Poverty and Piety

With Christmas here, I get a lot of time off from work, and so have a little extra time to find out more of what’s happening in Pagan-land. The farce I just stumbled across seems to deserve a word or two, so that will be the topic of my blog post today. I’ve never read Tess Dawson’s blog before, but she seems like a clear thinker of a pagan, and she has recently written a valuable piece on how to interact with a god when you are not sure of the god’s identity. She offered the very traditional and level-headed suggestion that you leave out offering of food or drink that are not to be consumed, but devoted wholly to the god.

Totally traditional. This is how the ancients did it. Totally respectful and pious. Giving something to the god, something that you have to give up yourself, is a sacrifice, it is an act of devotion. Yet despite these facts, this simple commonsense recommendation has released a firestorm of petty bullshittery from a crowd of people with some serious cases of recto-cranial inversion. I’m not even going to bother addressing their complaints about leaving offerings you don’t consume, although I will mention that offering food to a guest and then eating it instead yourself would usually be seen as the very height of rudeness. No, I am going to have to address the comments made about poor people and religious devotion.

The worst offender seems to be this Aubs Tea person. She had the incredible effrontery to say a lot of insane things about poor people. But before I get started on that, let me mention: I’m dirt poor. Always have been. I am pretty much as poor as they come in this country. I sometimes go to sleep hungry. I often must choose between buying food or buying medicine. I cannot afford a car. I have spent a few weeks homeless, sleeping in some rough and dangerous places. So I know what I’m talking about when I talk about being poor and religious.

Basically, this Tea person is claiming that poverty makes it impossible for poor people to make any religious offerings at all, therefore having the expectation that the gods should receive offerings somehow classist and religiously inappropriate. She then goes on to declare that poor people are so emotionally beaten down that they cannot even be expected to perform simple devotional acts that do not require sacrifice. Apparently, in her view, poverty destroys the soul, so that things like prayer and temple cleaning are too much effort. This is, in her view, so endemic amongst the poor that even expecting religious people to be pious, and to devote some of their time and effort to the gods, is incredibly classist and offensive to the poor.

Seriously? Seriously??? WTF? I am calling bullshit on that, Ms. Tea. I am poor. I find your words to be incredibly freaking offensive. Not all poor people are beaten down, whipped curs who cannot even find enough spirit to honor the gods. Seriously, Ms. Tea, f*<& you. I have struggled all my life with poverty, and with keeping a devout religious practice in the midst of poverty. So have many others. Your lame attempt to paint us all as victims belittles our struggles.

Nobody but a poor person has the right to say this, but I am, and I do: poverty can be a great source of inspiration and strength. A terrible one, to be sure, but useful and even enlightening nonetheless. I am an Odinist. I use my religion to help me meet the struggle of poverty. Odin, my patron, teaches that hardship is valuable and I have held onto the teaching during those hard hungry times. I have seen it as a form of testing. I have used it to learn to do without unnecessary fripperies. I have used it to find enjoyment and beauty in even fleeting, small things. I have used it to find a center of spiritual equanimity.

I thank my gods for this. And as I love them, as I am grateful to them, I show them honor and respect. Even when I lived in the homeless jungle, as such encampments are called, I managed to pour out a little drink, or leave part of my own food for them. If this meant I went a little hungrier, then so be it. Wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice if I didn’t suffer a little. Indeed, I took PRIDE in this, I felt it made my sacrifices MORE valuable because they cost me so dearly.

Ms. Tea, poverty can beat a person down or raise them up. I am terribly sorry that it seems to have done the former to you. But don’t you dare go painting us all as having failed, like you, to cope. We are not all victims. We are not all weaklings. We do not all hide behind our poverty as an excuse to get out of doing anything meaningful for the gods we claim to love.

And seriously, you really think this: “If your heart isn’t in it, then don’t do it,” is good advice for poor people or, indeed, anyone? This is frankly the worst religious advice I ever heard. It is when your heart isn’t in it that devotional activity matters MOST.