[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy Monday. I look forward to seeing people at our G+ Hangouts this weekend!

For this week, I’m thinking of love, devotion, and piety. The question I’ve seen, in various forms and assumptions depending on who is asking it, is whether devotion without love (or, more widely, positive emotion) is appropriate or useful. Or, as it is phrased at times, does a duty like devotion require positive emotion (like love)?

I don’t agree or disagree with either presumption. I’m rather in the middle, seeing both sides as valuable – these sides being devotion as love and devotion as duty. No doubt this is influenced by my patron deity the Laetha and his opposite the Ophelia. Both gods are duty-bound while presiding over extreme emotional states (mania and depression). The idea that devotion without love isn’t as pure or effective sits wrong with me, as does the claim that we are all somehow inherently bound by duty to honor gods. Both arguments can be taken to greater or lesser extremes, with the more extreme claims seeming to sprout from conflict within our communities.

There are plenty of reasons while the middle ground works for me and why the various ‘ends’ of this spectrum work for other people. Our community is varied and diverse and it’s our obligation to continue making it so and promoting it further. Demanding or insisting that everyone follow a certain style of devotion is a good way to kill community. It’s also a good way to seriously injure other people’s religious lives, which any leader, clergyperson, or general co-religionist should want to avoid.

I find great use of the spectrum of devotional styles. My emotions and ideas and selfhood are definitely brought into my relationship with my gods. With the spirits I work with more intimately, it’s practically overwhelming how my biases, assumptions, wounds, and desires swirl together with the spirits’. I couldn’t do the work I do if I ignored or subdued my emotions. At the same time, I don’t always want to pray, or write for the gods, or do anything religious. It sucks sometimes, it’s hard, the gods don’t talk back or when they do it’s difficult to understand, and I just want to do other things. Aren’t video games better? They sure are easier.

But that doesn’t really matter. If I approach my shrine and feel like crud, am tired and a bit hateful, that’s okay. If I am resentful, my offerings still matter. Like any relationship, I still have to try even when I don’t feel like it. I can’t turn to my fiance and say, “I’m not feeling good today, so I’m going to ignore you.” At the very least, I need to tell him, “I’m not feeling good, so I need some alone time.” And my going to my shrine and giving offerings, or engaging in purification, or cleaning devotionally are ways of doing that. Deciding I’m going to write a little bit on a spirit or a god is a way of doing that. Working on the wiki is a way of doing that. Praying is a way of doing that. And I don’t have any problem with telling a god, “This is it for today, I can’t give you more.”

This works for me. It doesn’t need to work for anyone else. Other people are going to focus more on duty, because that is what works for them and their relationship with their gods. Others are going to focus more on their emotions and their emotional entanglement with their gods, because it works.

I think both ends of the spectrum are useful and valuable. When they take on extremes and began assuming a rightness or truth, though, we run into problems. These are largely community problems. We give each other bad advice on the assumption that our devotion is the correct kind. We assume all gods act the same and want the same thing. We might tell another person that they are going to be punished for not acting like we do. We might assume that a god wants to relate to another person exactly like they relate to us.

At its worst, we end up severely damaging another persons’ religious life.

We can do this on accident, and for most of us that result is accidental. We don’t realize that we aren’t privy to some Universal Truth, or we don’t realize how our words affect another person. We don’t realize how our words have been taken. We can’t predict what someone will focus on, after all. Communication is tricky.

But when we do cause injury, especially serious injury, to another person’s religious life by giving bad advice, we should apologize. Even if that apology is, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” Especially when we’re in positions of power over or of authority – it doesn’t matter whether we put ourselves there or not. If we are insisting upon one true way of devotion, we do hurt people and we cause toxic communities. We have to act responsibly and realize how we’re influencing the spaces we’re in.

This is one reason I find claims that we not look for ‘external validation’ lacking. When we go poking our nose’s into other people’s lives – such as stating that one is not doing devotion properly, or that one is taking it too seriously, or whatever variation of such insults there might be – we are the ones looking for validation. We’re looking for someone to bow to our ideas or to agree with us. Someone standing up and saying, “That doesn’t seem right,” or, “That’s hurtful,” isn’t looking for your validation. Don’t step on someone’s foot and then blame them for pointing that out.

This is really one of the basics of community: accepting responsibility for our actions. If we don’t care about community, we can ignore how we effect other people. But if that’s the case, we should ask whether those contributions are worthwhile.

Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at Drawing Stars and Leithin Cluan at Treasure in Barren Places. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

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