’re comfortable with. We’re concerned about not being seen as modern enough. I think that devotion is so challenging for so many people precisely because it demands we act in a way that violates that Christian influenced norm. Starting with the Protestant reformation that wanted to drive Pagan elements out of Catholicism, and continuing with the so-called Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, devotion and belief have become passé. It’s ok to be religious provided one’s primary focus is social justice or bettering one’s community but to actually believe in and venerate GODS? Oh, that’s “primitive. That’s un-enlightened. That’s foolish and possibly deranged. We’ve evolved. We know better.” Think I exaggerate? Well, during the course of the various community discussions and debates I’ve seen every single one of those things argued either publicly or privately. Devotion stumps people because it prioritizes the supernatural and we have been taught a casual disrespect for anything that is not concrete and anything that does not prioritize the human ego and sense of its own achievement.

I know I harp on this a lot but it’s something that I don’t think people truly get. No one wants to connect these dots. It is impossible, however, to restore our traditions until we acknowledge and rid ourselves of this internal colonization of the image of God. There’s no moving forward until that happens and that’s a damned uncomfortable process and means leaving a lot of safe assumptions behind. It is essential though. Until we stop looking at ‘evolution’ as moving away from veneration, as abandoning traditional rites, as doing anything other than restoring polytheism in all its glory, we’re fucked. Until we stop being ashamed of how we must look when we engage in devotion, until we stop feeling silly for showing actual reverence, we’re getting nowhere. Until we stop pulling the Gods and our religions down to our level, dispensing with not only protocol but simple respect, until we stop insisting publicly that ‘we don’t really believe in the Gods, it’s a cultural thing” we’re spinning our wheels in the mud of two thousand years of Christian indoctrination.

I was having a conversation with a colleague a couple of days ago and I asked her ‘ what is so damned difficult for people to understand about “polytheism?” The meaning is right there: poly- many, theoi-gods. Her answer was insightful. She said that people don’t think much beyond the many gods part to the fact that acknowledging the Powers in such a way changes practice. It has an effect on everything else. She’s right of course, and this to me seems so obvious that it would never have occurred to me to state it so clearly. Of course the way we view the world has an immediate and powerful effect on our lives, our practice, our actions, our ethics, everything. Well, so does the opposite: having been raised monotheist does too and often in ways we don’t realize. The great anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu once said that ‘culture goes without saying because it comes without saying,’ meaning that we have an entire body of responses and unconscious assumptions and beliefs about the way the world works, including religion, created by the culture in which we were raised. There’s no escaping this. This is precisely what we’re tasked with challenging.

We’re tasked with challenging ourselves every day to root out the influences of monotheism, to root out the creeping monism that so often threatens to replace polytheism (because it’s just one step away from monotheism, folks.), to root out the disrespect, the discomfort, the lack of reverence with which we’ve all been raised to accept in the world. Part of the restoration of our polytheisms is the re-sacralization of our world. In all possible ways large and small we must bring the sacred back, and that means bringing back awareness and a cultivation of personal piety.

Maybe what we do need is a good dose of Roman religion, but I sure as hell don’t mean Christianity!

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on May 31, 2015, in Polytheism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This is a great article and I agree on all counts. Thank you for addressing the elephant that’s in the room with a lot of pagans these days, and that so few will address due to how it isn’t ‘politically correct’ to do so.

    I’ve never understood the monist approach, not people’s need to ‘water down’ the gods in a way that suits them.

    Another thing I see that baffles me at times is the idea of some new agers that humans ‘carry the same divine spark’ as gods and that every single human can one day evolve to the same level of godhood as our gods. Yeah… No. Humans aren’t gods, and while we can spiritually evolve – to say we’re basically the same level and as powerful as gods… Ego trip much? Not sure what’s going through the heads of such people!

    Again, thanks for posting this!

    Like

  2. This post has given me LIFE this morning !

    ” The idea that evolution somehow must equal no religion doesn’t stem from any social sense; it comes from our own inability in white Christian culture to comprehend, respect, and leave in peace those indigenous, often polytheist religions that differ from our own monotheistic norm. It comes right out of our racism and prejudice, our ingrained arrogance and sense of entitlement as a culture. It presupposes that our ancestral religions were not effective or good enough and that the hegemony of Christianity was inevitable “progress.” It erases a legacy of conquest, domination, genocide, forced conversion, and brutality. It also erases a polytheistic legacy of reverence, respect, innovation, creativity, and piety.”

    ^^^This right here is pure gold.You went in deep with this topic, well done !

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Sable Aradia, Priestess & Witch and commented:
    I agree completely.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Animal Rights and the Right to Sacrifice | Gangleri's Grove

%d bloggers like this: