I’m actually talking religion today! How long has it been since I did that? Damn.
So recently, Jo at Jon Upsal’s Guarden did a post talking about “nice guy” gods. And…I’m not ripping it apparent. Wow, how long has it been since I talked about religion where I wasn’t testing the an*l circumference of someone?
Yeah, I’m a bit thrown myself. Still, I am talking about religion and not ripping people a new one. I will understand if people need to get something boozy to deal with the shock. I’m tempted to do so myself.
One of the interesting takeaways from Jo’s bit is where he sees a certain attitude in the Heathen community:
While there’s a deep chasm between “everyday Asatru” and what might be termed “Deep Asatru“, I confess I see many parallels between these beliefs and a lot of what I see in modern Asatru. All too often I find people writing on blogs or even in person who essentially believe in a Heathen analogue of MTD. I think it comes not as a reaction to Christianity in particular, but as a result of the constant movement of society towards a secular, postmodern, hyper-individualistic form. The Asatru equivalents might be:
- The gods exist who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. (Although this one seems to be negotiable for some people, who see belief in the existence of the gods as optional. Sort of like Anglicanism.
2. The gods want people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught by most world religions, even if that contradicts the surviving written lore and history.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. The gods do not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when They are needed to resolve a problem.
5.Good people go to the dwelling of the god of their choice when they die.
In short, they want “nice guy” gods who make few, if any, demands of them, are there to be a source of comfort and problem-solving, but who otherwise don’t get in the way of everyday modern, consumerist, life.
(sorry for the formatting.)
All in all…this is not an unfair assessment. While Jo certianly has more RL experience with Heathens than I do, at least in the online community this seems to be fairly true, and it extends beyond Heathenisms borders into other Pagan religions. Hel, parts of it are so true that they’re a foundation of why I tend to have so many issues with other Pagans (and have spent years both raiding comment sections and writing blogs).
This is not to say that any of these 5 are inherently bad on their own, or even in small flavors. But together in large amounts they do tend to cause issues. Hel, I’m willing to admit I’m probably guilty of a few of them myself every now and then. And that’s okay.
#1 I can understand because, well, despite what the Christian Right likes to believe, the US was founded on Deism, more than any actual religious faith, and Deism was really big on the whole “Clockwork God” idea. God (or Gods for us) made the universe, set the ground rules we have discovered scientifically, and just let the universe run on as it pleases according to those rules. Not unlike building a car, and then letting it idle. All the parts are there, they work according to certain rules, and so long as everything works well you don’t have to worry about it.
It’s not an unfair point of view, especially in a industrial/post industrial age. Most of our tales come from ancient times, when everything had to be done by hand. And so most people believed that the Gods did “everything by hand” as well. Because that’s all they knew. Winter came because Skadi dragged it behind her. The sun and moon rose and fell because Sol and Mani were riding around in chariots. The idea that the Sun and moon rose because they were carried around on a great train track and Sol and Mani sat in their individual dinning cars sipping mead wasn’t something that would occur to people, because trains and dinning cars weren’t even a twinkle in grandpapi’s eye.
So really, I can’t blame people for thinking of things as a great “clockwork” system where the Gods just kind of let things do their stuff and only step in when things go wrong. Hel, of the 5 things, this one is actually one I do believe in, to an extent. Maybe that’s because I came to Paganism/Heathenism from a more scientific/alchemical source. “gravity” works because that’s a fundamental law the Gods set in place (or maybe even existed before the Gods idk), not because a God of Gravity pushes shit to the ground.
Then again, for all I know the Romans had a god of gravity and they literally do just push things to the ground. Hel, the Romans had a god of hinges, so honestly it wouldn’t surprise me and I could be completely wrong here.
As for point #2…yeah. To an extent, I do think the Gods want us to be “good, nice, and fair to each other.” I don’t know about this contradicting the lore too much, but Jo is more of an expert on that than I am.
The problem really arises not from the believe that the Gods want us to be “good, nice, and fair,” at least not for me. To me, the problem is what people judge to be good, nice, and fair. And I think this is really where those “contractions” Jo talks about come into play.
What most people consider “good” isn’t always what was originally good, or even what the Gods consider “good.” A great example of this is all the sexual violence happening in Europe at the hands of “refugees.” What is good to most people these days in the face of that is to not be “racist” and in fact try to be understanding that these people have a different culture and they just need to be taught how to behave in our societies.
Which…usually would not be a bad argument, though reality has shown it’s not an effective course of action so far.
Of course, what our Gods and ancestors would consider good is what most people would likely consider bad in this case. If this same stuff was happening a thousand years ago, you could bet that there would not be a refugee problem at all. There’ be a lot of dead men and boys, a fair number of dead women, and the rest would be enslaved and in two generations no one would really remember the problem except for “don’t give hospitality to those people.”
The same largely goes for nice.
As for being “fair” with one another…the closest I can come to that is “be honorable” with one another. Again, this is something our ancestors and Gods insisted was a thing to do. That being said, Slepnir’s conception does show that while one should always keep their oaths, the Gods certainly were not above trickery to get out of said oaths. While I do find this….morally questionable from a Heathen perceptive, my own life experience has taught me the value of such actions (mostly from when I’ve gotten fucked over for keeping an oath or two even it greatly harmed me). But that really starts us down a rabbit hole that could invalidate the entire reason for being honorable…
#3 is really subjective for me. I know Heathenism has different values, but honestly how many of those values can we enact in this day and age. Being happy with yourself isn’t the worst thing in the world to try and be. But I suppose when you put that above other obligations, problems do arise. I guess it just has to depend person to person.
#4 is again, rather subjective to me. Not everyone is called to be a priest, and honestly I don’t have a problem if it isn’t central to everyone’s daily life that the gods be a part of it. It’s certainly good, and attendance to the holy at the appropriate times is certainly a must, but I understand if people have to focus on other things.
The big stickler, and I suspect this is what Jo is pushing towards, is the whole “Vending machine” thing, where the Gods aren’t a major focus until you need something, and then want them to fix it for you.
Now, I will completely admit to being a “vending machine” type person. Hela alone knows how many times I’ve asked her to help me with things as basic as a parking space. That being said…Hel is one of the biggest parts of my life (I’m married to her, after all) and there’s been a relatively steady flow of practically daily prayers and offerings from yours truly for over a decade now. So…I suppose while I am guilty of parts of #4 there is that to consider.
I do think asking the Gods to help you with stuff is fine, but one must always realize that there has to be a “quid pro quo” type thing going on. I’m reminded of soooo many discussions I’ve seen in Heathen circles where people insist that one should only do the occasional big offering, mostly because the Gods don’t pay attention and do stuff for us often when we want, so why spend all that time and effort for no reward when you can just write a big check a couple times a year.
Not that theirs anything wrong with the “big check” approach, but personally I do think it’s a bit like going to a shop. Sure, if you only go in a certain store maybe twice a year, and drop a lot of money, the shop owner will be grateful. But if you go to that shop 3-5x a week, even if its to spend only a small amount of money each time, the shop owner remembers you, gets to know you, and is more likely to occasionally cut you a deal.
Or as I put it in one forum once: “If you take a person out three times a year to a fancy dinner, they will certainly consider themselves your friend. But if you share half your cookies with someone every day for a year, they’ll be your best friend.”
And I suppose that is where Jo’s issue, and the reality of #4 do come up as somewhat toxic. People expect a few “nice dinners” a year to be worth asking for all kinds of favors. Which, I’ll admit, nice dinners a few times a year would certainly get you favors from me, but there is only so much generosity said dinners will get you.
#5…yeah. I’m not sure where this idea came about. This is the one I will give solid stone to Jo about. While I have read stuff about some people getting into a different God’s house if they were close to them after death….those stories are rare, and it generally took a lot for that to happen.
And much like with #4…I honestly don’t see most people doing the level of “work” needed for that to happen to them. I mean, yes, I am most likely going to go to the house of my preferred deity when I die…but that preferred deity was Hel to start with, so I guess that doesn’t prove much.
Honestly, I think this issue has more to do with individual denial than anything. Most Heathens are very “gung ho” about the Aesir, and they like to think themselves special because of it. I think they don’t like the idea that they would ultimately go to Hel because they would suddenly consider themselves “unworthy” and because going to Hel does mean fighting against the Aesir at ragnarok. I can’t blame them for vainly hoping of someway out of that bind.
I mean, you spend your whole life swearing oaths to the Aesir, making offerings to the Aesir, and then in the end it all matters not and you’re supposed to fight the Aesir. I’m sure that stings.
That being said, as individually understandable as these issues are…I do see why Jo thinks something should be done about them. All together they do tend to lead to a rather toxic outlook on life and especially the faith.
The idea that you don’t really have any major responsibilities to distant Gods who will solve your problems for you while you fap off doing whatever you please, only to end up in the afterlife of your choice…that is some serious fucking bull.
Sure, you might end up in the “afterlife of your choice” while receiving aid in your life from a particular Deity, but that’s going to require a shit ton of personal work and labor from you as a person for the God whose hall you want to live in. To dip into another example: We are talking PALADIN levels of devotion and sacrifice here. You will eat, sleep, breath, kill, and die for your Deity levels of work here. And that’s for a chance at that, not even a guarantee. You could still end up in Helheim even after doing all that.
Now, does that mean you shouldn’t strive for it if you want it? No. Hel, I’m a living example of doing just that…but if you’ve read my blog for a while you’d know how fucked up my life has gotten at times for it. It’s not a road for everyone, and that does mean that one is going to have to pick and choose certain things, and just admit sacrificing others.
If you don’t want to put the Gods first in everything, that’s perfectly fine…but then don’t’ expect a lot of favors. Don’t expect your king to notice and reward you if you never leave your house and fields. Well can I understand not wanting to be the focus of divine/royal attention, but then don’t complain about the results of your quiet life. You want rewards, you have to work hard for them, and recognize that there’s a limited number of rewards and you’re going to be competing for them. You might win. You might lose. But that’s the game of life. Nothing wrong with any of the choices, but accept you’re going to get the rewards, or lack there of, based on those choices.