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20 July, 2012

O is for Obligations

A post I made on a message board got reposted - with permission - recently, and made a bit of a stir in a certain corner of the pagan blogs.  And part of that was, I think, that I talked about the big scary O: obligations.

It's all well and good to say you want a relationship with a god or goddess, that you want to be special and important in your religious practices, but that's not something that comes for free.  You may love and adore that particular entity to amazing levels, but your adoration does not obligate a response.  If you want a close relationship, there's going to be something you have to do.

"But the gods love us!" some people cry, in that usual kum-ba-yah kind of way.  But when love is generic - when you appeal to the concept of agape in the divine - it isn't that sort of intense, personal connection that some people want to have.  That's not "my god loves me because I am me", that's "my god loves because I am", and that's a different sort of thing.

The sort of thing that gets personal connection is personal work, personal dedication.  It doesn't just come for the wanting.  It doesn't matter how much you want if you're not stand-up enough to do what it takes to get it.  (And really, if you fill yourself up with desperate need, there are plenty of entities out there that will say "That looks like a tasty snack!" and will happily impersonate whatever deity you fancy in order to nosh on your spicy brains.)

I was seventeen or so when I fell in love with a god, and you know something?  He wouldn't fucking speak to me.  There were things that I needed to do to be worth His time (one of which was "get out of this Wicca phase and start actually paying attention", as it happens).  And that's only the beginning.  It doesn't get easier with more intimacy, and people don't always get what they want immediately.

And even if it's not a relationship with a deity that commands obligations, there are obligations that come with religion itself.  Some of those are devotional or ritual acts.  Some of those are social behaviour standards.  Some of them have to do with relationships and how one conducts them, with care for friends and family, with relationships one forms with entities native to the unseen realms.  Some of them have to do with self-care and taking responsibility for one's own actions.  There are various things which, if you say you are part of a religion, if you just don't do them, eventually people will wonder if they can take you at your word.  (At a bare minimum, if you, say, routinely defraud people, you're bad at most religions.  Incompetence may not be a sin, but it's certainly not a virtue.)

The sort of relationship you have with anything has dependencies on the sort of work you're able to do for the relationship.  Just like you're not gonna be an appealing date if you never bathe, never pick up the check, and never show up on time, you're not gonna be an appealing devotee if you don't do things that a deity values, offer useful veneration, or otherwise act like a worthwhile investment.  The first responsibility of deities is to maintain the useful running of the cosmos, and if you're not contributing to that actively, you're not helping, and you're not going to get the sort of personal caring attention that gets given to people who actually contribute something to the work.  (You might get the sort of personal smiting attention that gets given to people who are actively in Someone's way, but that's probably not what you're hoping for.)

Religion isn't something that you put on like a set of earrings and then get showered with adoration from the cosmos.  It comes with obligations, and the deeper you want to go, the more you'll be expected to carry.

Related reading, this post that I saw at Aedicula Antinoi while I was thinking about writing this one.

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