Heathen Ethics, Part 5: Forgiveness and Heathenry (A Response)

Ironically, it worked long enough to create this meme...

Ironically, it worked long enough to create this meme…

So…this.  For those who just don’t feel like reading a blog entry to make sense of another blog entry, here is the lowdown; a Troth Steward posted his thoughts above forgiveness, on the Troth’s official blog..  Let me tell you, I found the entire article pretty depressing in how badly it missed the mark.  Let’s take a look at what I consider the “business” paragraph of the article.

“Heathens do not forgive, for to ask you to forgive me for what I have done to you cheapens the victories you have fought long and hard to win in rebuilding what my actions have destroyed.  In asking for your forgiveness, I am now taking from you your right to rage, your right to the fires of anger to balance the loss, pain, fear, or despair that accompanied whatever effect the wrong I committed cost you.  Further; the implication is that if you refuse to grant this to me, or continue to resent me, the person who wronged you is now morally superior as you can’t forgive them.”
-John T. Mainer, Troth Steward (July 27th, 2013)

Earlier on, he states that “Forgiveness isn’t Heathen.” and that we “don’t do sin, karma, or forgiveness.”  Honestly, the man really has denigrated his point, as two of those words were definitely concepts within any iteration of a Heathen worldview.  He’s very accurate in regards to karma, but the word sin actually has it’s roots in the German, Old Norse, Middle English, and Old English languages…so it’s definitely a concept that old world Heathenry had a handle on.  I’ll throw Mr. Mainer this one, however, as that’s a pretty semantic argument; the Norse view of sin would likely not be the same as the Christian view of sin, and I’m not going to pretend it’s otherwise.   My issue is that, for an article that takes itself very seriously as it tries to speak upon an important issue, it’s an obvious flaw.

“Heathens do not forgive” doesn’t make sense.  He is, broadly correct when he says that forgiveness isn’t a Heathen concept.  It’s also not a Christian, Hebrew, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Wiccan, or a Pastarfarian concept.  It’s a universal concept, taking shape as a mechanism within any number of cultures and societies.  Our faith possesses no automatic mandate to oppose forgiveness as an idea, just because Jesus Christ had an awfully lot to say about the subject.

On that subject, Mr. Mainer doesn’t bring up the Abrahamic religion that most people associate with forgiveness in his piece and that is to his credit.  Instead of turning it into a smear piece aimed at the Christian faith, he discusses the path that he feels Heathens should take.  While I have a lot of issues with Mr. Mainer’s article, he does a damn good job of taking the high road in his writing.  Heathenism was not crafted to be bizarro Christianity; it was crafted to be Heathenry, and nothing else.  Every time we define it by what we feel it is not or construct an argument that accepts the Christian worldview as an automatic conceit , we’re talking about another faith more that we speak upon our own.  That does not send a very good message about our own faith.  As much as I dislike his stance, Mainer’s discourse get a couple of major things right.

I get to disagree with him about the Heathen faith, instead of where our faith differs from Christianity.  At the end of the day, I think we all feel better when this is the shape our discourse takes.   Or, to put it another way, if I’m praying to Thor I’m not doing to so to spite Jesus.  With some Heathens, I’m not so sure if they understand that.

He also does a good job at writing some stirring, positive ways of expressing his point towards the second half of the article.  I can’t pretend that only the second half exists, however, and I think it sets a very troubling precedent.

BoR_KvasirTo that end, if we are our deeds (something Mr. Mainer speaks upon near the beginning of his article) than we need not worry about anyone’s presumption in regards to moral high ground.  If person X did not give you reason to accept an apology, then there is no moral imperative to concern yourself with.  I have every right to make an assessment of how you conduct yourself in such situation, however.  If you refuse someone’s apology for a transgression that had little to no effect upon your long term well being?  I can view that as petty, should I so wish.  Likewise, I may think that someone let another off to easily by accepting an apology too earlier.  If ‘we are our deeds” is the cornerstone of our self conduct?  Than the matter is extremely simple.

Yes, moral superiority is a malignant tumor that does exist within some denominations of some religions but presenting it as an anathema to Heathen thought makes no sense.  Forgiveness is not a Christian invention that Jesus had gained the patent for.   It’s more defined by one’s culture, with religion often weighing in on certain aspects of it within that culture.  On that note, our religion doesn’t really speak much about it, so forgiveness is each person’s to define.  Much like the  separation of church and state (Matthew 22:21, punks), slavery, and heroic figures returning from death, forgiveness is a concept that Christianity has talked about, but does not own.

yggdrasilMr. Mainer’s sentiments do not reflect anything I’ve seen within the Heathen lore or worldview.  If one feels a psychological compunction to forgive someone, based on a fear that you will be ethically subjugated if you do not do so, that’s your baggage.  It has nothing to do with how any of us need to practice or act upon our faith.  If I don’t accept an apology, it’s because either I don’t think the person is sorry or because I’m not ready for that.  I have no need to feel guilt for it, so I don’t; if I have been wronged, I get to determine the way I heal and I’m not going to self-flagellate because it makes my transgressor feel super sad about things.  If I’m angry, I allow myself to be angry until I decide I do not want to be angry any more.  Anyone who feels it acceptable to guilt trip me in the interim displays their own ethical weakness.

Forgiveness is not a right in Heathenry; it is something earned via owning up to your failings and offering recompense for them.  Sometimes that recompense is material, but more often the most meaningful sacrifices are the ones we make from our pride and arrogance.  We can accept the responsibility or our wrong doing, fix it as best as we are able, and do all of it with the firm awareness that there is no demand our apology be accepted.  Our quest for forgiveness carried more weight than, as does the acceptance of the apology.

How forgiveness works is for each of us to define.  Each of us has our own mandate to decide what it means, and how it should be gained.  There is no authority that is legion here but our own.  I do not think we should throw away forgiveness, when it affords us ways to define ourselves and the way we view the world.


Edit: (9/9/2013) Modified slightly for clarity.

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11 thoughts on “Heathen Ethics, Part 5: Forgiveness and Heathenry (A Response)

  1. Myriad says:

    “Every time we define it by what we feel it is not or construct an argument that accepts the Christian worldview as an automatic conceit? We’re talking about another faith more that we speak upon our own[…]”

    *slow clapping* this sentence pretty much nails one of the major issues I have with modern Heathenry, interpretations of Polytheism and Paganism alike. The vast majority of writers out there CONSTANTLY use Christianity as a frame of reference for things they say about Heathenry, Polytheism etc. And not only does it get old and annoying really damn quickly, it also completely prevents a healthy, intrinsically productive discourse. It’s like we only have things to say as long as we refer to Christianity.

    If we take those terms literally, I cannot participate in any of those discussions simply because I don’t have that huge chip with Christianity in my shoulder that many modern day Heathens seem to have.

    Praying to Thor because He’s Thor, instead of doing so to spite Jesus. Can we please start doing that? It would be greatly appreciated. (And while we’re at doing actual Heathen stuff instead of anti-Christian stuff with a bit of heathen flavouring, can we also stop mutilating our Pantheon? That would be even more greatly appreciated.) [Eh. Went on a ramble… sorry!]

    • I understand why some people have that chip. I can understand it’s existence and why it endures for some people. Why I can’t understand is why we don’t see it as a bad thing. People throw a lot of trash at the feet of the God of Abrham. Some of these reasons are understandable, but most of them are just a seething mess of unresolved pain and damage.

      It effects us at every level, and it needs to be addressed. I’ll go so far to say that the issues some of us have with Christianity are just as important as the issues that Heathen-spectrum faiths have with racists. Both groups do incalculable damage, one is simply far more obvious about it.

  2. moonfire2012 says:

    Reblogged this on Tried by Fire and commented:
    You learn something new every day. I especially like the follow up comment on this.

  3. bluehufsa says:

    Let me tell you something about the Troth: of course they think forgiveness is not Heathen because they are a bunch of morons listening to viking metal, wearing a Thor’s hammer pendant and taking so much pride in being USA citizens. Furthermore, I’ve heard stories about some of them being involved in redneck militia groups. So excuse me if i don’t understand why do you guys even discuss their words..

    • That attitudes and practices are not, exclusively, attributed to the Troth. Actually, I’ll admit some surprise; I’ve personally witnessed more issues of that within the AFA. Of course, I don’t get out to large events often….so maybe it’s both? Maybe I’m meeting the wrong times of one group and the right types from another? Hard to say.

      What I will say is that I think the moment we stop trying to increase the discourse about our faith and it’s ethics? The more they will stagnate, and become the domain of dark and malicious people.

  4. I can understand both ideas about forgiveness. My biological parents abused drugs and alcohol while they were pregnant and as a result I have a ton of problems. I’ve been badgered and bullied about forgiving them for years, however that’s not something I can do, when not only are they not sorry, but they laugh when they see my lack of balance or hear about me in a hospital. I like that in heathenry, forgiveness is an option, not a requirement, that I am not necessarily a “bad” person for being angry and resenting them. I don’t want to assuage their guilt when I have to live with the consequences of their actions. At the same time though, the idea that no forgiveness is heathen is problematic as well. In the lore we see lots of examples of owning up and sacrifice for wrong actions Sif’s hair, for example, after a debt or transgression is paid, it should be forgiven, whether word’s are enough must be a personal choice.

  5. Doug Freyburger says:

    I think Mainer confused forgetness with forgiveness and as a result went off into left field and got lost there. At the time I posted a response on the Troth members mailing list.

  6. Lonnie Scott says:

    I will say that as a Heathen with a long relationship with Odin that learning and pursuing wisdom has been my main path. This led me through to becoming a Hypnotherapist, Meditation Student and Teacher, and other forms of healing. Forgiveness is a powerful tool for healing our own minds, and relationships of all stripes. It is well researched. Are we to ignore genuine lessons of the mind? Even the Dalai Lama acknowledges the work of science in his own practice of Buddhism. I think Odin would applaud the growing knowledge. I am not saying forgiveness must be given. I’m saying forgiveness is a powerful option when applied properly. As my last word, please don’t confuse forgiveness with permission.

    • I agree with you completely.

      What rankles me is when people say that such things as “forgiveness” have no place in Heathenry. Says who? Where in the lore is that? I understand how people with conversion based baggage might have some issues with the term based on how damagingly some sects of Christian sects approach the topic, but that doesn’t make it the domain of Christianity.

      It’s a social construct. Nothing more or less. It only has the value that we assign it, because (to the best of my knowledge) there aren’t a lard of hard, anthropological opinions in regards to the subject.

      It is each person’s to define as they see fit, and no Asa-Pope has the right to come forth and define it for anyone. Why try to define it as non-existent based on how some others have misused the concept? I just don’t get it.

      • Lonnie Scott says:

        I agree with you, Harrison. I’ve spent the last few days going through your archives. You represent Heathenry very well. Great writing, and great insights. Well done! I’m curious about your thoughts on The Troth since it was their blog that started all this. Feel free to email me if you want to keep it private. I’ve simply reached a point in my life that I would like to find other Heathens similar to myself. Gathering thoughts on The Troth since they appear to be the closest to my thoughts. Well, until I read their blog.

      • I’ve made my stance about the AFA perfectly public, and I have no issue making a similarly public stance about the Troth. That would be a double standard, which I’m not comfortable with.

        I think they do a lot of things right…but I have misgivings in regards to some parts of their execution. Making room for all different interpretations of Germanic/Scandinavian/Norwegian/Icelandic pre-Christian worship, religion, and spirituality? Good. Being inhospitable to particularly ideas and worship paths (I cannot stand their “don’t ask/don’t tell” stance regarding recognition of Loki)?? It broadcasts that they’re okay with inclusion so long as people don’t have to tolerate something that annoys them to much…which is about as wrong of a way to do inclusion as you’re likely to find.

        Also, there on-line presence is sort of a wreck; as much as I have ideological differences with the AFA…they’re on point here. Like them or not, they make it very clear what they’re about and what they stand for. The information is out there. The Troth is extremely private, by contrast, and are so cut off that they don’t even have an open Facebook group. How can I know what a group stands for in hard terms when they’re so closed off?

        I don’t have a HUGE number of problems with them…but, at the same time, the problems I do have make me nervous. I keep my distance as a result. I know some Troth members. They’re good folks for the most part. I just take issue with some of their stances and operation methods, because they don’t match the rest of what they present themselves to be.

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