Over on Déanic Tumblr, there have been quite a few questions posed lately on what is permissible or impermissible in our religion. There has been a general reticence to give very definite replies, which is understandable and appropriate. The Chapel and the Daughters both routinely recuse themselves in such cases, noting that they are not ecclesiastical authorities and thus not empowered to formally set rules or interpretations for faith communities. The same could be said, at this time, about most (probably all) of us. Certainly, no one should represent themselves as some kind of Filianic pope whose word is law for Filianists. Discretion is here, more often than not, the better part of valour.
There is, however, a practical sense in which it can help others and ourselves to clarify which acts are broadly consonant with the teachings of our faith and which are not. It has been rightly pointed out that Filianism is not a legalistic religion, and instead promotes a virtue ethics; still, both the faithful and outsiders will invariably have doubts about which actions are aligned with those virtues and which are not. If that were not so, our foremothers would not have written hundreds of pages over more than forty years addressing a wide range of cultural, psychological, political, economic, and other issues from a Filianic perspective. This is especially important now that most of us, in addition to being generally “modern”, were actually born in the decades of darkness, and so are even less able to rely on many of our reflexive ways of reasoning than were our foremothers’ contemporaries.
I am known to be an advocate for a rigorous discipline of Matristics—study of the writings of our Madrian, Aristasian, and Chelouranyan foremothers and reliance upon their teaching as a guide for the practice of the faith. They did not always agree on all issues, and they certainly did not address all issues, and this leaves wide spaces open where contemporary Filianists may engage in the liberty of courteous and informed discussion, and even dispute. Even regarding issues about which I have strong personal opinions, I have affirmed the principle that, where our foremothers left us no clear direction or teaching on a given topic, any position which can argue a sound case from the Scriptures and the Matristic record may be considered perfectly orthodox.
Lately, however, I notice that there is a reticence to make statements of a definite Filianic “position” even on issues where our foremothers appear to have established clear precedent, apparently for fear of being exclusionary. When it is suggested that our tradition prohibits or discourages X, it seems to be treated as a counterargument to say that a person who does X can still be a Filianist.
These statements, however, are not opposed. To say that X is discouraged, or even outright condemned, by Filianic teaching does not imply that someone who does X cannot be a Filianist. I scratched my head a long while over why people kept seeming to leap to this conclusion, until it occurred to me that a majority of Filianists come from cultures in which Protestantism is the dominant religion, especially Anglicanism and its historical derivatives. At crucial moments in its history, the Anglican tradition was heavily influenced by the teachings of John Calvin, most famous for his theory of predestination—in simple form, that all human beings had been assigned by God either to heaven or hell before the world even began. Calvinists were very conscious of themselves as the “elect” whom God had chosen, and so were quickly faced with the difficulty of explaining those who had returned to Catholicism or otherwise rejected Calvinist practice (this was an especial issue in England, since the Anglican church never fully embraced Calvinism and continued to harbor large numbers of people sympathetic to Roman Catholic teaching). Their solution was the doctrine of the “Perseverance of the Saints”, which held that those whom God had called would endure to the end, and that if someone did not, this was proof that they had never truly been elect in the first place.
The theology behind this has some subtlety, but the popular understanding of the doctrine quickly descended into a hyperjudgementalism in which people assumed that they could determine someone’s salvation (or lack thereof) by the blamelessness (or lack thereof) of their life. Where Calvinism was strong (as among certain factions in England) it was often de facto the case that someone committing a sin was revealed as unelect, and thus beyond the purview of God’s love.
This idea has powerfully influenced Anglo-Saxon culture (particularly in the United States). I hope it goes without saying that there is no comparable concept in Filianism, but it must be mentioned that there isn’t a comparable one in Catholic/Orthodox Christianity, either. Back in the fourth century, there arose the Donatist controversy, in which some Christians (the Donatists) argued that those who had denied being Christians during the Roman persecutions were sinners who had placed themselves outside the salvific protection of the Church. St. Augustine, in response, reminded them that St. Peter himself had denied Christ three times, and argued that the Church was not meant for saints, but for sinners. The Church, in Augustine’s view, meant nothing if it was not a path of reunion for those who had alienated themselves from God.
We may never know for certain why the Madrians thought so highly of “Sai Paul” as to bestow that high honorific title upon him, but one does wonder if it didn’t have to do with his rigorous defence of the idea that, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is certainly Filianic teaching. Just as “all sweetness is the far-blown scent of Her Sweetness” (1 Teachings 10:15), so too all our transgressions are the reverberation of our first turning from the Mother. In contrast to some other doctrines, Filianism does not hold that we fell away by accident, or descended on a mission, but that we turned “in the infirmity of [our] sovereign will” (Filianic Creed) and “frowned also on the laughter of [the] Mother’s heart” (1 Teachings 8:11)—an action identified with kear itself (v. 8). It was after having committed this ultimate sin that the Daughter gave Her life for us. She did not die to rescue those who were perfect, or even those who were earnestly striving toward perfection, but those who had deliberately turned away from perfection and had spurned the Mother’s joy.
If it is for such as these that our Lady suffered Herself to be slain upon the Pillar of the World, how could any of us imagine to reject them? How could any of us look down upon them while recalling that they are we? Every day, I do a thousand things that are opposed to Filianic teaching—thinking uncharitable thoughts, cutting corners on tasks, engaging in fruitless disputes, and much worse. I am still a Filianist, and God be praised, no one has moved to expel me yet.
Of course those who transgress Filianic teaching are still Filianists. Of course they are still children of Dea. Of course our Mother loves them. If it were not so, the Janyati would be the whole of the Ekklesia. To say that Filianism teaches against X, or even forbids X, does not, and indeed cannot possibly, mean that those who do X are banned by the faith or shunned by the faithful. Even in the strictest interpretations of Aristasian thought, there has never been a caste of untouchables.
It remains important, however, to be clear about our teachings and about their implications when applied to the practical questions of people’s daily lives. It is important for ourselves, so that we may always be spurred toward greater perfection in following our Lady. It is important for outsiders, so that their idea of our faith may be accurate, founded upon our understanding instead of their own imaginings. It is important for those seeking and struggling, so that they are given the clarity that will strengthen them in their resolve for self-improvement and the overcoming of kear. It is important for the whole world, so that whatever small, practical steps may be taken for the restoration of thamë can be taken.
We need not be draconian about any of it. I have always appreciated the approach of the Hassidim to the keeping of the Law. They did not deny any of the 613 mitzvot—the commandments that God gave to Moses. They did not rationalize any of them away, or sublimate their plain meaning to esoteric interpretations (though they certainly appreciated the value of esoteric layers of meaning on top of literal observance). They never for a moment suggested that God’s expectation was anything less than perfect obedience to the whole of the Law, for how could the One Who is Perfect demand anything less? What they did do was to keep firmly in mind that (as the Hebrew Bible so thoroughly and repeatedly attests) God did not love Israel because Israel kept the commandments; rather, the commandments were given because God loved Israel.
Hence, the Hassidim held that the full strictness of the Law in all its multifarious outworkings in daily life could be robustly affirmed without condemning any given Jew to perpetual inadequacy. God demands a perfect obedience, but does not expect us to achieve it completely today. They encouraged their followers to start small, and to choose which and how many mitzvot to keep according to the dictates of their own consciences, between themselves and God, and to grow in their observance as they felt ready. Some would keep hundreds of mitzvot quite scrupulously, while some might keep only a few, and then with far from perfect thoroughness. None was to judge another, for being Jewish was not understood as a destination at which only the tzadikkim (righteous teachers) had arrived, but as a journey with God through the wilderness, in which the steps of all are halting, no matter how wide or narrow the length of their strides.
It seems to me that the Madrians followed a very similar principle. They spurned synthetic fibers. They declared electric lights athamic. Sister Angelina described a television in a house as a “shrine to Irkalla”. They urged Filianists to stop reading the news and to rid their homes of plastic. This, remember, was in the 1970s—the age of polyester and disco lights. As often as these admonitions came, however, there came also qualifiers. If a maid could not cut off popular media entirely, she might reduce it as she could. If she could not rid her home wholly of plastic, she might still remove it where it was practicable. No one, the readers of The Coming Age were assured, was going to be damned for flipping their light switch. The Madrians never saw the Ekklesia as an encampment on the summit of the Holy Mountain, but instead seemed to view it as the safety rope binding those with the least sure footing to the ablest climbers. There was nowhere, not even in the deepest cave at the mountain’s base, where one could not grasp hold of a rope tied, somewhere in the high clouds swirling at the lofty peak, about the waist of all the Heras and Janyati.
Let us not fear, then, to address the concerns with which we and others live in a broken world, or to seek clarity regarding the application of Filianic teaching, for it is not the teaching that is the fiery rose at the heart of the labyrinth, but our Mother, to Whom the teaching but prepares the way. It can condemn an act, but it does not judge the actor, who passes on instead to the final bar where our Lady sits, saying, “Take heart, though you have turned from Her. For She has not forsaken you, neither are Her eyes filled with anger.” (1 Teachings 4:4)