I have been asked before: “Why don’t you start your own church?” Here are some reasons why this is not only unnecessary for Setians, but probably undesirable as well.
The question has been raised before: why not start a new Setian church—one that speaks to those of us who actually revere and venerate Set, and which honors Him above all other gods?
It is certainly true that some things are easier to accomplish in groups, and that there are limits to what any one individual can do alone. But what exactly do we need to “do” for Set in large crowds? He does not demand to be worshiped by the masses. He is a hunter god who is always on the prowl, and who is much more concerned with saving all our butts from crazy hellbeasts than He is with micromanaging our lives. Divinities like Set are loners who tend to prefer the company of other loners, if They desire any company at all.
It will be pointed out, of course, that His Nocturnal Majesty was worshiped in certain ancient Egyptian temples. This is quite true, but Egyptian temples worked very differently than modern churches do. Their innermost sanctuaries were closed to the public, and the priestly rituals for a temple’s god(s) were generally private. Though public piety existed, the Egyptians had no concept of “going to church” as such; they more often honored their ancestors and/or the god(s) of their choice at home, or at neighborhood shrines that technically weren’t on temple grounds. Along with just being good neighbors and citizens, this was the basic template for religion in ancient Kemet; there were no dogmatic litmus tests for “membership,” and there was no real concern for what individuals might or might not believe theologically. I think it’s probably fair to say most Setians, Kemetics, and polytheists in general are already living this way by default, and we clearly don’t need a church to continue doing so.
It’s also worth noting that our Western model of religious affiliation appears to be slowly going extinct. The most vocal and visible churches continue to deny science and harbor known evildoers among their leadership. Such institutions have consistently raped, murdered, or otherwise oppressed countless innocents throughout history. The masses have grown tired of their bullshit, and church attendance is now at an all-time low. So perhaps starting a church in today’s environment would not be the wisest investment of anyone’s time and resources. Again, our god doesn’t necessarily want to be worshiped by large crowds of people anyway; nor does He want us to waste our energy fighting each other, which we are much more likely to do when we gather in large numbers. Virtually every organized religion has been fragmented by its own rival sects over time; it is human nature for groups of people to quarrel and eventually schism. I therefore see little point in trying to coordinate such a project, only to have it eventually fall apart or become corrupt.
Church corruption is most blatant when it comes to our tax exemption laws, which are meant to help them invest as much of their funding into charity as possible. This seems perfectly legit—money that is used to help others ought not to be taxed. But the problem is that most church spending around the world does not actually go into charity. Most of that spending goes into building lavish cathedrals, lobbying for (usually conservative or right-wing) political causes, and acquiring more converts (i.e., donors). In some cases, the money just goes straight into the leadership’s pockets. The truth is that churches are really more like businesses than anyone wants to admit. Time and time again, the government has given stimulus money to corporations so they can pay better wages to their employees, only for the employers to predictably keep all that money for themselves. Churches function in much the same way, except they don’t have to pay any of what they keep back to the rest of society, and the government bails them out every fucking year.
The saddest part of all this is that if we DID tax churches, we would have MORE than enough money in the national budget to shelter all of our homeless citizens, improve all of our schools, and finance other badly needed social initiatives—things churches are supposed to do with all their money, but don’t. It seems clear to me at least that organized, institutionalized religion holds us back from evolving and growing into a truly advanced society; it always has, and it always will.
I realize I must sound like an atheist to some people. I am not. My faith in Set and other divinities, though unique, is considerably devout. I did not say religion is the problem—I said that organized, institutionalized religion is the problem. We are taught in this culture to think of faith as something that must always be standardized and static, never being allowed to change. But once upon a time, religion was much more personal and fluid for the vast majority of believers across the globe. Some of us, including yours truly, still adhere to this perspective today, and it may very well become the norm again quite soon.
It is true that churches can provide avenues of critical social support for their members; yet there are safer and more sensible alternatives today. If Sally Setian needs money for an operation, we can launch a Kickstarter drive for her, and all the money donated to her will actually go to her bank account; it won’t be divided up (or outright stolen) to pay for some pastor’s new limousine. I enjoy sending donations to random people I know online who really need it whenever I can; but I would not enjoy being pressured to donate money to a church at regular intervals (upon fear of being considered “un-Setian” if I don’t).
Yet there is another, deeper reason why starting a Setian church doesn’t seem too worthwhile. We do not need to “serve” Set by “bringing more people” to Him. He neither expects nor even wants us to actively seek converts. If what we do helps others to find Him, it is a blessing and a work of great magic; but to try and aggressively expand our numbers is antithetical to the Setian disposition. It also suggests that Set needs us to go around convincing people to believe in Him, when He is perfectly capable of doing this Himself. If it is important enough to Him that someone should believe in Him for whatever reason, it is for Him and that person to decide together, and no one else. So most of us who are drawn to Set deplore proselytism, and would find the idea of “winning souls” for Him quaint at best.
I propose an alternative to all of this church nonsense: simple social networking. We are already talking to each other, collaborating with each other, and helping each other right here on the various social media we all frequent. And each of us is already doing and contributing about as much to our scene as we probably would if we were all in a church together (or in rival churches, bickering and quarreling with each other). I think this is more or less how walking with Set is meant to be. Our faith is not a dogma but an art, and our god is not a micromanager but a muse. Must artists join organized groups with rules and regulations to be artists? No, that isn’t how art works; and it isn’t how Setianism works either. We are not a congregation in need of a church; we’re more like a bunch of individual artists who just network with each other as needed or desired.
As a final note, some readers and listeners have referred to the LV-426 Tradition as a “church.” Just to be clear: we are not and have never claimed to be any such thing. LV-426 currently consists of only four people who grew up knowing each other; so I would sooner describe us as “a very small coven” at best.