I read a book called Divine Misfortune recently

With a title like that, it could be anything. What it actually happens to be is an entertaining fictional tale of gods and followers by A. Lee Martinez.

Phil and Teri have been having a fine life without divine intercessions but after Phil loses yet another promotion because a co-worker sacrificed a goat to some god he got off the internet, they go trolling for someone to believe in.

All manner of deity is advertising itself online, Greek ones, Roman ones, Egyptian ones, all cultures, all civilizations, all shapes and sizes from all of time. The couple wind up opting for Luki, the raccoon-headed god of prosperity. His overall worship requirements seem pretty low-key compared to everyone else (just need to sacrifice a jar of anchovies once in a while, etc), but there’s a catch; he has to move in with them.

He turns out to be a bit of a mooch and after Phil and Teri boot him out of their house, they belatedly realize the arrangement was for their protection as much as anything else. Luki, or Lucky as he likes to be called, has a couple enemies: one dark and malicious underworld god who’s after his followers; and a goddess of love who fell so hard for him, she’s still unable to move past their breakup from thousands of years earlier. She’s become the goddess of scorned lovers in the meantime and is seeking revenge for past wrongs. But Lucky’s aura of influence is not to be trifled with, something they all have to learn.

It was a fun fluffy read. Still, I think I can pull a knugget of knowledge out of it. When they first signed on with Lucky, they began noticing all the little coincidences that worked in their favour. Soon after the kick out, they’re inundated with a flood of really bad luck, from little things going wrong to stuff that could potentially kill them. They wonder if Lucky smote them out of displeasure but by this time they’ve lost track of the card Lucky left for them if they ever changed their minds and wanted him back.

I forget how Lucky learns of their change of heart (I took the book back to the library already) but after they find his card again (in the wallet all along?), he tells them some interesting things. When they renounced him, all he did was leave. He was not directly responsible for anything bad that happened to them while he was gone. There was no smiting; he just took his umbrella of influence with him and they got rained on. That said, he wasn’t directly responsible for anything good that came their way either. Luck was in his nature as much as charisma or charm might be in someone else’s nature. He wasn’t immune to things going wrong; he did have enemies after all. It’s just that he was perpetually unruffled by obstacles in his path and had a more laid-back, stress-free way of dealing with whatever came up. A god of luck doesn’t have to worry much, obviously.

Good doesn’t happen because we deserve a reward. Bad doesn’t happen because we deserve to be punished. Events unfold and we choose to regard them in a positive or negative light. We’re also capable of choosing what to do and some of us really suck when it comes to deciding the best course of action. Some of us choose for selfish reasons, some for selfless reasons, and some of us barely consider the fact that there is indeed a choice at all before doing what we do.

On a related note, Psychology Today reported on some interesting studies done by researchers at the University of Cologne regarding good luck charms and their influence on events.

It turns out that people who put their trust in a trinket or habit they think brings luck, can boost their confidence just enough to make a difference in their results – if the results rely on a skill of some kind, at least – be it unscrambling letters, rolling a ball into a goal, or what have you.

Statistical analysis showed that their better performance was due to greater confidence, but not to their higher goals. (The researchers note that in other tasks, higher goals might play more of a role. Alas, you can’t win gold in Vancouver if you don’t attempt the big jumps. And it’s been demonstrated that people who generally believe luck works in their favor are motivated to try challenging tasks and persist at them.)

I asked Damisch if she thought rituals increase confidence by providing an illusion of control, since feeling powerless or uncertain (as one might in the face of an exam or a big competition) tends to increase superstition. She suspects so and is currently testing the hypothesis.

Which is what helps keep religious ritual so strong, I suppose. Not because some god actually has his finger on a fate button or can push a person toward the right answer, but because it’s part of the human condition to want control over things. But having the skill isn’t always enough to instill confidence in the ability, I guess. There’s always that little fear that we won’t be good enough, strong enough, capable enough to make sure things go the way we want them. So we introduce external trinkets (including supernatural entities) and trick ourselves into thinking they have somehow have the power to influence results, when it’s really just we who have the power, untapped though it may be. And we forget that we really can’t have control over everything, no matter how much we may wish or kiss a charm or pray for it.

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Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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