Sunday, February 16, 2020

On Suffering and Oral Tradition

ADF does not have any specific practices for dealing with humanity in terms of suffering, ignorance, or other “evils.” What ADF does have is a focus on virtue and right relationship as defined by the principle of *ghosti. Being in right relationship is similar to the “golden rule,” to treat others as you want to be treated,” derived from the Christian and Jewish commandment to “love they neighbor as thyself.”  ADF also encourages us to examine the examples found in the lore of our respective hearth cultures. Similarly, both Christianity and Judaism rely upon parables, or tales meant to teach a greater life lesson. Humans have been using stories since long before recorded history.

With over 55 denominations in the United States, Christianity has a variety of view regarding suffering, ignorance, and evil. According to the Catholic faith, God has not created a perfect world, rather one of both creative and destructive forces (Catechism 310). Humanity’s suffering is the result of the original sin that occurred in the garden of good and evil when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge: the original justice (Catechism 97-400). All manner of suffering exists as humankind continues to disobey God and fall prey to the temptation of evil—a force personified in Satan, or the Devil; however, redemption exists through prayer in the name of the human-born son of God, Jesus, known as the Christ, whose death served as the final sacrifice for all believers, living and dead (Catechism 1026). One’s fate upon death is not final, and the prayers of the living may yet redeem those who wait the final days in a place for final purification known as Purgatory (Catechism 1030).

Judaism has a very different view of suffering. Most suffering the Jewish person must endure is the consequence for an action, not necessarily their own, for the retribution of G-d may come immediately as seen in the Book of Chronicles or it may come after many generations as seen in the Book of Kings (Goodman, 2018, p. 37). G-d was historically viewed as “powerful, good and knowledgeable, but not perfectly so” (MJL, 2019). The ways of G-d are mysterious, and like in the Book of Job, the Jews may not ever know His reasoning. Further, many believe the Jewish people, who are the chosen people of G-d, suffer on behalf of the wicked of humanity to bring redemption to all humankind, and for this, they will be rewarded in heaven (MJL, 2019).

Indo-European religions were once oral traditions, meaning all the tales and histories were passed down through retelling the stories over a lifetime. While we have books now that have recorded versions, variation is myths is often traced to differences in translations or an extended period of time between when the tales were written down. To that end, the Roman tale of Baucis and Philemon reveals a lesson in hospitality by showing the rewards for granting it. The Hellenic tale of Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares reveals the consequences of adultery. Refer to any Norse tale involving Loki in which he must begin a quest to undo a mistake he has made. All of these are tales designed to teach us the ways we are to interact with the world.

Indo-European Lore does not present a doctrinal explanation for the presence of suffering and evil—they seem to be accepted aspects of the nature of the world(s). Whether through direct punishment or as an innocent bystander in the wrath of a divine spirit, suffering and human pain are a known part of life.  The tale of Baucis and Philemon involves the gods, Jupiter and Mercury, disguised as peasants seeking hospitality from the wealthiest to the poorest among the village homes. The wealthiest homes slammed their doors in their faces, but when they reached the home of Baucis and Philemon, they were welcomed, sheltered, and fed. Jupiter and Mercury smote the entire village save Baucis and Philemon, who were made the guardians of the temple the gods placed over their home. They were granted one wish for their gift of hospitality, which was to leave the earthly realm hand-in-hand when their time was done that they may stay together forever.

Eros caused Ares to fall in love with Aphrodite, who was given in marriage to Hephaistos to assuage his wrath at Hera for casting him out of Olympos. Aphrodite wanted nothing more than to be with her Ares, and they had a quiet affair. Helios, the Sun God who sees all, saw their deception and told Hephaistos. Hephaistos made a set of chains that could not be broken which he used to bind the two lovers upon their next tryst. Once they were trapped, Hephaistos called out to all the gods to come witness their shame. After this, Hephaistos and Aprhodite were divorced, and when Aphrodite bore a child to Ares, Hephaistos cursed the girl and all her descendants with a necklace he gave her as a wedding present. Aphrodite and Ares were never allowed to marry, and both were plagued with unquenchable desires. (Theoi, 2017).

While the Indo-European tales hold lessons in human behavior, the thematic elements of the Christian and Jewish parables are often centered on the return of humanity to God. There are several parables in the Christian New Testament involving how humankind is to be a “light in the world” as believers in Jesus as The Christ (Matthew 5:14-16), how only those who believe have the ears to hear the good news (Mark 4:1-20), and how even those who turn away will be welcomed back when they return home (Luke 15:11-32). Jewish tales, like the Indo-European tales, often hold a moral teaching. They typically have a character(s) with a goal that is reached after overcoming an obstacle. For example, A Sabbath Lion tells the tale of a young Jewish boy who refused to travel on the Sabbath (which is forbidden), and Queen Sabbath sends a lion to guard him when he was left behind (Shtetl Routes, 2013).