Prominent secular and atheist commentators have argued lately that religion “poisons” human life and causes endless violence and suffering. But the poison isn’t religion; it’s monotheism. 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.
There is much we still can learn from these ancient notions of divinity, even if we can agree that the practices of animal sacrifice, deification of leaders and divining the future through animal entrails and bird flights are well lost.
…Zeus, the ruler of the gods, retained his power by using his intelligence along with superior force. Unlike his father (whom he deposed), he did not keep all the power for himself but granted rights and privileges to other gods. He was not an autocratic ruler but listened to, and was often persuaded by, the other gods.Openness to discussion and inquiry is a distinguishing feature of Greek theology. It suggests that collective decisions often lead to a better outcome. Respect for a diversity of viewpoints informs the cooperative system of government the Athenians called democracy.
He has a point. And, it turns out, someone’s already working on bringing back some “old time religion.”
As Lefkowitz presents it, religion didn’t seem to be the great “conversation stopper” in ancient Greece that Sam Harris has suggested it is in American culture and politics. Try as I might, I cannot imagine living in a culture in which one belief is not granted and does not demand deference, in which any assertion supported by nothing but faith is unassailable, and in which the words “I believe” guarantee that almost anything that follows will go unchallenged.
I cannot imagine living in a culture where other beliefs, and other faiths are afforded equal time, and considered as equally valid competitors in the marketplace of ideas. Neither can the Greek Orthodox Church, apparently. Or at least they didn’t back in January, when I blogged about the Zeus worshipers, the new Zeus worshipers, that is, who demanded the right to worship at the old temple.
After all these centuries, Zeus may have a few thunderbolts left. A tiny group of worshippers plans a rare ceremony Sunday 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.
Some 200 hundred people attended the ceremony organized by Ellinais, an Athens-based group campaigning to revive ancient religion, next to the ruins of the temple. The group defied a ban by the Culture Ministry which had declared the central Athens site off-limits.
Worshippers, dressed in ancient costume, recited ancient hymns calling on Zeus, “King of the Gods and the mover of things,” to bring peace to the world.
“Our message is world peace and an ecological way of life in which everyone has the right to education,” said Kostas Stathopoulos, one of three high priests overseeing the event, which celebrated the nuptials of Zeus with Hera, the goddess of love and marriage, below the imposing Corinthian-style columns in the city center.
…To curious onlookers, the ceremony conjured up scenes out of a Hollywood epic but to organizers, who follow a calendar marking time from the first Olympiad in 776 B.C., the ceremony was far more than simple recreation.
“We are Greeks and we demand from the government the right to use our temples, said high priestess Doreta Peppa.
Ellinais, which has 34 official members — mainly middle-aged and elderly academics, lawyers and other professionals — was founded last year.
It won a court battle for official state recognition of the ancient Greek religion and is demanding government approval for its downtown offices to be registered as a place of worship — a move that could allow the group to perform weddings and other duties
Religious feast of price Ifaj’stoy and Kavej’rwn and Memory of adjkohame’nwn victims of aestival fires. Sunday of 4 November 2007 and hour 12th Midday, in the Volcano (Cisej’on) in the Ancient Market of Athens.
STRENGTHEN OUR FIGHT!
Our fight opposite in the Greek State that, as executive power, denies it applies the laws and the Constitution, as well as it activates the juridicial decision of recognition of our religion, causes a line of problems in the smooth operation of religion of Greek Arhajocri’skwn and us it forces we resort to expensive juridicial fights in order to we ensure our anafaj’reta human rights, that are systematically also forced mecodeyme’na by the ceokratoy’meno Greek state.
Strengthen our fight and symparatahcej’te with all the free and democratic persons, that fight for Greece modern and creative perceptions, Greece real synehjsti’ the ancient Greek and diachronic values.
Help us we can express freely also akwly’tws the first and gentleman, the anafaj’reto right of citizen and person in a eynomoy’meni democratic state: the right criskey’escaj!
And why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t they even have a U.S. chapter as well, demanding recognition from the U.S. government as in Greece, complete with recognition of religious holidays?
After all, if Christ (and Horus, Osiris, and Mithra before him), then why not an old, old religion? Is a religion “dead” if it has even just a few believers? And if it is dead, must it stay dead if some part of it still speaks to people and to the reality of their lives today? Must it stay dead if it can inspire good in someone, particularly someone to whom the dominant faiths of the day hold no appeal, and who have actually been harmed by those faiths?
After all, I remember what I said about religion and mythology.
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.
Of course, what’s interesting to some people is deadly to others. But old Greek religion has some interesting differences from the dominant faith today.
Paradoxically, the main advantage of ancient Greek religion lies in this ability to recognize and accept human fallibility. Mortals cannot suppose that they have all the answers. The people most likely to know what to do are prophets directly inspired by a god. Yet prophets inevitably meet resistance, because people hear only what they wish to hear, whether or not it is true. Mortals are particularly prone to error at the moments when they think they know what they are doing. The gods are fully aware of this human weakness. If they choose to communicate with mortals, they tend to do so only indirectly, by signs and portents, which mortals often misinterpret.
Ancient Greek religion gives an account of the world that in many respects is more plausible than that offered by the monotheistic traditions. Greek theology openly discourages blind confidence based on unrealistic hopes that everything will work out in the end. Such healthy skepticism about human intelligence and achievements has never been needed more than it is today.
That everything will work out in the end is what fuels much belief today, as Pema Chodron pointed out in a piece I’ve referenced before
The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and nonBuddhists. Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.
… For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. We’re all addicted to hope — hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.
Addicts tend to fight for their addictions. And, as Sheila Kennedy wrote in God and Country: America in Red and Blue there is a reason people fight for their addiction to belief.
[Gordon] Allport believed that the former group could be educated to see past their casually adopted, culturally sanctioned attitudes. Those whose worldviews were rigid, however, who were so emotionally invested in a particular view of reality that the loss of any one piece of it would be experienced as a threat to their very identity, were beyond reach.
To bring back an old religion, any old religion perhaps, would be as an atom bomb dropped onto the foundations some people cling to so desperately, and with which they cudgel the rest of us into not questioning — and thus shaking — that foundation.
Gimme that old time religion, then, I say.