The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Praise Zeus!

I’ve often reiterated Sam Harris’s point about religion being the great conversation stopper in America.

Once again, it comes down to new rules of conversation–not new laws or demonstrations in the street. Just imagine how different it would be if every time a person in a position of power used the word “God,” the press responded as though he had just used a word like “Poseidon.” Our conversation with ourselves would change very quickly and very dramatically. Imagine someone opposing stem-cell research on the floor of the Senate with a statement like, “life is a gift from Zeus himself. No man should meddle with it.”

Well, I missed it last week, but apparently Bush is again doing exactly what Harris is talking about, and going unchallenged in the media, but not on the blogs.

Kip caught this nugget last week, during Dubya’s pronouncement for Religious Freedom Day.

“Freedom is a gift from the Almighty, written in the heart and soul of every man, woman, and child, and we must continue to promote the importance of religious freedom at home and abroad.”

And Jim over At Vigilance caught this in Dubya’s proclamation for National Sanctity of Human Life Day.

America was founded on the principle that we are all endowed by our Creator with the right to life and that every individual has dignity and worth. National Sanctity of Human Life Day helps foster a culture of life and reinforces our commitment to building a compassionate society that respects the value of every human being.

Now, granted, “our Creator” is a little more ambiguous than “the Almighty,” but does anyone honestly think that Bush is referring to a generic deity that could be any one of the creator gods, or that the folks in his base (the people who keep his approval ratings hovering around 30% no matter how he fucks up) — the people he was really talking to — think he’s talking about any other than their favorite old testament deity?

Of course not, and everyone knows it, which is why no one challenges statement’s like these. Because it violates our great unspoken rule on religion.

Religious faith is a conversation-stopper. Religion is only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and–all too often–what they will kill for. This is a problem, because when the stakes are high, human beings have a simple choice between conversation and violence. Only a fundamental willingness to be reasonable–to have our beliefs about the world revised by new evidence and new arguments–can guarantee that we will keep talking to one another. Certainty without evidence is necessarily divisive and dehumanizing.

As I’ve asked before, how come no one stands up an asks how our freedoms or “right to life” don’t come from Zeus? Well, there’s a revival meeting going on in Greece, and believers in Zeus successfully pulled off a rare worship service at the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

After all these centuries, Zeus may have a few thunderbolts left. A tiny group of worshippers plans a rare ceremony today to honor the ancient Greek gods, at Athens’ 1,800-year-old Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Greece’s Culture Ministry has declared the central Athens site off-limits, but worshippers say they will defy the decision.

“These are our temples and they should be used by followers of our religion,” said Doreta Peppa, head of the Athens-based Ellinais, a group campaigning to revive the ancient religion.

“Of course we will go ahead with the event … we will enter the site legally,” said Peppa, who calls herself a high priestess of the revived faith. “We will issue a call for peace; who can be opposed to that?”

Peppa said the ceremony will be held in honor of Zeus, king of the ancient gods, but did not give other details. The daily Ethnos newspaper, citing the group’s application to the Culture Ministry to use the site, said the 90-minute event would include hymns, dancers, torchbearers and worshippers in ancient costumes.

Greece’s archaic religion is believed to have several hundred official followers, mainly middle-aged and elderly academics, lawyers and other professionals. They typically share a keen interest in ancient history and a dislike for the Greek Orthodox Church.

And the Greek Orthodox Church has a keen dislike for them too, calling them “miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion.” But in a couple thousand years, is it likely that someone might say the same about some remnant of the Greek Orthodox Church or some other Christian denomination? After all, what we call mythology today was once someone else’s religion, believed by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. What makes the the Zeus worshipers and their beliefs any less valid than the Greek Orthodox Church and its beliefs? What make them or their beliefs any crazier?

I find it kind of amusing, but I kind of hope we see more of this. Maybe a revival of the Norse gods, Celtic gods, or Egyptian gods would be a good start. I’d even support launching congregations in the U.S., if it means they’ll demand “equal time” under the banner of “freedom.” If nothing else, it would make the debate over religion in the public square more interesting, and more fun to watch.

4 Comments

  1. You know…I think you may have a point. I think the first step into change is awareness. I’m not sure you’re setting out with change as a motivation for yourself – but, it’s an interesting byproduct if well…handled strategically and with care. All in all, interesting concept!

    Another Level,
    Darius T. Williams

  2. I love your point about today’s mythology being yesterday’s religion. I have often tried to convince others of this as well, and they just don’t get it. Now, if only we can form a religion where blogging is a sacrament …

  3. why do you have to use the n-word to make your point. exploiting the word in that fashion degrades black people. you can point out ills in the nigerian law without giving more space to a hateful word

  4. “endowed by our Creator”

    He’s referring to the Declaration of Independence, of course. Sigh. The deists wrote that in their rebellious, incendiary little document to put paid to the notion of “inalienable rights” included landowners being recompensed for their losses. The writers of the Declaration were _not_ writing it to remove the rights of over half the population by saying their only job was as fertility factory.

    sigh.

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