"Plenty of folks before me have decried the presence of clerics in D&D based on their lack of 'fit' with either A) their lack of fit with the game's sword & sorcery roots, or B) their inappropriateness to the game's murderhobo premise, or C) some other conceptual gripe. But have we considered the base conceit of the class? That a being (or beings) of divine power rather whimsically bestow magical powers on these mortal followers?"
From a theological point of view, such premises are fairly ridiculous. This isn't a surprise: the creators of the game, from start to finish, have been wallowing about in the subject of clerics from the beginning because, apparently, it is just too damn hard to spend any time in a library. Moreover, the decryers, I have found, are equally ignorant of the rather "fundamental" things such as thinking the game was EVER about swords, sorcery, murderhobos or the idea that various concepts of magic were intended to 'fit' together. These are internet inventions, first sparked 25 years after the game, promoted by disgruntled ignorant slobs who also found library time a level above their mental capacities.
Suppose that we recognize, first, that an argument that begins with the premise "there is only one true sort of magic" is one that goes right up its own ass. Magic, being an invention, can come in as many flavors as ice cream, if that's what we want. Since when do we give any credence to the slob that needs to shout loudly, "Black licorice! GROSS!", like we give a damn?
Okay, so we don't have a proper theological context for clerical magic. Fair enough. For my money, we don't have a proper theological context for most religious dogma. In his post, JB spends quite a lot of time talking about the motivations of gods, the cosmological imbalance of gods and their miraculous gifts, the improbability of people not rushing out to all become clerics, the unimaginable solace that clericism offers and how this would completely unbalance the universe. Here JB writes,
"Just think about having the power to heal yourself and your loved ones. How many of us have wished for such magical powers . . . so much more useful than the ability to throw a ball of fire. Forget raising the dead . . . let me just fix my sprained wrist or my chronic back ache. Let me just cure my wife's cancer. It's not like the requirements for the cleric class are so difficult to make. In B/X there are none (just give up using edged weapons? hell, that's easier than quitting nicotine). Even in AD&D the class is open to any human with a WIS of 9+ . . . that's barely 'average.' "
Just roll this in your mind a bit and I will come back to it.
On the whole, I'd argue that JB's point of writing the post is one I fully agree with. I, too, am irked by the 'fluff' behind the class. I, too, have never liked the idea of gods consciously granting a cleric the power that the cleric has. I say deliberately on my wiki that the cleric must to pray to acquire spells - but I don't say what actually happens. Let's say for the sake of argument that the gods sweat magic and that clerical prayer is a way of globbing it up out of the cosmos. This makes the gods blissfully unaware that the cleric is even praying - and as such, doesn't invoke any of JB's arguments that the gods be personally concerned with what the cleric does. If we dispense with the 18th-19th century conception of Greek and Norse legend (though I loved Tanglewood Tales as a boy), we can stop thinking of gods as corporeal beings that mortals can understand - and it gets even easier to suppose that the gods just don't give a shit. Then, like in the Real World, the clerics in power can make up whatever justifications (bullshit) they want for how theology works and there's no voice to correct them.
The only reason why the inventors of role-playing imagined Gods caring came about because of the need to straitjacket players into alignments. The Gods cared about what the paladin or the cleric did, so the DM could punish the player as a way of restricting the player's free will and balancing the unreasonable powers that came from being able to raise the dead and using a +5 holy avenger with twice the bonus. But all that DM punishing the player scheme came about as a need for man-boys to swagger at the top of the table and dictate their anti-player agency agendas. Alignment was shit from the beginning, shit from end-to-end, and every part of the game's rules that came about as a means to adapt alignment to player action has been central to the crap-fest that has defiled the game's potential for four decades now. JB's irk originates with the will of some people to invent a theological basis for what player behaviour OUGHT to be, based on dogma, so-called roots, inflexible premises and arguments that what 'fits' is more important than what works. The internet simply took all the back-ass myopic two-dimensional thinking and ran with it right into the brick wall that inevitably became 4e.
Look at that quote above about helping your loved ones. JB unfortunately ignores a lot of details about having the power to heal people. For one thing, having a 9 wisdom is enough for a player in the game, because it is a game, but we have to assume that if we're describing a real place, a person has to have more than a 9 wisdom. It didn't take that much intelligence to be a priest in the 15th century and yet they got lots of benefits. Why wasn't everyone a priest? Because it took training and the schools were full. Because we didn't just train anyone. Because even if we became a priest, we didn't get to decide what district we'd be pushed into. None of that matters to players, because we're making a GAME here - but being a cleric in a real D&D world would probably mean being told to let people die even if you could heal them - just as clerics in the real world were admonished for giving away money, daring to live in poverty, not raising money for the holy mother church and so on. Yes, you can heal your family - but you're not allowed to have a family because you're a priest. And if you dare get one, or help one without our permission, we'll cast another spell called excommunication and then the god sweat won't help you. So suck on that, would-be cleric.
These are the sorts of realities that are always ignored about how religions actually work because these are the details deliberately withheld from the common man. Priests have no doubt been raping little children since the 6th century - but its only with enforced transparency that we now know it happens. Churches have always deliberately deprived the poor and the needy, but they got away with it all those centuries by inventing lies like the money is being spent on God or that money doesn't matter because we can't spend it in heaven. Very convenient, that. We gloss over these details because we live in this century - we're used to thinking that everyone has the right to the same privileges and the same treatment. We presume that if it only takes a 9 wisdom to get something, its an automatic get - after all, apart from ability, what other possible obstacles could there be?
Lots. Lots and lots and lots. JB rightly says that only a deluded, hard-cased fool would walk a godless path in a cleric-magic universe. He misses completely that even if the fellow were aware and brilliant, he could still be forced to walk a godless path in a cleric-magic universe, because even in a cleric-magic universe, fuck you. We don't care if you eat, we don't care if your chronic back ache hurts, we don't care if your wife died yesterday. These spells are for GOD, not for you. Your dead wife is in a better place and your chronic back ache will help remind you to be humble. Now excuse me, I have extremely expensive cloth to buy so I can have my vestments remade for this year's Day of the Dead.
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