The ancient Romans insisted that the rites of the gods be honored, on pain of death. The concern was rooted in practical experience of the consequences of pissing them off. Why would failure to practice the rites make so much difference to the pantheon?
A clue is found in the Greek spiritual practice that has been revived as Hellenismos. The Greeks believed that the mystical progression began with simple human heroism. It continued after the hero’s death when grateful people gathered at shrines to celebrate his (or her) accomplishments. If the personality of the hero inspired further heroic achievements, justifiably the celebrations would increase. The accumulated psychic energy would eventually make the hero a daimon. Adherents might then invoke to power of the daimon in times of need. If the daimon responded effectively, the continued outpouring of gratitude might eventually elevate the personality to Olympian stature.
So worship is important to the gods because, as suggested in The Matrix trilogy, human beings are psychic batteries of a sort. Our attention is part of a political partnership.
As cultures evolved from local to regional to continental extent, this process became politicized. The Roman emperors spoke of becoming gods in their own right. King Louis XIII of France had himself crowned “The Sun King.” The Capital dome in Washington D.C. is decorated with a mural celebrating “The Apotheosis of Washington”. And the sanctification of Ronald Reagan is evidenced by the evolution of the exhibits at his Presidential Library. Given hundreds of millions of adherents, power similar to a Hercules might be accumulated within a decade or so, where before it might have taken generations.
Cynicism about the process is evident in certain religious controversies. Despite the similarities shared by Christian and Buddhist sages, some Christian theologians complain that the avatars of compassion and loving kindness celebrated in Tantra are actually “demons”. I have some challenged in attempting to reconcile that accusation with Christian celebration of saints and angels. The characteristics of the Tantric and Saintly personalities are almost identical.
Despite all of this commonality, I am going to assert that the worship Jesus offered to the Apostles is fundamentally different. I believe that our own selfish aspirations to saintliness blind us to this understanding: we have a vested interest in subscribing to practices that increase our personal power.
For Jesus did not command us to worship. He admonished us:
You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.
If worship is to prop something up to make is stronger, then loving is not worship, for the goal of love is to bring something closer. In a kind of virtuous circle, our loving calls to us the perfect love of God. We can attempt to corrupt this love, but in doing so only succeed in driving it away. It stands just aside from us, until we relent in our harshness, and allow it to come again into service to us.
Why is love so efficacious? Because it holds power in readiness for others. It does not spray out in gaudy shows, but preserves its energies until it finds spirits calling out in genuine need.
Amy Grant renders this so beautifully in Better than a Hallelujah:
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah
The desire of Unconditional Love is not to be served, but rather to be of service.
What about the other gods? Well, in seeking after worship they are in fact seeking after love from their adherents. If that love is given conditionally, the deity is at risk of losing their elevated status. Of course, the only way to secure unconditional love is to love reciprocally, because if the deity loves conditionally, the adherent will eventually realize that they’re getting the raw end of the deal. So the most powerful gods, in their relationship with their adherents, are eventually suffused with love, and ultimately are subsumed by it.
This is the truth articulated by Paul in Colossians 1:17:
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
And should we want it any other way?