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    How Did Skepticism Justify Clerical Magic?
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    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
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    From: Canada

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    Sun Jun 30, 2019 7:41 pm  
    How Did Skepticism Justify Clerical Magic?

    We're probably familiar with the LGG's references to the philosophy of 'Skepticism', developed by the Urnstian thinkers Daesnar Braden and Elbain Holthchilde. Justinian briefly made it the intellectual basis for his government of the Duchy of Urnst, until he ended up being killed when he was injured in a battle with Abbor-Alz nomads and all of the Duchy's clerics refused to heal him.

    What I don't get is how Skepticism, which is presumably similar to real-world atheism, can really be justified in a D&D world like Greyhawk. In Greyhawk, as well as settings like Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, healing magic comes from the gods, or from powerful planar entities like the arch-devils and demon lords. No wizard who draws arcane magic from the Astral Plane has ever been able to craft a spell that heals injuries the way clerics do, so how did Braden and Holthchilde explain away the fact that clerics could heal injuries and cure diseases, not to mention destroy or control undead, when they prayed in front of altars and grasped holy symbols instead of studying spell books?

    I really can't figure this one out, and my only conclusion is that the Skeptics were a bunch of pseudo-philosophical fools. We know of only one ruler who actually tried to put their nonsense into practice, and it got him killed.

    Can anyone help me with this?
    GreySage

    Joined: Aug 03, 2001
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    Sun Jun 30, 2019 8:11 pm  
    Re: How Did Skepticism Justify Clerical Magic?

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    In Greyhawk, as well as settings like Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, healing magic comes from the gods, or from powerful planar entities like the arch-devils and demon lords. No wizard who draws arcane magic from the Astral Plane has ever been able to craft a spell that heals injuries the way clerics do, so how did Braden and Holthchilde explain away the fact that clerics could heal injuries and cure diseases, not to mention destroy or control undead, when they prayed in front of altars and grasped holy symbols instead of studying spell books?


    It's pretty simple. They don't question the existence of the gods, only their divinity. As in the Athar faction in Planescape. The gods are powerful beings who know things other mortals don't, but that doesn't make them worthy of worship.

    Some of the gods were mortal relatively recently even by the admission of their clerics (Zagyg, Iuz, Mayaheine, etc.). So perhaps all gods are jumped-up mortals. Should they really be worshiped, then?

    It's possible to cast divine magic without the aid of the gods at all (for clerics of forces and philosophies, ur-priests, etc.). So what do we need gods for?

    Sure, gods exist, or at least beings credulous fools believe to be gods. Or, at least, clerics have some source of power, and there are planar entities willing to answer their divinations and claim there are gods behind it all. But did these "gods" create the world? Do they have some claim to moral infallibility beyond which mortals have, or are they as flawed and fallible as those who, in their blind faith, worship them and follow their commandments? Perhaps not. Perhaps the churches should be disbanded and the clerics stripped of their political power. Thus: skepticism.
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Jul 29, 2006
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    From: Dantredun, MN

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    Sun Jun 30, 2019 10:33 pm  
    Re: How Did Skepticism Justify Clerical Magic?

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    my only conclusion is that the Skeptics were a bunch of pseudo-philosophical fools. We know of only one ruler who actually tried to put their nonsense into practice, and it got him killed.

    rasgon wrote:
    Perhaps the churches should be disbanded and the clerics stripped of their political power. Thus: skepticism.

    This. Skepticism was a political tool invented by elites and packaged to commoners as a belief system. In C2, Justinian is clearly a tyrant and actively oppressed ALL kinds of magic users, clerical and arcane, with the exception of his Seer. Maybe he wanted to hamstring politically powerful churches and garnish their riches. Maybe he was the "pharma bro" for a powerful apothecary guild that wanted a monopoly on healing. Maybe he was acting in the interests of the Seer, the power behind the throne. It's like intelligent design: people believe in their chosen creation stories, but no one believes in a bland, pan-religious pseudo-science. Skepticism was a Trojan horse to push an agenda. The bulk of the believers were fools, but the leaders were no dummies.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Nov 01, 2007
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    Mon Jul 01, 2019 6:15 am  
    Re: How Did Skepticism Justify Clerical Magic?

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    What I don't get is how Skepticism, which is presumably similar to real-world atheism, can really be justified in a D&D world like Greyhawk.
    (Bolding mine, for point of clarity)
    A very minor point of debate, here …
    It would actually be similar to IRL Skepticism, since that's a thing.

    As has been noted above, it's basically skepticism of particular elements or practices of religion (such as divinity in a religious sense), not actual denial of divine power.

    I would say, in this case (as also has been stated), that I agree that it's probably more a denial of the practice of worshipping them than a denial of the existence of powerful beings.
    As you point out, it would be foolhardy to not believe in divine power. It clearly exists.
    But, perhaps, they object to the worship of them on the basis of politics, control, or freedom.
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    Grandmaster Greytalker

    Joined: Jul 09, 2003
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    Mon Jul 01, 2019 11:48 am  
    Re: How Did Skepticism Justify Clerical Magic?

    rasgon wrote:
    ...They don't question the existence of the gods, only their divinity...


    Sure, gods exist, or at least beings credulous fools believe to be gods. Or, at least, clerics have some source of power, and there are planar entities willing to answer their divinations and claim there are gods behind it all. But did these "gods" create the world? Do they have some claim to moral infallibility beyond which mortals have, or are they as flawed and fallible as those who, in their blind faith, worship them and follow their commandments? Perhaps not. Perhaps the churches should be disbanded and the clerics stripped of their political power. Thus: skepticism.


    -I go with that.

    -
    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    ...Skepticism, which is presumably similar to real-world atheism...


    ...and:

    Icarus wrote:
    ...A very minor point of debate, here …
    It would actually be similar to IRL Skepticism, since that's a thing...


    Many moons ago, I'd just Atlas Shrugged, and happened to re-read Greyhawk Adventures where "Skepticism" was first noted. The similarity of the name "Braden" and "Branden" made me wonder if it was a comment on Objectivism:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Branden

    ...Objectivists are usually atheists. It could just be a coincidence, but considering the old Lake Geneva gang's love of anagrams and thinly disguised references...
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: May 12, 2005
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    Wed Jul 03, 2019 1:01 pm  

    For a pop culture analogy, consider the MCU depiction of Asgardians. Early Scandinavians worshiped them as gods, but the more enlightened recognize that they’re just powerful aliens.
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
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    Thu Jul 04, 2019 3:50 pm  

    Okay, this all makes a lot more sense. The LGG didn't really describe what exactly the Skeptics believed in, so I assumed it had to do with atheism, which in turn left me wondering how they explained away clerical magic.
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Fri Jul 05, 2019 10:29 am  

    DMPrata wrote:
    ...consider the MCU depiction of Asgardians. Early Scandinavians worshiped them as gods, but the more enlightened recognize that they’re just powerful aliens.


    ...or just about everyone else and the gaould.
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:33 pm  

    I assume that the Skeptics were not atheists but rather followers of a humanistic philosophy. They admitted that the Powers existed but challenged the worship of the Powers and the influence of clergy and temples, believing (or claiming for political reasons, as suggested above) that mankind was better off without worshiping the gods. Thus their support for a despot who would put all the scheming priests in check...


    Ignoring the gods is dumb but actively antagonizing them and all their clerics is hubris.

    And even if the good=aligned gods go easy on you, denying the good-aligned gods won't convince the evil-aligned ones to just leave you alone...
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:26 pm  

    This is fascinating.

    Shocked
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:27 pm  

    The revival of this thread got me thinking, and I wonder whether Braeden and Holthchilde were overstating their case. Aside from places like the Pale, Iuz and probably Medegia, most Flanaess governments are pretty secular and tolerant as it is. Even countries that favor certain religions, like Furyondy and Nyrond do with Hieroneous, don't seem to have much problem with other faiths operating in their borders. So there may not even be that much of a problem.

    That might be a side effect of living in a polytheistic world. I believe Voltaire wrote something along the lines of how a society that has only two churches will see them at each other's throats, but if the society has 30 churches, they well get along peaceably.

    I also wonder what Braeden and Holthchilde would have thought of Justinian using their writings to justify his actions. In our real world, the writings of secular philosophers have been used to justify tyranny the same way as religious texts have. I won't name names for obvious reasons, but I'm sure we can all think of examples.
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