Religion Fails pt 4 - Pagans and Heathens
I've bashed Christianity. And Islam. Next in my sights are the vast panoply of Pagan and Heathen gods. Okay, but let me be honest with you...have a hard time bashing on these guys. They are the 'lovable losers' of the world of divinity, and there is much more to them than 'man trying to explain the unknown.' But first, let me get a little technical.
Some religions make a differentiation between the terms Pagan and Heathen. For example, in Judaism, religions that are non-Jewish but have just one god are Pagan, while those that have more than one god are Heathen. In some churches, the terms Pagan, Wiccan, Witch, and Druid are interchangeable, while in other churches they are all very different things. For my purposes, I will use the term Pagan in a modern lexicon sense to mean 'not Judeo-Christian or Islamic'.
Anyway, like I said, these guys are just great. In the Torah, everything seems to be about 'begat' and 'smite'. On every page someone is either fucking or killing. In the New Testament, it's all about setting a good example...kind of like reading a Superman comic except there's never any fighting. The Q'ran is beautifully written, but honestly, how often can you praise God before it gets redundant?
Pagan gods, on the other hand, are like one big soap opera. Like Osiris, who was killed by his brother-in-law out of jealousy then brought back as an undead mummy who was even stronger. Who wouldn't want to worship the living-dead-who-can-kick-your-ass? Or then there's Priapos. Worshiping him protects your home and family and ensures that you always have enough food on your plate. All you have to do is leave a bit of the food you prepare to him in sacrifice. Plus, he's hung like a Clydesdale. Or then there's Cernunnos. The god of winter and the hunt. You would pray to him for fertility or to ensure you didn't freeze or starve in the cold months.
See, the idea was that the gods did not necessarily want to involve themselves in mankind's affairs, and vice-versa. You didn't want to have any given god taking too much notice in you because that meant you were destined to be the gods' plaything and that was never good. It did seem to explain why sometimes there seemed to be divine inspiration or intervention when other times there was not.
Your prayers or sacrifices to them were actually a 'training ritual' in itself. For most cultures, there was a definitive test of honor, respect, and strength bound to most acts of worship, and most acts of worship were designed around tying the community together, rather than many monotheistic religions where, in spite of congregation, everyone seems to worship in their own little 'bubble' while going through the motions of community involvement.
And you had your pick of gods to worship. Scary gods. Sexy gods. Goddesses with hundreds of breasts and gods with the heads of animals. Each one interesting in it's aspect, but even more interesting were the stories surrounding them. But the real cool thing about it was this: Unless you had given yourself over completely to a single god, you were allowed to worship as many of them as you wanted and they would not get jealous. The only time that 'you shall have no other gods but me' crap comes up is in instances where someone like a priest decides to 'defect' to the other side. If you swore loyalty to one god and one god only then you had better keep up your promise. Otherwise, you could worship freely from the pantheon.
Furthermore, there was no 'you must be of this bloodline to join our club' nonsense. If you want to worship Aphrodite you didn't have to be 'Greek'. If you wanted to worship Wodan you didn't have to be 'German'. Once again, if you made a pledge you were expected to follow through on it, but as long as you were respectful then there didn't seem to be the cultural barriers enforced elsewhere. It really wasn't until the Romans that enforced religion came along.About the only thing the gods were concerned with is if you started worshiping gods that were contrary to one another.
So why go with Catholics or Baptists or Muslims at all? Well that's simple. The 'big conversions' happened with two major factors in concern. The first was that the Roman Empire and the Muslim conquests clobbered just about every other race into submission, then insisted that they follow their gods. The Romans were particularly insidious when attacking places, cultures or religions. Roman vanity insisted that they keep the elements that they liked...those that seem 'Roman'...while eliminating any competitive factors. However, perhaps more importantly, was the concept of optimization.
The concept of optimization is that an organism, whether it's a man or a mouse, will try to get the most amount of benefit for the least amount of work. To put in simpler terms, optimization means people are lazy. They would rather do a half-assed job and collect the most they can than allow the work itself to be the reward. That latter part has to be taught to someone.
So it works like this. If you want to get a good harvest from your garden, you leave some food in sacrifice to Priapos. If you want to make sure that your son returns home safely from his Navy service in the Persian Gulf, you should probably go to the temples of both Ares and Poseidon to be on the safe side. If you want your husband to become more attracted to you, leaving some apples for Aphrodite is a good idea. Each thing that you wish the Pagan gods to do requires foresight, knowledge, and commitment...even if it's not really a big effort, the effort stil exists.
But if you're Christian you don't need to take all the effort. You can just pray. Which is really means nothing more than 'bow your head and want it real bad.' Sure, there are many Christian sects that ask for contribution or participation, but most admit that the only important thing for salvation is belief. You don't really have to do anything at all. Then if what you wanted comes true then you should thank your god, and if not you should either blame the devil or you should assume your god has some 'other purpose' which no one can ultimately perceive. Is it any wonder that with all of the greedy, lazy people in the world that polytheism was doomed to failure as a cultural mainstream in the west? So it's like this: What can I do to the Pagan and Heathen gods that hasn't already been done to them? Their peoples were conquered. Their practices made light of and pushed into periphery (e.g. Anyone still know why we hide eggs on Easter or kiss under mistletoe?) And perhaps worst of all, their histories were eliminated and re-written, so that if anything is to be learned it must be done so through anthropology and archeology. The truth of them still exists, but it is only coming to light when we thoroughly investigate it and leave behind the myth placed upon the reality. But I have committed myself here. These guys are failures but it seems that many of them are failures through conquest. If I have to pick on Pagan Gods at all I have to say that they take a bit more learning to understand than monotheistic gods, and the fact that they are real underdogs.
As for me? I like learning and underdogs.