The Death of Worship

Hopefully everyone had a safe and happy celebration on Oíche Shamhna. I have a question to start off our topic this time:

When we read the myths of our religions, what are those myths describing? Let’s have a concrete example:

In the story “The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne” we see Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the leader and hero of the Irish Fianna, pursue the titular Diarmuid and Gráinne as they elope together, Fionn having wanted to marry Gráinne himself. Despite Diarmuid being Fionn’s closest friend, it takes the God Aonghus Himself to broker peace between the two. Fionn later invites Diarmuid to a boar hunt – despite a geas preventing him from piercing the hide of a boar, and prophecy detailing he will come to his death by one – and Diarmuid accepts, as he is invited by his closest friend. Despite this peace, and this friendship, Fionn allows Diarmuid to be killed by the boar, and even refuses to save him when he has two opportunities to. He only finally realizes his mistake and dedicates to saving Diarmuid on the third try, but by then Diarmuid is already dead.

What is this myth describing – and additionally now, what are we meant to learn from it? Is it describing a real event, wherein the mortal man Fionn Mac Cumhaill leads his best friend to his death over jealousy? Or perhaps it’s a parable, and the duo are merely actors playing roles in a play to give teach us a moral lesson – perhaps that jealousy is a slow death to fast friendships. Whatever conclusion one comes to about what mythology is meant to describe greatly changes our attitude towards our own religion. The two major interpretations are what I’d call metaphorical-ism and literalism – either the Myths are metaphors for greater concepts, or the myths are literal.

Mythical literalism, I argue, is the death of worship. It is from this poisoned ground that misotheism sprouts, and misotheism is the easiest force that disconnects a worshipper from the love of their Gods.

Misotheism is defined as “A hatred of Gods or God”, for those reading who may be new to the term. It does not describe someone who doesn’t believe in the Gods or is not confident in their belief, as these are atheism and agnosticism for example. It is explicitly a belief that Gods are real and do exist, and the subsequent attitude that one hates them. It may come as a surprise to some, but misotheism has existed since antiquity, and it’s extremely popular in modern day polytheist communities.

I’ll pose here a misotheistic argument, paraphrased as it is not a direct quote from any individual person, that you can sometimes find. Rather than use a more openly hated deity like Odin, or Zeus, I will use a Gaelic deity that has a moment in the myths that can spawn misotheism.

“I refuse to worship Dian Cecht. He murdered His son, Miach, out of petty jealousy simply because Miach was a better healer. A God of healing that kills those who perform better healing? Why would anyone want to worship a God like that?”

That last sentence is one that I hear, word for word and in slight variations, quite a lot – “Why would I worship a God like that?” It’s my opinion that the question is easily answered on one’s own via simply clarifying definitions. Most people, myself included, would be quite suspicious of a deity that spoke to us directly and said “Hey, just a heads up, I’m really jealous and will fuck you up if you make me mad. You should be scared of me.”

Calling a deity “evil” is similar to complaining about how terrible this “spoon” is.

That doesn’t sound like a deity, does it? It sounds more like a regular mortal person. Honestly, it sounds a lot like me when I was younger, and I’d heavily recommend against worshipping anyone remotely like me. The question changes very rapidly when you realize this, and it becomes “How can you call something that acts like that a deity?”

This is a position where many misotheists progress to and then stop. They realize that an evil and manipulative and vindictive deity is not a deity after all, and thus declare that their most hated deities are false pretenders. No one would call something who acts like that a deity, so anything that acts like that must not be a deity – and therefore, Dian Cecht (in our hypothetical example) is not a deity, according to misotheists.

Except plenty of people do call Him a deity. Many more people called Him a deity for generations upon generations, long before we ever came along to question His status. So what’s going on here? No one would call a jealous murderer a deity, and yet everyone calls Dian Cecht a deity! This is a paradox!

The answer should be obvious, and as such the article will wrap up soon. It’s quite a simple philosophical process, assuming you accept the premises. The answer is one of two options – Either:

1. Countless generations of worshippers were wrong about this deity – they assumed the bad things They did were just stories and not literal, but in actuality this being is evil and is not really a deity. I’m right, and countless others are fools and being misled.

Or:

2. In taking the myths literally, Dian Cecht does something that proves He cannot be a deity, and yet countless people before me believe the myths are not literal, and are mere plays that the Gods act in, meant to teach us lessons. Perhaps I’m wrong in taking them literally, and in actuality Dian Cecht is not a jealous murderer, but was merely being used in a metaphor.

It should be clear by now which of these I adhere to – and hopefully this article has helped people think through the misothetistic thought process. If you understand this concept better then you can grow out of it, or at least argue about it in a more robust way than simply saying “I don’t like Zeus, okay?”

After all, when we go to a play and the antagonist kills one of the star cast, we don’t vilify the actor and call the police. Perhaps we should give the same courtesy to the Gods that we give to our artists.

One thought on “The Death of Worship

  1. I feel like myths can be both literal and mythological at the same time; that they don’t have to be “one or the other”- and that there’s nothing wrong with taking them at face value while also recognizing that they may have been elaborated on in more than one way (so to speak).

    That being said, I think calling those groups of people who say things like “I hate Zeus” Misotheists is a bit much; Misotheism implies a hatred of all Gods- not just a handful whose myths they don’t understand. And frequently that’s what you see: Someone who has a poor understanding of a myth in it’s fullness, little to no understanding or its cultural context or greater mythological significance, etc, taking a myth at face value based on modern values and societal structure (which simply doesn’t work).

    By contrast, those who take the time to learn and understand the myth and its cultural context and significance? Don’t tend to hold those sort of staunch “screw that God” mentalities, because they recognize how much that doesn’t work- even if they’re taking the myths completely literally. At least that’s been my observation over 20 years of practice, anyways.

    Like

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