Yesterday, I reblogged Galina’s fascinating post about the differences between Roman Polytheist and Early Christian definitions of “Piety”. The former usage was basically “Duty to the Gods”, whereas the latter were focused more on “Love for God”.
Having had some more time to contemplate, what I find especially astute about Galina’s observation is that if Piety refers not to Duty, but to Love, and Piety is considered not just a virtue, but an obligation, then we oblige people to an emotional experience that they can not actually choose to have.
Now, I do believe it’s possible to cultivate our capacity for love, but I agree completely that it’s a very, very bad thing to make love socially compulsory. Demanding the presence or absence of specific emotional states is not a functional rule to make. When we demand that people control that which is not within their control, we are effectively demanding they lie to us or themselves or both.
I see the opposite of this come up a lot in open and poly relationships – a demand from one lover to another that they not fall in love with anyone else. For all the same reasons that doesn’t work, demanding that anyone love whom they do not also does not work.
I’m not the same kind of duty-oriented Galina is. I’m quite thoroughly love-oriented. I actively cultivate my ability to love more broadly, particularly in the sense of expanding my capacity to perceive all things that exist as beautiful and valuable in their own right. But at no point do I ever treat that love as a social obligation.
I think the duty aspect of piety didn’t entirely leave the Christian meaning, though, or else we wouldn’t have the net problem of Love being treated AS a Duty, nor would we necessarily see people rejecting the duty to Piety. But instead of Piety referring to duty itself, it became a duty to BE Pious, and I can totally see how that skews its value.
I’m not sure where to go with it from here in my personal practice, but I can see how reclaiming the older meaning may serve many in our community – especially the Devotional Polytheist community – very well.