Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gods Are Not Religion

Warning: I have my rantypants on.

Quote from: FierFlye on August 10, 2010, 09:50:55 pm
Um, yes. Foundation is what I've been lacking. Mostly because every religion I've encountered is built on the foundation of getting in touch with god/goddess(es), and I'm quite agnostic.

I am getting increasingly frustrated by the general way that religion is taught, honestly.

Here's the thing that I want to rant about: gods aren't actually foundational to most religion, and relationships with them are not foundational either.

You know what gods are, in real practical terms, as put forward in the pagan community at large and treated by most groups that are doing instruction and the like? Advertising for religion. "Do you like the look of our god? Come to our circle/grove/temple and try one free!"

Gods are the flashiest part of most religions - the myths are teaching hooks, illustrations of principles, and so on, and one pedagogic technique is to have one's instructional stories painted really large and in really bright colours. And for all that there are a lot of godbothered people in the pagan community at large, and I think there are sound reasons for that, for most people historically religion is just plain not about "here's what I do about the gods that bother me", because most people are not bothered by gods.

"Personal relationship with one's god" is (to overgeneralise here and I'm aware that I'm overgeneralising) for prophets, devotees, and mystery cults. Most people are not prophets, ecstatics, or members of mystery cults. (Though Christianity is at its core a mystery cult, IMO; the Eucharist is the relevant mystery.) Most pagan religions these days came about because of prophets and devotees because those people have the motivation to do the work, not because that's what the religion is about.

And there's a translation gap. Consider Wicca/neo-Wicca for an easy example: Wicca proper has this whole devotee thing going on inside its mystery cult, and is a fairly exclusive, private thing, because there just aren't that many people who meet the requirements of devotion to the unnamed Lord and Lady. But the bits that leaked out took on this congregational form for people who just want to "believe" and "love the earth" and who aren't specifically called, because that's a normal level for religion to settle at - a framework without calling.

And both sides think the other one is missing the point, because there's a real difference between "called to do the work to build a religion" and "called to practice a religion" that just disappears because lots of the people who are called to the building side don't have a sense of how one can be in the religion without building. (See also: recons who are smug about being 'religion with homework' and don't have any conceptual space for people who just want to follow the religion, not do PhD research.)

Hardly anyone teaches the framework. We get a lot of "How do I find my patron?" questions and not a lot of "How does a practitioner of this religion need to live?" questions, and that corrupts the discourse. Because we talk about the flashy stuff, not the core stuff.

It's subtler than the people who are all "I am a vampire possessed by Anubis, so I know the ancient gods are returning, but I'm worried about them making it back in time for the coming war on the astral", but it's still focusing on stuff that's more flash than substance. (I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP I SAW IT YESTERDAY.)

Speaking as a Kemetic here, this is one of the places that I get frustrated with the established temples. In my current research for the book I'm writing, I've done a lot of digging into the theological underpinnings of Kemetic thought, and occasionally come across things that are very simple, very core concepts that underlie the religion - beautiful things, glorious things. And I'm getting them from Jan Assmann, not from a temple authority, so people who aren't capable of plowing through the neutronium that is Assmann aren't going to find it!

The stuff I learned from temples was mostly framework for ritual to the gods, not framework for life. (And I've had a lot of people thank me for my little essayrant linking ma'at to putting shopping carts away, because that was apparently the first time that the concept had been presented in a way that was easily accessible to them! Shopping carts!)

Religion is about living. Part of one's living is/can be to worship and love the gods - hell, from a Kemetic perspective, most of it is, but that's because in that perspective putting on makeup is worshipping Hetharu, not because it's chock full of formal ritual all the time - but that's not the whole of life. I get obsessive about ordinary-people-did-stuff-in-Egypt because I'm trying to find a way of integrating with the whole of life rather than living in the fringes of temple worship all the time. I know people who left Kemeticism in part because they were looking for the whole of life stuff and weren't called to do the religion-with-homework, and that bugs me. A lot. So I want to frame for the hoers of onions....

Some people are building religion for devotees, and that's great. But one of the things that I think is freakin' fantastic about what Heartshadow is doing is that she's mostly trying to present the stuff that is core to the religion, not the stuff that's attention-grabby.


Okay. Done now.

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