Category Archives: morality

Life and Death

Considering today is Wednesday, the topic of death seems a fitting one to discuss. Or, rather, the power of life and death. There has been a considerable amount of drama centering around Kim Davis recently and her refusal to issue marriage licenses. Apparently, there is a similar debate occurring about whether doctors in hospitals should be able to deny patients surgeries that violate the religious beliefs of the doctors.

My immediate and gut-wrenching response is to say, “Absolutely not.” Doctors are public servants, and hospitals are secular institutions.

That isn’t strictly accurate, however, as there are hospitals with religious affiliations in the private sector. Generally, those hospitals are affiliated with Catholicism. In a Catholic hospital, I don’t think that doctors should be expected to perform surgeries that violate the tenets of their faith.┬áThe hospital is a private religious hospital – it is a holy place. While it may not be a place that I would ever go, I can respect that the people working in that hospital view it as an extension of their church.

There are varied reactions to the idea of a doctor denying a patient a surgery that violates their religious views, but there are two main camps. There’s the “Doctors shouldn’t even be allowed to practice medicine if they aren’t willing to perform procedures that violate their religious beliefs,” side of things, and then there’s the other side, where I stand.

I don’t think it’s right to ask anyone to act in a manner that violates their beliefs – or their code of ethics, for the atheists out there. Once we disrespect a single person in that manner, once we invalidate one person’s set of morality and beliefs, we open ourselves up to the persecution of our own religious paths.

In a secular hospital, doctors can refer patients to other doctors who are willing to perform the procedures they aren’t willing to do themselves. In a non-secular hospital, that isn’t going to happen. When a patient finds themselves in a situation where they need an operation that a non-secular doctor isn’t willing to perform, the burden of responsibility should then transfer to the patient – the responsibility to find someone who is willing to do the procedure without violating their own set of ethics.

However, when I tried to explain this reasoning to someone else earlier today, the response I received was “Only God has the power to decide life and death,” and that set me to thinking. Because I have heard that phrase my entire life, growing up in a Bible Belt and all (I still live in one, frustratingly enough), but I have always dismissed it as ridiculous. To me, it’s equally as ridiculous as saying “God works in mysterious ways.”

I’m aware that both of those phrases refer to the Christian God, but the fact that the person invoked the “power of life and death” really got under my skin. Because that’s one argument I’ve never seen in paganism – whether or not the Gods are the only ones with power over life and death.

Perhaps the reason I’ve never seen that argument is because it’s ridiculous to say it when polytheistic faiths are sacrificial faiths. Yes, we have stopped sacrificing animals (in most parts of the world. I’m aware there are still a few groups who practice animal sacrifice), but the history of the cultures where our traditions originated were rife with sacrifice.

The power of life and death is sacred, yes, but I think it’s ridiculous to say that any God of any faith has complete power over who lives and dies. We sentence people to death every day. Our legal system kills people every day. The fact that there are people out there who have still not acknowledged that about the world we live in irks me.

Who is Loki?

There are a lot of theories out there about what kind of god Loki is, and there are theories out there that say He isn’t a god at all. Some theories claim that He is a god of fire, of chaos, destruction. He has been called the Norse equivalent of the Christian devil, although that is a pretty easily discredited claim.

Of all the gods, there is perhaps no other god with so many contradictory theories as to their identity. Ironically enough, this is perhaps the best indication of the type of god Loki is. He is a god of cataclysmic change and of ambiguity. He defies being explained by conventional means. To walk Loki’s path is to be confronted with difficult truths and constant change. No wonder, then, that so many heathens are afraid of contending with Loki.

Change tends to make people uncomfortable, and Loki, as a master of ambiguity, often leaves people disquieted, and that is perhaps the main reason that so many people try to force him into this mold of “evil trickster.” But tricksters aren’t inherently evil, and Loki is unique among tricksters.

Loki has been called the closer because He gets things done. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ve always viewed Loki as Odin’s shadow. Not his literal shadow, but the one doing the dirty deeds Odin Himself can’t do. Loki can go places that Odin can’t, and He won’t be judged for it – or, rather, His reputation is already in such disarray that He can’t really tarnish it further – and so, Loki can do things that the other gods can’t do.

Loki’s morality is very situational, and I think that is perhaps one of the strongest reasons I am drawn to Him as much as I am. I am drawn to Odin because he represents the ideal, but Loki represents reality. Odin can’t be seen as less than ideal among the gods he leads, as a leader with a tarnished reputation tends to quickly fall out of a leadership role, but Odin knows that it is impossible to do things above-board 100% of the time. That is, I believe, where Loki comes into play.

Even though Loki’s morality may be more situational than Odin’s, I do think that Loki has his own moral code. There are lines that even Loki won’t cross, and I think it’s important to understand what those lines are. He never hurts children, and, while he plays tricks on some of the goddesses, he never hurts them. In fact, except for shredding someone’s dignity, Loki is a fairly non-violent god. I wouldn’t say he’s a peaceful god, however, as he does love to stir things up, and he did play a role in Baldr’s death. He’s not rainbows and sunshine, but he’s not doom and gloom either.

I think, in terms of personality, Loki falls somewhere between the two extremes. Or, rather, he takes the two extremes and bends them and forces them to meet in the middle. He is the master of extremes and adept at creating a middle ground. In some ways, I’d say Loki is not only the god of change and ambiguity, but also the god of compromise.

Still, the question, “Who is Loki?” is not a question easily answered. The truth is, Loki has a million different aspects, and He shows only the aspects that are necessary to each person that approaches Him. The Loki I am familiar with may not be the Loki any other heathen is familiar with because Loki is such a versatile god. That is the real difficulty of following a trickster god – there’s no way to truly define Him, as there’s no way Loki will ever let Himself get pinned down to a single definition.