After my last post, you might be forgiven to think that the relationship with deity is for our benefit as humans. And I firmly believe that it does benefit as humans to have a relationship with deity, if only, as I said last time, to have someone to scream at in times of high pain and suffering! But why does deity bother with us?
Now, I won’t be going down the road of deity needing us to exist. I don’t think they do. But I think the deities with the most followers have the most obvious power in this world. (Of course, now we need to explore my views on “obvious power” and “this world”, but we will… eventually!)
This can be a subtle way of thinking about things, but if you look at the deities that have the most power in the world currently, I’d be look at the Christian God (2.4bn official believers), the Muslim God (1.9bn official believers), followed by 1.2bn people who are secular/agnostic/atheist/ non-religious. I’m not sure how atheism is a religion as such, but it’s listed here as part of the 3rd of the top 3 denominations… So between Christianity and Islam, we’ve accounted for 55% of the world’s population. That’s a lot of power to a monotheistic situation.
And we can see clear examples of numbers of followers influencing how a country or nation or even city is governed, how laws are made, how things are done, what the default holidays are, etc, etc, etc. So there is power in being the deity of a majority religion. Of course, I’d argue that a lot of those followers are in name only or because it’s default, rather than true believers, but that’s a story for another day. As an example, in Western Europe, Christmas Day is an almost universal holiday. Easter is also acknowledged in most countries. And while individual attitudes to Christianity are changing in the continent, by and large, Christian values and norms run through the daily practices of the general population. Marriage is predominantly defined (until very recently) as between a man and a woman. (There are still places in Europe where this is so, with same-sex partnerships being allowed civil unions or registered partnerships or something like that – here’s hoping it will change soon!) Polygamist marriages are illegal in most European countries and in both North and South American countries. In predominantly Muslim countries, polygamy, or polygyny at least, is allowed, whether freely or under certain circumstances (this varies from country to country and I’m way outside my swimlane here!!)
I’m hoping you’re starting to see, though, that by having large numbers of followers and by having the tenets of your religion or followers widely understood at some level in the wider population, the power this can give to a deity? Presumably, the followers of a deity would be working towards that deity’s idea of a good, just world? Or at least, that message as it get transcribed from the deity to the people following the deity. I mean, a few good charismatic religious leaders can distort the message immensely – I don’t think it says anywhere in the Bible that unmarried mothers should be abused, have their children torn away from them, buried in septic tanks, or sold to adoptive parents without their mothers’ consent? (I’ve written a bit about this here) And yet, the people who did that in Ireland were “good, Godfearing Christians”…
Messages get distorted over time as well, which is why I recommend going back to the source material yourself, as close as you can.
But back to why deities bother with humans. Aside from the power thing, and numbers do have a power all of their own, there is also the interactions of human with deity. No more than a human can love a dog or a rabbit or a pet, the deities can love us as well – and in my opinion, the balance of equality is about the same in some ways. We, as humans, can’t imagine the vast span of millennia deity deals with. We can’t imagine plans and goals reaching over centuries – in the same way your dog probably can’t really conceive of a walkies next week and not right now! The compass of understanding is on a whole different scale. And, with deity as well as with human, there are good, responsible deities and some less so… There are some that take a very active role in leading, caring for, training their chosen followers, some that take a more “benign neglect” approach and still others that appear to use up and discard their followers. Relationship with deity is not always a comfortable, bright, shiny thing. Sometimes, like a dog snapping when things cross a line, we need to stand up for ourselves. Sometimes the outcome of that might not be to our liking, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less necessary. There are some that regard us as tools (not looking at anyone here at all now!) and occasionally need to be reminded of the care required of those tools as well…
But when it comes to furthering their plans and reaching their goals, deity might not need humans, but followers can make that journey easier in some ways. There are benefits for the deity as well as the human, and while it might not be a relationship of equals, it can still involve give and take. Don’t forget that!
All of the above, however focuses on this world and not any other worlds the deity may be dealing with. In Irish paganism and tradition, we have the Otherworld (although no maps of the place!) which can be seen as the place the Tuatha de Danann went when they went under the hill (the half of the island they got after the Milesians arrive and conned them), the afterlife, a soul space we can visit… It’s many things to many people and honestly, probably best not to limit it too much at all. But it is another world, with different rules, physical and natural laws, ways of behaviour… just because a deity isn’t well known or well revered here in this world, doesn’t mean they aren’t rather more powerful elsewhere 🙂