Posts Tagged ‘monotheism’

Something that’s come up as I’ve discussed my Lammas omen with various folks on ADF lists and elsewhere has been the phrase “The Gods don’t give us more than we can handle” (or some variation on that phrase).

While I understand the sentiment (and that it is usually well-intentioned and said in such a way that implies I should find it helpful) I just can’t get behind it, for a number of reasons.

First, it makes the Gods out to be assholes. It means the Gods are taking someone they deem to be strong, and giving them a whole pile of unpleasant, traumatic, nasty shit to deal with simply because they can supposedly handle it. Someone once told this to a friend of mine who had recently lost her child to a car accident, and her response was “So if I was a weaker person, my child would still be alive?” And that’s about how I look at it. (This is right up there with “The Gods will provide.” being told to someone who is unemployed. They might provide emotional support, but I’ve yet to see evidence of a check from God to help you pay the rent. You’re better off with Aflac.)

I can understand how, looking back after the fact, a person might come to the conclusion that bad things happened to them, but with their own will, and their own power, and aided by the power of the Gods they got through it and are now stronger. That’s GREAT. That’s the kind of success anyone wants to hear coming out of a terrible story. It’s just the kind of conclusion you need to come to yourself about a situation, and it’s really pretty useless to someone who is in the middle of a great deal of turmoil and strife.  (It’s like telling someone who has just had a horrible car accident and is in the hospital with multiple injuries “well, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” – totally unhelpful, and potentially really hurtful to a person who is looking for someone to be supportive.) If you can come out of a shitty situation and say “wow, that sucked, but I am totally a better person for it” then good for you! But let’s not assume that was the intent of the Gods in the first place.

I also do not, and will not, understand a relationship with Deity whereby I give and sacrifice and try to be as good at *ghosti as possible, only to have them turn around and dump a bunch of shit on my head in the name of a “blessing”. If that’s the kinds of blessings I’m in for, I’ll take my bags elsewhere, thanks.

I don’t “test” my friends and family’s love and devotion to me by putting them through “challenges” where I do mean things and see if they continue to care about me. That’s just cruel.

I know this path can be challenging. I know that self-change, that growth, that improvement sometimes comes with the painful process of casting off the old and growing the new in the self. That’s good, if sometimes painful. Initiations cause change, regardless of what kind of initiation or who is giving it. That’s a healthy process, and (tongue in cheek a bit) that’s why I have a therapist (whom I pay to help me navigate these things). But if my relationship with my Gods is what is causing all the terrible things that have happened to me, from which I now have an anxiety disorder and PTSD, on top of being bipolar? Pardon my saying so, but the Gods can go fuck right off.

Which gets back to that problem of evil. If the Gods aren’t “causing” bad things, or “allowing” bad things (and this is especially true if you have a monotheistic view with an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God), why do bad things happen? Why do hurricanes happen, or car accidents or job losses or cancer or any of the other bad things? I gave up on the idea of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God because a God who can see those things happening, but chooses to sit by and do nothing is kind of a jerk. If he can’t change those things, then he’s not “God” (in that sense).

So I’ve chosen to give up on the dichotomy of a Good God fighting against an Evil Devil. The Devil doesn’t cause hurricanes (hurricanes are heat engines that disperse tropical heat out to the poles. They’re fairly good at it, and generally have no personal ill will for the people they happen to impact). Nature is nature, and sometimes people are jerks. I don’t need an Ultimate Good God to be fighting the Ultimate Bad Devil for that to explain the world. If s/he is just another force that exists among many forces in the Universe, God doesn’t have to cause bad things to happen, or allow bad things to happen, or even be in charge of transforming the bad things that happen. The so called “problem of evil” goes away. A god can help influence things to your favor, but they aren’t all-powerful, all knowing beings (though they are certainly more powerful and more knowing than most humans). To quote Ian Corrigan:

In any event, the problem of evil only arises if you posit that there is an all powerful, all-good god, which clearly was not the case for pagans. The problem of evil only exists in omnipotent monotheism. It’s not a problem in paganism, it’s just there. “Evil” (something we don’t like) happens because 1) people are sometimes idiots, and 2) some stuff hurts, and there is no power that could make things different. Even the gods don’t control the way the world is. All beings together make the world the way it is, and they each act as individual agents.

Neither do I need to believe in what is called the just world fallacy – the idea that “you reap what you sow” or “you’ll get what’s coming to you” or “what comes around goes around”. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. It apparently gives some people comfort to think that, and I can certainly see how, but for me, it only makes me disgruntled and frustrated. It makes more sense for me to explain it via the existence of chaos, and that humans have free will and are free to be assholes to each other. Maybe there will be punishment for wrongdoing in the afterlife, maybe not. I don’t know if I believe in an afterlife (at least not in the traditional sense) at all anyway, so I’m not sure how much it matters.

What I do believe in is personal responsibility, and having a right relationship with the Gods I do worship (none of whom are omniscient, omnipotent, or unbeatable, and all of whom have fates and wills and likes and dislikes). No matter how you slice it, suffering is part of this world, and I believe it is our job to try to alleviate that suffering where we can – whether it’s the suffering of a fellow human, whose grief we can comfort – or the suffering of the Earth itself, who we can care for and honor and respect and worship through Druidry.

I’ve been through a lot in the (almost) 30 years that I’ve walked on this Earth, and I’ve experienced a fair amount of suffering (as well as a fair amount of privilege, as I am an American, and that puts me in a pretty good spot all things considered). But I don’t “give glory to the Gods” for the progress I’ve made on my mental health – I’m the one doing the work. I believe in being personally responsible for my success, and for my failure. I might ask for the support of the Gods, but ultimately I’m the one that has to do the heavy lifting. A god might help me with my transformative process, but ultimately I’m the one doing the transforming. To use a slightly stretched metaphor, the gods can tutor me all they want, but if I (as the student) don’t actually do the homework? I’ll still fail.

Maybe I’m just really cynical about the whole “but you’ll be so much better of a person when you’re through” stuff. Victimization doesn’t magically confer virtue. I’m not a better person for any of the stuff I’ve been through. If anything, I’m a weaker person for it, because now I have a host of psychological issues that I have to manage, on top of chronic pain. Being a victim of terrible things doesn’t magically make you a better person, or even a good person. Sometimes it makes you a pretty broken person. It certainly didn’t give me huge reserves of great magical power, or a supreme reliance on the Gods, or the ability to hear Them speak, or anything like that (though it did facilitate my leaving Christianity, but there are a lot less traumatic ways THAT could have happened). You can learn to cope with being differently wired, but anyone who tells me this is all a “blessing in disguise” can shove that blessing where the sun don’t shine.

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I’ve had a fairly thoughtful week.

For me, adjusting my brain to “think like a polytheist” has been quite the adventure. For someone born into an Indo-European culture, this kind of stuff would be second nature – much like the Protestant Work Ethic is second nature to most Americans (the idea that if you work hard, God will reward you, therefore success means you have pleased God and failure means you’re a lazy good-for-nothing and God is displeased with you/you don’t deserve success). This belief influences all kinds of things, from how we teach our children to how we relate to the poor, but there are two parts that specifically stuck out at me.

First, this kind of thinking is essentially binary – a trait common in Western monotheism. There’s “God’s way” (the specifics of which are hard to pin down) and the Wrong Way. If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy. If you’re successful, it’s Gods blessing, if you’re not, it’s a personal failing on your part. Very black and white. (It also fails to reward people for doing good, by giving all the credit for their goodness/skill to God, but that’s a different post).

Back when I was in college, my rhetoric professor was always challenging us to “spot the third option”. This was an especially fun game when reading the newspaper or any political speech, which relies on creating binaries to sustain the “I’m the good guy, the other guy is the bad guy” image. If you can spot a third option, you can usually spot a fourth and fifth, and the discussions that resulted from that exercise were always way more nuanced and thoughtful and productive than just everyone “taking sides”.

Polytheism is, at its heart, pluralistic to monotheism’s inherent duality. Corrigan (article here) derives this from Nature, where all things are varied, and which – if we use Nature as our expression/model for the Divine, suggests a plurality of divinity as well. There are certainly categories of things, but each thing is both totally individual and yet part of a greater ecosystem.

This all got me to thinking about a lot of things, from the nature of Gods to the problem of “evil” (which I think will have to be its own post).

Overall, though, it’s been an interesting process to realize just how accustomed to dualistic thinking I’ve become, even though I know it’s often fallacious. It’s a big tie in to the virtues, which seem fairly straightforward but are, in practice, highly nuanced as well. (Especially when you consider that each one can be applied differently in different cultures, making it all quite relative.) It’s certainly easier to think in terms of black and white, but I’m finding my model of the world is more sensible the more options it has. It’s also a lot more compassionate (though that may just be my reading of things), which is something I strive for.

The more I look for black and white thinking, the more of it I see as well, which can be a little frustrating if I don’t want to get into rhetorical arguments all the time.

The “problem of evil” is even a bigger issue for me, and reading that article made a lot of things clear up that had bothered me for awhile. It’s rather intensely personal stuff, so I’m not sure how to blog about it, but I’ll see if I can’t figure out a way to approach it in the next few days.

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