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The question of cultural appropriation has, once again, reared its ugly head on Tumblr, with well-intentioned accusations being made (mainly by anons) against both the Chapel and several Filianic Tumblr bloggers. It is an issue I have addressed before in various settings, but I think it may be warranted to make a more permanent statement of what are, in my mind, the two key points.

First, I suspect that many of these criticisms arise from a simple lack of information about the history of the Filianic religion. In fairness, that history has not been well publicized and one has to do a lot of independent, original research to put it together. The 4th edition ECE, due for release next month (Dea volente), will include a significant appendix laying out at least the basics. In the meantime, what has to be remembered is that Filianism emerged out of Roman Catholic Marian devotion, inspired by both Marian visions that the Church did not accept and reinterpretations (which these prompted) of previous, widely-accepted visions (most especially that at Lourdes). To suggest that Filianists are “appropriating” Marian imagery or terms (many of which were taken from still older religions and cultures in the first place) in their devotions is thus like suggesting that Roman Catholics are appropriating Hebrew Scripture by interpreting the Old Testament, or that Protestants are appropriating Roman Catholicism by wearing clerical vestments. That isn’t appropriation; it’s just having a heritage. One might as well accuse me of appropriating my mother’s eye colour.*

Second—and this is perhaps the still greater point—cultural appropriation is only a valid charge in respect of things that have their origin in particular human cultures, such that the correctness or authenticity of their use may be appropriately judged against the benchmark of some particular culture’s use of them. The concept is fundamentally inapplicable to anything revealed. This is a major reason, for example, why it is not customary to accuse Muslims or Bahá’ís of “appropriating” the figure or sayings of Jesus, or the stories of Moses and Noah. If one takes at all seriously the idea that these represent divine communications to humanity, they cannot be “owned” by a culture; they belong to those who draw closer to God by them, and any charge of mis-use is not a cultural question, but a theological dispute. The only possible criterion of valid “ownership” of the Exodus story, for example, would be which of the religious traditions understands it in the fashion closest to what God intends, and I hope that most of us—including those who may feel a solid sense of conviction about some answers they have found—have the humility not to invalidate others’ religious heritage in the course of civilly disagreeing with their theology. It is a fundamental assertion of Filianic teaching that the archetypal symbols underlying Marian depictions are, like Scripture, revealed. One may credibly feel that Filianists’ thealogy is in error and that we misinterpret those symbols (indeed, any orthodox Christian would be obligated to think so), but to accuse us of cultural appropriation is, at best, a misleading euphemism and, at worst, a disingenuous obfuscation of the real issue. The correct name for the accusation being made is heresy. I’m happy to have that debate (in an amicable fashion), but it is one that will proceed on very different grounds than a discussion of cultural contexts and origins.

 

*The question of Hindu images in Filianic circles is admittedly more complex, but the use of these is known to have originated with Filianic converts who came from Hindu backgrounds and who made the case that these images were analogous to Marian images in the West as divine self-revelations—a position very much in keeping with the view of many Shakta Hindu groups in India (where, conversely, one can sometimes find images of Mary being used in Shakta contexts).