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Author Topic: Concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions vs Christianity?  (Read 1723 times)

Wyrth

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Concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions vs Christianity?
« on: December 14, 2016, 04:28:44 pm »
So I'm a total beginner, I have no clue about a lot of things (although I'm plowing through everything I can find) but one thing I have encountered several times is the fact that a lot of people say that there is a difference between for example the Christian God, and the concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions.
Apart from the obvious fact that most (every?) Pagan religion accepts the idea of several gods/goddesses, what would you ay those differences are?

The reason I'm asking, beyond general curiousity, is that the Abrahamic idea of god has never fit me. Mainly because I can't buy into the idea that an all-seeing, all-powerful and all-good entity can exist, because look at the world. On the other hand I have realised that I believe in someone watching over me and guiding me.

It's all a bit confusing to me, and it's hard to re-think the mainstream religious ideas that I was raised into.
If anyone has any insight and/or links regarding this, I would greatly appreciate it :D

Jenett

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Re: Concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions vs Christianity?
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2016, 05:32:59 pm »
Quote from: Wyrth;200055

Apart from the obvious fact that most (every?) Pagan religion accepts the idea of several gods/goddesses, what would you ay those differences are?


So, first, there are probably about as many views of deity among Pagans as there are Pagans. While you're right that many Pagan religions out there are polytheistic (or functionally polytheistic) there are lots of other variations out there.

I've got an essay on my website that might help explain some of the more common approaches, plus give you some vocabulary for understanding. (Other stuff in the 'getting started' section would probably also be helpful for you right now, especially the things Pagan religions do/don't have in common.)

Roughly, though, one big difference between Pagan religions and the common Abrahamic ideas of God (and I say 'common' because there's actually more variation there, too, than most people realise if you dig into historical theology) is that most Pagans don't assume their deities are omniscent (know everything), omnipotent (all powerful), and omnipresent (everywhere, all the time.)

Most Pagans are more likely to assume their deities have specific areas of interest and skill (like people, this is usually 'more than one skill or area of expertise', but like people, it's usually not 'all the knowledge and skill in the world'.) For example, a deity might be particularly associated with healing, with making things of a certain kind, with knowledge, with protection.

Likewise, a deity may be able to affect some things, but not others. Historically, in a pantheon (a cultural family of deities) this is pretty simple to solve: you worked with the deity associated with that thing for that problem. These days, it's sometimes a little more complicated, because our cultures are much more varied and interwoven. They're still more powerful than humans are (both in the sense of

On the other hand, within the realm that they focus on, they can sometimes be vastly more obviously (and often very usefully) interactive with people than the Abrahamic view of deity has been since the various books of the Old and New Testament was written. Awesome cosmic power that's never actually applied to the things you need is sometimes a lot less helpful than an itty bitty bit of power right where it helps.

Finally, deities may not be present all the time in all the places of the world at once. Conversation with other Pagans make me think they're a lot better at being in different places very quickly than humans are, and that they can split their general attention more effectively (multitasking) but maybe that's not omnipresence. There's a lot of space between 'in multiple places' and 'everywhere and aware of all of it'.

One other big difference, finally, is that a lot of cultures have deities who are not perfect - they have strong passions, make stupid decisions sometimes, do things that have a cause but are maybe not the best idea, and a lot of cultures have stories that own that idea, and where the idea of not being perfect means that humans can also work through our imperfection, and do something wth it, rather than just resign ourselves to not being all knowing, all powerful, all present beings. Personally, I find that sort of reassuring.
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Yei

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Re: Concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions vs Christianity?
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2016, 06:52:49 pm »
Quote from: Wyrth;200055
So I'm a total beginner, I have no clue about a lot of things (although I'm plowing through everything I can find) but one thing I have encountered several times is the fact that a lot of people say that there is a difference between for example the Christian God, and the concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions.
Apart from the obvious fact that most (every?) Pagan religion accepts the idea of several gods/goddesses, what would you ay those differences are?

The reason I'm asking, beyond general curiousity, is that the Abrahamic idea of god has never fit me. Mainly because I can't buy into the idea that an all-seeing, all-powerful and all-good entity can exist, because look at the world. On the other hand I have realised that I believe in someone watching over me and guiding me.

It's all a bit confusing to me, and it's hard to re-think the mainstream religious ideas that I was raised into.
If anyone has any insight and/or links regarding this, I would greatly appreciate it :D

 
There is a possible spanner in the works. I think that our modern perception of divinity and spirituality for all religions (including Christianity) is probably off somewhat from what pre-industrial people believed. Nowadays, gods are usually portrayed (in art where they appear) as just dudes with superpowers, while this may not have originally been the case. I know that in Mesoamerica, gods were more correctly aligned with cosmic forces than say, wizards. I think the same was (broadly) true for Egyptian and Sumerian gods. This does not mean the gods don't occasionally make appearances (certainly in mythology they do), but their effect on the world was much more ... esoteric? Nebulous? Something like that.

Furthermore, I suspect that our modern knowledge of the gods, especially older ones, is fairly reduced, perhaps I should say ...Flanderised? So their complex personalities become oversimplified into a list of basic traits. Of course, we cannot know what Publicus Randomous living in Italy at around 300 BC really thought of the gods and how he articulated his beliefs, but I'd say that he'd have a better grasp of the issues than a modern person. We are disadvantaged in two ways. First, time and destruction of records has obscured some of the nuances that may make these divinities more comprehensible. And second, modern European thought relies heavily on classification to create comprehension, and this makes it hard to understand the connection between seemingly contradictory associations that gods often have.

Darkhawk

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Re: Concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions vs Christianity?
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2016, 08:47:51 pm »
Quote from: Wyrth;200055
Apart from the obvious fact that most (every?) Pagan religion accepts the idea of several gods/goddesses, what would you ay those differences are?

It's worth not glossing over polytheism as too obvious to think about, though.

What are the logical upshots of monotheism?  It has a couple of possible routes: a classical Jewish model, in which there is one god responsible for all divine-type acts, whether considered good or evil by humans (a Jewish friend of mine has described his god as Lawful Neutral); various Christian models, in which there is one good responsible for all good divine-type acts, and other divine-type acts are perpetrated by an entity or entities that is defined as in some way not a god; pantheism, in which all beingness is god, and all events are necessarily acts of god, but that is not a terribly personal model; panentheism, in which all beingness is god, which also is beyond being.  There are some other models, but those show up most frequently in my experience.

Onegodness produces a god that has very extensive cosmological responsibility - either actively, or in that sort of definitional way that comes of some pantheisms.  It produces either a Grand Design or a god who is helpless to act, or sometimes, complexly, both.  (There is a Jewish theological interpretation in which Hashem deliberately removed Themself from the cosmos so that there was space for creation, but the consequence of that is that the created portion has something of a god shortage, for example.)

Multigodness produces different consequences.  First among them:  multiplicity requires difference.  Distinctions.  It creates the potential for conflict; it also creates the potential for harmony (in the musical sense).  Even if the multiplicity of Powers are all rooted in one source (some forms of Hinduism bridge mono- and polytheistic thought this way, as well as some pagan religions that have pantheistic or panentheistic components, or have emanationist theologies, or other things) the individual ones are going to have the potential to get at cross purposes.

People who are different don't agree on everything.  Even when they agree on most things.  Gods are not a separate category from people in this way.  Even if they have a shared goal of some sort the methodologies differ, the tools differ, the approaches differ.

Polytheisms have more potential answers to "Why does the world suck in this regard?" type questions (which can go roughly under 'The Problem Of Evil').  In addition to "non-divine hostile beings" (which is an explanation shared with monotheistic theologies), there are options that include inter-divinity conflict ("the god of explosions and the god of peace and quiet do not get on"), different gods having different levels of interest in and care for humanity, different gods having different agendas, a particular implacability of a god that's coterminous with natural forces, and so on.

(Or, more simply, it doesn't matter how buddy-buddy you are with a storm god, if you go out in the thunderstorm wearing copper plate you are begging to be struck by lightning, because the nature of that power is storm god, and storm gods will storm.  A storm god liking one does not change the nature of storms.  A god of everything could be anything; a storm god, well, the storms can be literal or metaphorical, can be focused on destruction or focused on bringing rain for crops or focused on noise and show or focused on any of the other things storms do, but it's going to come back around to storming in the end, somehow.  In some ways that's a lot easier to deal with.  In other ways it's pretty useless if what you need is a sheep.)
« Last Edit: December 14, 2016, 08:48:29 pm by Darkhawk »
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ehbowen

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Re: Concept of gods/goddesses in Pagan religions vs Christianity?
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2016, 12:14:57 am »
Quote from: Wyrth;200055
The reason I'm asking, beyond general curiousity, is that the Abrahamic idea of god has never fit me. Mainly because I can't buy into the idea that an all-seeing, all-powerful and all-good entity can exist, because look at the world. On the other hand I have realised that I believe in someone watching over me and guiding me.

I'm not wanting to detract from the topic of paganism for beginners, but I wanted to say that in my mind omniscience is not a starting point but an end goal to be attained. There is/was a growth process, even for the God of Abraham. I began a thread on it back on the old forum. You can't post to it there, but board rules allow you to bring the conversation back here if you find it interesting. [Edit to Add: In the proper forum, of course.]

I haven't found it quick or easy to get to know the God of Abraham from this world, but from what I have found I believe he is a lot more personable and a lot more friendly than most would credit.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2016, 12:17:11 am by ehbowen »
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