One of the first posts I had ever written on this blog discussed my thoughts about using the phrase “I work with XYZ deity”. Since then, I have seen many many posts across the entire Internet about the many supposed problems and short comings of using this phrase. Because my horizons have expanded a little since 2012, I thought it might be worthwhile to revisit this topic and freshen it up a bit.
The biggest reasons that I often see people use for why you should never say “I work with my god” is because people are assuming a few things about the relationship:
- that you view your deity like a tool that is to be used and then discarded
- that you view yourself on the same level as the deity (sometimes labeled as hubris)
- that you have no respect for your god
Now I have to admit that I’ve never entirely understood most of these “arguments” against the “I work with XYZ deity” phrase. I feel that many of these arguments have excessive baggage tied to them that shouldn’t necessarily be there. This becomes obvious when you compare the different uses and applications of the phrase “I work with” in a non-religious context. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever held down a job, you’ll likely know what I mean.
Ever run into a coworker outside of the workplace, and tell someone “Oh yeah, that’s XYZ person, I work with them”?
And when you said that, were you being disrespectful to them? Did you consider them a tool or item in that moment? Did you have any baggage or implications at all in that statement beyond “we perform tasks for the same company”?
I would put my money that most of us don’t have any ulterior motive when we are referring to people we work with in our day job. And when the statement is made, usually no one jumps to the conclusions that you were being disrespectful to your coworker.
And why is that? Why is it that we can say “I work with that person, they’re in accounting” and everyone is alright, but if you say “I work with that deity, they have taught me a lot”, it’s somehow suddenly bad?
I know some people would retort “well the gods are above us, so you shouldn’t say that” (see number 2 above), but I really don’t see how them being “above” us negates the use of “I work with them”. To bring back the workplace comparison- in my office there are many people who outrank me. They either have seniority over me, or their position is higher on the food chain than my own. In all of these cases, I would still use “work with” to describe the relationship. I work with my supervisor to complete tasks. I work with our CEO to help determine changes within the company.
And when I say that I’m working with these people, I certainly don’t mean it disrespectfully. Quite the opposite, actually, since my supervisor has more of a direct connection to my livelihood and existence than my gods do. If I started being disrespectful to those who outrank me in the workplace, I’d find myself out of a job, and probably out on the streets. Performing tasks with another person in order to get work done shouldn’t be inherently disrespectful. If it’s not disrespectful when I say it in regards to the person who controls my paycheck, why is it disrespectful when I say it in regards to my deities?
I’m honestly still not entirely sure how working with someone equates that someone to being a tool. I work with a lot of people every day of my life. I work with people I care for and would consider a friend. I work with people I don’t particularly like. I work with people of all stripes, and I don’t view any of them as tools. I view them as people who also happen to work. People who work with me in order to complete their job and get their paycheck. No one (at least in my workplace) is considering anyone else an item, disposable or otherwise. I’m not sure why this seems to translate differently when it is a deity instead of a human being, especially since we happen to work with many people day in and day out who aren’t considered tools that are used and then discarded.
Even though my ideas regarding “working with” gods were not nearly as fleshed out back in 2012, my sentiments behind the phrase still haven’t changed a lot. I may have shifted my ideas about using the term worship in the past 3 years (I no longer equate worship with being a door mat, but it still is not accurate for my relationship with the gods, and so I don’t use it personally), but I still stand behind my original statement that using the phrase “I work with XYZ deity” is perfectly fine. And truth be told, the phrase “I work with this deity” is more accurate in describing my relationship with the gods than stating that I worship or venerate them. Most of my interactions with the gods are centered around doing work. Whether that work is over here or Over There- it’s all work related, and we rarely talk to one another unless there is work to be done.
At the end of the day, no one can dictate to another what their relationship with the gods is like. No one has the authority or right to try and tell other people what their relationships with the divine “should” be like, or how those relationships “should” be labeled. When its all said and done, you and the gods are the only ones who have any room or right to determine what terminology best suits your relationship. And if your gods are okay with the terminology you’re using, then everyone else can shove off in regards to their opinion of the matter.
Mortal-deity relationships can take many many forms, and we should strive to let our terminology reflect the forms that these differing relationships can take. Imagine the diversity we could bring into our community if we quit worrying so much about how people describe their relationship with the gods, and instead focus on what the actual content of the relationship is. The sooner we quit dictating what we feel other people’s relationships “should” be, the sooner we can begin to explore all of the forms these relationships can take, and the better off we’ll be.
Do you ever feel apprehensive about the use of the phrase “I work with XYZ deity”? If so, why? What terminology do you use to describe your relationship with the gods?