Gods in Boxes–A Modest Proposal

I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, and he’s a better artist than I am (although I draw an awfully good tree!), but Alyxander Former’s recent post on Patheos (complete with comics!) is kinda missing something really big.

In it, he proposes that one shouldn’t debate matters of theology, particularly regarding the nature and myriad of the gods, because it’s unknowable.  This is an unfortunately secular and disenchanted view of the world, inherited not from Pagan traditions but from Western discourse.  This discourse asserts religious experience must be private or commodified and nowhere in between.

In essence, we don’t know how to talk about belief in our disenchanted world because we ignore all sorts of pluralistic necessities in favor of a hegemonic compromise where no belief actually can matter because belief is somehow unapproachable. The vegan who takes her respect for animals so seriously she doesn’t eat them, the anti-capitalist and anti-war activist who actively attempts to fight those things, the person who cares for the homeless so much she goes out and does something about it–those are people whose beliefs “matter,” and they threaten others not by their words but by their consistency, and they also threaten the Capitalist order which asserts that the only thing we can believe in is ourselves and the market.

This is unfortunate.  Also, it’s sad he asserts that polytheists are axe-wielding vikings ready to be violent, rather than people meeting gods and attempting to explain to others what this means.  Sure, there are some impolitic folks on all sides, but there’s a much bigger point that we’re missing, one that I’m afraid his cartoon will only serve to re-enact into Pagan discourse.  That is, we OUGHT to be debating these things, because the gods actually matter.

Again, some of the discourse is ugly, and some people are particularly embattled and embittered by years of attempting to help others understand that the gods exist and are doing stuff and life explodes in brilliant meaning once you let yourself acknowledge them.

But, whatever.  Here’s what’s missing:


30 thoughts on “Gods in Boxes–A Modest Proposal

  1. This discourse asserts religious experience must be private or commodified and nowhere in between.

    Yes, precisely, thank you very much!

    1. Is it the boots or the mohawk? : ) Also, I’m normally pretty committed to the gay thing, and don’t tell my boyfriend I’m saying this, but I’d say yes if that comes with German, French, or British citizenship… : )

      1. Personally I’m all about boots and mohawks on stick figures, but I also prefer big, bushy beards on them.

      2. Braided goatees are fine too. I like someone who looks like they could strap on a sword and armor at any minute and head off to battle.

  2. You make a good point–it does address something the original piece did not.

    Although I suspect it was written from the point of view of someone who hasn’t been able to open their box yet–maybe the lid is stuck, maybe it’s got a tricky latch and they lack the hand-eye coordination to work it. In such a case it’s perhaps understandable that someone wouldn’t think of opening it. (Personally I’ve managed to open my box a few times and feel far better for it, but mostly I can’t and it just sits on the altar looking pretty. But I do remember what I saw! :))

    1. I like this allegory a lot. : )

      Also, definitely, I think he and I are trying to get at the same thing. But seriously, he can draw MUCH better than I can…though I’d like to see his trees! : )

  3. Aha! So that’s how I leave a comment!

    Great response!
    As far as opening the box goes, the main point of my example was to illustrate that theology is a matter of faith, not fact. I can no more “Prove” Odin, then two-thousand years of Christian apologists have been able to “Prove” YHWH. The box is an allegory for the absence of objective evidence.
    I’ve talked to Skadi, and I firmly believe she’s there. HOWEVER, I can offer nothing but my word on that. To anybody who wasn’t there, I might as well be telling campfire stories, because there’s no “proof”. That’s the box.

    My intent was not to imply that Theology is pointless to pursue; my intent was to explain why it’s pointless to FIGHT over it. To pull an example I used in another comment (On Agora), it’s a bit like fighting over which color is “best”.

    1. Hey, Alyxander!
      Glad you liked my (really horrible attempt at drawing a) comic. : )

      Hmmm. I think I’d complicate your example about YHWH particularly, if you don’t mind. While there were plenty of apologists through those several centuries, we’ve also got shrines and churches and cathedrals as well as massive archives of writings regarding the existence of their god, which are also proof that something was happening in their worship, yeah? Whether or not the Christian’s god is one or many is utterly up for debate, but they were certainly worshiping someone, and their theologies were only part of what was going on. So, I’d suggest that theology isn’t the only thing that accompanies worship of a god, but it was definitely important enough for there to be endless debates over the matter.

      Another matter–so, you’ve talked to Skadi. I’ve never done so, but have talked to Brigid and Bran and Arianrhod and Ceridwen and Dionysos. Different gods, but, well, fun–your experiences with Skadi will, if I’m listening and curious enough, tell me something more about the gods than what I know from just my own relationships. More so, my relationships to certain gods are only enriched by meeting people who also worship them. When we encounter each other and our experiences, we’ll need to speak a language where we can relate these things–that’s Theology.

      That’s why I think we should be talking more theology, not less. And fights over the matter will often be useless, but not always, as combativeness is not just a sign of human aggression, but also of how important a belief is to someone. There is, of course, no need for an axe, but there’s all kinds of need for discussions, fierce or casual.

      But they get ugly, and I don’t know what to do about that. You obviously see the same thing, and I utterly respect your intention to come up with something that might help. Also, your drawing skills are much better than mine. : )

      Also, hey! You up for tea, perhaps?

      1. Another commenter (on Agora) expressed a similar sentiment.

        I feel like a lively debate for the sake of exploration is one thing. Fighting about it and and calling each other names is quite another.
        That’s the point I was making 🙂
        By all means, explore your theology, define your beliefs, and learn to defend your position. I encourage that! It implies that one is thinking critically about their beliefs!
        However, it’s important to remember that these are still matters of faith, and faith is not the same thing as evidence.
        Shrines and Churches and Cathedrals are proof that people were religiously motivated to build communal structures. That’s proof of organized religion, not proof of the deity in question.
        I hope I’m making sense… (It’s been a LONG day!)
        Long story short: (Learn it, talk about it, debate your friends, but don’t get into fights over it.)

        I would LOVE to schedule a tea time! When would you like to get together?

  4. Point well made, Sir. While, I am not sure he was in fact argueing for a ” must be private or commodified” as opposed to a “simply not worth argueing “I’m right and you are wrong” about religeon” stance. That way lies madness and extemeism, as our current world illustrates so well When we do have an open and honest discourse about what I believe AND what you beieve without malice, then we will be on a path worth taking.

    1. Oh, he’s definitely not arguing that at all. The private vs. commodified question is an external pressure we’re all facing, Pagans or otherwise. It’s difficult to speak using theory without sounding accusatory, but I hope I didn’t come off as suggesting he was an active part of that, only that he was in danger of replicating this problem. I tried to get to a little bit of this sort of problem in my talk on Wyrd Ways last week , but I really need to write something more about this.

      And yes, malice is bad. Madness? Not so much. Extremism? That’s frustratingly relative. I’m a moderate amongst my anarchist friends, but a dangerous extremist to a liberal pro-capitalist. Or just “me.” : )

  5. The last panel is a great addition, especially the subpanel.

    Your say we ought to debate about the Gods, and I agree, but how does one debate matters of faith?

    1. Carefully and respectfully, with a shared language? : )

      Actually, the “shared language” is probably even more important than the first two, as there’s all sorts of people who are careful and respectful but accidentally severely offend and even hurt people.

  6. Neither agnosticism nor apophatic theology are exclusively western, secular, disenchanted, or even particularly modern. We know this because there’s a few thousand years of writing by people who opened those boxes to find wibbly wobbbly Beings and other stuff lurking outside of human sense-making.

  7. This very discussion (between our two cartoonists) should be held up as an example of the importance of these debates — and the importance of conducting them less combatively. I love to talk belief with others, as it helps me understand my own better. But I have found that, when my passion about the subject yields to defensiveness, or anger, or the need to be RIGHT, I stop listening, and I no longer benefit from the discussion. What I’m seeing here is people clarifying their positions rather than giving in to those knee-jerk reactions. It’s very nice to see.

  8. Perhaps we’d all be better off spending less energy on arguing over who’s correct in their ideas about the gods, and more on devising ways to clearly describe the nuances of our interactions with the gods. Sharing our experiences with one another is bound to create more good than coming up with reasons to dismiss each others’ experiences.

    1. And while I completel agree, Lon, and think there should be more sharing of experiences…

      …Unfortunately, when some of us have done that, the first things we get told are “Well, that’s just UPG, so it doesn’t really matter to anyone else,” or “Who do you think you are, trying to show how cool and mystical you are, as if you’re better than all of us who don’t talk to the gods,” and so on and so forth.

      It’s divisive to talk about theologies, because everyone disagrees on them; it’s divisive to talk about practices, because then people think someone is telling them what to do and how to practice their religion; and, its divisive to talk about our experiences, because those with different, differing, or entirely opposed experiences feel that they are being undermined, and those with no experiences feel they are being made inferior.

      I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much that any of these ideas are flawed, but instead that the group of people who have been attracted to pagan and polytheist religions are of a type that for various reasons is simply not suited to talk about any of those things in a way that is calm and not taken personally every time someone says something. *shrugs*

  9. Life exploding with brilliant meaning, that isn’t for everyone you know.


    “The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.”

    Frank Zappa

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