I was so happy to find this post months ago, because it gave historical validity to a pattern I’ve noticed with all my lowercase-g-gods: I relate to them at first through a period (of varying length and intensity) of trash-talking, defiance, and downright resentment. It’s through this very pain-in-the-ass behavior that I learn what is is about said deities that really is deserving of true respect; it’s through this process that I learn to trust them- after all, if they were just looking for an excuse to go all godly terror and smite me, that would be the time to do it. I’m fully aware of my similarities with a toddler testing the limits of their new babysitter’s patience and lenience, but I don’t particularly care. Every time I try to approach deities with the kind of automatic deference I see my peers talking about, it ends up just being lip service, which in my experience deities can smell a mile away and find a hell of a lot more insulting than if I just say “I don’t like you. I wouldn’t respect a human who acted the way you do and I don’t respect gods who do it, either. My genuine respect doesn’t come cheap and you have yet to earn it in my eyes”.
Don’t misunderstand- there are absolutely occasions when lip service and deferential formalities are required, and most often they’re my only buffer between my own obstinence and the very real possibility of godly retribution. I do respect the experience, wisdom, and power that the title of “god” indicates, and when I meet deities I don’t know I do my best to let that be known -even if only because I’ve generally noticed that gods are less likely to bother me if I act demure and in awe of them rather than heckling them. Besides, the more deities I go through this whole song and dance with, the more I learn that even the ones I don’t like are still very much deserving of respect; they’re deities for a reason, after all. In many ways, my stubborn, disrespectful attitude is the most direct route for me learning to truly respect deities; maybe that’s why they overwhelmingly react to it in a surprisingly patient and understanding manner.
I also suspect that some part of most deities enjoy the challenge. Some more than others, of course, but the myths do include instances of gods being petty, after all. In my experience, the begrudging but genuine praise of a human who couldn’t stand them a few weeks ago is sweeter to many deities than a human gritting their teeth and praising them just because they’re afraid of the consequences of not doing so. Some of them seem to enjoy the back-and-forth, some find distinct pleasure in playfully annoying me. All of this behavior, even if it irritates the hell out of me at first, ultimately endears me to them. It’s so frustrating and fun and funny and human that I can’t help but to relate to them. (If only getting close with actual humans was so easy.) The process of divine antagonism teaches me about them, about myself, and eventually leads to a closer relationship with deities than if I tried to skip straight to the “humble praise and service” part. Besides which, I’ve always felt comfortable relating to people through teasing and talking shit, and I find I learn better through debates or when somebody will play “devil’s advocate” so to speak. This manner of relating to deities may not be very popular, but it works for me and I’m gonna keep doing it.
On a deeper, more spiritual level, I’m reminded of this line from the article I linked above: “…An antagonist deity is not a deity who is out to get you or who wants to destroy you. They are a deity with whom you have a reasonably strong connection befuddled by various factors. An antagonist deity represents a part of yourself that needs refinement and work. Not all deities with whom you have a negative relationship qualify…Genuine antagonist deities are facing off not with you, but with a dark facet of your nature which in some way relates to what they stand for.” This makes perfect sense, and gives the antagonistic relationships I’ve had with several deities (Loki and Ares come to mind at the moment) a sort of “greater purpose” than us just not getting along. I bicker with Ares because he represents the things in the world I see as my enemy, the parts of myself that I see as cruel and selfish; I play incessant mind-games and verbally fence with Loki because he reminds me of times I’ve been deceived and betrayed, and of my own capacities and tendencies to lie and manipulate even people that I love. I believe that they’ve dealt with people like me many times before, and they understand what they’re doing better than I do; they aren’t just tormenting me for shits and giggles, they’re using my very real resentment and mistrust for a greater purpose. They’re helping me work through these problems I have -with the world, with my past, and with myself- on my own terms, rather than insist I put aside all baggage I have about them for the sake of respecting the divine. It’s very considerate of them, if you think about it.
I’m not completely dismissing the possibility of gods sometimes having completely petty and self-serving motivations for some of their interactions with us; that would be, in my opinion, seeing gods through such rose-colored glasses that I would be ignoring vital parts of their beings. People have multiple facets and motivations for doing things, and so do gods. I also stand by my previous statements that gods can and do sometimes overstep bounds and abuse humans, and that their titles as gods don’t exonerate them of wrongdoing in those situations. What I am saying is that keeping an open mind and being really honest with yourself -as well as having a sense of humor and “being a good sport” when a deity seems to be screwing around with you- can go a long way in trying to understand the actions of a deity that seems to consistently give you nothing but trouble.