Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Which One is the God of Love, Again?

(Cross-posted at PaganSquare.com)

Over at the PJ Media Lifestyle section (who knew PJ media even had a lifestyle section?), Dave Forsmark has a piece extolling the virtues of a new self-published novel from one of his PJ Media colleagues. I’m not going to get much into his review of the book itself, mostly because I haven’t read it and have no plans to do so, but his essay leading into the review is so rife with misinformation and unsupported assumptions and conclusions, mostly at the expense of the Norse Gods, that I felt it necessary to respond.

Please note that this is not intended to be a Christianity-bashing article. Rather, the intent is to point out that Christianity is not some pure and good religion, and the Christian God is not somehow on a unique moral plane compared to other Gods and Goddesses, as Mr. Forsmark claims. The various crimes and failings of other faiths that he brings up are to be found in Christianity in spades, and so Christianity doesn't enjoy any special place among the world's religions. If anything, it has more than its share of wrong-doing.
Americans have a naïve view of religion. The religious freedom that is so ingrained in our tradition — and our Constitution — has morphed beyond tolerance to a sort of anthropomorphic acceptance of pretty much anything.
Basically, acceptance of anything religious that isn’t Juedeo-Christian is somehow naïve and beyond the scope of the First Amendment. Now that the implicit Christian hegemony over American culture is being eroded, Mr. Forsmark is terrified that somewhere, someone worships a different God (or Gods) than he does. Why does that terrify him? Because he views it as an implicit criticism of his own choice to worship Jehovah, and he’s not used to that assumption being questioned (although it’s fine for him to question other peoples’ choices in regards to their choice of faith).
In other words, in order to prove how tolerant we are, we take our basically Judeo-Christian view of what religion and God should be, and assume all other religions share the same goals, have the same values and are just differing manifestation of the same loving and just God.
It is true that all too often we hear the insipid canard that “all faiths lead to the same place”, or “we all worship the same God”, or somesuch.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Agreed, but the problem lies not in the fact that not every God is like the Christian God, but that so many people make the assumption. My Gods aren’t like his God? Good!
In fact, the God of the Bible is unique in the history of the world’s religions. From Baal to Zeus, from Jupiter to Allah and Odin, the gods of paganism are capricious masters, not loving fathers. Control is their goal — when they think of humans at all — not justice or peace.
The goal of God of the Bible is justice and peace? The justice afforded to slaves who know their place, perhaps. The peace of the dead, without doubt. Just ask the firstborn of Egypt. Amalek and his people. The Midianites. The inhabitants of Jericho, Shion, Og, Ai, Makkedah, Lachish, the Gibeonites, the Libnahites, the Eglonites, the Hebronites, the Debirites, etc. etc. etc. And their crime? They were in the Israelites way. They had something the Israelites wanted. So the vicious God of the Israelites told them to slaughter them to get it.

And justice? Christians are famous for performing a curious bit of philosophical gymnastics. “If God said to do it, it is by definition good and just.” Uh-huh.
But saying so is sooooo judgmental!
No, it’s simply factually incorrect. Jehovah, the “God of the Bible”, sets the standard for being petty, vindictive, jealous, capricious, and not only directly but indirectly murderous as well.
Marvel Comics master storyteller Stan Lee took the most interesting of the Norse gods, Thor, the God of Thunder, and made him a crusader for truth, justice and maybe even the American Way… or at least Western values.
I might argue that, from a literary and mythological standpoint, Odin is far more interesting than Thor. But then again, I don’t base my religion on a comic book, so it’s something of a moot point.
But think of it from the view of the Vikings — what could be more capricious and destructive than the god of the weather?
Thor was indeed connected with the weather, but not in the simplistic way Mr. Forsmark describes. Thor is God of the winds; the same winds that drive ships on their far voyages for trade and exploration. He is the God of the rain; the same life-giving rain that is vital for the growth of crops. His hammer is used not to punish humans, but to protect them from the hostile Jotuns (giants), against whom Thor wages a never-ending war for the protection of both Gods and humans.
But of course, a self-centered destructive superhero who loves war and longs to be worshiped would make for a crappy comic book.
"Longs to be worshipped?" Mr. Forsmark has Thor confused with his own Jehovah (not surprising, since above he seemed to think that the “God of the Bible” was the gold standard against which all other divinities should be measured). Was it Thor who demanded “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”? No; that dubious and insecure command comes from Mr. Forsmark’s God, not mine.
On the serious side, though, a misunderstanding of a leading world religion has serious implications for most of the current world conflicts.
Indeed it does. Such as Mr. Forsmark’s self-serving and almost blind misunderstanding of his own religion. He seeth the speck of sawdust in other peoples’ eye, but the hypocrite seeth not the plank in his own eye.
Even George W. Bush, who may have done more to physically confront jihad in the world in the last century or so, mouthed the diplomatically convenient canard, “Islam means peace.” Yes, and Pravda means “truth.”
I believe the actual quote from President Bush was “Islam is a religion of peace”; the word itself means “submission”. But then again, one might make the same complaint against those who say that Christianity is a religion of justice and peace…
A non-rebellious slave is at “peace” with his master, too.
Mr. Forsmark should have no problem with that. Does not his own Bible say “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.”? Well, as long as the slave is beaten properly; just enough to cripple him for a few days, rather than kill him.

Now, I know full well that the Christian Bible also has passages that can be interpreted as being against slavery. But the good doesn’t erase the evil…

<snip a whole bunch of Islam-bashing stuff; I’ll let the Muslims sort him out here if they care to>
But Allah is much more like every other pagan deity… no matter how far flung.
Technically speaking, using the dictionary definition of the term, Allah isn’t pagan. But, you know, facts always have a tendency to get in the way of a good zinger.
I talked to PJ Media contributor Brian Cherry, who, under the pseudonym Brian James has recently published Ragnarok: The Hammer, Book One in a planned trilogy of novels set in the present day about the Norse prophecies of Apocalypse — hey, unlike the Mayans, the Vikings actually predicted one, you don’t have to infer it by when they calendar [sic] happens to end.
Since the end of any religion is one’s eternal destiny, we started there. Brian told me that Odin and Allah agree on the surest — and quickest — way to heaven. Not through faith in a Savior, but through sanctified violence.
“Although I’m sure the original myths many of Odin’s circumstances are borrowed directly from the bible, his personality is much closer to that of Allah. The first thing that comes to mind is that he would have loved suicide bombers.
Really? That’s more than a bit of a stretch. The slain that Odin chooses in battle to reside in Valhalla and fight at his side at the battle of Ragnarok aren’t chosen strictly for their ability to kill other people. Nowhere do we read in the sagas or Eddaic poetry about valkyries plucking someone up simply because they burned down a building full of people (we do have plenty of examples of people burning down buildings full of people—they just don’t get rewarded with being drawn into the ranks of the einherjar for doing so).
Those who went to Valhalla didn’t go there based on a belief in a savior, enlightenment or good works. You went to Valhalla based on a good death in battle. Odin would have adored warriors who killed thousands of their enemy by crashing an airliner into a building. Dying during the act would have assured their place in heaven.”
Nonsense; those who are chosen are on a battlefield. Fighting against other capable warriors; in many cases the best fighting the best, and Odin (and occasionally other Gods and Goddesses) intervening to pull their chosen. That’s not slaughtering innocent people, that’s not putting a sword through some defenseless child or old man. The chosen of Valhalla are chosen for their valor and strength of arms; the only way that is demonstrated is against other warriors. Slaughter of innocents? The God of the Bible has that down to a science, and not only commands his followers to engage in the gruesome practice, but rewards them handsomely for doing so. Neither Odin nor Thor are ever recorded commanding the Danes to wipe out a city because the Gods promised it to them. Jehovah brags about it, more than once. It’s his modus operandi throughout the entire Old Testament.

As for not needing a savior, once again, just because something isn't Christian doesn't make it wrong.

The Vikings also had their own 9-11, as Cherry explains.
The Vikings were also the world’s first (and arguably most successful) terrorists. They would appear quietly out of nowhere and often someplace that was undefended…a soft target. The attack on the Lindisfame monastery in 793 is not only an act of overt terrorism, but accepted by most as the start of the Viking age. 
Do Mr. Forsmark and Mr. Cherry actually believe there was no carnage before the 8th century? We might go back to the many, many examples of the Israelites in the Old Testament noted above; surely killing 3,000 Philistines is more of an act of terror than putting a few monks to the sword.
They did what they did in Odin’s name, and they believe with his blessing. 
Considering the only sources we have are the Christian targets of the raid, and they didn’t record whether the Vikings who sacked the place were shouting “For Odin!” or “For Thor!” or “For Tyr!” or “For FreyR!” or “For Freyja” or whatever, this is just a completely unsupportable assertion. But assume it’s true for the sake of argument. So what? The Israelites did much, much worse in the name of Jehovah.
That is not much different then Allah smiling on his followers for killing the helpless in his name.
Again, I’ll refer this to the Muslims. But the “if it’s not Christianity, it’s eeeeeevil” is starting to wear thin. It's certainly a crappy form of argument.
Lindisfarne was the home of the famed monk Saint Aiden, a center for evangelization throughout northern Europe, and known for an illustrated copy of the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John known as the Lindisfarne Gospels. When Thomas Cahill wrote How the Irish Saved Civilization, he had in mind people like the Lindisfarne monks.
To the Vikings, followers of Odin, the Lindisfarne Monastery was as major a symbol of Christianity as the World Trade Center was a symbol of the capitalist West to certain followers of Allah in 2001. And there was little booty to be gained from the raid, which was conducted in as bloody a way as possible and sent shudders through Christendom. The scholar Alcuin wrote, “The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.”
This is a misconception that I’ve even seen repeated among Heathens. The Vikings who sacked Lindisfarne did not do so because of any sort of ideological crusade against Christianity. Monks’ blood notwithstanding, the reason Lindisfarne was attacked was because it was a soft target with lots of loot to be had, not because it had any sort of religious significance. In fact, didn’t he make the very same point a few paragraphs above? (“They would appear quietly out of nowhere and often someplace that was undefended…a soft target.”)

Of course, then, as now, Christians had a need to see themselves as persecuted martyrs, so it’s not surprising that Alcuin saw the raid as a sign of tribulation in response to the sinfulness of the English. Symeon, on the other hand, provides a more prosaic and more detailed account: “On the seventh of the ides of June, they [the Norse raiders] reached the church of Lindisfarne, and there they miserably ravaged and pillaged everything; they trod the holy things under their polluted feet, they dug down the altars, and plundered all the treasures of the church. Some of the brethren they slew, some they carried off with them in chains, the greater number they stripped naked, insulted, and cast out of doors, and some they drowned in the sea.” – Symeon, History of the Church of Durham.

Just because the Christians were upset that some Christian relics got looted doesn’t mean that the Vikings who did the looting did so out of any motive other than plunder.
The followers of Odin did not start their war on Christianity with the attack on Lindisfarne, as Cherry explains.
War on Christianity? If anything, the reverse was true. It was the Christians who consistently spread their foreign faith into the Germanic lands, by persuasion when convenient, but by trickery, compulsion, blackmail, torture, and even mass executions if necessary. It was Charlemagne in 782 (ten years before Lindisfarne!) who slaughtered 4,500 Saxons who refused to abandon the faith of their fathers, and that was merely one in a near-endless string of atrocities committed by the expanding Christian church against those who refused to bend before it. And that is just one example out of literally hundreds if not thousands.
Odin and Allah both seemed to have a major problem with Christians. Before the Viking age of the Norse started with the attack on the Lindisfame Monastery, the pagan followers of Odin persecuted and purged Norway of Christians. This started in late 772 or early 773 AD. 
Tossing out missionaries or slaughtering thousands of innocent captives who refuse to convert. Which is the atrocity, again?
The Quran (as the inspired word of Allah) also shows an intolerance for Christians and Jews.
About this time I can hear someone who had the same history teacher as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton yelling, “Hey! What about Crusades?”
Since you bring it up, sure. I could just as easily bring up the pogroms, or persecutions of Pagans under the Christianized Roman Empire, or the multiple genocides chronicled in Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, etc. But if you want to go with the Crusades, I'm happy to play on your field.
Look, like Odin, Allah made his first appearance somewhere around the 7th Century. 
The evidence points to Odin being a very old deity amongst the Germanic peoples; Tacitus associates him with Mecury in the 1st Century work “Germania”, and there is linguistic evidence that goes much further back than that.
Conversion was more by force and violence than by rhetoric. While Obama seems to adopt the Third World position that Islam is the organic and legitimate religion of Arab regions, it’s worth remembering that Alexandria, the great city of Egypt at one time was a central city of early Christianity.
And before that it was a great center of Hellenistic civilization. In 440 CE Bishop Theophilus ordered the destruction of Pagan temples, idols, and religious works, among which was most if not all of the contents of the great Library of Alexandria. That wasn’t a Pagan, that wasn’t a Muslim. That was a Christian. So don’t pretend that the Christians are somehow blameless in all this; their hands are just as dirty as everyone else’s. If it's bad that the Muslims took Alexandria away from the Christians, it's just as bad that the Christians took it away from the Pagans.
So, while the Crusades, whatever their wisdom or excesses, took on the mission of “liberating the Holy Land,” to act as though it was some imperialistically religious, unprovoked attack is to pretend Normandy was an act of aggression against a peaceful country.
Most mainstream historians would disagree with that interpretation. Indeed, the very fact of the foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 CE demonstrates that it was precisely an “imperialistically religious… attack” to beat back the advances of Islam. But don’t take my word for it; here’s Pope Urban II on the objectives of the First Crusade (and he should know—it was undertaken at his urging): “Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. … They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impunity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends.” (Urban II, Council of Clermont, 1095 CE)

Now, as with most things, the motives for the Crusades were varied and complex. But to state that they weren’t motivated by the desire to re-establish the control of Christendom over the lands that the Muslims had conquered is simply incorrect.
Perhaps the most remarkably specific similarity between Odin and Allah is how women are used to welcome the slain warrior into Heaven. Everybody knows by now about the famed 72 virgins made available to the man who dies in the service of jihad. (What happens to these apparently specifically created creatures whose sole reason for existence is to service the jihadist after they are no longer a virgin is not spelled out, however…)
Odin has his own version of this. Valkyries meet the warrior who is killed in battle and escort him to Valhalla. Any other role is not spelled out, though Valkyries are certainly not presented as asexual creatures in any interpretation of Norse myths. Cherry speculates, “Valkyries guided/carried the hero to Valhalla. Servicing then was presumably the in flight entertainment.”
Then Cherry shouldn't be talking about things he obviously knows nothing about, let alone writing novels about them.

The sexualized version of the valkyrie is a relatively recent phenomenon. Originally, the valkyries were envisioned more like the Greek furies; fearsome bloodstained hellions who are much more at home on a bloody battlefield than in some Asgardian sex palace. There is talk of them offering cups of wine or mead to those who arrive in Valhalla, but that’s all.
But then sex plays a central role among all the gods in Brian’s modern interpretation of the Viking’s gods, and their interactions with modern American culture.
Indeed; it should also be pointed out that if sex were envisioned as any part of the (very complex) Norse conception of the afterlife, it would likely be in Freyja’s home Folkvangr. She is said to have her pick of half of those chosen, and no definitive connection exists between her and the valkyries.
So enough serious stuff. Time to talk about Brian Cherry’s (aka Brian James) Ragnarok — easily the most fun way I can think of to get a good idea of the various personalities of Norse mythology (yes, we can call it that now, since darn few Swedes believe this stuff anymore, unlike the other religion we have been discussing).
I don't know the exact numbers for Sweden, but tens of thousands of people still worship the Norse Gods in the United States. You know; the U.S. with the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of religion (even if that religion isn't Christianity)?
First, forget everything you absorbed from the (really terrific) Avengers movies. Starting with the Hammer, Mjolnir.
Unlike what Marvel Comics had to say about the Hammer of Thor (or what any other myth describes regarding the use of powerful, supernatural weapons) using Mjolnir had nothing to do with the purity of one’s heart or the strength of their convictions. If morality truly dictated what tools one could use, none of the Gods would be able to pick up a Craftsman screwdriver from Sears without bursting into flames.
...and Jehovah would fall to dust from a socket wrench.
That gives you a flavor for Cherry’s tone here.
Indeed it does, and I have to say that his book rings a bell somehow. Norse Gods and Goddesses living in America? Now, where could I have heard something like that before? Oh, that’s right…


At least he got one thing right. Avengers was a terrific movie. Everything else... not so much.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a well written post, which points out a very evident trend or bias, if I might put it like that. In the World of politics, same as anywhere else, making sense of facts, figures or even more biased statements, as those of mr Forsmark, is always hard... http://tannhauser3.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/asatru-gains-strength-on-iceland-exponential-growth-attained/ (then again, we all have our own bias, I should like to think) :)

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