I inadvertently outted myself as an Ásatrúar to a co-worker yesterday. When he realized I wasn’t Christian he asked me point blank what I am. I have a rule, I will evade the topic if I can but if you ask me directly then I will give you an honest answer. Now, he’s a polite and decent young man of a quiet, non-preachy (at work) Christian persuasion. However, the world he lives in is pretty small and is only aware of “big name” non-Abrahamic religious beliefs like Buddhism. The idea that “pagans” of any kind are still around was mind-blowing to him.
What struck me as interesting was that he skipped right over “Do you believe in God?” and went right to “Do you believe in Heaven or Hell?” as his first question. This lead into a bit of a discussion about beliefs regarding the after-life but he seemed to have a very hard time understanding that I wasn’t concerned with this and that I was more concerned with how I live this life and how it impacts my family and, eventually, children.
This got me to thinking about a key characteristic of Ásatrú. We are a religion of life, not one of death. Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity, seems to be almost completely consumed with what happens after death and almost completely ignores what is going on in life. To them, life is ultimately about getting your seat in Heaven and little else really matters. To us, what happens in death isn’t all that important. In truth, we don’t even have a single belief and the lore shows us many beliefs our ancestors held. What matters to us isn’t death, but life.
I’ve mentioned the idea of “we are our deeds” before and I really do think that this is one of the single best summations of our religious and philosophical character. Our primary responsibility on Midgard is to care and provide for our families and clans. It is to them that our first obligation exists. In our modern world we can extend this to national obligation, and if we are feeling particularly generous, we can place the “good of the species and all mankind” as an even larger concentric circle of obligation. The key thing here is that urd and orlog is determined by our actions (among other things, but let’s not be picky) and if we act in harmful ways, our families suffer for it. This means we are bound by honor and duty to behave in a responsible and beneficial way.
What struck me as odd, and even uncomfortable, about this part of the conversation was the difficulty that he had understanding that family is first and foremost in our lives (at least for those of us who have family) and sits at the very foundation of our identity and customs. It informs us of who we are and is easily as important as keeping troth with our Elder Kin. One of our heroes from the Conversion period, King Radbod of Frisia refused conversion because it would have separated him from his Heathen kin, a situation he found unthinkable. I find it sad that I had such a hard time explaining this to the young man I work with because he just couldn’t accept the idea that family was more important than going to his Heaven.
As a side note, I was also amazed at the contrast between his obsession with “eternity” and what happens after death. I’m an Odin’s Man. I’ve dedicated myself to a god of many things, death being one of them. I’m fascinated by customs and beliefs about death from around the world. As an Ásatrúar and as an Odin’s Man, however, I’m not nearly as obsessed with the afterlife as it seems Christians are. I find it a peculiar obsession, especially because they seem to care so little about what they do in life. I know that this is a matter of perception as much as anything, but it’s just so weird to me to be concerned about an eternal reward but give almost no concern to the world they, and their decedents live in.