So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

23 July, 2012

L is for Love

I touched on this briefly when I wrote O is for Obligation, but, y'know, advantages of writing things out of sequence or something?

There's this really common narrative in understanding of religion around here, the whole 'god is love' thing.  Now, again, I'm just going to note that this is one of those places where Christianity is leaking into other things and leave it; it's a thing that's out there.

Love and the divine is complicated.  Let's start there.

One of the reasons that I drifted out of Christianity was that divine love wasn't satisfying to me.  The love of that god was something that I could recognise, but it was far too generic and impersonal for me. "I love you because you exist" mostly left me wanting some sort of personal relationship, something that cared about me as something beyond a breathing entity.  Yes: the divine powers love existence.  The divine powers are working to uphold and support existence, that's what They do and what They are, which means that you - as a thing that exists - are precious.

But that doesn't mean all that much.  The mosquito that got swatted yesterday was equally precious, because it was equally in existence, and now its remains - which still exist, are just as precious.  As those remains decompose, become part of the humus, and support a new life that will feed on their nutrients, that will also be precious.

"The gods love us" as a generic is a very, very, very low standard.  And I think the people who say it mean something a whole lot more significant than "We exist in the matter/energy matrix that the gods preserve".

We're used to that sort of anthropocentric thinking.  We talk about being a danger to nature, as if - should we make the planet uninhabitable to ourselves - it will destroy the world, rather than simply ending ours.  Or how the world was made for us, as the special pinnacle of creation, even though our knees are laughable from a structural engineering standpoint and our retinas are all installed backwards.

The idea that gods might not always have humans as their prime concern - or indeed that there might be gods with no particular interest in humans at all - is an uncomfortable one.  "But the gods love us!" is a shield against the indifference of the rest of the world to our individual uniqueness.  But, like I said before, 'A storm god taking a fancy to ya is not going to give you electricity resistance 10; this isn't D&D. If you're lucky, it'll give you the sense to keep in out of the rain.'  The love of a storm god doesn't keep you from getting electrocuted; the love of a war god may very well get you killed.  Probably gloriously.  But even so, from your point of view, you're still dead.

This isn't to say that gods don't form personal bonds with individuals, because They obviously do.  But that's not something that comes from god-dom, it comes from individuality.  It is of necessity a personal thing, not a generalisable one.  And that's something that will come of individual resonances, attractions, dedications, needs: it's not an entitlement.  Treating it as an entitlement is a good way to discourage it from happening, for much the same reason that guys who whine about how all the bitches would rather go out with jerks don't attract a lot of women.  But it's better to look for love from people who live in your world - which means to expect to find it among people who live the life you do, not glamorous movie stars, and not gods.

A lot of myths talk about gods forming personal relationships with humans.  It tends to make that human's life harder, overall, whether because of being brought more intimately into divine conflicts, being expected to shoulder more of the weight of the universe, or simply having more stuff to deal with.  It's genuinely a whole lot safer, in a lot of ways, to only have the level of interest from a deity that's along the lines of "I am doing this profession, and thus the god who is particularly interested in that profession appreciates me".

Not that safety is high on the list of standard human motivations. ;)

I will conclude with a major flip on the concept of love and gods.

I was once asked by an atheist something like, "What's the point of worshipping a god that isn't omnipotent?"

Which I didn't know how to answer, on multiple levels, starting with, "Well, it's a lot more useful to deal with entities that actually exist than ones that don't"....

But really, the core of the question comes down to being asked "What's the point of love?"

And someone who would ask that question - or who doesn't know that's the question they're asking - I don't know how to begin to talk to.


Trinity said...

To be fairer to that atheist than ze probably deserves, I take that question not necessarily to be "what's the point of love" but perhaps to be "what's the point of worship?"

As someone who considers herself dominant by temperament, I can half-comprehend asking such a question. Some forms of worship make sense to me. Other forms of it I don't understand, because I doubt I'll ever experience (or want to experience) firsthand the kind of submissiveness that would naturally give rise to them.

Trinity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I like this post.

The modern mainstream Christian conception of the generic, abstract, omnipotent omnibenevolent omniscient ALL-LOVING god strikes me as fanciful, wishful, and lazy thinking, an elaborate construct that bears little relationship to any meaningful, believable depiction of any of the deeper forces of the cosmos that I sometimes think of as divinities.

I'm fine with fanciful thinking, and I can indulge wishful thinking, but when you combine that with lazy thinking and call it a religion, I'm out.

But I mean, this is all only applicable if we're talking about the sanitized, toothless form of love that they usually mean with such things.

I'm all right with conceiving of the divine as the less neutered (ha, as God has been neutered more literally in modern liberal prayerbooks--I digress, though) sort of love. The kind the Mountain Goats sing about.

It kind of comes down to them trying to make both love and the gods safe, doesn't it?