Dancing for the Gods

Gabriel Aly

A little over a year ago, I was reading the book Pride of Carthage, by David Anthony Durham, a great novel, and there was a quote that put me in a rather thoughtful mood. As one of the young daughters of the Barca family was lamenting over the recent disasters that befell her nation (Carthage losing the second Punic War, the loss of her brothers Hasdrubal, Mago, and Hanno, being forced to marry Syphax of Western Numidia instead of her love, the Massylian prince Massinisa), her sister told her something, among other things like it: “We are the gods’ puppets, ever dancing for their amusement. We have no choice but to always try and please them.” After reading this, I was forced to ask myself a question: Was my faith, even all faith motivated only by fear of the divine? Just to, as said elsewhere in the book, avert the wrath of the gods elsewhere?

Some of the ancient peoples might have believed this, but I don’t agree with this borderline blasphemous claim. I’m willing to bet that if you do have a religion, there are at least a few things, no matter how small you might think these things are, that your divine beings have done for you. Surely, you had to devote time and other resources to them, but didn’t they give back to you? It’s the equivalent to any earthly ruler; a true leader gives back to their subjects. The same is true with the gods. If you love them, and prove you do, they love you back. Your giving to them shouldn’t be fueled by fear, as they can see through shallow attempts like that. It should be fueled by realizing that they are kind, generous beings who will help you a lot if you’re only willing to give a little bit back to them, and acting towards yourself and others what you know is truly good. The gods do have wrath, but never have I experienced it come unjustified from them. To attack them specifically or go back an oath or responsibility will result in negative consequences, but even if you’re not religious, it’s only common sense that these things are bad. And no one, much less the gods themselves, are forcing you to pray to them.

A few of us before converting not only had no religion whatsoever, but were flat out atheists. Before I felt the calling of the gods, I was a devout atheist, which is one of the reasons my friends still don’t take my new beliefs seriously. Back then, I didn’t consider being judged by a divine force. When you’re in that mindset, there’s little more to fear than the regular cause and effect. Was I punished by the gods for doing so? No. I did not deliberately offend them, and if I ever did accidentally, I didn’t look back on it and smile cruelly in defiance of them. They aren’t bullies, angered by ignoring them, and unlike some other divine beings, they don’t want to punish you for following others. Unless all the translations of The Iliad I’ve seen were interpreted by inferior authors, I don’t remember Homer quoting Zeus on “And he who does not believe in me, I shall smote(th?) him.” Despite the earlier mentioned Carthaginian noble woman’s belief, the gods don’t demand action from you if you haven’t claimed you would and didn’t, or mock them. And why should they? I think it would be safe to state my belief that if something else makes you happier, they would not mind if you stopped worshipping them, as long as you respect and appreciate all help they provide. It’s much more holier to drop something you don’t believe in to be a pretender to that thing.

So yes, maybe I am always dancing for the gods, but willingly, and with a smile on my face the whole time.


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