My God and Savior provide all that I need. What does your pagan beliefs do for you?
Every so often, one of my more ardent Christian friends will pop off with this snarky comment or some derivative of it. Usually, I will quietly laugh off the comment, after all picking a fight over something as internally personal as spiritual beliefs is only bound to get contentious. Besides, I have no need for the “my dick is bigger than yours” comparative competition with one’s Gods….that’s just childish and stupid. Besides, its not my place to put my Gods into some kind of test as to whether They are better than anyone else’s. But all of this really fired another thought: what does my Paganism do for me?
This type of thinking – what does my Paganism DO FOR me – drops into a rabbit hole that I have heard and read described as “transactional Paganism.” For some that might not be understanding where this is starting from, let’s get into the concept of “transactional faith.” Essentially, this is much like purchasing a candy bar at the store. I’ll take this Baby Ruth candy bar from your shelves; in return I’ll provide you with a cash amount that you’ve determined that the Baby Ruth is worth. Provided that we both agree that the swap of the candy bar and the money is fair and equitable to both parties, we’ve completed a transaction. Transactional spirituality, religion, faith, whatever you want to call it – is essentially petitioning to $Deity to intervene on your behalf for something you are trying to do.
Please Crow, help me find a job that is worthy of my job skills, challenges my abilities with those skill sets, and pays me a salary that allows me to live in a way that I desire. In return, I will do whatever bidding that You require of me.me
An example of a transactional moment within Spirituality. We’ve seen and heard people do this a lot in their lives. Praying to whatever Spiritual Power they choose to curry some nudging aspect to place them in favor concerning something. In return, they pledge their loyalty as a follower (usually). Give me the candy bar, I give you my undying loyalty and soul.
For a lot of people, this kind of transactional perspective of belief has a repulsive feeling to it. Providing your loyalty, your fealty for something within this world that is currently unobtainable. Sounds a lot like the old horror b-rated movies where a person sells their soul to Satan, right? Those are excellent examples of transactional Spirituality, in my opinion. You provide this to me; I provide my soul to you when I pass beyond the veil. I really want that candy bar, damnit. I need that candy bar now! Give it to me, and I’ll give you my soul.
Now, Christians slam this down the throat of everyone of how deals with the devil are done. They tout this as the way down the road to Hell. The problem with that is that if you pull back the Christian curtain just a touch, you’ll find that they pray to their God and Savior in the same fashion. Please God, don’t let harm and ill will fall upon me and my family, and I’ll provide you with worship at noon and 6pm on Sundays and 6:30pm on Wednesdays for the rest of my life. I’ll spread my belief in you to unbelievers as you command. Please make me prosperous in this world, so that I can do deeds worthy of Your almighty name.
Doesn’t sound too bad, eh? Give me a way of gathering material things so that I can live more comfortably than most, and I’m all Yours. But let’s not bash on the Christians too hard, shall we? We Pagans are just as guilty of this so-called sin of transactional Spirituality. We petition our Gods for help. We beseech our Gods to allow us to be Their followers. I’ve heard Pagans lament that none of the Gods call to them. That they want to work with the Gods but are unsure of how to get Their attention. They seek the right “transaction” to be provided with that connection they so desire.
To be frankly honest, we seek some form of transactional Spirituality in the things that we do. Transaction Spirituality is not the problem. The over-reliance on this plea for help from the Gods when our needs are the greatest is where the problem lies. We need this, we beseech the Gods to provide for us. The Gods, in whatever form you decide to believe in Them, suddenly become great Automated Teller Machines that we run to for assistance repeatedly. When nothing materializes, we blame the Gods for whatever befalls us, or we lament that its “the will of the Gods” instead of buckling and tightening our belts and moving forward to try and solve the issues in the best fashion that we can. Don’t get pissed. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else.
The flip side of all of this is what is referred to as transformational Spirituality. Where our beliefs change us into a type of individual we strive to be. In the Christian faith, the desire is to be more “Christ-like” – learning to possess the qualities and attributes of Jesus ben Joseph as told in the tales of the New Testament. Caring, giving, forgiving, sensitive to the needs of others…qualities that many so-called followers of Jesus don’t possess, such as the far-right wing of the conservative movement. Religion, as well as the concept of love of country, is an issue to wrap one’s self in so as to seem to be something they’re not. Transformative Spirituality is not measured in words, but in actions. In other words, the transformative nature of your Spirituality helps you become more of the person you want to be. Your Spirituality feeds the need of your inner self to be the type of person you strive to be and helps fortify that the desire in your actions – and even your words. Your Spirituality opens you to the characteristics that you desire to have, and the aspects of that belief provide you the strength to make your way through the adverse times. You change because you desire to change. Your Spirituality feeds that desire to change – to transform into the “you” that you are striving to be.
So, let me address the question here. What does my Paganism do for me? It provides a path that I can follow – through the legends and myths as examples – through the guidance that my Gods provide to me from time to time – through the examples of other Pagans that are striving forward on their own Paths, to be the best individual that I can. Each of those points provide me with a transactional moment, sometimes with no immediately clear portion of the transaction coming from my side, that helps me reach a transformative aspect of who I become as I grow. Paganism, for me, is a transactional process of my Spirituality that allows me to transform. It also provides me with the opportunity to give to others in transactional processes of their own which lead to their transformative moments as well. My Paganism provides connectivity that continues to help me grow, and by extension to help others to grow. My Gods provide perspective from time to time. As part of that transactional aspect, I provide what I can for Them, sometimes through sacrifice of my own needs and desires. Our relationship is another connection from which I grow and learn.
So, what do I get from my Spirituality? I get my own individual opportunity to grow and learn. I am always learning. I will always be learning. My Gods will always be there with me. I don’t need to compare Them to Others. I don’t need to boast that my Spirituality is better than anyone else’s. Because its not. It works for me. That’s what is important in my perspective. I can assist others with finding the Spiritual perspective that works for them. I can listen, I can provide advice, I can provide supportive attention to their needs. Even if their eventual Spiritual perspective is completely different from my own. Why would I do that? Would I not want everyone else to have the beauty of what my perspective provides to me? Of course, I would. But I also know that what works for me won’t always work for others. Instead of turning my back on those who would choose a different Path or a different Perspective, I would prefer to help them find what works for them and encourage them in the beauty that they find. That’s what being kind and loving is all about. But that’s a direction for another time. Soon.