Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Conversation with Pavo Baradin (continued)

I didn’t always hate the gods.

In fact, my earliest memories revolve around wonder at the might and glory of the valorous god Heironeous. My father was a high-ranking priest in his church at [insert large Pathfinder city, in a theocracy if possible]—as was his father and his father and many of my extended forbearers—and as first born I was . . . groomed to inherit the family business, if you will. Belief in the supremacy and goodness of Heironeous was central to my identity and everything I knew. I was even born under an auspicious sign and it was believed I’d be the most successful Baradin in church history; expectations for me were high. My education was based on church history and theology, my reading material religious documents. I was always put in charge of my peers and taught to lead them, given every opportunity to speak in public (about the glories of Heironeous, of course), and trained in the martial arts to prepare me for the battlefield. Everyone knew—me most of all—who I was and what I was meant to be.

But as I was taught the family and church history, I was educated in ways no one intended. I was supposed to see a great line of heroes who had given everything for the greater good of the god. At first I believed all the stories at face value, but gradually I began to see those “heroes” as men who had sacrificed themselves at the whim of a self-centered greater being and a thoughtless, overbearing church. My epiphany began with my great-uncle Solangus’ death. Where I loved my father as the strict, distant, powerful role model who taught me the discipline I needed to succeed in life, Uncle was always exciting and dangerous and doting. He spoiled me and treated me to tales of his travels as an agent of the church, full of adventure, great deeds, narrow escapes, and exotic locations. But when he was captured by Hextor’s minions the church disavowed all knowledge of him—Heironeous doesn’t negotiate with Hextor—and he was killed. At his memorial he was hailed as a hero who died serving his god, but all I saw was someone betrayed and abandoned. He had devoted his life to his god and received only rejection in return.

I went through a period of quiet mourning and depression, then threw myself into my studies with renewed vigor. But this time instead of taking the lessons at face value I looked for the unspoken stories behind them. Uncle may have been a far-ranging agent, but only because early in his career he had expressed doubts about the orthodoxy and been exiled from the large churches so he’d be kept from the flock. Instead of rebelling, he had been a good follower and accepted his fate. After discovering Uncle’s story I began to find others, bullied into submission for the sake of the church, true believers dying young for their beliefs, abandoning families to obsess over duty. I couldn’t find anyone who had actually been happy, fulfilled, and allowed to develop to his full potential. And instead of believing in the church as my vessel to success and greatness, I began to see it as a prison I must escape.

My father died on the battlefield when I was 16, after which I broke down in grief and frustration and shared my doubts with my mother. At first I thought she was crying tears of disappointment, but she let me know she was feeling joy that I had learned to think for myself and relief that I might find a different fate than the one that had been chosen for me. She had lost enough loved ones to the church and wasn’t going to let it happen to another. Instead of letting me repeat my Uncle’s mistakes, she urged me to continue playing the role of true believer while she began working on ways to disentangle me from the web of bureaucracy that was our family’s life. Less than a year later she came to me with my inheritance, papers with a forged identity, and a guide who would take me far from the only life I had ever known. That was the last time I saw her, as I have never been back.

It hasn’t been due to fear, though. Mother let me know through letters in the following months that there was no pursuit; I was simply considered a disappointment lost from the flock and quickly forgotten by those who had invested so much in my future. No, I’ve never gone back because I don’t want to be reminded of the bitterness and betrayal I felt when I realized that my family didn’t matter to the god for whom they had sacrificed so much. As I left that day I vowed never to enslave myself to another’s whims the way they had.

So I traveled, living off of my inheritance. At first I had no idea what to do with myself, as I knew only what I was running from and not what I was running to. Boredom can be a powerful motivator, though, and I was soon looking for something meaningful to do with myself. I tried finding diversion in odd jobs—quickly gaining an education in the ways of the world that I hadn’t known in my previously sheltered existence—but found myself drawn back into the types of things I’d been trained for. I knew reading and writing and churches; I was good at reading and writing and church things, and did in fact enjoy them more than anything else. In [insert Pathfinder location] I tutored a rich man’s children in history and theology for a year. In [insert Pathfinder location] I was a scribe at the library for a time. And in [insert Pathfinder location] I was secretary to a high-ranking government official. The pursuits were each interesting in their own way, but none of them sated my desire to round out my own education. I found I couldn’t stop thinking of the things I had been taught as a child and wanting to know if other gods and their churches suppressed their followers in the same ways.

In the end I decided to make my way in the world as an itinerant student, wandering from university to university to study as each would take me at my advanced age. And instead of avoiding temples and shrines, I began exploring everything I could find wherever I went. I wanted to know the nature of religion. In some ways I learned my family’s heritage of sacrifice and early death in the name of Heironeous was better than many, for we at least believed in what we did and that we were part of a structure attempting to be benevolent. Others were much more open in their greed, sometimes not even disguising the fact that all they cared about was the power they could attain by using faith as a mere tool of their individual ambitions. Not all—many were true believers in their own ways—but there were some. I spent years hopping from place to place, hoping at each next stop I’d find some form of religion that would break the mold, but all I discovered was greater and greater disillusionment.

The one constant to every belief system, every structure organized around a god—indeed, about every organizational structure of any kind—was hierarchy. The highest value is always placed on the god, then the god’s chosen, then the god’s leaders, then the god’s clerics, and on down the ladder until those at the bottom know in the depths of their hearts they have no worth except in the meager ways they might serve the church. And just as I had rejected that system in my own heritage, I gradually began to believe it my mission to help others reject it in theirs. I didn’t know it for many years, but somewhere inside of me was the seed that has become my new destiny. Those travels were my studies as a priest of no religion, of anti-religion, of belief in the inherent goodness and potential for greatness in each individual that should not be suppressed by worship of a god or anything else.

Over the course of my travels I went from negative study of what I didn’t want to be to developing my own belief in the worth of all life. Yes, I studied the bards and how their stories are nothing more than illusions, using exaggerations and lies to build belief in heroes who are no different than you or me, but I also spent time studying with the monks of [insert appropriate Pathfinder location] in their quest for godless enlightenment and individual perfection. I saw that it was people’s nature to rank each other and try to improve their sense of self-worth by comparing themselves to others that they might see as lesser, but I also saw wonderful examples of people setting aside their own interests to help others. I came to believe that if we work together we might overcome the oppression caused and inequality perpetuated by worship of the gods. Instead of trying to step on top of each other to gain dominance, we should focus on mutually lifting each other up and helping each other develop as one.

So that is who I am and what I believe. If you join with me you join with my mission. I will do what I can to help you develop your potential for goodness. I know spells that can protect you from harm, make you stronger in your quests, and cure you of injury. I exist to help you. But in return I expect you to help me in my mission, ensure that your actions are helping others instead of harming them. All we have is each other, and we must share our abilities with those we encounter. Come; let us make the world a better place.


Lummox said...

Umm... thank you, but as I said before, I don't want your pamphlet.

Aerin said...

I think this is one-upmanship over the length of your back story!

I'll have to read this when I get home, however I do see that Pavo hates paladins and is probably evil because of this.