Thursday, August 14, 2008

Zeus vs. Real Faith

(An imported article from an acquaintance) Some lengthy reading to send you into the evening:

Why I don’t worship Zeus

Defender of atheism and best-selling author Richard Dawkins often asks Christians why they believe in Jesus but not Zeus, Thor or some other god? This question is, of course, purely rhetorical. Dawkins isn't really interested in hearing someone respond to it. He thinks that by merely asking such a question he has illustrated the absurdity of Christianity. But this is not true at all. There are very compelling reasons not to worship Zeus or any other god besides the Christian God. There are also very compelling reasons to worship the Christian God.

Anyone interested can find books written by good Christian apologists dealing with the religions of Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, paganism and all of the other religions that are popular today. Those religions won't be addressed in this blog, therefore. By way of illustration and at the risk of sounding silly I'd like to explain in this blog why I don't believe in or worship Zeus. Perhaps this will make a point to someone out there with an open mind.

Some of the problems and general absurdities of Zeus worship

For the sake of the argument, I will overlook the extremely shaky and uncertain textual traditions on which the Zeus religion is based. I will accept the primary sources for this religion at face value and consider what they tell us about Zeus.

According to these primary sources (e.g. Homer, Hesiod, the playwrites and other poets) we learn that Zeus has not always existed. True, he is oftentimes referred to as "immortal" but this is because he will never die, not because he has always existed. Zeus could not have always existed because he had a father named Chronos and a mother named Rhea and it was through the union of these two deities that Zeus himself came into being at a certain point of time. Zeus' parents themselves had a beginning too, they being the progeny of Ouranos (Heaven) and Ge (Earth). Going back even further, Ouranos and Ge came into being through a union between Love (Eros) and Chaos.


If Zeus has not always existed as god, who was god before him? And why should I worship a non-eternal god? Like me, Zeus is a created being. It would make more sense, at least in my mind, to worship the parents of Zeus. But since they are also created beings, it would probably make the best sense to worship the god who was responsible for all the gods' existence. As it turns out, that god is Chaos! Go figure. The being or power that brought all the other (rambunctious) Greek gods into being was Chaos. I for one have no interest in worshipping Chaos or any god that sprang from it. I've got enough chaos in my life right now, thank you.

Zeus' father Chronos was one of the "Titans." The Titans were one of the three great races of gods generated by the union of Ouranos and Ge. The other two races were the Hekatoncherei (the hundred-handed gods) and the Cyclopses (the one-eyed giant gods). Chronos overthrew his father Ouranos, cast him into Tartarus (i.e. Hell), and became king of the gods. Also, the Titans in general didn't care for the Hekatoncherei; so after overthrowing their father they cast this race of gods into Tartarus as well. To top off all this family turmoil, Chronos devoured four of his own children because he feared one of them would kill him and steal his kingly title. Chronos' wife Rhea kept Zeus from being eaten, though. She gave Chronos a rock and told him it was Zeus. Chronos believed her and ate the rock.


I find these stories especially ridiculous. Are we to believe that the god who sired the greatest Olympian acted in such a manner? What sort of god was he? Couldn't the Titans and Hekatontoi just get along with one another? If the gods can't even live in peace and harmony with one another then what hope or what motivation do we human beings have for living in peace and harmony with one another? Chronos is presented as a treacherous son and a paranoid child-murderer. He also comes off as rather incredulous and obtuse. How did Rhea manage to trick him into eating a rock? Are we to think that this supreme god couldn't even distinguish between a rock and his own son?! Surely there are notable differences between a god and a rock. I think this story of Chronos gives special poignancy to the biblical polemic on pagan idolatry: [The pagans] say to a stone, 'You gave me birth'." (Jer 2:27).

Once Zeus had grown up he decided to rescue his siblings. He apparently lacked the power to do this when he was a baby and child because babies and children aren't strong enough or smart enough to deceive and kill their parents. So when he came of age he poisoned his father, causing him to vomit up the five children he had swallowed: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. Together the six siblings, along with Aphrodite (the offspring of Ouranos' severed genitals), Apollo and Zeus' daughter Athena (who sprang from his head), are now able to take their thrones in the Greek pantheon. They would henceforth be known as the "Olympian gods."


There are really too many absurdities to point out here. Why does Chronos not anticipate the poisoning? Apparently the gods are not omniscient. And why did Zeus have to use poison? Couldn't he just talk with his father and try to work things out amicably? That doesn't seem like too much to expect from two divine beings. Perhaps Chronos could have been persuaded to vomit out Zeus' siblings voluntarily. Or, if the paranoid father refused, there are plenty of other ways for Zeus to have induced the vomiting. Poisoning seems like a very lousy way of doing it; for the poison could have seriously injured not only his father but his siblings as well. The absurdity goes much deeper than this though. For how could these five gods have remained in Chronos' belly for so many years? Didn't he chew them before swallowing? Wouldn't they have been excreted or at least digested by the time Zeus had matured into an adult? They too had grown into adults by now. But how could Chronos have been living all this time with five adult-sized gods in his stomach?

After Zeus' siblings are vomited up, they and Zeus wage war on their father and the other Titans. The fighting was fierce. But because they were assisted by the Hecatonchreia and the Cyclopes the Olympians eventually won out. Zeus then killed his father and committed the other Titans to Tartarus forever.


This is how Zeus obtained his rank as chief of the gods: through the murder of his own father! Does this seem like a very noble way for one to become the supreme god? Not to mention, the Olympians were only successful in the fight because they had the assistance of two other groups of gods. None of the gods of ancient Greece were truly omnipotent. Zeus could have been defeated and apparently would have been if he had not received the extra help from the Cyclopes and Hecatonchreia.

So much for Zeus' origin and rise to supremacy in the Greek pantheon. What about his general mode of life? Was there anything admirable about that? Nope. For starters, he incestuously married his own sister Hera. He also harbored secret fantasies about Aphrodite (who had sprung from his own father's penis, which also implies an incestuous relation, though an odd one since the member was detatched from her father's body). Zeus even had affairs with human women. For example, he became the father of Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules) through an affair he had with a human woman. On another occasion He is said to have turned himself into a swan and raped a woman. I could go on.


To put it crassly, Zeus was insatiably horny. He obviously lacks the attributes of self-sufficiency and self-control. He is also incestuous, treacherous and unfaithful to his wife Hera.

In the Trojan war Zeus was unable to prevent his own son Serapedon's death. This is because Zeus' will is not sovereign, but subject to the authority and decrees of the Fates. Zeus also seems rather petty and quarrelsome. Although he is not quite as bad as the other gods, he constantly squabbles with them over what seem the most trivial of things. He is also just as incredulous and stupid as his father. On one occasion, Hera and Poseidon tricked him into falling asleep so they could meddle in the affairs of the Trojan war without him knowing. On another occasion, Prometheus tricked him into accepting a bad sacrifice. He sliced up a sacrifice and arranged the animal parts into two portions. The larger portion consisted of all the bones and uneatable parts. The smaller portion consisted of the most succulent animal parts. Prometheus placed a hide over both portions and asked Zeus which of the two he wanted for the sacrifice. Zeus saw the larger portion and, supposing it to be the best portion because of its size, asked for it. That is why the Greeks always sacrificed all the crappiest parts of their animals to the gods.


I once again find Zeus' character rather un-godlike. He is not omniscient and is rather easily duped. if such an inept god as Zeus really exists, why would I want to place my trust in him?

When Zeus created man he did not grant him any impressive attributes. Man was not granted strength, speed, a protective hide, horns, or even intelligence. Another god named Epimetheus felt sorry for man. He therefore stole reason from the goddess Athena and bestowed it upon man. Prometheus likewise stole fire from Zeus and gave it to man. All of this frustrated and angered Zeus greatly. As punishment against humanity he created "the ruinous tribes of women, a great affliction, who live with mortal men." (Hesiod, Theogony 600f.) He also gave them Pandora with her box.


Why would Zeus have wanted to deprive human beings of their intellect? That seems cruel. I couldn't imagine what life would be like without intelligence. Epimetheus is more worthy of worship than Zeus in my opinion. Indeed, Zeus once again displayed laughable ignorance here and in the story of Prometheus. The view Zeus had of women, moreover, seems rather misogynistic. Most men today would view women as a blessing, not a curse (cf. Gen 2:18).

Zeus actually offers mankind no hope. This is symbolized in the myth of Pandora. Out of her box came disease, famine, shame, heartache, sorrow, anger, malice and every other known vice and hardship. But before hope could escape Pandora shut the box. Thus, Zeus either meant for hope not to escape or his other plan was foiled by a little girl.

A critique of the Zeus worshipper's worldview

I have established above that Zeus is not eternal, self-existent, self-sufficient, immutable, omnipotent or omniscient. The reason I find all this problematic is not just because I feel that a deity who lacks these attributes is un-godlike or unworthy of worship. There is another more compelling philosophical reason. A deity that lacks these attributes is untenable because he cannot furnish his devotees with a coherent, rational and fully-functional worldview.

Take first the question of epistemology. Why should we believe the sun will rise tomorrow? Why should we believe that gravity will continue to pull in the same direction? Why should we trust our vision, hearing and other senses? All these beliefs rest on the idea that nature is regular and predictable. If I ask a Zeus worshipper why he trusts in the regularity and predictability of nature he might answer, "Because Zeus is provident over nature and sustains it that way." But this is not true. As we've seen, Zeus' will is subject to the Fates. Moreover, there are other gods besides Zeus who control nature and these gods often they fight amongst themselves. Poseidon, for instance, tried to manipulate the seas to prevent Odysseus' return to Ithica - against the wishes of Zeus. Again, the battles between the Titans and the Olympians illustrates that no one in the Greek pantheon is really secure in his role. For all we know, Chaos and Eros may give birth to another race of gods and they will overthrow Zeus and the other Olympians. The new race may seek to emulate their father Chaos by allowing everything to fall into disorder.

Now take the issue of morality. Suppose I ask a Zeus worshipper whether he thinks morality is objective or subjective. If he answers that it is objective he will be faced with several problems. For if morality is indeed objective this cannot be because morality is part of Zeus' character. Remember, Zeus has not always existed. Yet morality must have existed prior to Zeus' coming into being because otherwise there must have been a time when morality itself did not exist, or was external to Zeus, or was created by Zeus and therefore subject to his will. None of these three options is philosophically viable. If morality came into existence then it is ultimately artificial, arbitrarily imposed and perhaps unnecessary. If morality is external to Zeus then it could still be objective but only if Zeus is not viewed as the ultimate standard of morality. This may not seem like a big problem, but if the Zeus worshipper admits that morality is external to Zeus he will have to find some other ultimate standard for morality that can be described as eternal, universally binding and objective. What could that standard possibly be? How about an impersonal abstraction like "goodness", "utility" or "love"? No, these standards won't work because we shall then have to ask on what basis we need to accept this or that standard as the basis of morality. Perhaps there is a higher standard than "goodness" to which I or someone else would like to appeal. And who determines what "goodness" is anyway? Is there any clear definition that people can all agree upon? Perhaps the Zeus worshipper will, in frustration, give up trying to answer these questions and claim that morality is simply subjective. In that case it would seem arbitrary. It is also malleable, able to be expressed in a myriad of forms. Who's to say which of these forms is the correct one? Someone may deem rape a moral act. Who are we to impose our own standards on him? And who's to say our own morals might not change some day? Perhaps what we deem moral today will become immoral tomorrow. If morality is subjective then the idea becomes rather meaningless and undefinable. The Zeus worshipper is left with anarchy, therefore, not morality. Even if he appeals (arbitrarily) to the subjective will of Zeus, this will not help him philosophically. For Zeus' will, as we've seen, is itself subject to the Fates. Moreover, since Zeus is not immutable, who is to say that the god will not one day command something we now consider morally outrageous, like the killing of innocent people, the overthrow of the Olympian gods or the renunciation of morality altogether? Zeus' subjectively determined will can hardly stand as a foundation to morality.


These are just a few of the reasons I don't worship Zeus. There are a host of others, but these should suffice for this blog.