Faith Gods Vs. Ritual Gods

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Hello guys.

Thanks for your fine work on the podcasts, I always enjoy listening, even when I don’t agree.

This email isn’t really about something you said, more of a general reflexion on the Gods depicted on the show, now that they have played some of their cards and we are perfectly secure in the knowledge that they really are Gods, not just con artists playing Shadow (and the audience), nor simply figments of Shadow’s imagination. So here are my 2 cents.

Gods can all be seen as existing somewhere on a spectrum going from Pure Rituals to Pure Faith. On the near end of the Pure Faith spectrum is the God of the New Testament. Yes, there are some rituals associated with the belief in this God, but they are very few (only 7 if you are of the catholic inclination, and then only 3 of those are recurring) and none are actually crucial to Him. Even if you were to truly find him with your last dying breath, having performed none of His rituals, you would still be welcomed in His light. Then you have the God of the Old Testament, which is still pretty far to the Pure Faith end, but requires a lot more rituals, and they have a far more direct impact on the belief in Him. Don’t eat kosher or Halal (I know Allah is not the God of the Old Testament, but He is much closer to Him than to the christian God) or don’t respect the shabbat or jumu’ah and you’re displeasing God. Faith alone is not enough, observance of the rituals is central to those beliefs. But the rituals are still very personal, and are predicated on a punctual reaffirmation of the Faith. As you go farther and farther toward the Pure Rituals Gods, the rituals become more and more about a social showing of your beliefs, and less and less about your faith in them. When you get to Gods like the greek and roman ones, or the ancient egyptian ones (if you exclude the Pharaoh who was a living god), only the rituals seems to matter. Mercury, it seems, could not care less if you believe in Him as a tangible entity, but if you do not honor Him with the correct and prescribed rituals, your commercial endeavours will be fated to disaster. And die without the correct and prescribed burial, and you will be roaming aimlessly the bleak and desolate near shore of the Styx, never to cross it to reach The Hades. Faith simply has got nothing to do with it. That is why Creon decreeing that traitor Polynices would not get a proper burial is such a cruel punishment, and why Antigone would risk even death to provide it nonetheless. Polynices’ beliefs in life are neither here nor there, he would still be denied the crossing without it.

Which brings us to the American Gods.

Wednesday, or this particular Odin, doesn’t crave Faith” from his believers, he craves sacrifices. Personal, direct, weapons in hands sacrifices, dedicated to Him personally. He doesn’t care about 23 million North Koreans dying namelessly from bombs, even if those bombs bore His name. There is no glory in being simply obliterated in as impersonal and remote a way as a bomb drop, nor is there any glory in ordering such a thing. There would be no heroes for His Valkyries to reap afterwards anyway. After all, burning a warrior doesn’t bring wind, but killing each others in a great melee does.

On the other hand, Mr World is, to my mind, a much more Faith dependant God. He craves people believing in His unifying presence, happily consuming His brand as a badge of belonging, willingly participating in His glorious, orgiastic world homogenization. We have to willingly (more on that later) give Him our information, our secrets, our individuality. He’s Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook rolled into one giant, amorphous yet all-pervasive Brand. But He doesn’t (yet, I’ll come to that too) have the power to force his Faith on anyone. That is why He needs Media, who can make you believe, and to a lesser extent, Technology, who makes global communications possible. Although if Techno Boy was also the God of Social Media (which at first I thought self evident from his look and minions, but now doubt), his power would be on the rise, ready to rival and even surpass (Traditional) Media’s own. But no, I now think Techno Boy really is simply a lesser God, the ghost in the machines, probably hoping that AI will finally give him the knowledge and wisdom (and power) he presently lacks.

So who is the God of Social Media? Perhaps we haven’t met Him or Her yet, but I think it’s actually an aspect of Mr World, which would explain His ascendency on (Traditional) Media. Because, although He clearly still needs Her, as Social Media grows in its capacity to influence and, ultimately, forge people’s beliefs, His reliance on (Traditional) Media should diminish. Hence the pecking order, but also the willingness of Media to align and please Mr World.

As for Techno Boy, in typical lesser God fashion, he knows that nothing the Gods above him do would be possible without his presence, but that situation doesn’t confer to him any real power, neither over them nor over people, because people mostly don’t worship technology as such (Apple Fanboys excepted), but simply use it to get at the fun stuff, like traditional and social media. In fact, people think about technology mostly when it stops working, and then curse it for all they’re worth, but still sacrifice to it so it works again. This, amusingly enough, makes Techno Boy into much more of a Rituals God, so for him, eliminating Wednesday when he has the opportunity makes perfect sense: just one less God for the people to sacrifice to, and so more sacrifices to him. But that would not further Mr World’s agenda, and technology being merely the conduit, not the message, Techno Boy gets his front teeth knocked out for is insubordination.

Just to come back to the willingly part of Mr World’s Faith. I think, ultimately, just as Mad Sweeney can’t take the coin from Laura, Mr World can’t take the devotion of Wednesday’s (and the old Gods’) followers. He can cajole and entice, threaten and rage, but, in the end, He has to convince them (possibly through an alliance, no merger! with the old Gods) to willingly come to His belief. And Wednesday knows it, and is willing to bet that people expect more from their Gods than bland, uniform, tasteless, grey, unfulfilling, numbing pseudo-happiness. He thinks Humanity wants more, and He plans to once again give Humanity excitement, adventure, and, of course, as it comes with that, hardships and pain. In short, meaning. But in the end, I’m just not sure His belief in Humankind isn’t misplaced, though. Maybe we really do prefer mindless entertainment after all.

Keep up the good work!

Hagar Lucky

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