This topic comes up because of a post on a forum somewhere. I’m not going to link it, but the gist is that a self-identified anti-theist asked a bunch of pagans what makes a deity “worthy of worship.”
This idea, or question, is not a new one (at least not to me). I’ve seen it come up here and there in my pagan travels. I think that the reason this question comes up is probably because in Christianity, you’re taught about the omnipotence of the one God. You’re taught about his miracles, the great and mighty things he’s done. He’s the deity of everything, ever; he is massive and awe-inspiring; he is unfathomable. And the idea that comes across with that is that a god who can produce such miracles is worthy of worship.
(I’m not a Bible scholar, but I seem to remember some stories about Jesus where people derided him until he performed miracles. Same concept.)
If you come to pagan polytheism from Christianity, you will come face to face with many different gods — none of whom are omnipotent, omniscient, or even omnipresent. (I’m excluding pantheism from this generalization and just tackling the way we view and talk about specific pagan deities.) They’re not the gods of everything — some may be gods of creation, yes, but that doesn’t make them all powerful. At first glance, they seem smaller, less powerful, more relatable.
So yes, you might ask why any pagan gods would be worthy of worship if they can’t even measure up to the Christian god. It might even be a fair question.
Let me give you my answer.
My relationships with my deities are much like my relationships with mortals. Many of them are based on love, and it is love that is the basis for all my worship. Others are more transactional — I give Them something, They give me something in return.
So the question “what makes your deities worthy of worship?” becomes, for me, “What makes anyone in your life worthy of attention or love?”
What makes Ogre worthy of my love? Despite sometimes being an asshole, he is a good person. He is good to me; he makes me laugh; he is kind, generous, smart, courageous, willing to change. And yes, while he can be an asshole — for the most part we hate the same things. So we are able to bond over our common misanthropy. His presence improves my life so much I can’t even count the ways.
What makes my mother worthy of my love? She birthed me, raised me, protected me from my father’s abuse, taught me about feminism…we have our differences, but nothing is going to convince me she’s not worth my time, my attention, my care. Without her, I wouldn’t be alive today (and I mean that in more ways than one).
When I’m shopping, what makes a store clerk worthy of my attention? Well, besides the fact that they are a human being and deserve civility from their customers, it will behoove me to pay attention to them and what they say or do so that the transaction goes smoothly for both of us, and everyone is happy.
For that matter, what makes me worthy of love from my mom, or the Ogre? I’m certainly not the easiest person to love; I’m fractious and thorny, and I have no filters. Yet there must be something about me that they have found worthy of their time, their care, their attention. Somehow, I improve their lives.
The truth is, if you were to point blank ask me “Why is the Ogre worthy of your love?” I would only be able to stammer “I dunno. he just is?” Because off the top of my head, all I know is that I do love him and this is right.
If you were to ask me “What makes the Morrigan worthy of your worship?” I would probably respond with “Well She hasn’t been a complete asshole to me, and Her presence in my life improves it.” I likely have a better answer prepared because not many people ask me to prove that Ogre is worth my love, whereas my deities’ worth or even existence are constantly being questioned.*
I mean, maybe that’s all it boils down to. The equation for worthiness (of love/devotion/worship): “Not a complete asshole; presence improves life, does not make it worse.”
And, of course, there’s a second part to this answer. That part is: at first glance pagan deities may seem smaller and less powerful, but they’re not. They are every bit as powerful as the Christian god (whom I don’t believe to be omniscient or omnipotent anyway), and just as unfathomable. As I’ve come to know the gods in my life more and more, I know that the human faces they’ve put on for me are just faces. There is so much more to them than that, and I will never be able to grasp it all. I consider myself lucky to be able to know them in their easier to digest forms, to even be able to grasp at the smallest parts of their mysteries.
So even if being unfathomable and incredibly powerful were prerequisites for a deity to receive my worship (which they aren’t), it wouldn’t make a difference.
*As for that question…it doesn’t really matter to me if they’re “real” or not. I believe they are, but the bottom line is — they make my life better. So if they’re hallucinations that make my life better, then, um. Where is the problem exactly? And if they’re not hallucinations, then I’m right, and they still make my life better. But it doesn’t really matter either way. No one else is obligated to believe in their existence. Heck, you’re not even obligated to believe in my existence. On the internet, after all, no one can tell you’re a dog.