Exploring the ways in which people appeal to deity, it looks like for many, both contemporary and historical, gods are great uber-parents to be whimpered to when we want something sorting out. Some of the requests we offer up are petty, many are self serving. If we assume that life should not be crappy, should not cause us misery, should not deprive us of what we love or fail to give us what we desire, then going ‘oi, God, fix it!’ makes a degree of sense. One of the things atheists pick on theists for, is this constant running to mummy goddess and daddy god, for intervention that seldom comes, rather than facing our own challenges. Of course, not everyone relates to deity that way, but for today I want to ponder those who do.
We come into this world powerless. It is down to others to feed us and keep us warm. We cry, and help comes to us. Or doesn’t. We may be comforted, bottoms cleaned, food provided, or we may be left to howl in the darkness. In later life, we won’t remember much of this, but I would be prepared to bet that our first impressions stay with us. That lingering desire for the parent god who takes away the bad smell and brings the milk and honey, is not so unnatural. How much of our development as spiritual people might hark back to our early childhoods? Some sense of whether or not our prayers for intervention will be answered by benevolent powers might owe a lot to time in the cradle. But, what of those who are neglected? Do they hunger for the parent god who never came, and seek another one in later life?
If this isn’t total madness, then I suspect the transition of growing out of powerlessness, and learning that parents cannot do everything, has got to be a critical part of the journey. On Monday we had a school trip. A handful of inappropriately dressed girls, struggling with the cold, were quite angry about having to wait outside. The expectation that someone should be there to fix it, right now, was evident. My own lad, in his wet weather gear, quiet, accepting, comfortable and a bit bemused by the girls. How much you expect to have to cope with for yourself, how much you assume you are entitled to have fixed, how stoical you are, and what you see as a big deal or no real problem, all shapes your relationship with reality. I would bet it also informs how you think about deity.
When we’re in crisis, the desire that something, someone, sweep in and rescue us, may be natural enough, but it isn’t always helpful. Often what we most need to do is figure out how to rescue ourselves. Life is so full of setbacks for so many people. Letting go of a sense of entitlement, or disbelief at reality, and working with what is, makes life a lot easier. When you are inclined to either deal with things or accept them, there’s not a great deal of reason to go bothering a deity about your problems. You might still talk to them, though, because there is more to faith than applying to the uber-parent to have your psychic nappy changed.
My belief, which to me seems ‘druid’ to me, is that it’s my job to sort out my problems. I have prayed, in crisis, I admit it. Usually what occurs to me is ‘just let me survive this’ or ‘I could do with some insight here’. I find it hard to imagine that any deity is going to swing into my life. But at the same time, there have been periods of such strange coincidence and unlikely connections that I’ve wondered if other hands were twitching the threads of reality a bit. Just because that might happen sometimes does not incline me to think I can have it for the asking. I’m definitely animist in outlook, I believe in the idea of spirits, presences, things that are here and not so tangible. I assume they have their own intentions and desires. If mine overlap, that may help me, if they don’t, it won’t. Pretty much the same as dealing with people, in fact. There could be kindness and compassion, but I’m not counting on it.
I remember being young enough to be making the transition from seeing my parents as omniscient and omnipotent, to having to deal with them being people, and sometimes wrong, and not always perfect. Initially, it came as a bit of a shock, but many things do when you’re that size. I think the longer you go with gods for parents, the longer you spend insulated from life, the bigger an adjustment it is when you have to start fending for yourself. Which is why I’m not attracted to the idea of gods as super-parents, making everything ok and smoothing the way for us. I want to stand on my own two feet when I can.