“Celebrating diversity and variance without losing the balls of one’s own expression”

Posted: December 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

The title of this post is taken from a rambled run-on sentence that I awoke to find scrawled on a yellow note-pad just a little while ago this morning, presumably written down in the wee hours while I was finishing up some work (e.g. drinking Midnight Moonshine and watching the sky make fun colors as morning approached) before crashing out for a nap.

The note reads like this:

“Faith community and concept without compromise of self, without loss, only gain. Polytheism without relativism — PSVL wrote about this?? — and the “many” without the loss of “one”. Celebrating diversity and variance without losing the proverbial balls of one’s own expression of a truth”.

Now, I don’t remember writing this, and I can’t really posit a guess as to what I was thinking of at the time. (There is a good chance that it involved gods, though.) However, on finding it this morning, I went on over to PSVL’s “Queer I Stand” column at Patheos and found the article referenced in my note: “Polytheism is not Relativism“. A lot of important points are made, and e does a good job of summarizing many of my thoughts on religious pluralism, and the linking of theological “manys” to the “manys” of physical and biological sciences. So as I sat sipping my coffee and reading eir article, I asked, “do I have anything to add?”.

Why yes, yes I do.

There seems to be this sentiment in many “progressive” and “diverse” movements and modes of thinking and engaging that relativism (e.g. everything is relative to the cultural or chronological perspectives that bore it into the world, and there are no absolutes, and all things are therefore equal within a relativistic examination) is somehow the best (or even the only) way to actively engage and relate with our own values and devotional or gnosis-born relations. 101 classes on moral theory and ethics in a university’s philosophy department introduce within their curriculum young would-be-scholars to various theories of moral process and procedure, including the concept of moral relativism. This theory suggests that we should consider the context from which a person’s behavior is based before casting moral judgment upon it (and thereby increasing the amount of collective/inter-cultural tolerance to be expected).

Tolerance is great. But acceptance is better.

And that’s my problem with relativism. It is an excellent tool for suspending rash judgment and initial executions of moral absolutism (or theological absolutism, or intellectual absolutism, or sexual absolutism, etc), but it falls wicked short of the mark when it comes to how we navigate our own on-board value systems. By not challenging or debating things that we do not find ourselves agreeing with, we lose the precious opportunities to be introduced to parts of ourselves we didn’t know we had. The oft-quoted Delphic Maxim comes to mind and heart now: “Know Thyself”. Now, I don’t normally quote scripture, for this cannot be done without cherry-picking the parts we like from those that we do not — for example, “Rule thy wife” is another Maxim, if memory serves — but in this instance I think it an important value to set up as “good and important”. Knowing one’s own self, one’s own worth, one’s weight in this world with regard to one’s own moral caliber, social temperance, political maneuverings or hierarchical agilities, is a pretty important thing. Some would even argue, rightly so I think, that a major theme within engagement with the divine Mysteries is indeed to be introduced further and deeper to a more masterful understanding of yourself, through service and engagement with the divine Powers. (No, that doesn’t mean that Mysteries are about “Self > Gods”, but rather, that a relationship is always and ever a two-or-more-way street, even one with clear hierarchical and axial structure.)

My point is that, in my experience and observations, those who over-indulge in (the idea or even facade of) relativistic outlooks basically hide behind a sense of faux-tolerance, as if having judgments or opinions different from the mainstream would be earth-shattering. Similarly in my experience, it WOULD be earth-shattering for a great many people: unresolved personal issues and areas of self-ignorance would come to light, judgments that we cast upon ourselves and then disjointedly project outward at others would rise up and boil stinkily over into the fires of self-evaluation. But I’m all about uprisings and shaking the earth. What is the point of relationship if everything remains static?

And that’s the thing about relativism as it is popularly practiced: its deployment seeks to establish a “static” (artificial) understanding of things. “Tolerance” is in this context and my estimation just another way of saying “Hey everybody, let’s try really hard not to rock the boat, because then we might have to actually do the real work of bringing about change and an increase in knowledge!”. Relativism is a toolset for suspending one’s own judgment in the pursuit of understanding others; it is a FIRST look, a FIRST step, not the whole damn process.

When you look at some DNA pulled from the bedsheets of a murder scene, you do so using various technological means that zoom in real close-like. Microscopes and digital representations and so forth. That’s important. But it is only one step amongst many. The next step may be to have your spatter analyst play cat’s cradle with a bunch of red or white string to pinpoint place of origin for that fluid discharge, or to call in some dogs to sniff out an invisible trail, or to go vigilante and take boots-and-bats to the street to seek out some old-school justice of your own devising. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that there’s a process here, not just one step.

But most people seem to stop at whatever their first step is, and forget that we have a system of sequential numbers specifically to help organizing our thoughts and actions at a rational and practical level so that we don’t become thusly confused and turned around.

Relativism is “Step 1”, and it prevents you from socking a motherfucker in the face with a 2×4 when they say or do something that you don’t like or find moral (or psychological or cultural or theological) dissonance with.

“Step 2” might be “sock the motherfucker in the face with a 4×4”. It might also be “pinpoint origin and trajectory of spatter” if your day to day interactions with people are anything like mine. Or, alternatively, it may be “sit the motherfucker down and pour them some motherfucking whiskey and have a fucking talk about what the godsdamned differences are, so maybe some fucking shit can be learned“.

Because holy shit– learning. That’s a thing. Or at least, I hope it is still a thing. (We still care about learning, right? From people other than ourselves?)

A good place to lob “Step 3” categorization at might be “process and digest” whatever the fuck “Step 2” was, (or in the case of spatter trajectory, wash your hands).

And so on and so forth down through the ages.

But people don’t seem to want steps. They want big-red-buttons that are self-validating and basically masturbatory in their mirrored brilliance. We want to tolerate others only insofar as it makes use feel like the bigger shinier most progressive motherfucker in the playground. We want to share with others only insofar as it makes us feel really fucking charitable or kind or “Christ”-like. Relativistic thought without subsequent other steps/actions/processes is just a bunch of bullshit meant to make us feel collectively comfortable without over-emphasizing the “collective” quality, because then we’d have to face the fact that we as individuals matter a whole lot less than we’re comfortable reconciling. That’s the whole point of collectives, after all.

Or is it?

There seems to be this fear that acknowledging and exploring deeply the meanings of collective dynamic threatens one’s own individual self (which is what all of these BS unconscious “tolerance” bullshitteries are about — preservation of concept of self), rather than helping to emphasis and illuminate the ground on which one stands (and similarly shares with others). Don’t get me wrong; I am not actually saying “let us all be intolerant douchebags”. Instead I am saying, “let’s use relativism, or at least a bit of self-control, to regulate our behaviors toward one another for a period of judgment-and-comfort suspension, in order to actually learn from that thing that we might otherwise be judging the shit out of because of how damnably uncomfortable it makes us feel inside”. Then move the fuck on to “Step 2”, and be sure to wash your hands when you’re done.

Another way of summarizing all of this is that I think the majority of human behavior is completely bullshit and I’m a cynical, critical, socially bastardly idealist who believes adamantly in both absolute unwavering polytheistic devotion to a host of many gods and spirits and forces well beyond human ken, as well as the various systems of human-oriented engagement (in terms of process and mechanics) and I think that it would be fucking great if we fine-tuned our systems of relating and considering and engaging and communing and to fuck with tolerance I think we should work on assessing our true value systems and then beat the shit out of the places they hide within us (rather than projecting that at the poor fucks in the world who remind us that we’re not static absolute machines of perfect functioning fluid working order). Let’s light a whole shit ton of torches and march into ourselves, guided by both gods and by reason and by this wonderful thing called learning in the pursuit always of further learning through the fire-lit and fire-burned self-spelunking that makes even my balls recoil up into the back of my throat because damn we live in a complex world, and there are always stones of vulnerability and frightful response to be overturned inside, if we leave ourselves open (and what is the point of religion and relation if not opening up to something outside of yourself?) to their discovery. Oh and also, though it probably doesn’t sound like, I’m filled with hope for humanity and have a genuine heart-centered love for my species and all the lofty places that it can go, once it finds a basic familiarity with acknowledging the awful places it has already been and in so many cases continues to reside in the present.

We spend so much fucking time and energy hiding from ourselves — and hiding the process of self-hiding under layers of self-deception and misdirection and outwardly projected asshattery and then developed complex systems of relativistic process-nullifying-tolerance-hugs-and-bunny-cuddles — that the only thing that frightens us more than an authentic and uninhibited view of our own true interior landscape is the terrifying reality of our collective (pluralistic, system-relational!) quality as both individuals (who are made of billions of parts, including multiple souls and trillions of behavior-modifying bacteria and so on) and as outer systems and communities. “Poly- means many”, as we polytheists say so regularly to those who seek to apply a reductionist idea of religion or divinity upon our models of faith engagement and devotional piety, but this manifold quality is not limited to the external. Things are a lot more complex in their design and grand architecture than most are comfortable enough to acknowledge, and in that chaotic perfection there is a certain blessed simplicity if you step back far enough and relax your damn eyes and let the Magic Eye poster of it all just come into profound slap-you-upside-the-heart focus.

But what the fuck do I know? I fell asleep drinking moonshine and haven’t finished my coffee yet.


  1. We had a conversation on the road earlier this year, before or after PantheaCon if I remember correctly, in which you brought up most of the points you raised above. I had that conversation in mind when I wrote my Patheos.com post, but didn’t quite get to the points you had here (or, perhaps, didn’t make them as forcefully, which is likely).

    While I did feel good about the eventual positions I reached with several of the individuals who commented and said (effectively) “But I’m a monist! Why can’t you let me be?” the fact that I tried to make the point that there are things I cannot in any way agree with, but I don’t really care what others do ultimately, sort of made the point you are making here regarding tolerance, and the perception that monism offers universal tolerance, I think. Or, maybe not…?!?

    In any case, excellent work, and glad to have you aboard the WordPress polytheistic ship o’ fools!

    • Thanks for the welcome! And yes, I recall our talk(s?) about this and I am fond of both your article’s treatment of the topic and the resulting commentary (epic as it became!), and I do hope that this sleep-deprived rambling wasn’t taken as “corrective” of your piece (but rather meant to compliment and add to what’s already been said).

      Also I am sick to death of the idea that “monism offers universal tolerance”, or any tolerance at all really. I am also, as I think I made clear above, fucking tired of the the idea of tolerance as a grand aim at all. (Aiming for tolerance in social engagements is like a soccer player aiming to get their cleats on in time for the game, rather than actually showing up and playing in it. Sure, it is an important step, but I really think we can do better than just that, if we’re to put foot to green grass and do something useful in our time here.)

      • I didn’t take this as a corrective at all; but, if it is, it is a well-done one that I agree with entirely!

        There was a campaign here in Washington’s public schools in the 90s that was all about “Teaching Tolerance.” In 1998, I started doing counter-presentations, you might say, at college in Spokane saying that tolerance wasn’t and isn’t enough. The reasoning was slightly different, and I was speaking specifically about queer issues in that case, but nonetheless…

        And, indeed, monism seems to tolerate everything, insofar as it is monistic; otherwise, it’s just complaint after complaint after complaint about others not being monistic enough. How “tolerant” is that? Not at all, really…!?!

  2. […] Celebrating diversity and variance without losing the balls of one’s own expression. […]

  3. Daydreamer says:

    Bloody hell this made me grin. Followed with Calvin & Hobbes it made me laugh. I hopped over via a link on http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/. I am not acquainted with any of the large group that all seem to know one another, as far as I am aware, but I enjoy thoughtful and provoking conversation.

    When I was in the service, a small group of us often had some powerful conversations around a fire, beneath the moon, and with a jug of shine from this corporal’s family batch. It didn’t take much until we were all traveling down roads far deeper than intended in the moment. But damn the rawness of it was a beautiful thing.

    Thanks for the memories. And thank you for such blunt, emotional verbage. It calls to the wild places that I find more natural for myself. I am glad to have come across both journals.

    • “It didn’t take much until we were all traveling down roads far deeper than intended in the moment. But damn the rawness of it was a beautiful thing.” That, good reader, is poetry! Thank you for sharing, and thank you for your kind words and enjoyment.

      I am intended this writing space (which is separate from my more refined space elsewhere) for unpolished, blunt, raw, unfiltered wild thoughts, musings, and surgical critiques at large. I am glad that at least some people seem to appreciate the tone and sentiment; it is unapologetically voiced and hopefully can be taken at face value, with no need to infer anything “between the lines”. I like direct statements, even if they’re rambled and whimsically, profanely gamboled in their delivery.

  4. Daydreamer says:

    Pardon my asking what I am about to here, though I do not think you will mind if I have understood correctly what I have been reading of your posts on the W&P site. I ask it here because I do not follow nor belong to the site and I doubt that I will begin to.

    I am paraphrasing, but when you say that the gods contacted you without, well without consent really, and turned your world upside down. How was this done? And more importantly really, as to what I am asking, how did you figure out who it is making the various types of contact?

    Not that I think you will believe so, I am not trying to step on toes, start a debate, or show disrespect in any form. I would just very much like a brutally honest and straight to the point answer and think from what I have been reading you might be the person to ask. If not, I do most sincerely apologize. Thank you.

    • Hi Daydreamer,

      This is a good, but more challenging than you may realize (or intend) question. With regard to how my gods contacted me, “How was it done?”, and “how did I figure out who it was?” are complex questions which, for those without the experience (or study of and exposure to the experience) can be challenging to answer “directly”. It is kind of like asking “How did find out who your mother is?”, or “How did oxygen first contact you?”

      The second part of this is easier to answer than the first. For some people the “who is it?” is very fucking straight forward; for me it was not. I spent years not knowing Them by names. But I was also not bothered by this. Knowing their names came later, and it was a sacred and powerful and transformative revelatory (in the apocalyptic sense of the word) experience. We rely too heavily, as a culture today, on labels and “names”, as if categorizing things in such a way will make them “more real” or “easier” or “manageable”, as if it is a requirement for something to be considered at all. I didn’t have any fucking names for Them. They were my gods. When I found Their names, I had names– it deepened the relationship, as all learning does, but the relationship was already years-founded by that time, and built upon a foundation of experience and engagement.

      When I first encountered the name of one of my gods, it was in a book, by accident. I wasn’t searching, wasn’t eagerly pouring through dusty tomes hoping to find it; it came up by accident, while I was attending to something else, in an altogether inconvenient location for such. The moment that I read Her name, which was the first time I’d knowingly done so, I was struck as if by lightning and a cold wind at once, and thrown back from my chair and against a metal radiator mounted to the wall some distance behind. My chair broke. Attention was drawn. My head was bleeding. Profound, life-changing, literal experience of being lifted off of the ground through a wooden chair and set on fire with the sheer power of that sacred knowledge, which was felt, confirmed, known, and embodied all in one painful, glorious, sacred fucking instant.

      I once found myself having growing, human-ish questions about my relationship with my god Sabazios. I wasn’t doubting HIM, per se, I was questioning my relationship to him: it was more self-doubt than deity-doubt. I needed confirmation, but I knew better than to ask for it. I got it anyway, by way of damage to my ulnar nerve during a sacred ritual process, which was a complete accident. The damage caused my right hand to paralyze. (Ulnar claw: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-8xM5SWT2lJc/TtRw5ER8tXI/AAAAAAAABuI/zf_XureQmmk/s400/7639-150×150.jpg Hand of Sabazios: http://aediculaantinoi.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/pantheistichand.jpg?w=500 See? Confirmation.)

      My hand is functional again after a few months of self-managed physical therapy (I bought text books, as they’re cheaper than going to PT) but at certain points of my devotional year, and in certain ritual contexts, it locks up again, and that is one way that He makes His presence known.

      But the problem with your question (sorry if that sounds judgmental, not intended!) is that it assumes there is a “to the point”, “direct” way to answer. There isn’t. Dealing with Deities is a lot like dealing with firearms, in some cases, in the sense that it can be dangerous, it can be deadly, it can be challenging, there can be problems, and so on. But it is not at all like dealing with firearms when it comes to explaining the “how”. There’s no “and the hammer hits the chambered round, and this causes a combustion which propels…” explanation for direct “contact” with deities, as there is no single mechanical process by which this happens. Sometimes it involves all five senses, sometimes it involves no senses at all, other times it happens in entirely other worlds, and still other times it happens right here in this one through very physical means. Sometimes those means are driven by invisible force or circumstance — the Will of the gods, and all that! — while other times it is driven by a god literally possessing a dumb fuck and slamming steel into your forehead to make a point, like this: https://thracianexodus.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/thracian-equinox-009.jpg

      When my gods claimed me, They did so through a literal physical death. I’d known Them, or some of them, for years prior to that, though namelessly. I knew more spirits than gods, and I interacted with these as regularly and normally as I would interact with a material person. This was true for my entire life. Often they were visible to me, othertimes I could hear them, sometimes I could smell them, sometimes all of these, and frequently there was the impossible sensation of touch even though they were immaterial in our physics-minded definitions. I KNEW them, however, which is the deepest of all the senses, and the least discussed, and always before that I could FEEL them. When my gods claimed me it was through a physical death. I was a corpse. Then I was in a coma. Throughout it all, I was absent from this world, and I was Elsewhere.

      My story in this world fucking stops at the time that I died (and I became a hunk of meat and a part of other people’s story; the story of those who found me, the story of those who transported me, the story of those who found a heartbeat, the story of the hospital, the story of whoever gave me sexy coma sponge baths), and a different story began OUTSIDE of this world. A being with a mighty spear opened the way for me to leave this place through the side of a mountain — not a mythical mountain or a figurative mountain, but a literal geographically near topographically noteworthy cartographically discernable *mountain* — and he held the way for me. I later knew His name to be Sabazios, and I knew that He’d been with me a long time before that. From this world I went someplace else, which I later learned the name of: but that telling is a private, sacred telling, and is not for this space.

      At the end of all that Happened, I was given what was arguably my first and certainly my last real human choice: I could serve there, outside of this world, or I could serve here, returning to it. I really fucking liked sex, and Scotch, and the taste of clove, and my cat, so I took the latter option. The returning sucked.

      For me it was a physical death and a literal sequence of events that took place elsewhere. That’s how I got “claimed”, picked up, “chosen”, for keeps and reals and all that. That is when my “job” began, and new responsibilities and new realities and new revelations and a whole lot of new baggage kicked in.

      It wasn’t about “contact”, in the sense that a voice in my head said “Oh hey there human, I am a god, do you want to work with me? I really like you.” My “contact” was always there, as present as breath, and familiar as gravity. My CONTRACT began with a tangible event, with nothing abstract about it.

      Hope this helps.

      • Thank you for explaining this–even though I’ve heard this in parts over the years, having it all in one place and on one occasion is extremely useful, too.

        The last “set of deaths” I had when I was 15/16, and during which I was clinically dead on a few different occasions (including on Samain in ’91!), was the turning point for me in all of my life, and lead me to my eventual career (if it can be considered such!) and educational path, my creative work, and my religious calling…though not in as direct a fashion as yours did. It took many years to get to the point where I am now with Antinous, as you know…there’s much more to say, but I’ll leave it there for now.

      • Daydreamer says:

        Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough response. As well as for the previous compliment. And yes, I like the blunt, unfiltered wording. A rambling road is often the best one to take in my eyes, its bumps and divets pound the sense into us that our modern “civility” blinds us to. We get to our destination when we’re meant to get there and that’s that. Just how I look at it.

        I am trying to figure out what it is that I want to say in response to your answer. Words sometimes are the last thing to come, after all. I more often speak the language of senses. You gifted me with tears. And still they trail down my cheeks. For I think maybe, just maybe you understand.

        I am not saying that I know your experience. I do not. It is yours and yours alone. I’m saying that to most people what you just wrote makes you sound as crazy as fuck, and the response is rarely kind. Yet you wear it proudly and damn that is beautiful and brave. And no I’m not complimenting in saying that. I’m stating a fact. Most people do not respond well to that type of self acknowledgement, because it is not seen as a possibility much less a reality.

        You have given me more than you know, or maybe you do. I have never been bothered by the not knowing a “name” per say. What I speak of has been a part of my life, just as much as air has been. It’s simply what I know. I did learn at quite a young age, that it isn’t what others know though. Right before, and immediately following my own life or death experience, where I was protected, I dug. I rooted. I searched. I was not a corpse, thankfully but the road to wholeness wasn’t an easy one. Those first steps were a bitch. Really. Things which I won’t go into in such public place out of what I know is fear became stronger, worse, more clear, more complicated. It all depends upon how it is looked at. It got to a point that I couldn’t stand it any longer. Not mentally nor physically. To be driven to the point of questioning your sanity isn’t a “pretty” thing. I’m not talking, “I may be a little nutty.” I’m saying, “Beat me over the head, when did my crazy turn batshit loco?!?” The things I was seeing. The things that happened. What I had handled just fine my entire life scaled to the point that I was having severe anxiety attacks. Thankfully upon learning from an E.R. doctor that no, my heart wasn’t exploding I was just rabid with panic, I was able to get a lid on it through a lot of meditation and self exploration.

        I do not worship. I don’t mean that in offense. Just explaining my own actions. I respect. I acknowledge. Not just throw away words, “respect” and “acknowledge”. I listen and I see. I question. I know. I know. But I do, and that’s ok. If it wasn’t, believe me I wouldn’t be doing it. Now I laugh because an answer just came to me that makes me realize that maybe I was looking at the word “worship” too strictly. Intention. Going to be one of those days.

        I babble.

        Fuck it. This is just a long winded way to say thank you. You told me exactly what I needed to hear. I could ask a million more questions, but that’s just because I never know when to stop. Knowledge is essential. Knowledge has one hell of a sense of humor. Laughter’s a necessity.

        I’ve never known someone who… Forgive me, I keep getting lost in my own thoughts. I have been wondering about something, not important really, but now I know. I have a friend who is no longer on this plain that once shared with me a conversation she had with her guru several decades prior. Seeing the name is a confirmation that what I’m thinking is on the proper track, especially considering the day, which I wasn’t aware of until it popped up on the television immediately following.

        Man there’s some intense love in that recognition. I really don’t know whether to laugh or to cry, so I think I will do both. Thank you.

        With this much joy in my heart, it’s a good time to go bang on some stuff. Maybe what I’ve wrote will make sense. I want to make a joke about sex, cloves, scotch, and a cat but am showing great restraint. Four things many would have a hard time giving up on though, I’d think. On to the hammer.

      • Daydreamer, thank you for your words and for your continued share, and for your thanks, and also for seeming to “get” what I am saying. Your honest use of language-and-sense is uplifting and encouraging, so thank you for that, too.

        I used your question, and my reply, to create an expanded, more rambled version, which you can find here: https://thracianexodus.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/as-brutally-honest-and-straight-to-the-point-an-answer-as-i-can-manage-right-now/

        Note that when I discuss people-as-dicks, judgment, being put on trial, and so forth, I do not mean YOU, but rather, the general questioning voice. I think, given your response here, that you get that– but I want to make sure. You seem to understand the reservation behind answering such questions and sharing such experiences, and I elaborate on that in my lengthier reply. Thanks for getting that bit, too.

  5. A Hindu/interfaith guru I knew, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati (may she be blessed in whatever realms she now wanders) used to rage when anybody used the word “tolerance.” When someone asked her why she hated the word so much she responded that “Tolerance implies I have the right to put up with you.”

    That’s always been my issue with tolerance, or stopping at tolerance, as well. It’s cowardly. It says that a polite distance is somehow an ideal. Yet all that is, is a stalling tactic. Tolerance cannot be the end of any interaction between human beings, even if it is sometimes the only beginning. It must, as you so eloquently express, be a step: a step with a marvelous trajectory (we hope!)

    • Yes, on all of this! Thank you for sharing that quote and story. This is exactly my issue with the idea of “tolerance”. Tolerance means “I don’t have to like or respect you, but look at me, I’m so good, I haven’t set you on fire or banished you or buried you in the yard!”. Tolerance is like a silent, polite threat of an impending dirt nap, for its very nature suggests that it could be taken back or merely withheld at any moment, and that is suspension would be apocalyptic.

      When tolerance gets mistaken for charity or virtue — which is most of the time — we really need to begin reevaluating where we’re drawing our moral centers.

    • Fully agreed, and thank you for recounting the words of Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati–Jai Shri Ma!

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