Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Deracinated Hobby

One of the great things about reading Grognardia is the wonderful vocabulary that James pulls out every now and then. One such wonderful word is derancinated. I was as shocked as James when this etymological gem from Middle French garnered the reaction it did. It got me to thinking about a guy named Marcion.

In the second century, about A.D. 140, this guy named Marcion showed up at the church in Rome with a hand full of cash. By 144, however, Marcion's theological system was revealed. His money was returned and he was excommunicated.

Marcion believed that the Hebrew God of the Old Testament was not the same God that Jesus came to reveal. He could not reconcile the jealousy, wrath and legalism of the OT God with the love of the NT God. Thus, he insisted on the very first canon of Scripture in the Christian era: the Gospel according to Luke (the only Gentile of the Evangelists) and ten of the Epistles attributed to St. Paul. He tried to strip Christianity of its Hebrew roots in order to understand it.

The Church insisted on retaining the OT with all its warts, all its inconsistencies, and all its historical inaccuracies knowing that its primary purpose was revelation. All those warts, inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies had to be reconciled if one was to be able to answer the question, "Who is God?" and more specifically that most important question, "Who is Jesus Christ?"

Despite the problems that arise from all these books, written by different people, edited and redacted by others from different times, in different places, in different languages and in a variety of genres, the Church knows more about God and more about Christ from the OT than it does from the NT. Without its roots — Hebrew Scripture and Judaism — Christianity is rendered meaningless.

Let me be clear: I am not trying to place OD&D on some kind of biblical plane without which D&D's later editions are rendered meaningless nor am I trying to declare that anyone who prefers to play later editions of the game are heretics. I am trying to say that the endeavor to understand the roots and history of this hobby is not only something that we in the OSR enjoy doing, but it is good for the hobby as a whole.
Christianity left behind many liturgical practices and traditions from its Judaic past; however, it also holds onto some practices that modern Judaism no longer uses. Knowing the whys and the wherefores not only makes the Christian liturgical life richer, it makes all of life more meaningful.

It is certainly possible to play 4th Edition and have a blast doing so without ever knowing anything about 0e-3.5e. I would argue, though, that someone who does know the history, archeology and mechanics of our hobby is not only going to be a better player, but will be better equipped to get the most fun out of whichever edition they choose to play.

Take, for example, my own experience with this game we love. I have seen the game morph the Cleric from being "humans who have dedicated themselves to one or more of the gods" (leaving room for either a monotheistic or polytheistic world-view) to being necessarily polytheistic and pagan. On their own, every edition of D&D starting with 2e is incompatible with my world-view. I am forced to choose between what I believe and the rules of the game — not my idea of a good time. However, in going back to the LBBs and the history of the game, I have discovered not only that making up rules and doing things on your own where expected elements of the game, but Clerics have their origin in Christianity. Thus, I am free to play whatever edition I choose with a monotheistic world-view knowing that I am standing squarely in the traditions of the game. That is my idea of a good time.


Rusty said...

I've always associate the cleric with the medieval western Christian military orders (Templars, etc). Some of the early D&D art depicted clerics in this manner. While it might seem a minor point, I tend to think of them (the military orders) as a product of Christendom (the medieval Christian culture) as opposed to Christianity (the faith and religious system).

I'm not sure if it all really happened this way, but it seems to me that some of the directions taken with 2e were in response to the accusation of D&D as demonic. The religious aspects of the game were cast in a way that superficially resembled classical Greek and Roman polytheism, which I suppose seems harmless compared to devils and demons. Underneath it, though, the concept of devils and demons are much more consistent with a traditional Christian worldview than the weird polytheism injected into 2e and after. After all, even the traditional baptismal liturgy contains the renunciation of the devil, his works, and his ways. Why not give players the same opportunity within a game setting?

FrDave said...

As a Christian, I've never taken issue with the inclusion of Devils and Demons in D&D — because they were monsters. Characters are supposed to face them down and destroy them. I've written about this before — in the Bible, the wilderness is where demons reside and monastics have been fighting demons where they live for centuries. Read the Life of St. Anthony, for example. So early D&D, with adventurers going out into the wilderness to fight the forces of Chaos (including devils and demons) where they live makes perfect sense from a Christian world-view.

The irony of 2e and later editions is that if they were, indeed, trying to move toward a fantasy version of Greek/Roman polytheism in order to appease us Christians, they were actually moving away from what was already a Christian-friendly world-view.

velaran said...

Asmodeous always came off as Satan to my crew.(Though his name is believed to actually be his title in Hebrew Kabbalah[Prince of Devils]; but then of course, he supposedly converted to Judaism, then died in a pogrom in Mainz, Germany in 1096,so...)

The polytheism was presented in Deities and Demigods(later Legends and Lore, for AD&D); Gygax considered it essential for play of the Cleric class at the time. Also in Holmes, characters may swear by pagan deities including Zeus(very Classical!) Crom(um, ok...) and Cthulu(whut)! :-O. Mentzer had religion removed as a source of CLerical power and replaced with meditation. It was only a short step to D&D 3.0/3.5 Philosophical Concept as Divine Power...

already a Christian-friendly world-view. :
the guys at my table had no problem with mono or poly -theism(very henotheistic really, from what I've seen...), but they kinda thought the paldins and Clerics were like Templars or something!