What It Means to be On the Side of the Gods

What It Means to be On the Side of the Gods July 15, 2018

Like theists of all varieties, in times of trouble we call on our Gods. We ask for Their blessings, Their inspiration, and Their protection. Most times They give it to us, in one form or another. Their presence is a source of great comfort and strength – particularly for those of us who formed and maintained on-going relationships with one or more deities before things got bad.

But if we are not mindful, receiving divine support can lead us to wrong conclusions. We may start assuming – perhaps unconsciously – that since the Gods are helping us, They must be on our side. We think our goals are Their goals, our plans are Their plans. Or worse, that they hate the same people we hate.

It is incredibly presumptive to assume the Gods are on our side. If we find ourselves working and fighting together, it is because we are on Their side.

What does it mean to be on the side of the Gods?

There are Gods

It borders on truism, but it’s worth stating explicitly: if we are on the side of the Gods, that means there are Gods.

I don’t mean this as a philosophical proof of Their existence – that’s well beyond the scope of this post. But if we call on Them and They respond, if They call us to Their service and we say yes, if we choose to do Their work in this world, then it follows that there are real persons behind “They.”

Many of us long for proof of the existence of the Gods. We want see Zeus walking down the street throwing thunderbolts at evildoers (but would we pay any attention if He did?). We want proof that will change the minds of our atheist friends… and that will leave no doubts in our own minds. We are unlikely to ever get that kind of proof.

The first time you call on a God and They respond, perhaps it’s a coincidence. The second time, maybe it’s your subconscious at work. The third time, well, maybe it’s one of those things that science hasn’t discovered yet.

But by the time you’re embodying Their virtues, doing Their work, and doing your own work with Their blessings, it’s easier to accept that yes, there are Gods, They are many, and They are real. This is all the proof you’re likely to get. It’s all the proof I need.

There is something more important than ourselves

We are right – and wise – to take care of ourselves. No one has a greater interest than we ourselves in seeing that we have adequate food, clothing, and shelter; that we have good health, safety, and security; and that our lives have purpose and meaning.

Yet too many of us attempt to find ultimate purpose and meaning in self-indulgence and self-obsession. We forget what our ancestors understood: there is great purpose and meaning in our families, our tribes, and our communities – both our human communities and our wider-than-human ones.

If we are on the side of the Gods then we are working for something other than ourselves. Perhaps, like members of a sports team, we’ll all share in the glory of an eventual championship. Or perhaps, like a bricklayer working on a temple, our work will go mostly unnoticed… but we’ll be able to point with pride to our contribution to something we never could have accomplished on our own.

We need not – and should not – ignore our own needs and desires. But there are things out there that are more important than us, and working on the side of the Gods helps us be a part of them.

It’s about virtues

I’ve written a lot about politics lately, both directly and indirectly. This has brought a few complaints from those who think my writing isn’t political enough, but a lot more complaints from those who want to “keep politics out of religion” (which is usually code for “I don’t like your politics” or sometimes for “I don’t want any conflict”). I write what I’m called to write and what I need to say, and in this environment it would be negligent to ignore politics entirely. It would also be negligent to ignore devotion and write only about politics.

But I am sure of this: the Gods don’t give a damn about which party is in power.

They’re concerned about promoting Their virtues and caring for Their areas of responsibility.

The Morrigan is always concerned with sovereignty, and in this environment She’s very concerned with cleaning the battlefield. Cernunnos is concerned with the wild, especially the wild species and wild places threatened with extinction. Brighid is concerned with healing, with the bardic arts, and especially with transformation. Ma’at is, as always, concerned with justice and order – and She knows that it is justice, not law, that is the true guarantor of order.

The Gods are whole persons, not merely the personification of Their functions – They have other concerns and desires too. But this is what They worked for in ancient times, it is what They work for today, and it is what They call us work for with Them. If They favor a candidate, or a party, or a policy, it is because They can use those things to advance Their virtues.

Politics is a means to an end. The end is the virtues of the Gods. Let us never confuse the two.

It’s not black and white

We humans have an evolutionary instinct to turn complicated situations into black and white. If you’re a hunter-gatherer, you don’t need a complete taxonomy of fauna. You need to know if that sound coming from the bushes is an animal you can eat or an animal that will eat you. This was even more important for our very ancient ancestors who did not have language and could not communicate with great precision.

Add to that the impact of monotheism, which assumes that since there is only one God, any issue must have only one “right” position. The urge to make everything black or white is strong.

Sometimes the many Gods work together. Sometimes they work separately. And sometimes they oppose each other.

Being on the side of the Gods means recognizing that there are many points of view and many possible courses of action: the perspective of the deer is different from the perspective of the wolf. Neither are “right” or “wrong,” but they are in opposition to each other.

This need not and should not turn into relativism – that’s as much of an error as absolutism. But we do ourselves and our Gods no favors when we attempt to reduce complex situations to black and white solutions.

It’s about the big picture

Though I am honored and pleased to be working for the Morrigan, I often complain that transparency is not one of Her virtues. She tells me what She wants me to do – She rarely tells me how it fits into Her larger plans. Perhaps that’s a holdover from days when society was more hierarchical and those at lower levels were expected to do, not to understand. But I think it’s more that I wouldn’t understand Her plans even if She explained them.

We humans have the perspective of perhaps a hundred years. The Gods have the perspective of thousands, perhaps millions of years. We can see what’s in front of us, and if we pay attention, a little more. They can see this world, and the next. We can see a few interactions and project their likely outcomes – They can see many.

A quote attributed to a Chinese proverb (which usually means nobody knows where it came from) says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Being on the side of the Gods means taking a long-term, big-picture approach. It means accepting that what we’re working on won’t be finished in our lifetime, but working diligently anyway.

The future is not fixed

Some of our ancient ancestors believed the Fates controlled the future. A hero was not someone who changed the future, but rather someone who lived virtuously and fought valiantly no matter what came their way. I understand that view and I respect the wisdom in it, but I do not share it.

If the future was fixed, the Gods would still personify and promote Their virtues – that’s part of what it means to be a God. But would They invest the time and effort to recruit followers? Would They bother to train and empower warriors? Would They care what goes on in this world, to the extent They have shown They care to me and to many of Their followers? I do not think so.

The future is not fixed because our world is probabilistic, not deterministic. There are so many factors and so many interactions it is impossible even for the Gods to calculate the precise odds, much less to control every variable.

The future is not fixed, and we do not know which variable will ultimately mean the difference between victory and defeat. As long as we are alive, we have hope.

And do we ever really die?

The Gods with whom I have on-going relationships have answered my prayers and have blessed me immensely, but They are not on my side. They’re on Their own sides, the sides of Their values and virtues and areas of responsibility.

But some of Them called me to Their service: I am Their priest, Druid, devotee, and messenger. Because I answered Their call, I am on Their side. I am part of something greater than myself, something that will continue on for generations after this life is over.

I trust the Forest God. I trust the Lady of the Waters. I trust the Battle Raven, and all the other deities I serve. I am happy to be on Their side.

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