M. Horatius Piscinus at Patheos has a very thought provoking post about divine forgiveness.
As Cultores Deorum Romanorum, we are not forgiven. We are responsible for all of the actions we take and all of the words we speak aloud. We are responsible for not taking action when we ought, and for words left unspoken when we should. We can try to make amends. We can try to correct wrongs. We may ever afterwards do right. But we are always responsible for our words and deeds. This is required by Virtus of all those who worship the Goddesses and Gods.
Divine Grace was one of the appeals of Christianity in olden times. It still has a great appeal for many. The notion that a supreme atonement sacrifice had been levied on your behalf, as a penance for all of your transgressions, is a very powerful and alluring one.
Because taking full responsibility for yourself and your actions is difficult. Making atonement and sacrifices for particular misdeeds can be taxing. Keeping track of who you have wrong to set things aright is not easy. (Just ask Earl.)
And this is one reason why I don’t begrudge Christianity. Some people are not up to the task. Some people need that feeling of redemption. Some people need to have the slate wiped clean. Some people simply can’t handle making the sacrifices and taking full responsibility for their actions and choices. And there is a god for them, one who won’t judge them, but will accept them, mistakes, transgressions, and all, and tell them its okay.
The problem is, knowing that option is there can make some people who might otherwise be up for it lazy. And it also offers the temptation for less savory individuals to hold that forgiveness over others, and use it to control and manipulate them.
Witness 1700 years of European and 600 years of American history.
But we have eschewed that option, and thus are responsible to ourselves.
Right conduct and prudence makes this life less contentious. Virtue improves the quality of the life we live now, a good life on earth. Virtue can also prepare us for the life to come by advancing our spiritual evolution in a manner that Plotinus addresses. We do not hold that doing good in this life is necessarily rewarded in an afterlife or that not abiding in virtue will necessarily bring punishment on you. You are your own person, made from the choices you make, and it is by becoming the person that you are at the time of your death that will determine what happens to you in the next life. Though your body may be imprisoned, crippled, or diseased in this life, although others may do misdeeds to you, though you may be stripped of all your possessions and lose everything else to uncertain fortune, your true Authentic Being cannot be harmed by anyone other than yourself. Only you can choose a path towards becoming a God or a Goddess. Thus there are no excuses for what we make of ourselves either in this life or the next. With clear judgment we do not shrink from doing what ought to be done.
The gods have a lot to worry about. We probably aren’t at the top of that list. Living by principles and virtues they exalt makes us more noticeable to their favor. And it makes us more favorable to other people as well. And that makes everyone’s life a little easier. By taking responsibility for ourselves, we are more mindful of what actions we take and how those actions affect the world and people around us. And that sounds like a good basis for a spiritual practice to me.