Thursday, January 28, 2010

Deities & Demigods: A Christian Perspective

Here is a scenario that seems to happen quite often: James over at Grognardia writes something that makes me reconsider some aspect of our hobby and look at it again from a different perspective. He's done it again with his retrospective on Deities & Demigods. I despise this book, because of the damage it did to the game — the systemization of a pagan world-view, the power creep, the awkward cosmology, the narrowing and solidification of the nine alignment system, etc. However, the one thing that bothered me most when I first picked up the DDG and what apparently still bothers James — the quantification of everything — is the one thing about the DDG that I now truly do appreciate.

Whether intended or not, giving stats to all these pagan gods as if they were monsters expresses a fundamental truth about the pagan world-view. These gods are quantifiable because they are part of creation. Ancient creation stories repeat over and over again how all the various bits and pieces of the world are made from some part of the gods themselves. Creation always happens from some kind of pre-existant matter — everything is quantifiable.

When St. Athanasius the Great expressed Christian dogma in On the Incarnation at the beginning of the fourth century:

(the universe) was not made from pre-existant matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existance absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word

he expressed an idea utterly alien to his audience — the pagan Greek mind.

Thus, the DDG, in its own way, reinforces this reality. It leaves alone the Judeo-Christian mythos, passively acknowledging that God cannot be quantified, while correctly reducing the pagan gods to a series of entries in what amounts to an elaborate version of the Monster Manual.

10 comments:

  1. Well said. A decidedly Christian perspective of D&D.

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  2. I always thought the same thing when people became outraged that God and/or Christ was left out of the book. "How many hit points should God have?" I'd ask them.

    And of course they'd have no answer.

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  3. " while correctly reducing the pagan gods to a series of entries in what amounts to an elaborate version of the Monster Manual."

    Correctly? That is an extremely arrogant attitude to take and probably why there is still bitterness between many beliefs.

    I find your religion a conglomeration of inconsistencies and contradictions thinly veiled as an element of controlling people.

    I follow an old religion that has deities statted out in the DDG. However, I don't find this correct or incorrect, merely entertainment. The gods are capable of laughing at themselves and what we make of them.

    Such a pity that some of those who profess to being followers of a kind and understanding religion that respects others stoops to such vulgar, insensitive and disrespectful language.

    John, I still respect you to pieces, but I really wish that this post would never have been made. Purposefully degrading viable (and venerable) religions is the sport of the tasteless.

    Your people may have tried to reduce our deities through trickery and deception in the distant past, but you never succeeded in destroying the faith, a faith which still burns in some hearts to this day.

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  4. @ancientvaults:

    I totally respect your opinion and understand why you're upset but let's be absolutely and completely fair here: the post DID say it was from a christian perspective, not an objective one, and he probably has as many negative ideas about your religion as you do about his. That's his (and your) prerogative. If you lash out at him for believing the way he does it only legitimizes the view that it's ok for anyone to lash out at you for believing what you do.

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  5. ancientvaults,

    As nextautumn has kindly pointed out, this post (and this blog, for that matter) is very clear about looking at our hobby from a decidedly Christian perspective. Nowhere did I use derogatory language (unlike you, who have stooped to insinuate that I am arrogant, despotic, vulgar, insensitive, disrespectful, tasteless and deceptive). The DDG did reduce the pagan gods to a bunch of stats. From the Christian perspective that's okay, for the reasons I pointed out. My purpose is not to shove my belief system down your throat, but rather give voice to a perspective in hopes of starting a conversation.

    For your information, I once held opinions quite similar to your own and spent much of my life studying the mythology of cultures and religions around the world. I greatly sympathize with you because I was once where you are now. Then I was finally persuaded to actually give Christianity the same time and inquiry that I gave every other religion. I was pleasantly surprised. I imagine you would be as well.

    If you take the time to read my other posts (some of which trend even more heavily into theology than this one), you will find that human freedom is of utmost importance to me in my personal life, in my religious life and in the way I game. I defend this freedom from a decidedly Christian world-view. Believe it or not, I hope you come back and, instead of attacking me, that you engage me in a conversation.

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  6. And I must sympathize with you, I was raised a Christian, but it never worked for me no matter how hard I tried. My deities work for me, I don't need sympathy and I don't need a surrogate to stand up for the things I have done or said on this world, I will stand before my Creator on my own behalf.

    I found this post via a link from another website and it hit the switch with me. I disagree with the mentality that acts as if other religions are nothing. I do respect those of other old faiths, we see connections with each other and similarities with our deities, I feel no such connection with any of the "Big Three" from the Middle East.


    The DDG did reduce the pagan deities to statistics. I will not argue that. I saw red when the word "correctly" was used.

    It doesn't matter what perspective you are writing from, those who will see your post, regardless of whether it is about politics, religion or popcorn, there will be those who do not see what you say eye to eye.

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  7. Of course they should be reduced to statistics at some point, not only at a possible confrontation perspective, but because the 3.0 D&D gods aren't omnipotent, omnipresent or omniscient, just very powerful, have avatars at their disposal and accurate sources of information via their portfolios.

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  8. Because the Roman Empire was under constant pressure and was in danger of collapse, the early church was institutionalized under Constantine who incorporated many pagan deities into the official Christian cosmology, for instance the Isis cult became the foundation for the Madonna. Religions compete for popularity and cross-pollinate, and evolve as all memes do, while a monotheistic religion is much more centralized as it consolidates power. The pagan/pantheistic flavor of d&d is just more interesting and colorful as a fantasy, and also avoids offending a person's religious sensibilities. Imagine if clerics had to chose between protestantism, Catholicism or Islam? The magic disappears quickly for me and I find myself worrying about the religious and ethnic conflicts that define planet earth, better dealt with through social media like democracynow.org

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  9. Walter,

    The basis for the emphasis we place upon the Madonna was actually a guy named Nestorius who claimed that the Virgin only gave birth to the Christ and not to God. In response, the Church gave her the official title "Theotokos" which means "the one who gave birth to God." Thus, we emphasize the nature of Christ as God and Man through emphasizing that Mary was the person who willingly participated in God's plan for our salvation by becoming God's mother. If you look at Church history, you will notice that the feasts dedicated to the Virgin evolved after the Third Ecumenical Council (when the name Theotokos was made dogma) in response to Nestorianism, not as an outgrowth of pagan influence.

    Question: why are pagan/pantheistic fantasy religions non-offensive and Christian fantasy religions are offensive?

    I have, in fact, played campaigns where there was a religious choice between Christianity and Islam. It was memorable and challenging. It forced me to walk in someone else's shoes for a few miles. That is never a bad thing.

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  10. Great conversations here and a terrific blog to boot.

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