[image description: It’s Elvis Presley, his perfect black hair in a wave over the left side of his face as he smiles that one-sided smile. Well… ok, probably not. Probably it’s just an impersonator, a really good one. So believable! He’s wearing his Vegas suit (you know, the big white one with the too-large and too-numerous gold studs and the ridiculous too-high collar?) But over the suit, he’s rocking a brilliant blue robe. He bears a huge blooming flower in his upraised right hand, and a gilded grail in his left. behind him a scrim with a gold radial sunburst halo and golden filigree. Text reads, “209, St. Hippocrates of Vegas, small god of Megachurches”]
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For many people, there is comfort in religion. In knowing—or at least believing—that there is something larger than themselves, something guiding their nights and days, ushering them toward a destined reward if only they follow the rules, if only they are obedient, if only they are well-behaved. The faithful of the small gods generally understand that those rewards will be only what their gods promise in the moment, the peace of Paws, the comfort and safety of River, the rest of Lulah. They don’t dangle paradise like a token on a string, as if salvation were a bauble to be granted or denied on a heaven’s whim.
But those who put their stock in the large gods forgo the personal touch of a deity with so little to do that they know their believers by name for the comforts of a promised eternity, and who can say they’ve made the wrong decision? If their faith is true and their belief sincere, if they listen to the teachings of their sages and follow them as given, rather than twisting them to suit their own ends, if they use religion as a comfort and not a cudgel, who’s to say they’re in the wrong?
But there will always be those who twist those edicts, who view every proverb as a blade to slide between the ribs of the disbelieving, and for them, Sir Hippocratus has risen.
Whenever so many gather in the name of a single faith that the message of their god becomes rewritten and distorted in the image of a charismatic pastor, he is there. When the poor give their last dimes to pay for the earthly mansions of those who promise them mansions in heaven, he is there. When those same bright-eyed, compellingly voiced pastors strut upon their stages condemning all that is not like them, calling for the execution of political rivals, claiming prosecution when they are asked to allow other faiths to exist, not even to dominate, but to exist at all, he is there.
He is there to claim that “happy holidays” is an attack on Christmas, rather than an obligate “merry Christmas” being treated as an attack on all the other winter observances. He is there to say that prayer in schools should be a personal choice, that there will be no social consequences for those who choose not to pray, and to rally more dollars from those who can least afford it when the law says otherwise.
He is a very nice god. He enjoys cross-stitch and kittens, and spends Wednesdays reading to underprivileged children at the library. But he enjoys his job, and you should never forget that, for he can smile and smile and condemn you to burn eternally in the name of the faiths he serves, and never see the contradiction.
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Join Lee Moyer (Icon) and Seanan McGuire (Story) Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a guide to the many small deities who manage our modern world: