Posted 22 February 2016 - 05:08 PM
Id like to explain something about Christianity that a lot of people don't understand about Christian worship (even practicing Christians don't often have a grasp on this). I know people get kinda hinky about Christianity (and rightfully so) but when talking about diety, it's useful to have several perspectives on the accepted worship of deities to know how cultures over the years interacted with diety. Orthodox Christian practices were based on Jewish practices which bear many similarities to the Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, Sumerian practices that the Jews would have been familiar with. I'd love to hear also from the people that have a good understanding of how other pagan religions viewed worship because there are many similarities and differences and I believe that somewhere in those common threads is a good place to understand how to work with deity (and when to leave them alone).
So here goes nothing, a quick primer on Christian Spirituality from the Witch's perspective, by a former pastor:
Most flavors of Christian theology teaches that God doesn't "need" humans to worship him but that humans are formed and shaped by their worship of Him.
Since the goal of Christians is to have the Holy Spirit "within them." Whether that comes from the sacrament of baptism, or sanctification, or intaking him through Christ's presence in the Eucharist varies across the denominations, but the end goal is always the same: to have the presence of God within you, changing you to be more like Him so that you can enjoy unity with others in the body of Christ (the Church) and with God himself in heaven for eternity. So while many people may talk about the end goal being "getting to heaven" the New Testament really puts emphasis on joining with God (often referred to as being a part of the Kingdom of God) by his incarnation within the person themselves, granting them eternal life or consciousness or unity with God. When you look at it like that, it isn't too far off from the concepts of many eastern and shamanic religions, but where they differ is the orthodoxy, so I'll explain that.
The Torah and the rest of the Old Testament are pretty clear about one thing: this God (referred to by many names) that claims to be the creator and judge and master of all things cannot stand sin. This is where it gets dicey...does he hate sin? Is he just a pompous asshole that created a sinful race of humans only to spend eternity telling them they aren't good enough. Theologians generally agree that this isn't the case, that the Jewish and Christiam God cannot stand sin because he IS the essence of good. That he literally can't exist where sin exists, because He is the opposite of sin as pure light and pure darkness can't exist in the same space. He was supposedly so glorious and righteous that in his presence anything corrupted by sin would be destroyed. So if a sinful human wishes to have communion with God (which the bible teaches is the only way to eternal life), he must first cleanse himself of sin, or he would die in the presence of God. This is the reason behind the importance of Jewish purification rites, and why no one but the high preist was allowed to enter "The Holiest of Holies," the place at the heart of the Temple where God was present. It is there that the priest would go and make sacrifices and supplications on behalf of the people. This is remarkably similar to ancient Eypgtian practices where deep inside the temple was a place that only the Pharaoh (or a preist named to go in his stead) would go and meet the God of that temple to plead on behalf of his people. No surprise there, because remember that Moses (who gave the Law of God to the Jews) grew up in Egypt in the Pharoah's own household.
So that explains offerings and purification rites, which we see in many world religions that approach Dieties. But what about worship? How do gods stand to benefit from worship other than inflating their egos?
Again it returns to the Christian desiring a full communion with God. The Jewish prophet Daniel (the one with the lions) was given a vision of his God on the throne of Heavem and he described that heaven is literally a place of constant and eternal worship. There were creatures and beasts who were created for the single purpose of worshipping God without ceasing, creating a sacred space for the God to dwell. You'll often hear Christians quote "The Lord is present in the praises of His people" because they believe that there is something in the act of worshipping the God that creates a sacred space for the God to dwell in. Hence why church services are full of worship in song and prayers and thanksgivings and offerings. Its more than just an invocation that we might make to invite a spirit to join us in the physical realm, but something about filling the space with worship and offerings allows the God to dwell there. Much in the same way we use herbs and incense to consecrate a space to make it inviting and comfortable for a spirit's presence, they use incense and worship to make their God comfortable.
So Christians worship God not because they beleieve he needs it, but because they desire his presence among them. To take it a step deeper, all facets of the religion are in hopes that they can create a sacred space within themselves for the God to dwell. They achieve this by purifying themselves of sin (becoming "sanctified" through various rituals and prayers of surrender) and worshipping in all things. They are essentially Invoking a possession by the Spirit of their God, but of course, most of them don't see it that way. Because their God has made it forbidden for them to make contact or relationship with any spirit or God beside him, they are ignorant of anything that vaguely resembles spiritualism or witchcraft and unable to see the similarities. Which would be a smart decree to make if you were a deity that wanted the sole devotion and worship of your people.
You may be asking where Christ comes into all this and the answer is simple. Where the priest once had to sacrifice an animal to atone for the sins of the people, Christ was the final sacrifice that would enable all people to commune with God through himself and his gift of the Holy Spirit. He claimed that God had sent him as the sacrificial lamb to release the people from the law which stated only priests could enter the Holy of Holies. Christ is the great high priest that stands before the throne of God and pleads on behalf of all people (which can get confusing if you consider that through the trinity, God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one in the same, but I won't get in to that). The theology behind this atonement can get complicated but what you really need to know is that again, his crucifixion and the devouring of his flesh and blood in the Eucharist are simply continuations of the Jewish rituals of purification, atonement and invocation of the God's presence, but instead of a priest, the presence was now made accessible to anyone (Jew or Gentile) through Christ.
Woof. Okay, sooo...
This is one religion's answer to working with a deity that was very clear about a few things: that His followers must be pure (or made pure by atonement and purification) and they must worship no other Gods. And in return he made MANY promises to them.
The reason I am no longer a Christian is simply because I beleieve that God is a liar, about many things, and uses fear and threat of judgement and promises of miracles to manipulate the powers of the world (something that I believe he feeds off of). I do not believe he is the creator or the great judge, or the only way to eternal consciousness.
However, what we do have here is an interesting case study of a deity's relationship with his followers. We have the benefit of it being well documented for centuries where many other religious traditions are lost to us. We have the benefit of seeing that this God was very clear to his followers on how he wished to interact with him, and what he needed from them for full communion. We see a God whose demands and expectations change over time as his people changed and as history progressed. We see him making allowances and sacrifices to bring himself more followers and to allow for more people to come to know him. I believe this can be valuable, not for knowing how to approach this God (because I wouldn't recommend it unles you are ready to commit to his rules), but for understanding the symbiotic relationship between a deity and their people.
A lot of Christian worshippers (in the US especially) don't have a very good grasp of the full narrative of the bible, or the complex relationship of the God to his people. In the last century, Church attendance became more a mandatory social norm than a show of devotion, and I believe this opened the door for a lot of other entities to attach themselves to local congregations. The church I ministered to for most of my life had a very strong attachment to their building and land, and I believe that the spirits of the land, along with ancestral spirits of the original builders/founders, and spirits created by what the congregations truly worshipped in their hearts over the generations are the entities that actually inhabit that sacred space and respond to the prayers and worship of the church. Those spirits are more than willing to take the guise of Christ and God when needed. And maybe that's okay? Besides the fact that it's blatant manipulation on the part of the spirits. Once I learned how to interact with them (and they realized I wasn't going to expose them for what they are) a working relationship developed. They are protective of their people and the people are protective of the land. It's...fascinating to watch really. The problems occur when the people hurt others "in the name of God" but that's a whole different can of worms...I think the Catholic Church of the dark ages was absolutely controlled by malevolent, vengeful spirits and tricksters that fed off the power of the church and used its leaders as willing pawns. But I'll leave that for another day.
I hope this incredibly long-winded post offers some perspective to someone. And I hope it clears up a lot of the misinformation that floats around about Christian worship and its heritage.