Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Two Diametrically Opposed Views Of Religion

Ranting at IO9.com, Rob Bricken urges a return to Greek polytheism. He argues that "modern religion doesn't have any flair." He lists several reasons that the Greek gods would be superior to monotheism. I'll probably use a few in my mythology classes, especially those that seem to have been added for humor.
They're relatable. The Greek gods are definitely gods, but they're also still recognizably human. They have the same emotions, problems and insecurities as regular humans do, and thus, they're far more understandable than nebulous clouds or old bearded men on thrones. The Greek gods actually know what people go through in their lives, because they experience the same feelings. This may make the Greek gods fallible, but it also makes them far more relatable than other divine beings. . . .
They're easily adaptable to modern life. Most major religions haven't had a serious update for at least a millennium or so. As such, it can be hard to truly integrate these religions into modern times. But thanks to their diversity, the Greek gods would snap right into place. Hermes is obviously the god of cellphones, emails and text messages. As a craftsman, Hephaestus would probably handle all computers and network issues, while Demeter would watch over restaurants. Apollo, the god of YouTube videos. You can't tell me that life wouldn't be at least a little bit easier if we had a god specifically handling YouTube videos.
I make the later point about Hermes and Hephaestus in my mythology classes. I have to guess that Bricken is being ironic when he claims that the Greek gods would not be seen as "old bearded men on thrones." Much of the artwork of the that period shows the males to be "bearded" and on "thrones."

On a more substantive note, the paragraph I have quoted and the rest of the "rant" seem to miss the whole idea of  mystery, awe, and wonder that faith should provide.

Bricken apparently is responding to the type of Christians that Walter Russel Mead describes:
Some Christians believe that you have to take the Bible literally to get any good out of it at all; if snakes didn’t talk in the Garden of Eden the whole thing is a sham. (Non-believers often think this is what Christians believe, and conclude that the whole religion is a waste of time.)
Mead offers a reminder that both views may well be wrong:
Jesus was actually a very unusual religious leader. Unlike a lot of prophets and holy figures, Jesus didn’t teach about health or hygiene. He gave his followers no ideas about what to wear or what to eat. He left no instructions about how to wash your hands or what motions to use when you pray. He didn’t tell his followers how to divide their inheritances, which cousins they could marry or what animals were good and bad to eat. He didn’t come up with a Christian haircut, beard trim, or method of brushing your teeth. Unlike the Mayan Calendar, he refused to give any date for the end of the world. He didn’t give a date for the beginning of the world and he made no effort to settle any scientific or historical controversies.
There’s no arcane supernatural knowledge. He doesn’t tell us how many kinds of angels there are, and what powers each wields. He is utterly silent on the functioning of the celestial system. He taught his followers to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but he doesn’t tell them anything about what goes on in heaven or what people do there. If there are djinn, he is silent about them. His teachings seem to flip between impossible counsels of perfection and assertions of God’s infinite love.
When he taught, he often spoke in parables—stories that were not necessarily literally true, but that nevertheless open the door to a deeper understanding. Two of the most famous are the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In the first, Jesus tells us about a young man who asked his father for his share of the family fortune and then went off to a foreign country to spend it in wild and dissolute living, on prostitutes and other fun things. When the money ran out, and the country he was visiting was hit by a famine, the young man was starving and penniless and decided to return home and beg his father for a job as one of his handymen. But when his father saw him coming, he ran out to meet him, hugged him and ordered a feast to welcome him home. The son he had lost but still loved had come back to him, and that was what really mattered.
The parable of the Good Samaritan tells about a merchant who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, where he was robbed by thieves who took all he had and left him to die of his wounds. A Samaritan (a member of a sect that regular Jews of the day considered heretical and unclean) found him, brought him to an inn (there were no hospitals in those days) and told the innkeeper to take care of the man and send the bill to the Samaritan. The superficial point here is that we should be good to those in need, regardless of their faith or ethnicity; the deeper point is that Jesus was using a member of a despised outsider group as the good example, flipping conventional values on their head and challenging his audience to reexamine their prejudices and assumptions.
No oracles, no relatability, no literalism--just a challenge "to reexamine [our] prejudices and assumptions" while dealing with impossible "counsels of perfection" and dealing with unfathomable "assertions of God's infinite love," a call to faith not the superficiality of certainty. It may not be as fun as an oracle or dipping a baby in a river to make him invulnerable but that sort of call better captures the power of both myth and faith than an actual return to Greek polytheisim as understood by most moderns every could.

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