Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mirth and Rever... well, Mirth, anyway

Wintersong Tashlin recently posted a very interesting essay on a sex toy shop/distributor named "Athena's Home Novelties." He sums up his objections:
Now, if you have read Notes From a Barking Shaman before, or in fact have taken even a cursory glance at barkingshaman.com, you surely know that I am the last person to object to sex on moral or spiritual grounds! A thorough embracing of sex and sexuality as part of one’s spiritual journey is a central feature in my life and Work.
Nor do I object to companies taking deity names. There is a long and noble history of businesses honoring a patron or inviting the gods’ blessing through name choices. Fire, Asrik, and I chose the name Brigantian Designs LLC for our now-defunct design firm as an homage to the Celtic goddess Brigit, who we hoped would look with favor on our endeavors.
If you have even a cursory level of knowledge of Greek mythology, it is not hard to see what my problem is with “Athena’s Home Novelties.” You see, a driving element in the lore surrounding Athena is that She is a virgin goddess. We’re not talking about a deity simply without any tales featuring sex, or whose purview was some unrelated area of life. No, the fact that Athena is a virgin is actually really important in Her lore and Her place in Greek culture and mythology.
Not only is She virginal, She’s modest. In a culture that treated bare breasts as fashion accessories (even fellow virgin goddess Artemis is often seen in an off-the-shoulder number too revealing for Project Runway), Athena is portrayed fully clothed in either voluminous robes or armor.
It is possible that you could choose a worse Greek deity to name an “Adult Novelties” company after, but for the life of me, none leap to mind.
Maybe they consulted Burger King's former ad agency
Galina Krasskova commented on Facebook "Once again, it's ok to mock polytheism. Try naming your company 'Mohammed's sex accessories" or "Jesus' home novelties" and see how quickly your company lasts. >_< ."  I think this is actually symptomatic of something even more profoundly wrong within our culture.  Witness Divine Interventions, a sex toy shop which features such hits as the Egg of Shiva (vibrating power bullet sold separately), the Virgin Mary dildo, and the Baby Jesus Butt Plug.  What we see here isn't a disrespect for polytheism, but for the very concept of Divinity.

The problem as I see it is is that many within our culture find words like "reverence" and "respect" more obscene than slapping a deity's face on a silicone dick or wiping your ass on a Torah scroll.  Kneeling before the Gods is groveling in fear: condemning blasphemy is bigotry and intolerance. The rantings of online trolls must be protected by law. Holy scriptures of any religion, meanwhile, are silly superstitions which can be mocked at will.

While the Abrahamic religions are notorious for their anti-blasphemy proscriptions, they didn't come up with the idea.  Socrates was put to death by the Athenian government for blasphemy and impiety. Confucianism places great stock in li, or ritual propriety: those who violated that propriety could be subject to legal sanction. In Seneca's tragedy Hercules Furens, a raging Juno calls forth from the darkest caverns of Dis the evil spirit Impietas.  Upon the death of the monotheist pharaoh Akhenaton, he was erased from the official records by the priests of the old Gods and referred to ever after as "the Heretic."

Throughout different times and cultures, there was an idea that respect for the Gods and reverence for their religion was vital if the social order were to be preserved. Blasphemy was a far more serious crime than murder. The drunken thug who slays his friend in a tavern brawl kills an individual: the blasphemer threatens the very underpinnings of the culture.This is more than a simple fear that the Gods might punish the impious (although that was a very real belief which is largely downplayed today by those seeking kinder, gentler, more indulgent deities).  It was an acknowledgement that there is Something Greater than humanity.

Since the Enlightenment we have deposed the Gods and placed ourselves on Their thrones. Where once we cherished the words of Deity, now we hold sacrosanct the rights of individuals to say what they want, when they want and where they want. Where once we worshipped the Gods, we now engage in acts of ritualistic blasphemy to prove ourselves superior to Them.  Even among those who strive to recreate the worship of the pre-monotheist era, there's an incredible resistance to the idea that we might need to show piety to the Sacred, that we might need to declare something Holy, that we might be forced to deal with "thou Shalts" and "thou Shalt Nots."