Hierarchy as a Religious Concept

Today, it is time to talk about an important, yet increasingly overlooked part of heathen religious philosophy: hierarchies. Ah, I can hear the outraged howls and lunatic rants of the Righteous Radical crowd already. You know who I mean. The crowd that believes that all hierarchies and ranks are inherently evil. The crowd that spends all of its time online ranting about how everyone except for them are fascists who need to be forced to think and behave Correctly. The crowd that starts screaming “Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!” every time anybody expresses an opinion that contradicts one of their own. The crowd that has to spend all of its time foaming at the mouth in cyberspace because it can never get anything real done. Because when they get together, every least detail of every proposal has to be debated by everybody. Because everybody’s voice has to be heard about everything. Because only the person who is holding the Talking Feather at the moment can talk, and there are a lot of people waiting for their turn with the Talking Feather.

When everybody gets to be Captain, nobody’s a Private. Trouble is, Privates are the ones who get the actual work done, and part of the reason why they can get the work done is that only one person is giving them orders. Instead of, you know, an unruly mob of puffed up egos all trying to give orders to each other. The reason that all human societies create hierarchies is that it is stupidly, fatally inefficient to reinvent the wheel for every single problem you face. Experience is required to solve any significant problem, to perform any important task. Not everybody has the right kinds of experience to solve every kind of problem, and the totality of human knowledge is so vast that no one person can understand all of it. So humans develop specialists. Some gain the experience to govern societies, others gain the experience needed to master a science, others learn how to educate children, and so forth. This way, each job can be done well, and there is no need to waste the enormous amount of resources needed to educate everybody about every single thing.

Look at it this way: when the leopards start dropping out of the trees, which group of people do you think is going to survive? The one where one strong, experienced leader instantly shouts out orders for defense, which are instantly obeyed because everybody knows their roles? Or the one where everyone sits down and pulls out the Talking Feather to determine whose vision of a defense strategy should be used?

Odin is the heathen embodiment of the understanding of the need for hierarchies. He is the chief of the gods, the lord of Valhalla. He is the leader of the einherjar and the valkyries. In many ways, Odin is the god of hierarchy. His people tend to not only believe in hierarchies, but to see the spiritual world expressed in a wide array of hierarchies.

Odin is not only a god of leaders, societies, and hierarchies, though, he is also a god of individuals. He is the god of the young warrior trying to work his way up the military or political hierarchy of his people. He is the god of the scholar who seeks to learn and grow enough to work his way up the academic hierarchy. He is the god of the wargs and loners who reject hierarchies and choose to live outside of them. This seems like a contradiction, but in fact it embodies a profound understanding of human nature and the way in which human societies function.

Human societies function because of dynamic tension. A society run by conservatives would be a nightmare. So would a society run by liberals, though in a different way. A society where both conservatives and liberals hold some power, and pull society first one way and then the other? That manages to be almost livable on frequent occasions.

A society which is too rigidly hierarchical tends toward the fascistic, the bureaucratic, the inefficient, the evil. A society which tends completely toward the individual at the expense of hierarchies tends towards the chaotic, the savage, the divided, the unjust, and the inefficient. What is needed is a society that has hierarchies that are counterbalanced by strong individuals, some of whom work within the system and some of whom live outside of it or even fight against it. THIS is a healthy society. The individualism in it restrains the hierarchies from excess, and the hierarchies tame individual excesses.

This is why Odin is god of hierarchy and of individualism both. He represents the dynamic tension that a healthy society needs to survive and even thrive.

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7 thoughts on “Hierarchy as a Religious Concept

  1. […] Read more here: Hierarchy as a Religious Concept […]

  2. ezirkara says:

    I generally like your writing. I like moderation and taking a middle view and trying to see the worth of both sides of a debate. However, right here I’m going to respectfully disagree with you.

    This system doesn’t work. This push and pull between liberals and conservatives that you speak of has turned into a dog and pony show where the liberals and conservatives fight over abortion, gay rights, racism, and sexism and rehash supposed “solutions” to environmental destruction (most of which cause as much destruction as fossil fuels). Given the over-fishing of the oceans, land subsidence in California, and erosion globally, the metaphorical leopards are already dropping from the trees.

    The problem is that our leaders are busy trying to either prove the leopards don’t exist or distract us from them. The only people who are saying “EEK, LEOPARD, RUN” and trying to organize a resistance are those radicals you write against. I’m a very reluctant radical, but I can at least give respect to those willing to fight for the future of the planet. Maybe we should stop whining about their methods and start worrying about what future generations are going to eat.

    • Yeah, yeah, I was young once too, I remember how terribly urgent everything seems when you’re young. Every political/cultural crisis seems like the most important thing ever.

      Every generation thinks that. And every generation is wrong. The system is not broken at all. It is, right now, functioning as it was designed to. Yes, one side of it has gotten dysfunctional and extreme. And the system is in the midst of a correction that will eliminate them as a political/social power. Just as has happened several times before in this nation’s history.

      The only thing that could go wrong, right now, is people overreacting. Like the Righteous Radicals are doing.

      The world is always facing a crisis. It is always a life or death matter. We are always almost out of time. It’s a terrible thing to say, but THIS IS HOW THE WORLD WORKS. What you see right now is actually way less urgent than it’s been at several other points in history.

      “I’m a very reluctant radical, but I can at least give respect to those willing to fight for the future of the planet.”

      I feel exactly the same way. Which is why I show these people no respect. Because these people are not doing anything to fight for the future. All they do is post whiny/aggressive/threatening messages to online forums, scream about being oppressed when people disagree with them, and spend all their time debating and arguing with each other.

      Respect is earned, not given. And these people have earned no respect.

      And don’t give me this bullshit about these people being the only ones who are trying to resist the forces you speak of. That is incredibly inaccurate to the point of being disingenuous. Plenty of people out these are doing their part, and there are many different ways of doing it that do not involve the Righteous Radicals.

  3. […] Source: Hierarchy as a Religious Concept […]

  4. Would you mind if I linked this and did a blogpost (in Dutch) explaining my own views inspired by this? My ideas are very similar but I’m going to use a lot more words explaining them.

  5. […] I re-blogged a post about the idea of “Hierarchies as a Religious Concept.” The reason I did that is because, while writing a piece that I’m thinking of […]

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