Eric Giunta
No, "Mother Earth" is not "pagan"
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By Eric Giunta
October 23, 2019


Neo-traditionalist "Catholic" furor over alleged "idolatry" taking in place in Rome in connection with the ongoing Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region reached a fever pitch earlier this week, when vandals stole several indigenous Amazonian representations of a pregnant woman from the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina and cast them into the Tiber. The thief (or thieves) recorded the stunt in a video subsequently uploaded to YouTube, titled "Pachamama idols thrown into the Tiber river!"

Anyone who has spent an appreciable amount of time in religiously-oriented social media circles knows that the most vocal Christians (in this case, Catholics) are usually the most philosophically, theologically, historically, and culturally illiterate. (Alas, the same tends to hold true in political forums.) The recent manufactured outrage over "Pachamama" (a South American Earth goddess) is no exception.

This latest manufactured outrage began with right-wing Catholic reaction to a prayer service held in the Gardens of Vatican City on October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, in anticipation of the synod's formal opening two days later. It was at this ceremony that the images in question first made their appearance. As Catholic author Pedo Gabriel explains:
    The high point of the ceremony, as the Vatican press release shows, was the planting of a holm tree from Assisi as "a visible sign of integral ecology" and to consecrate the upcoming synod to the protection and intercession of Saint Francis. There was also prayer and preaching, as well as a very interesting and moving segment where soil from the Amazon and other places on the planet (symbolizing a host of social problems worldwide) was added to the place where the tree was going to be planted.

    Papal detractors on social media have, however, chosen to focus their attention on a five-minute segment at the beginning of the ceremony, where some indigenous leaders perform a ritual that that they interpret as being pagan in origin.
I will not recapitulate Gabriel's two essays here, but they are well worth one's read, as he appears to be literally the only Catholic author who has taken the time to watch the entire video of the hour-long ceremony, break it down into its constituent elements, and address each of the baseless "syncretism" charges thoughtlessly leveled by the critics.

In short, while it is unclear whether this indigenous icon of a pregnant woman is a representation of Mary, Mother of Jesus, or whether it is a symbolic, personified representation of "life, fertility, [and/or] Mother Earth," there is literally no evidence that this image represents a pagan deity, let alone the notorious "Pachamama" of right-wing Catholic imagination. According to all the available evidence, these images (and others displayed alongside them) are mere representations of Amazonian culture, being displayed in churches and at prayer services during the synod to represent prayers for the work of the synod fathers, for the Amazonian peoples, and the Church's mission to them, not qualitatively unlike the way Catholics and Pentecostals regularly and spontaneously pray for people and their intentions while holding or viewing a picture of them.

Confronted with the lack of evidence of express idolatry, the neo-traditionalists have resorted to claiming that the very personification of Earth or Nature as "Mother" is inherently pagan. Even the normally lucid Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has asserted that "'Mother Earth' . . . is a pagan expression. The earth comes from God and our Mother in faith is the Church."

A man as well-educated as the eminent Cardinal Müller really ought to know better than to engage in false dichotomizing. It does not logically follow that because the Church is our "Mother in faith" par excellence that no other created entity can be called "Mother" in any other metaphorical sense. In fact, orthodox Christians have for centuries referred, verbally and artistically, to the earth as "Mother,," without anyone batting an eye. This is because while our pagan ancestors all worshiped the earth as a female deity, we monotheists do not, so when we refer to the Earth as "Mother," we do not mean this literally. We commonsensically regard such language as anthropomorphic.

Speaking of, or representing, the Earth in this way is nothing new to Christians, even if otherwise legitimate outrage over Pope Francis's varied dissents from Catholic dogma have caused many in his flock to have (or pretend to have) short memories. . . .

Catch the rest of the story over at Eric Giunta's blog, Laboravi Sustinens!

© Eric Giunta

 

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