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.

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.

13 July, 2012

N is for Nice

You're so nice.
You're not good,
You're not bad,
You're just nice.
I'm not good,
I'm not nice,
I'm just right.
I'm the Witch.
You're the world.

"Last Midnight," from Into the Woods

I am not sure if Graydon would mind me quoting something he said years ago in another internet universe, so I will paraphrase instead:

"Nice" is behaviour which is socially unobjectionable.  It does not have to intersect with truth, and thus it cannot be a virtue.

I commented earlier in the PBP about one form of expectation of 'niceness', but that's far from the only form that ever puts in an appearance.  It's not even the first one I've talked about in this project thing.

It bothers me a good bit when people try to nice up paganism.  (This came up in a discussion, mostly in referring to dealing with deities.)

Let's get real.

One of my patron deities is best known for fratricidal murder.  This is not nice.

One of my religious paths is unabashedly and unashamedly sexual.  This is not nice.  (The fact that there is social objection to eroticism is a whole other barrel of rant, but it's still undeniably true.)

I have a religious obligation to the development of personal power.  This is not nice.  (The fact that there is social objection to genuine power, also.)

I don't even have a clue whether or not I'm technically a fucking Satanist, but regardless this is not commonly considered nice either.

(And that's not getting into the fact that polytheism itself is a matter of the socially objectionable, because that's a level of social objection that I don't generally grant the legitimacy of addressing.  But nonetheless, this is a genuine factor: being pagan, itself, in some environments, will be taken as being not-nice.  This is why people hang out in the broom closet.)

You know?  I could go on.

It does no good to not acknowledge these things.  Deities, for the most part, are not nice, though some may be more often than not pleasant, at least so long as you don't call upon them in one of their epithets that specifically isn't.  The natural world is certainly not nice; that charging bull will not respond to a citation from Miss Manners about how goring people is indecent behaviour, and aconite will stop your heart even if you ask nicely if you can pick its flowers.  A spirit doesn't have your best interests in mind just because it's not got a body.  Being socially unobjectionable can be useful - in certain social situations, so long as you can achieve your goals that way.  In non-social situations, or social situations in which it's impossible to get what you need by being nice?  Nice and five bucks will get you a latte.

There's a bit in Terry Pratchett's Maskerade where Granny Weatherwax draws a hatpin from her witch's hat, grins the sort of ferally savage grin that rather suggests that she is enjoying herself profoundly, and declares, "Let's do some good."

Granny: not nice.

Damn good witch, though.

06 July, 2012

N is for Names

Be careful what you name yourself.

As you take on a name, a title, a role - assuming that you achieve basic competence at living up to that name, of course, as opposed to blowing it off entirely and treating it as a triviality - you grow to become that name, to embody it, to bring it into being.

When I changed my name socially, I picked one that I wanted to grow into.

But here is another thing: you will find yourself with responsibilities that grow into the whole name, not just the bit you find shiny.  Not just what draws you at the beginning, but what sustains you through the end.

Names are a complicated and powerful magic.  The name of the thing is what it becomes, its manifestation, its strength; some are secret and some are not.  Things have many names, and thus is the complexity of the world layered.

But when you choose a name, you choose the whole name.

And that will have consequences for a long time.