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Piety or Social Justice

Personally, I’ll take piety every time. (Though really, it’s not an either/or). It’s a very, very post-Enlightenment, anti-devotion thing to equate theology with social justice. The entire field of systematics has been built on this. It effectively rules out that messy engagement with any Deity that can be so challenging and complicated. It allows one to prioritize human things, effectively removing Gods from the equation completely. It’s a neat corrective to the complication to modern secularization that piety provides.

If you want to do social justice. Do it. That’s awesome. Don’t call it religion. It’s not. It’s what you do as an adult, engaged, civic-minded, conscientious human being. Unlike in monotheistic traditions, polytheisms don’t generally need to roll that into the realm of the Gods to make it palatable. The crazy thing is, there are civic Deities for Whom such social justice work might be a licit and welcome type of devotion but those are never, ever the Deities these self-styled social justice warriors are honoring (when they bother to pay lip service to piety and devotion at all, which more and more is rare). Why bother giving what you do the trappings of religion at all? It’s exactly the type of appropriation that y’all would whine and blather about in any other context.  You do so like defining other people’s lived experiences for them after all.

There’s quite a lot of social justice work that can be accomplished by the pious…who don’t spend all their time posting about it online. But social justice work does not take the place of a well-developed spirituality, or a personality.

In the ancient world, before polytheisms were attacked and many erased, this was how things tended to be structured: Religion was all about engaging with the Holy Powers. It was about a set of protocols for dealing with the sacred, large and small, public and private. Philosophy was the venue to which one looked for developing character and ethics, and developing as a decent human being. Adulthood involved civic responsibility. Soteriological questions were largely left to mystery cultus. Social justice didn’t absolve one from piety. Piety didn’t absolve one from social justice. The two were completely different realms of action.

I have zero respect for anyone who mistakes social justice for engagement with the Gods, for piety, for devotion, for religion. One may choose to take certain actions, to live his or her life in a certain way *because* of devotion to the Gods, but that is a far different thing from projecting one’s own opinions and politics onto one’s practices and pretending the Gods approve. (They might. They might not. These people generally never bother to check. It’s hubris.). You’re not making the world better. You’re polluting and destroying a tradition. You’re attempting to complete the work of monotheism and then secularism in erasing the Gods from our practices. I think this is one of the greatest threats to the future of Heathenry, to the future of polytheisms in general today the other being allowing atheists into our midst in sacred settings.

A life spent in veneration of the Gods, ancestors, and Holy Powers is a valuable life. So many of the problems social justice warriors aim to fix have their origin in the broken relationships between humanity and the Gods, humanity and the ancestors, humanity and the land. Fix those, and the rest will be righted in turn, because the power of those relationships demands  change in every other aspect of one’s life. It becomes the filter through which every action is taken, every decision made. Or you can keep applying bandaids to a bleeding artery.