I am not “secular modern”

There are times it’s really funny being an academic. I have noticed over the years that there is the assumption (from other academics) that we are all “secular moderns.” This is not the case, not at all, in theology but it generally is in history and I’ve encountered exactly that terminology (“secular modern”) again and again.

For instance, I was sitting in a history class a few weeks ago right next to our professor. He’s great and the class is a lot of fun but he made a comment that began innocently, “as secular moderns…” and I just growled under my breath to which this gentleman (and I use that term in the most positive sense: he was a very gracious gentleman) immediately reevaluated “well, most of us. I am at least …” and went on with his comment. I appreciated the reconsideration immensely because it’s not the first time, nor the second, nor the tenth that I’ve encountered that assumption and I think it makes a difference not just to how we approach material but also to how we comprehend the motivations and practices of religious people that we’re studying. Not to mention erasure of experience is never good and never serves academic inquiry however innocently that erasure may occur.

We should of course interrogate our automatic biases, question our approaches, and evaluate our integrity consistently and honestly but we should be working with our whole selves not cutting off the most important part of who we are as human beings just to get a job done. No, I am not a secular modern and in one of the beautiful ironies of being a polytheist haunting the halls of academe, I think most of my colleagues in theology, most of whom belong to staunchly monotheistic faiths, would say exactly the same (I know some of them would at least, because several of us have had precisely this conversation).

It is irritating the assumption that we are divorced from religious practice simply because we are educated.  The academic world is space that for thousands of years was not only defined by religion but was in fact, created by it. Polytheists: philosophers, scientists, educators, and thinkers developed not only schools and methods of pedagogy, but the intellectual agora of their time and Christians and later Muslims adopted and continued this process (perhaps, I will grant, with a little less in the way of free thinking and exploration at certain points in history). Jewish communities had always had, as far as I know, strong cultures of learning.  There would have been no scientific revolution without deeply devout thinkers and library shelves of great literature would be empty. Far from culling one’s intellectual acumen, being deeply rooted in one’s religious tradition, in devotion to one’s Gods, is a logical outgrowth of a proper education and it is precisely one’s devotion that inspires and challenges one every moment of every day to use those gifts, most especially the intellect, that those Gods have given. The main difference between secularists and the rest of us is that our work is rooted in humility, the knowledge that just because we have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean we perhaps ethically and morally should, and an immense gratitude. It is rooted in awe and respect. It is rooted in a sense that there is a purpose to the underlying scaffolding of creation, and most importantly of all that we are connected to something far greater than we shall ever be and perhaps even answerable to those Powers.  

I work at a university whose motto is ad maiorem dei gloriam– for the greater glory of God. (I will admit whenever I see it, in my mind I usually change the dei to deorum lol unless I’m thinking of one specific God like Odin or Mani at the moment I walk inside). When I walk into our theology building, that motto is inscribed on a huge carpet right inside the entrance and this is good. There is comfort in that reminder of what our ultimate purpose is, of what it is –our Holy Powers—who undergird everything that we do within those walls (and without for that matter). I like the reminder. It centers me. It restores my focus. It allows me a split second to reorient myself and to remember that there is not a single place I shall ever go where my Gods are not. Every single thing that I do should in some way glorify Them, every thought, every moment every action. This is what it means to live a connected, engaged, spiritually rich and fulfilling life. We bring our Gods with us and They open up the mysteries of the world for our exploration. The whole of learning is a conversation with our most beloved Holy Powers. The whole of learning is a long, extended moment of devotion.

I’m not secular for one very important reason:  because that implies that there is a space somewhere where the Gods are not. I do not believe such a thing is possible. I’m not modern because that would accept this idea of deity-privative space as good. I do not think it is. For those sputtering about how we have such amazing technology as moderns, yes, we do and so did our polytheistic ancestors. The Greeks had steam engines for Gods’ sake, and the Romans flushing toilets, to give but two exempla. Technology is not something that just existed in the unhallowed halls of modernity nor is the problem with “modernity” or “post-modernity” or whatever you want to call it (they’re all slippery and inaccurate concepts) technology and science. Rather, the problem is the way we frame ourselves in relation to the world. The corollary to secular-modern then, is a reorientation of our purpose as thinkers. Instead of building up the world so that it reflects the Gods Who made it, we deconstruct. Instead of approaching our insights and work with humility, we have hubris (especially in the area of science). We no longer see the inherent connection not just between us and a world that is wondrous and full of Gods, but between each other too.

The argument of course is that religion has no place in the public sphere and I disagree. I think intolerance for or violence over another’s religion has no place in the public sphere but that is a different thing all together. I welcome the richness and multiplicity of perspective that happens when I’m sitting in a classroom with two orthodox deacons, a pacel of Jesuit seminarians, a Coptic monk, an atheist, a Unitarian minister, some random Catholics, and me with the class being taught by a devout Anglican (to give but one example of one particular class breakdown). If we are honest about where we’re coming from and the forces that have shaped our perspective and perceptions, fruitful and fulfilling dialogue can occur. It is in fact possible to be honest and openly devout without shitting on someone else’s religion. Instead, we find common ground in the acknowledgement of our devotion. Then we get down to the intellectual work at hand.

I need to wrap this up, though there is in fact more I would say on the matter. I’m currently attending a conference at an Augustinian university where I am sure I’m the only polytheist presenting. The conference focuses on theological currents in patristics, the medieval period, and the Renaissance and yesterday I gave a paper on Charlemagne’s butchery of the Saxons where I discussed forced oblation of Saxon children by the Franks. It was well received and the questions gave me insight into the next part of this project. In about twenty minutes I’ll be attending a panel on Apocalyptic narratives in the Roman and Byzantine worlds. In each case I come away enriched and in each case I come away with a thousand questions that further my own work; and yes, for those of you who are wondering, I’m completely open here as a Heathen.

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 October 19, 2019, in academic work, Lived Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Great post. My wife runs into this sort of thing even in the medical field. That panel about the Apocalyptic narratives in the Roman and Byzantine worlds sounds really interesting. I’m curious about what the differences may have been.

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  2. Although I am not an “academic” I sure appreciate education and philosophy, the sciences and all they entail. What I really appreciate in this thoughtful essay is your phrase, “I’m not secular for one very important reason: because that implies that there is a space somewhere where the Gods are not.” When I teach these days, I put forth the idea that everything is sacred and holy, and if people see it as NOT, it is because they lacking the perception to view it that way. I may lack an academic’s awareness of the history of the Gods, but I live with Them every day, in the winds, in nature, in the storm. I don’t know if I emphasize devotion as thoroughly as you do, but I have a burning desire to remain in Right Relationship with Them, as They are teachers, allies, and open the doors to the deepening of my own spirit. That said, thank you for continuing to be such a prolific writer in expression of your own experience in these thought provoking ways that put forth the potential for enlarging the rest of us in our own practices.

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  3. Wyrd Things are so cool….”…he made a comment that began innocently, “as secular moderns…” and I just growled under my breath to which this gentleman (and I use that term in the most positive sense: he was a very gracious gentleman) immediately reevaluated “well, most of us. I am at least …” and went on with his comment. I appreciated the reconsideration immensely…” …you have no idea how this validates my experiences from these past two weeks…
    Hail to the Lordly Ones
    Hail to the Holy Ones
    Hail to My Ancestors of Birth and Blood and Choice
    Thank you…I needed this to ease my own anxieties…
    Thank you, Galina, for being the vessel through which They worked to send this message to me…and for posting it publicly.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Beautifully expressed. . . Some twenty-odd years ago, when I identified as a Pagan-influenced Swedenborgian Christian I spent two years in an MDiv. program at an ecumenical seminary at a Jesuit school. I was prepared for being on the receiving end of pitchforks (Swedenborgians are sometimes viewed as heretics, and I was the first in this school, not to mention my Pagan leanings), but all I received was respectful, sincere interest about the differences in my faith and theology. I loved being part of a community in which both devotion and intellectualism were honored. I eventually left the program because I realized I was too much a Pagan for a school designed to “prepare men and women for positions of Christian leadership” — but that was my decision, not rejection by the community. I still miss participating in an intellectual/devotional community. For me, being in those classrooms and discussions was an experience of worship.

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  5. “I’m not secular for one very important reason: because that implies that there is a space somewhere where the Gods are not. I do not believe such a thing is possible.”

    Great post Galina! Have you heard the locution: “VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT.” It was carved in the entrance of Jung´s house in Switzerland. In English translation, the inscription reads: “Called or not called, the god will be there.”
    I do translate it inside my heart as “Called or not called the Gods will be there”

    Im not a Jungian myself but I found these words to be effective against secularism. He found it in an Erasmus’s collection of Adagia (XVIth cent.). Jung had acquired a copy of the 1563 edition of Erasmus’s Collectaneas adagiorum, a compilation of analects from classical authors, when he was 19 years old.

    Kind regards

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    • Thank you for reminding me of that quote, Vanessa. I had heard it ages ago and …yes. lol. absolutely yes. Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit. (though i might again shift that to vocati atque vocati dii aderunt. 🙂 )

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      • Yes! And that “vocati atque vocati dii aderunt” brings some consequences too. The presence of the Holy can bring wonderful experiences as awe, deep love, trust, but it can also be a terrifying experience that puts your whole life upside down. Gods are Powerful Beings. That´s why secularism is so widespread, it is -sometimes- easier to burry one´s head in the mud (as the proverbial ostrich does).
        On the LOL side of the quote it reminds me of the apparent capriciousness of some Gods, I can paraphrase the quote as “called or not called this particular God will Do as He Pleases and when He Pleases.” Cause He Can, of course.

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