mfbrandi Posted October 4, 2022 Report Share Posted October 4, 2022 (edited) Over in the Argrath Good/Bad Orlanthi thread: 3 hours ago, Eff said: Well, to answer these questions thoroughly and precisely: the question is how do you define "god"? This is a very difficult question- are gods immortal? (Devas and asuras in Buddhism aren't, though they have lifespans which may be longer than the duration of the observed universe. The Norse gods weren't, the Ugaritic ones may or may not have been. But the Greek ones were.) Do gods have absolute power? (Answering this question leads you down a rabbit hole in defining "absolute".) There are certainly people who will tell you that they had no concept of a god before Christianity and Christian missionaries came, but their mythological stories and their public-facing ritual practices would seem to suggest that they believed in entities or presences that did the kind of things gods do for other cultures. And maybe the other end is important too- how small can a spiritual being be before it no longer counts as a god? Lares and penates were certainly gods to the Romans, but domovoi, hobs, brownies, pucks, and the like are in the liminal categories of fairies- but they exist in a Christian context. Even in the non-Christian context of Japan, though, zashiki-wariki and zashiki-bokko are typically considered to be part of the liminal category of youkai. And then next door in Korea, the Gasin/Gashin are clearly gods, though they have formalized names even as they fulfill very similar functions to a brownie. But setting that aside, the question of "interventionist" in relation to gods (whatever they are) is perhaps a bit confusing to me. What's a non-interventionist god? Would interventionism mean a god that responds to human appeal in a way that explicitly contradicts the laws of physics, or that does so on their own? That is, there seems to be a kind of assumption that gods and spirits are cleanly separable from natural processes, such that you can distinguish natural lighting from the unnatural lightning of an interventionist weather god. To a very real extent, this begins by defining gods as clearly parasitic or perhaps commensal organisms, ones which are uninvolved with the actual processes but just sit there and perhaps redirect some lightning bolts every once in a while. But as far as whether gods or other spiritual entities are good or not... I think that this is possibly the wrong way to think about it, because the more important factor would be that they exist, or that you have a strong belief that they exist. The question of whether they fit into a dualist structure of good and evil is secondary and from a descriptive level, not all that common. To look at contemporary Shinto, which has some degree of developed philosophy on this topic, kami have at a bare minimum an assertive or fierce aspect (ara-mitama) and a gentle or kind aspect (nigi-mitama), which is to say they are neither good nor evil, but more like humans, capable of either. As far as ontological commitments go, I would say that all sincere religion at least has the ontological commitment that the religion has meaning beyond the simply personal. This is obviously not necessary and sufficient definition of religion, but it is something that covers the very loose kind of spirituality associated with pantheists, some Buddhists (especially in Europe, the US, Canada, etc.), and some Quakers and Unitarian Universalists, in that they still define themselves to the rest of the world as this, and not an atheist, agnostic, or secularist, or any of the other associations we use to signify that we are not religious, and thus that this has some kind of external meaning. This is of course a long answer. I think a short one is that I don't really think that it's likely that someone who sincerely thought that spiritual beings were real, attempted to consult them or ask their aid, and also thought their aid or influence was purely malignant in effect would exist as such, or call themselves a shaman if they did, and that it's not that much more likely that an arbitrary distinction between benign spirits and malignant gods would be central to their worldview but not be evident in this fictional motif (as it's being presented here and in the linked post and in general in these kinds of discussions), which seems to straightforwardly be a kind of disenchantment-of-reality one where all the magic vanishes, not one where one specific kind of magic vanishes but the other three are unaffected or only minorly so. … and I think that probably deserves its own thread. For context, here’s my take on the “founding myth” of Glorantha, the one we all read at the beginning of RQ2 — with some of the later elaborations: Quote The gods break stuff and let chaos into the world (the Gods War, in godtime). Stuff gets fixed and the gods get locked out (AKA the birth of time). Unfortunately, this doesn’t work — sneaky gods manifest within time, more than once — and the hero (it is always the same one) has to repeat the original quest to fix stuff and lock out the gods, again. This cycle culminates in the murder of all or most of the gods. This time the world is fixed for good … maybe. So the question is — I think — if this is a tale told by a religious person, not by a Richard Dawkins or a Christopher Hitchens, what is going on? (To try and keep the question open and not have me shut it down before we’ve started.) I don’t really think this is problematic — even given my spin on the myth — it is a tale of the desirability of human self-reliance. It expresses an attitude toward life (the universe and everything). And probably, we could just leave it there, but the trouble is that people have theories about what religious belief is, what it means, and what religious believers “really think” the world is like. I am as guilty of this as anyone … probably more so. Cards on the table: I am not religious; I never have been; when people try to explain their faith to me, I do not understand them. Does that make me an atheist? Well, as Eff says, what is a god anyway? (Although asking the question is maybe a sign something has already gone wrong.) An attitude that Wittgenstein attributes to J G Frazer (of Golden Bough fame) is that the religion and magic of “primitive” people embodies mistakes about the world. This is echoed in Campbell’s notion of the cosmological function of myth as proto-science. That is: people used to have theories about how the world worked — and these invoked gods and spirits — but we have science, which is better and replaces their “magical” theories like-for-like. I tend to agree with Wittgenstein that this attitude short-changes the people Frazer was talking about: it makes them out to be idiots, which clearly they were not. Wittgenstein would probably say that attempting to explain religious practice is a mistake. Me? I honestly don’t know. (I will put some quotes from Wittgenstein on The Golden Bough in a later comment.) So in my clumsy way, I was trying to suggest that there is nothing strange about a religious person creating myths about gods who are nothing but trouble, and that it is a mistake to think that all religious people are deluded — they don’t think that gods are part of the furniture of the world in the way that Toni Morrison was, whatever myths they may tell. At least not all of them do (and that is where I really slipped up), and it seems charitable to assume they don’t. Myths are not fighting for space with physics, and this is where Glorantha gets odd: it seems we are being asked to treat Glorantha as a place where myth and magic take the place of the physical sciences. When one inserts religion into Glorantha, things get mind-bending: myth has to do double duty as science and as myth (i.e. what if Frazer were right, but the world was different?) — but don’t we have different requirements of these two things? Anyway, that’s more than enough rubbish from me. What does everybody else think? Edited October 4, 2022 by mfbrandi add tag Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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