Studying mythology is very much a journey of faith for me. I don't talk about it a lot on here, because I don't like to step on toes-- it isn't really about TRUTH, or one right way, and I've always felt faith and religion are and should be very private things. Whatever my beliefs, they're between me and the powers that be, and the same for yours. We don't have to agree. In fact, the world would be a much less interesting place if we did. I wouldn't be able to study both Classical Myth and Norse Myth along side my own Catholic upbringing, if everyone agreed, and where's the fun in that?
But as a Classicist (and interestingly enough I rarely feel this way about Norse myth), I often find myself wondering why in tarnation anyone would want to worship gods that were so cruel, so arbitrary, so generally unjust. What is there to honor in a god like Zeus, who rapes women as he pleases, or even Athena, the vaunted goddess of reason, when she throws it all out the window to curse Medusa for being unfortunate enough to draw Poseidon's eye. It's so easy to sit back and say we've evolved beyond that kind of thing, as a race. We've wised up enough to realize that worshipping a god like that makes no sense. There is no substance, maybe, or there is no justice, or there is no worth.
It's easy to think, in those unguarded moments of arrogance, that we are much more civilized now as a culture. But in America, we are by and large a culture firmly rooted in Christianity and Judeo-Christian myth. On the surface, the New Testament does present a more genteel deity than the gods that the ancient Greeks worshipped. The Olympians could be called a lot of things, but Champions of Forgiveness and Love they were not, and Jesus and His Father were something of a revelation in that respect. At least to the Greeks and the Romans (and perhaps that's why it took hold in the west, but the east maintains its own much older faiths still).
But if you look at the Old Testament, you can see the same shapes of those Olympians. Punishments were harsh, sacrifices were demanded, and God could be just as cruel to the people who didn't live by His rules as any Olympian. You don't need to look much beyond Genesis for examples: The punishment and banishment of Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, and if I had been Abraham, asked to sacrifice my own son to PROVE something to an all-knowing God, I don't think I'd have gone along with it myself. Beyond Genesis there is much, much more, and I could list them all day-- one of my personal favorites is the story of Samson, in Judges (a strange thing to say, I know, because Samson is incredibly mean-tempered and cruel. Maybe he reminds me of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, who I love to hate, but I also pity Samson and Delilah both).
In fact, I almost find reading the Old Testament to be even more disturbing than Greek Myth. Maybe because I'm not connected to the Greeks with my own faith. But maybe too, that's part of the point. MAYBE faith is supposed to be about the mystery. MAYBE if we aren't wondering if we're a little bit insane for trusting these crazy gods, we're doing it wrong. Maybe that's what faith is all about-- the mystery of whether or not you're completely sane for going through it all and trusting and believing, in spite of everything.
Of course, all the talk of mystery could just be the Catholic in me. But I think, for all the things that change, we will never give up faith in things that don't make sense.
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