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The Dream Sky Is Weeping Crosses: The Fall of Monocreedism

Craig Chalquist, PhD

I stand just outside my family’s house looking up at the sky in wonder. It is daytime, around noon. Uncounted extraterrestrial ships descend from above, each shaped like a teardrop. The falling fleet fills the bright sky. The underside of each ship bears a stylized Christian cross.

This dream came to me in the early 1970s, when I was eight or nine. It struck with such force that I have never forgotten it. Carl Jung would call it a “big” dream, the kind less about personal concerns than about upheavals in collective consciousness. Our age dreams in us as it unfolds, but its inner signature often goes unrecognized. Even those of us who speak the language of dreams tend to make them personal.

I recently revisited this dream during my studies for my second PhD, this one in Philosophy and Religion. The prompt in part was an insight that the religious fundamentalist obsession with the Apocalypse bears an important truth: Formal religion now faces its End of Days. Especially the patriarchal kind based on a craving for certainty, belief, control, and absolute authority.

Its sky is falling almost as rapidly as religious membership in the United States, that perennially religious nation, where the largest “religious” group is now the so-called Nones, those who are either done with traditional religion or were never interested in it. Yes, the religious Right is surging politically, but its violent volume continues to drive the reflective and reasonable out of religion altogether. Those numbers don’t even account for younger generations fed up with hate speech, bullying, intolerance, and hypocrisy. The revenge of the Nones is at hand.

American theologian Laurel Schneider addresses an important aspect of this fall — and she is not alone — in Beyond Monotheism:

When did the stories of God become a story of totality, of a closed system, of a One? To what corner of human longing does the story of the One belong? As the motors of fundamentalism in all of the religions of One God race on the fuel of battered bodies and broken hearts, the logic of the One chokes on itself like a stone in the mouth.

But monotheism, which occasionally allows the presence of other powers, reflects a more confining dynamic that also fuels the ideology of scientism, if not in science itself: monocreedism, the worldview that One thing must cause or found everything and therefore be more important. It probably started when the first war chief stood on a hill and said: I own this and all of you. Obey me. He then appointed priests to back him up, a lone hero rounding up the sidekicks.

My blog “From Confining to Spacious: Monocreedism vs. Lamplight,” describes monocreedism as a monolithic unity dominating difference and diversity: one God, one dogma, one faith, one master race, one master gender, one ruling class, one nation, one set of invariant laws, and one universal cause or substance behind everything. One standard of normality from which everything and everyone different inevitably deviates.

Doesn’t our best cosmology argue that the universe expands from a very small and singular source? Don’t many religions besides the big three Abrahamics describe how all things come from one Mystery? Of course. Monocreedism is when only the source, or Source, really counts, when all is reduced to it, and when that will to reduce infiltrates entire societies from the top down.

We also see the tire tracks of monocreedism in our cultural overemphasis on the figure of the Hero, going it alone to save us helpless folks, whether policing the world or waving a lightsaber. The hero is no team player. He doesn't collaborate, he commands. The single solution, the master plan, almost always bears the signature of the departing hero, left just before he departs to right wrongs in the next town over the darkening horizon.

When theologians like Schneider and Catherine Keller and others emphasize multiplicity (as my dream seems to do), they are not elevating the Many over the One. That narrowing of alternatives is itself an artifact of monolithic thought. They are valuing complexity, embodiment, relationship, interdependence, conviviality. Liberty. Liberation. The frame moves from egocentricity (with the “I” at the center of everything) to ecocentricity, a lively and interactive plurality of beings.

According to Jung, images of gods can symbolize collective ruling principles. When gods die, as they often do in myth (think of the Norse Ragnarok, or the Aztec transition of the Sun deities, or the Book of Revelation), the big cultural stories they stand behind gradually collapse like giant colorful kites deprived of wind. When the gods and their dramas no longer fire our imagination and propel us into piety, we have moved beyond their stories and the worldviews built from them whether or not we allow ourselves to realize it.

This might sound freeing, but from Jung’s perspective, it is also quite dangerous. Rationalists who fail to grasp that the human psyche spontaneously creates religious symbols and ideas in all times and places naively believe that a world without any trace of the religious would be safer, more rational, and more truthful. They don’t understand that only the altars topple, setting loose the potent presences inhabiting them.

Freed of antiques that no longer hold them, the gods — the ruling principles, the influxes of popular passion, the mysteries that move us, the enduring collective fantasies that power our worldviews— turn into symptoms, quirks, or calamities. Without the yoke of a sanctifying frame, the archetypal forces that pour into art, dream, creativity, obsession, vision, and religion flow into ideologies, fundamentalisms, myths of progress, conspiracy theories, and what Jung called psychic epidemics.

“Where there are no gods,” the poet Novalis wrote, “the phantoms reign.” The phantoms are gods forced by reason to return as isms. The Anthropocene is really the Phantasmacene, the Age of Phantoms roaming the deanimated planet.

Jesus understood this; visionaries often do. His “theology” kept to love of God and neighbor. He offered upgrades without throwing out all tradition. Recall his parable of the man who, freed of a demon, put his house in order. The demon restlessly wandered until realizing that the newly cleaned house looked appealing, whereupon he invited seven of his fellow demons to move back in with him.

Does all this mean we need religion? A religion for our day, preferably post-patriarchal, explicitly humane, and equipped with an updated cosmology? When we glance back down the ancestral halls of time, we always see religion, in every society at every stage, but before ancient Egypt, no sign of formal religion.

Remnants of rituals, yes, and religious works of art, chants, spells, songs, hints of planting practices and cyclical observances. We see ecospirituality, as we would now call it, but no religion organized and hardened into hierarchies. Spirituality permeated the lives of our ancestors so thoroughly that most had no word for it.

Perhaps when we go outside, watch bees work together, and wish we were as harmonious and smart, or allow the night sky to soften the soul, our appreciation imitates the informal piety of people long gone but with us still. People whose stories taught them that every great fall opens a clearing.

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