Friday, 9 November 2007

Bring back the Greek gods

Here's an interesting article from the LA Times arguing that religion isn't the problem; it's monotheism. The author suggests that having one all powerful god leads to notions of "truth" and "certainty" which polytheistic societies lack.
The polytheistic Greeks didn't advocate killing those who worshiped different gods, and they did not pretend that their religion provided the right answers. Their religion made the ancient Greeks aware of their ignorance and weakness, letting them recognize multiple points of view.

She argues that it also allowed them to be more open and tolerant to different ideas and faiths, even merging them into their own religion from time to time.
The Greeks and Romans did not share the narrow view of the ancient Hebrews that a divinity could only be masculine. Like many other ancient peoples in the eastern Mediterranean, the Greeks recognized female divinities, and they attributed to goddesses almost all of the powers held by the male gods.

The world, as the Greek philosopher Thales wrote, is full of gods, and all deserve respect and honor. Such a generous understanding of the nature of divinity allowed the ancient Greeks and Romans to accept and respect other people's gods and to admire (rather than despise) other nations for their own notions of piety. If the Greeks were in close contact with a particular nation, they gave the foreign gods names of their own gods: the Egyptian goddess Isis was Demeter, Horus was Apollo, and so on. Thus they incorporated other people's gods into their pantheon.
Now I think the author is presenting a rather rosy view of the ancients as they could be incredibly cruel and they tended to treat women abysmally even though they worshiped goddesses, but the idea has merits. A whole pantheon of rowdy, randy and petty gods carousing around the place cause all sorts of mayhem would be a welcome change from the stiff, uptight, guilt ridden austere god we have at present. It would also open a whole new dimension to believers Sunday morning, "Shall we go to the temple of Zeus or Athena this week?" or "I need to know whether or not to take that new job, lets go worship Apollo today and ask him for a sign". It all sounds like great stuff to me and would make a welcome change from the dry mumbling I grew up with. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not about to start praying to Zeus or anything but the ancient Greeks did have a God of Wine ........ perhaps I'll offer a libation at some point over the weekend and see if anything happens.