No longer as truthful as should be deserved, some names, places and events deliberately vague to protect identities that aren't mine

Friday, 12 March 2010

Faith makes everybody scared.

Recently, I've been catching up on my American TV shows.  Namely Caprica and Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  Both of which of course are based on largely the same polytheistic culture, i.e. that of the Romans/Greeks.

In both shows, there's a lot of cursing and general denouncing of the Gods, as well as a declining amount of belief in them, primarily due to the degeneration of society in the contexts in which the shows are set.  Nice and parallel to the modern day there then.  But this got me thinking.  God, the Christian God, is extremely rarely cursed.  Doubted yes, used in vain, yes, but we don;t get talk of God's cock, or how he no longer cares for us, as there is in the TV shows.  And this further set me thinking, in monotheistic religions, the divine figure is necessarily one of ultimate benevolence, compassion, understanding and forgiveness.  And whilst swift and usually firey punishment is fated for those who appose the deity, you either believe in it, or think its a load of bollocks.  But that's not cursing God, and it's not saying they've abandoned us.  In contrast, the polytheistic religion in this context is one where the gods are vengeful.  The Gods are, for lack of a better term, 'human'.  They have their faults, their desires, their covets, their grudges and their vanities, just they have ultimate power to back all those up with.  And whilst we know that there was certainly a difference between state and private religion in ancient cultures, though to what extent exactly is hard to guage, it makes me wonder if there would indeed have been cursing of the gods in such a society.  Of course, where the Gods are not endlessly forgiving cursing them might be a rather bad idea, but if you accept that your Gods must be appeased, that they might decide to punish you, or to take issue against you, that fate might decree something horrible for you, you're probably more likely to do things like curse them.  It was an interesting thought.

The only comparable thing I can think of in popular modern theologies is the concept of karma, but that's an abstract concept, rather than a quality personified into a divine image, with all the powers of a divine.  Karma is a process of the universe, and the only way to undo bad karma is to do equally good karma inducing activities.  Karma can't be bribed by burning offal, or spending coin, though the churches would probably have you believe otherwise on the latter point.  Even in modern polythestic religions, the gods are very rarely fallible in any way.  Sure some of them are destructive, but that's as part of the divine duality of creation, rather than a humanized flaw embodied in a deity.  And amongst the majority of paganism, selene, the goddess, the oak king, et al. are all benevolent spirits.  The wiccan rede states any badness that visits you is down to your own act of badness in the first place. The punishment is a simple process of the universe, rather than because spilling your challice offended the moon personally.

Only in more extreme or outlying facets of paganism do you start to encounter the concept that things might not like you, that diviine entities might take exception and make your life difficult, because by this point, you've probably abandoned your concept of the wiccan rede, of 'walking in the light', of 'good' and 'bad' magic.  You're probably invoking Sekhmet and Lilith, and working with the Goetia, and coercing and trapping inccubi and succubi.
The only major belief system I can think of where it's accepted that bad things might happen to you as a direct consquence of the Gods, is Voudon and related systems, where the Loa are fickle creatures in themselves, and attempting to get the Baron Samedi to act against his will is signing your own death warrant.  And again, this is a belief system where the concept of 'good' and 'evil' isn't as clear cut as most would like it.  Certainly in any benevolent divine view of the world, there is no cursing of (a) God, and that's not because you don't need to because (a) God couldn't have sent it; we curse things all the time that don't necessarily deserve it in order to avoid facing the real causes, usually ourselves.  But I like the concept that once upon a time, it wasn't simply a case of you either believe or you don't, or at least you pretend you believe.  That once upon a time, it was accepted that the Gods were 'human'.

Incidently, if you haven't seen it, you should all totally go watch O-Cast

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