marilyn nelson on magic, alliances, and God

marilyn nelson’s recent interview on on being was amazing.

among many things, she has explained to me why i have so much hostility towards the majority of mainstream christianity in america. it comes down to the magical mental vs the alliance mentality. see the transcribed section of the interview below.

essentially, she believes that people have one of two mentalities about God. the magic mentality believes and acts as if God is “out there.” the alliance mentality acts as if God is in us and the world.

as soon as she said it, it hit me: i have an extreme aversion to the magic mentality. almost every religious space i’ve ever been in has a magic mentality. God is always “up there” or “out there,” “responding (or not” to our requests and beliefs and ideas, etc. and it feels fake and contrived and silly. because things don’t always go like we believe or expect. and then people play all these logic games about why this thing or that thing didn’t happen like we thought it should, but it’s still God.

but alliance mentality recognizes that we “know God by loving,” because God is in us and around us and between us and in the world. we are God (note that this is different than being gods). some of my favorite biblical texts (like that verse about being the hands and feet of Jesus) are in alignment with this. and also, when Jesus said “I am one with the Father,” maybe he meant us to recognize that we were, too. maybe.

i also like the alliance mentality better because it puts responsibility on us. we can’t just do shitty things (like the crusades and other colonizer moves) when we believe that God is us manifest. or at least, we shouldn’t be able it if we really believed it.

there are also some interesting connections to lauren olamina’s earthseed religion, but i don’t have time today to go into that now. maybe another day.

so many spiritual connections these days. i wonder if we’re (being ross and me) getting closer to that vision he had of us…


##transcript section:

MS. TIPPETT: Here’s another — here’s one — I want to ask you about this, another poem you wrote about him. “Abba Jacob said: / There’s a big difference between / the mentalities of magic and of alliance. / People who spend their lives searching for God have a magical mentality: / They need a sign, a proof, / a puff of smoke, an irrefutable miracle. / People who have an alliance mentality / know God by loving.”

I’m really intrigued by that phrase, “an alliance mentality.” What do you mean by that?

MS. NELSON: I think people who have a “magic mentality” believe that God is something out there that we have to find to connect with and people who have an “alliance mentality” know that God is inside of us and in our connections with each other and with the world, that God exists within and between, not exterior to us, but within us and between us. I think that’s what he was trying to say.

MS. TIPPETT: So we are allied with whatever God is.


MS. TIPPETT: And with everything we’re part of.

MS. NELSON: Yes. There is no separation. We are a part of God. That’s — isn’t that the ecstatic experience? We recognize that. And some people know that just naturally. Other people have to learn it.

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