Stories, questions, and musings about Asatru, and one man's effort to see the modern world through an old lens.
A Heathen Apology
Is it better to apologize, or to atone?
I recently had a change of perspective about a Christian friend that led me to explore a bit about why people make decisions, whether consciously or subconsciously rooted in faith. If one accepts that modern social ethic is derived from religious morality (and given the amount of research, it hard to refute it), it makes sense that such religious tenets may bleed into the minutia of day to day life. I find this most evident in the area of transgression and apology.
To set the scene: I had a standing arrangement with a friend to be settled upon my return to the States (I have been overseas since August). In the interest of protecting the identity of the person in question, I will call the person Lori and the arrangement playing a game of billiards. When we settled on our plan in early September, both Lori and I were willing and able to shoot a round of pool and foresaw no reason we would not be able to do so in January.
We spoke a few days ago, and I tried to confirm our plans- not because they should need confirming, a deal is a deal, but as a polite reminder that such plans existed. I was therefore surprised to hear that Lori had joined a billiards league and was no longer allowed to play against league players from other teams in her free time. As such, she felt she needed to renege on our deal.
I acknowledged the consideration but informed her that we had a previous engagement that she should have considered before joining a team with such a requirement. I further explained that I had dedicated 1 of the 14 days I would be home to shoot pool with her, and that it would be a significant imposition to find a player of equal skill on short notice in a town our size.
With a touch of frustration, I asked her how she planned to make up for disregarding our plans and not telling me earlier (reasonable Heathen request).
Her response was that she wasn't going to make up for it in any way because she had done nothing wrong- circumstances had changed and she had no control over them (no significant religious value).
I informed her flatly that choosing to join a team was in her complete control, and that having made such a choice, it was incumbent upon her to come up with a suitable way to make things right (practical Heathen worldview).
Her response was, "No offenses have been committed here to fuel the change in circumstances! No real action occurred! For what it's worth, I am sorry I can't play pool with you as planned." (Christian worldview epiphany moment for Yours Truly).
Allow me to caveat this by saying I do not keep friends or make plans with people I do not respect as intellectuals and human beings- my life is far too busy to retain the company of unreliable, illogical, unenjoyable folk. I say that to say this- her response was equal parts infuriating, exasperating, and shocking to me- but as those emotions subsided, I was left with the question of how she reached her conclusion. One of the parts of her life I am most familiar with beyond her occupation and her voracious reading habits is her devout spirituality, and as I explored that thread I found my answer.
The Christian dynamic for salvation rests primarily on transgression and apology. When one violates a sacred law or instruction, under the Old Testament the appropriate response as sacrifice, punishment, or atonement. Under the New Testament, all that is required to restore the spiritual balance is a confession (either to a priest or directly to God directly through the Christ, depending on denomination) and apology. There is reasonably clear guidance to attempt to follow the rules set forth in their sacred text, but the faith-structure carries the frequently mentioned and enduring failsafe that no crime is too great to be forgiven if you are just forthright with their god and apologize. By accepting their Christ as savior, they are absolved of all spiritual responsibility- there may be earthly consequences for breaking laws of man, and your friends may hate you forever, but they are good with their god and if their friends are any friends at all they will forgive the offender just as God did. Keeping one's word is not paramount and reputation among peers and fellow humans is not key- in fact, throughout their text the heroes are frequently looked upon as the worst oand lowest of social castes (criminals, tax collectors, carpenters, and fishermen) and systems reknowned for honor (Roman military forces, Egyptian royalty) are portrayed as villians and things to be shunned.
A Heathen dynamic for conflict resolution is more accepted as transgression and atonement. The concept of wergild permeates the culture from which our faith arose- an offender gives a gift of goods or money or service to the party they have wronged, in order to restore both social and spiritual balance to a community and to their individual relationship. The two most frequently cited reasons for this are practical rather than spiritual- it prevents grudges from turning into feuds and being perpetrated through generations for fathers and sons, and it maintains harmony in a social environment that relies on one another for sustainment and protection.
The spiritual aspect is less obvious, but picture a knotted and nestled ball of yarn as Wyrd and the knots within as fixed points in fate, where all strands represent individual lives and choices. An offense is like jerking on a strand full-force: it puts tension on your own line, shifts all the knots associated with your strand (and by extension, all the other strands of those knots, and all the knots those strands also touch), and will result in either snapping your strand (I don't even know how that works with Wyrd but it sounds like a f*cking horrible idea!) or binding a knot so tight that other strands have trouble tracing their way through it. In short, wergild releases the tension on the strand, keeps everything normalized, and all strands of Wyrd have an easier time passing through their knots.
To return to practical terms, an agreement or oath, regardless of including the words, "I promise," is a sacred thing to a heathen. I have passed on many opportunities that would have been great personal benefits to me because I had pre-existing commitments that had yet to be resolved, and because I committed to accomplishing them. That is no great commentary on my character, but rather my acceptance of a way of life- once I am commited to an act, it is no longer my sole choice to break that commitment- I have embroiled other participants, the act it self, and all who could potentially benefit or be impacted by the act; in my Wyrd through my commitment to participate. It is no small thing to abandon it, and more to the point- it's not an option.
Which is better? Is it better to be absolved of wrongdoing through apology, or is it better to provide practical compensation for a transgression? I don't know. I'm not a theologian, or a gothi, or really much more than a heathen trying to make my way in a world that frequently confuses me. Still, it was an intriguing theory to explore, and I look forward to sitting down with some open-minded friends and discussing the pro's and con's of each.
Rifle & Hammer
Heathen Community Resource - HCR
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