The Missing Call for Divine Justice

The Missing Call for Divine Justice September 15, 2010

The anniversary of 9/11 is always a difficult time for me. Like many people, I lost someone dear to me that day. On the day itself, I stay away from tv, radio, and the internet, mourning and remembering in my own fashion. But the days leading up to and after the anniversary date I can’t help but seeing various opinions and thoughts about That Day.

Reading the various opinion articles by people of many different religions I’m struck by common themes – forgiveness, healing our nation, and showing love and tolerance. Those are all worthy things to write about and keep in mind and it is a healthy thing for religious people to see how much we all have in common.

But I was looking for something…more…from the Pagan writers. Something special (but not unique) our religion has to offer in times like these. Yet it is nowhere to be found.

I was looking for Pagans calling for Divine Justice for those responsible for the attacks carried out on 9/11. Yes, the actual men who performed the deeds are dead, and some of those who assisted are in custody, but many are still alive and free.

The Big Three, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, tell their adherents that rewards and punishments happen after death, God does not react to your deeds while you are on earth. They are counseled, when Bad Things Happen, to forgive those that committed the deeds, to not judge, and to be assured that God will take care of it in the afterlife. Hopefully by welcoming a person who repented of their sins into a type of heaven.

Most revived Pagan religions do not have anything like that in their philosophy. Historically, when Bad Things Happened, we called out to our Gods for Divine Justice to happen here and now. In most of our traditions, there are Gods who take a special interest in pursuing and punishing murderers.

Where are the prayers to Jupiter, asking him to see that all of those responsible are brought to justice, either through the courts of men or by His own divine hand? Where are the Deipnon offerings to Hekate, who leads the souls of the wronged dead as they torment their killers, to pursue these killers until they give themselves up to the authorities? Why have I not seen Skadi invoked, asking for Her to deliver sentence as She did to Loki?

Do we not believe our Gods will answer those prayers? Did the thought even occur to anyone to pray for Divine Justice?

It makes me wonder if we really are Pagans of revived religions or if we have lost too much in the intervening years of Christianity. If we are all still, to some extent, Christians, Jew, and Muslims deep in our hearts.

I sometimes picture us as a small grove of horribly mutilated trees, our few remaining branches reaching for scraps of sunlight and our withered roots desperate for water. Hemmed in by large dominate forests that have pruned us into conforming to their shape. I see each of us as one little bud on these trees, taking in moisture from the roots and light from above, turning that into some really bizarre leaves. I just hope, someday, our trees look more and more how they used to and less like the encroaching forests that surround us.

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  • Ali

    The idea that justice and mercy must be at odds with one another is a dualism to which, as a Pagan, I do not subscribe. When I read calls for compassion and forgiveness, I hear in them calls for Divine Justice as well, for Divine Justice is not the same as punishment or revenge.

    As a Pagan, I believe that justice is a state of balance and harmony in the world – not something that is handed over to a God to enact or withhold, but a state of being that we all strive towards together. I believe that justice is embodied in “fairness,” that it arises from beauty and beautiful relationship. And so, I see forgiveness, compassion and connection as the necessary prerequisites of justice. When compassion and forgiveness help to restore relationships and foster connections, this is itself the work of justice.

    Simply because I follow a Pagan path does not mean I want to toss out all of the wisdom and insight of the last two thousand years. I would not want to return to a wholly tribalistic blood-feud conception of justice simply because it was the view of my ancestors, any more than I would want to reject the benefits of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment simply because they happened to take place in predominantly Christian cultures. I think it is far better to redress the flaws and oversights of the last two millennia with a broad but admittedly modern Pagan perspective, than to run headlong back into the flaws and oversights of pre-Christian times out of a stubborn rejection of what the past two thousand years have taught us.

  • Ali – There seems to be a complete omission of calls for Justice, not that compassion and justice cannot co-exist. In order for them to co-exist, both need to be present. Perhaps I just haven’t seen it? Entirely possible.

    Your definition of Justice is interesting, but would more closely match our definition of Metron – “logical rule for the evaluation, representation, expression and portrayal of
    meanings and things as well as the correct adjustment of collective or individual human behavior towards
    the avoidance of disharmony and disturbance in life.”

    Dikeosyne (Justice) demands that good must receive good and the bad must receive bad – and both society and the Gods must actively support and act to bring this about or be in violation of Nature (Physis). Which brings in Nemesis to correct the imbalance.

    Posing the question, Are we institutionally Abrahamic in our outlook and does that hamper us in our attempt to revive our religions and gain a greater understanding of our Gods? is not running “headlong back into the flaws and oversights of pre-Christian times out of a stubborn rejection of what the past two thousand years have taught us.” I think you went a bit extreme in interpreting my words.

  • Cara, thank you so much for writing this. I left a comment on your other article in similar vein. I agree with you, too much do I see people in the pagan/heathen community seeking the peace and understanding above the other aspects of our ancient ways. Too much of the Christian do I see in the Pagans of this day.

    Though on occasion I see people speak about the ancient attitudes, I rarely see them practiced. I realize there is a reason for this, because in the past there was much anti-pagan sentiment and frankly embracing the “darker” side of Paganism wouldn’t have helped us become accepted in mainstream society. Yet it seems this early realization has been lost and most of those today seem to adhere to the “Noble Savage” idea of ancient paganism, where it’s all about honor and hospitality. They embrace the “noble” but seem to have forgotten the “savage.”

    Paganism/heathenism is, in a way, very savage. It is Primal, the essence of the Animal as much as it is the Man. It is emotion and reason fused into a single entity. It is the ancient world, with its savage beasts and darkness and violence, as much as it is the ages of reason and enlightenment. It is Sparta, as much as it is Athens. It is Germanic, as much as it is Rome.

    For Asatru, Odin is both a god of wisdom and war. Few today would feel that those two things have anything in common. War is seen as foolish and needless, a waste of time and people. Wisdom is seen as a thing of utmost value, to be embraced at all times. Yet, Odin is both, because our “modern” view of war is one that I think is very misinformed (though understandable for reasons beyond the scope of this comment).

    In Wicca, there is the Green Man, the masculine spirit of the world. He is a father, loving provider to his children. But he is also a monster, the sounds of the dark forest at midnight, when all manner of beast and spirit wander just out of sight, ready to rend and tear and kill.

    I’ve come to wonder if, in response to the supposedly “patriarchal” nature of Monotheism, that Paganism went to far in the other direction. If, in re-embracing the feminine, the masculine came to be undesirable. I know in many parts of Wicca, and other Pagan traditions as well, men are placed in positions lower than women. Places where, instead of the male priest/leader standing in equal measure with the female priestess/leader, he must stand subservient to her. I see a pattern in modern paganism of viewing traditionally masculine virtues as things to be avoided. Power, rage, violence, and many others are viewed as terrible things that should be avoided at all costs, when in the ancient pagan world they were viewed as noble emotions and energies of the same value as acceptance, love, and peace. I think this is something we pagans/heathens need to examine in ourselves.

    Just how much of the Monotheist do we have in ourselves, with its insistence on pacifism, tolerance, concession, and acceptance.

    Just as we are reawakening the ancient gods and goddesses of fertility, love, reason, and art, so too must we reawaken the gods and goddesses of war. We must remember that Thor’s hammer brought more than thunder, it slew giants. We must remember that while the Athenians hated Aries, the Spartans loved him and the Romans viewed Mars as one of their greatest and strongest deities. WE must remember that Odin and Freyja were as well loved for being god and goddess of warriors as they were for wisdom or fertility.

    So I say these final words, in response for Cara’s call, though I know many will come to despise me for them.

    I call upon Aries, God of War, to turn his weapons upon those who would see us dead!

    I call upon Thor, to bring Mighty Mjolnir down upon their God!

    I call upon Odin, to cast his mighty spear to slay those responsible for the deaths on that dread day of 9/11!

    I call upon all the Gods and Goddesses, from Scandinavia to Egypt, from Ireland to Greece and beyond! I call upon them to rise once more in war and bring vengeance and justice on those who terrorists who kill in the name of Allah!

    And I say unto that Allah, that should he not wished to be judged as condoning those who abuse his name, if they are truly not of his religion and betray his teachings, that he smite them as well. For otherwise I shall judge him complicit in their actions and in equal measure of bearing their guilt, from now until Ragnarok and beyond!

  • From the beginning I’ve called upon Themis for Justice and everytime another Bin Laden follower is captured, I smile in satisfaction.

    One day I really hope his head is on a spike.

  • A good article, Cara!

    Norse Alchemist–I would dispute a few of your points. There are lots of female deities who are just as fierce and warlike (if not moreso) than male deities, so I would personally not divide the possible answers to this question as “masculine values” and their devaluation as opposed to more feminine virtues (and wisdom and the others are just as much “masculine” as feminine), so much as simply an honoring of and recognition of the destructive, the justice-seeking, and the warfare-making impulses.

    Also, I really don’t think the god of the people responsible for the atrocities of 9/11 (and any number of other things) has anything to do with their actions. Their own interpretations and madness and insistence that their god is the only one and they must wreak his vengeance themselves is the reason, and not the god’s actual actions or thoughts. I do not discount the existence of Allah, but I do discount the likelihood that Muslims are “right” in their interpretation of him (just as I likewise discount the Christians being right about Jesus and/or Iao Sabaoth, his supposed father). I think that Thor would do well do ignore your plea for vengeance upon their god. You’d be just as wrong as them if you sought vengeance on their gods via your own gods. These are human matters, of human origin, by people using religion to justify their own viewpoints and self-aggrandizement, and not their gods inspiring them or impelling them to these actions (though they might think they are, but I suspect they have no idea what actual deities or actual religious experience is).

    That having been said, I think it’s also a good idea to get Allat, Manat, and Al’Uzza on our side, since the Muslims have been disrespecting and denigrating them for years. They were warrior goddesses, after all, and their own people abandoned them.

  • Lup, you have very good points, and I should have invoked the female deities by name. It is true that violence, rage, etc, are not strictly masculine, just as compassion and love, etc is not strictly feminine. That said, historically those traits were connected to those sexes as listed, while there was recognized cross over. I was merely commenting on the fact that those “masculine” emotions seem to be out of favor, no matter the crossover.

    My reason for calling on Thor to strike their god is simple. From my point of view, any deity that makes slaves of their followers as the god of the Christians and Muslims does, is therefore as responsible for the deeds of his “slaves” as any human slave master would have been in days of old. While some would argue that the Muslims are not “slaves” to Allah, the simple fact that Islam means submission and that they “submit completely to the will of Allah” makes them slaves, at least in my eyes. Therefore, if Allah, in his “omnipotence” does not prevent evil done in his name by those who follow him, he is complicit in that evil. If this is a familiar argument, that’s because it has been used agianst the Christian God, with few on the Pagan side of life complaining about it to my knowledge. Any deity, like the Monotheistic one, who claims omnipotence and does not prevent actions that are taken in Its name that are against Its teachings, to me at least, is as responsible for those deeds as those mortals who committed them.

    For me, based on the history of Pagans/Heathens that I have read, says that there is no separation of the divine and the mortal. We all exist in the same world. The divine is as much a part of this world as the mortal, and therefore the deeds of mortals reflect their deity(ies) and those deities are judged by the actions of those mortals that worship or walk with them.

    To me, it seems that Allah, for all his “power” and “mercy” has done little to bring justice on these murderers. Nor has he done much to change the attitudes of those in the larger Muslim world which views said murders as heroes and worthy of emulation.

    This is my humble opinion.

  • Ali

    Cara –

    My understanding and definition of justice is influenced by modern philosophical works on the matter (for instance, Elain Scarry in her text On Beauty and Being Just) as well as my studies in aesthetics and ecology. As a practitioner of Druidry, I ground my political and philosophical views in observations of the natural world (in which “the good receive good and the bad receive bad” would be a ridiculous notion) and in a developed theory of aesthetics as applied to other aspects of social and individual life (I highly recommend John Dewey’s Art as Experience on this particular subject). I also draw a great deal from Gandhi (who was, of course, a Hindu).

    I admit, most of these are not explicitly grounded in ancient Greek conceptions of “dikeosyne”, but since not all Pagans are Hellenists, I’m not sure why this should be a problem.

    Also, I do not see anywhere in your original article where you pose the question, “Are we institutionally Abrahamic in our outlook […]?” In fact, you are explicitly more personal and apolitical in your post, wondering “if we are all still, to some extent, Christians, Jew, and Muslims deep in our hearts.” This does not sound like a question about socio-political institutions, but a question about the spiritual authenticity of individual Pagans “deep in our hearts.” (With the implication that those who do not agree with your view of Divine Justice are therefore not “really” Pagan.) I attempted to answer this concern by pointing out how it is perfectly possible to speak about compassion and forgiveness as an aspect of justice without referencing any form of Abrahamic theology.

    I also stated my qualms about the kind of assumption that is implicit in your statement about the “intervening” years of Christianity, which certainly seems to suggest that Christianity is a degraded and defunct religion with nothing valuable to contribute to the current conversation on justice issues. I do not see how this view is helpful in the cause of religious and cultural pluralism, let alone in developing a truly complex approach to conceptions of justice, social justice and compassion. Even if I was only responding to an implication in your writing (rather than a question that you did not actually ask), I felt this was a point that needed stating outright. Much of your post you spend lamenting the influence of Christianity – I felt it fair to point out that this is a rather prejudiced view that I do not agree with, and that we can still learn a great deal from contemporary Christians, Jews and Muslims (as well as Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Atheists, etc. etc. etc.) and that we should not turn a blind eye to our contemporaries in our efforts to seek inspiration in the past.

  • Ali


    the attitudes of those in the larger Muslim world which views said murders as heroes and worthy of emulation

    This statement is factually incorrect. The vast majority of Muslims do not support the acts of terrorism carried out by a handful of extremists. Please fact check before denigrating entire religions. Thank you.

  • Cara

    Ali – I again respectfully suggest to you that you are reading into my words things which were not written or inferred – and then pushing it to some extreme lengths. This is becoming familiar. Perhaps it would help if you read my post and pretended someone else wrote it?

  • Ali- I too would comment that you are reading incorrectly my own word. I said did not say the “vast Majority of Muslims” view the terrorists as heroes. I merely said that those among the larger Muslim world. I’ve heard dozens of accounts of people who were in Muslim countries or communities across the globe that cheered when they heard of the attacks and what motivated them. Not all Muslims support the terrorists, but there is a fair number of them that do.

  • I agree with Ali – justice is (or should be) about restoring balance, not about vengeance and retribution.

    I do not want to see the perpetrators of 9/11 tormented – I want to see them prevented from ever doing something like this again. Ideally this would involve a change of heart – I pray that they realize they did a horrible thing and vow to never repeat it. That’s a rather naive idea, so I also pray for their capture and imprisonment.

    Norse Alchemist is right – the urge to punish is part of our savage, animal past. There is much about our animal nature we need to reclaim, but this is a part we need to transcend. History has shown that it is too easy for the evolutionary urge to strike back to turn into a never ending cycle of violence. Praying for our gods to strike down our enemies can lead us to decide that we should be the hands of those gods.

    I am no pacifist – we must do what we must do to protect ourselves, our tribes, and innocent people around the world. But our goal must always be the restoration of balance and not the punishment of those who have harmed us.

  • Norse Alchemist–What you’ve said is exactly what I’m disputing. Just because a human prophet said that Allah requires submission, and is all-powerful, but also the most compassionate and so forth, doesn’t mean that the human prophet is actually right about any of that. One can have a mystical experience, but what one decides to say about it and do with it is an entirely different matter.

    If Allah is, like most other gods in the known universe, not omnipotent and not omniscient, but instead only his followers say that, and use those theological ideas to enslave the populace (as their Prophet did most certainly, and as his successors have done in various forms), then Allah has no power to stop them or prevent them from having done so, and therefore no responsibility in the matter.

    I certainly accept that the gods have an influence in the human world and a presence in it, but they do not “control” the actions of people–that would be a level of near-omnipotence that I simply don’t think exists with any identifiable and knowable deities.

    By accepting that the theological statements of Christians and Muslims about their gods are correct, you’re not actually addressing the problem on a radical level. If their gods are “actually” omnipotent and omniscient and therefore responsible for the actions of their believers and adherents and “slaves” (and you’ve indicated you think as much in your comments), then calling on your non-omnipotent gods to wreak vengeance on them is impotent at best.

    If, however, their theologies are flawed (which I’m arguing), then the humans who promulgate them, with no direct knowledge of the god(s) involved–and I think that’s more the reality of the case with most creedal religions of various types–are the ones to blame, while the gods themselves (Allah, Iao Sabaoth, Jesus, and the rest) are no more to blame for the actions of terrorists than is Thor or Quetzlcouatl or Amaterasu-Omikami. (And, to be clear, I don’t think any of them have anything to do with the actions of terrorists!)

    As pagans, we are not obliged to accept the theological pronouncements of people from other religions about our gods–that they’re demons, or djinn who are deceiving us, etc., as many Christians and Muslims have said over the centuries about the huge variety of pagan gods across times and cultures. Why, then, must be also accept their theological pronouncements about their own gods? Why can’t we approach their gods not only as realities, but as pagan realities, who are not unlike our own gods, who may appear to be more limited in comparison with statements of omnipotence and such, but who in fact are therefore more accessible, more immanent, and more present in the lives of their devotees? That’s the real root of my critique of your position.

  • Lup, you raise more good points, and I actually agree with them. Yours is a valid critique and I am happy to have it. I’m also happy to share your view on the Muslim/Christian/Jewish deity. Believe it or not. Personally, I think their god was a little upstart who decided to power grab and not play be the rules. But that’s just me.

    However, once we start disputing if “such and such person’s” revelation is actually true (as I am getting from your positing that Mohamed “got it wrong” and his message was further twisted) then we open the door for the same being directed towards us. While some might consider this fair, we Pagans/Heathens face enough of that already, we don’t need to invite more. In a weird way, I am trying to respect the religion of Islam by saying “fine, your guy is correct about the nature of his god.” Now, if he was really correct is a matter of opinion, and simply because his message is “true” doesn’t mean I have to follow it.

    Personally I don’t think YHVH/Allah/Christ is omnipotent either. But for the sake of the argument I’m going with it. And even if It isn’t omnipotent, I still hold YAC responsible for the actions of his followers, the same way I would hold any “Lord” responsible for the actions of his vassals that are taken in that Lord’s Name.

    Also, I fail to see how calling on Pagan deities to smite an omnipotent deity is impotent. Just because Pagan deities aren’t “omnipotent” doesn’t mean they aren’t really strong. While one can argue how much of a “power” is shared between gods and goddesses with similar powers (i.e. does Thor control all the storms in the world, just those in Scandinavia, Europe, or where ever there are Europeans, and does he share that with the other Storm Gods). But I figure that if all the Gods and Goddess draw power from their “elements” from all over the world, even sharing it with other Gods and Goddess, that’s a heck of a lot of power. And while they might not be able to go One on One with an “omnipotent” deity, I do recon that they wouldn’t even need the full pantheon to bring the pain. You get all the pantheons with all their members going, and even an “omnipotent” could be slain, or at least weakened significantly.

  • Norse Alchemist–Fair enough.

    I have a different way of going about this. I can accept that they have a way of thinking about their gods, and a way of thinking about my gods, which are each deserving of respect. However, I don’t accept what they think about my gods, and I see no reason why I should accept what they think about theirs.

    As my favorite surah of the Qu’ran says, “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.” It’s one of the short surahs toward the end of the text, which are historically the earliest ones…and the ones that are most often thrown out of consideration by Muslims, and have been blatantly contradicted by later, longer surahs on the killing of infidels, etc. Not a very good basis upon which to have an infallible holy book, eh? One with internal contradictions like that? I must therefore conclude that there is a flaw in the logic there, and a flaw in the theology.

    I–and everyone else–should not feel compelled to “accept” the “truth” of another religion’s theologies simply for maintaining civility of discourse. I can guarantee you that many Christians and Muslims are not happy with pagan involvement in interfaith activities–some of them even refuse to take part when we’re there, and it’s happened to me on several occasions personally. I know for a fact that many of them are there to prove the superiority of their own faith, so that in doing such they will encourage all of us to convert and accept their view of Jesus, or the submission to the will of Allah, etc. That’s a crappy motivation for entering into interfaith work, but they do it. I can guarantee that many of them are not respecting us behind our backs, and few to none of them are accepting even the possibility that there is any truth in our theologies. (It is possible for them to do so, through things like considering our gods as the way the Holy Spirit reveals itself to us, or to think that we are able to recognize Allah through his creation…but both of those still imply “Yeah, they don’t quite get it…but okay.” My approach to their theologies is no different–they’re trying to serve their ideas of what their gods are, but are missing some fundamental logical points in doing so.)

    As a result, I find it better, at least by my own ethical standards, to accept the reality of their gods (plus, I’ve had some experiences of several of those gods), but not the reality of their theological statements. They’re certainly not going to accept the reality of my theological statements about my gods, so why should I accept theirs?

    This way, everything boils down to human problems, human interpretations (theology is for humans, after all!), and can be addressed as such. Calling my gods to war on their gods does neither set of gods any good.

    As far as omnipotence goes–well, by definition, if that fact of omnipotence is true, then no force, no matter how powerful, and no matter how large a coalition of non-omnipotent gods is involved, can overwhelm or weaken something which is omnipotent. No matter how many Borg cubes come out of subspace, they’re never going to be able to overwhelm Q–pretty simple! ;)

    And, I don’t accept that Jesus, Iao Sabaoth, and Allah are the same god–that’s a Christian (Jesus = Iao) and a Muslim (Allah = Iao, and Jesus was a prophet) interpretation. Allah is clearly an Arabic tribal deity that pre-existed Islam, a high god of a particular pantheon, whom Mohammed thought was talking to him (through intermediaries…huh, that already poses some logical difficulties), and through various insecurities on his part (which are evident on many pages of the Qu’ran) and historical circumstances, he took to be the only god. Note that the Muslim statement of faith does not just say “there is no god but Allah,” it also has a statement about Mohammed being his prophet, and therefore the superiority of his interpretation. They accept the reality of revelations to previous prophets, but say that Jews and Christians got them wrong. It is only in Mohammed’s interpretation that such a singular god exists. (The various iterations of the Decalogue in the Hebrew Bible never even say that Iao Sabaoth is the “only” god, but instead that he is THE god for the Israelites, and is the only one which they should worship.)

    Same goes for Jesus–he may have been a son of Iao Sabaoth (in the same way that anyone who is Jewish is, at least by extension), but the entire concept of the Trinity and Christology is, again, Christian theology and Christian interpretation. Jesus is a perfectly fine figure on his own, a hero and god and virtuous former human; but Jesus being one with an all-powerful god, who in his omnipotence and omniscience couldn’t figure out how to bring about salvation for the world except through incarnation and self-destruction (which then got blamed on Judas, the Jewish people, etc.)? Really? Not a very creative deity, then! So, again, I have to take the position that something isn’t right with that theology, and while accepting the reality of the figures involved (at least as divine; historically is another matter), I consider the theology inaccurate and rather self-serving for that community, at best.

    People will say about us and our gods what they want to say about us and our gods. As long as they don’t try to prevent me from worshipping them, and as long as they don’t harm me because of my theological stances, there is no problem. I’m happy to talk with them, to have fellowship with them, to discuss things with them, and to do so in a respectful manner. However, I will not accept the reality or the so-called “truth” of their theological positions as a precondition for my interactions with them, since they certainly do not extend the same courtesy to me.

    Thank you for your conversation on this issue, Norse Alchemist! I’ll have more to say about this next week in my blog (I’m about to go away for a conference, and this isn’t an issue I want to post about and then not take part in discussion for two or three days…I think that’s bad form, but that may just be me).

  • Well said Lup. I look forwards to your blog post. I actually have considered most of your points previously and I do agree with them.

    The only thing I would disagree with is the whole “Omnipotent being” can’t be defeated. Maybe I’ve seen too much anime/cartoons and read too much manga/comic books, but from those I’ve learned that no matter how powerful, omnipotent, or skilled a being is, it can always be beaten. It is interesting you mentioned Q, because I vaguely recall hearing about a couple of situations where Q and his kind actually did fear the Borg gathering enough of their power to challenge and defeat the Qs. I could be wrong though, I’m not a big Trekkie.