Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Reasonableness of the Greek Religion?

Today, the L.A. Times has an article on the benefit of Greek polytheism over monotheism (read Christianity) written by Mary Lefkowitz is professor emerita at Wellesley College. Lefkowitz argument essential breaks down to this:

Monotheism Polytheism
Rejects other culture's gods Embraces multiculturalism
Asserts a masculine God Allows for gods of both sexes
Claims to have the answers Does not claim to have the answers
Has an authoritarian God The gods work as a sort of democracy
An omnibenevolent God Gods who actually cause chaos and evil (thus providing "a more plausible account than monotheism of the presence of evil and confusion in the world")
God is to be reverenced, not complained to Since the gods are many and fairly cruel themselves, humans can rightly complain to them
Things will turn out well in the end No one knows if things will be okay in the end, since the gods are crazy

Since we "know" that multiculturalism, gender equality (in our gods?), democracy, chaos, and skepticism about the future are all ideas embraced by an educated intellectual in the year 2007, the Greek religion must be true.*

There are too many absurd holes in this article to point them all out, I would encourage you to discover them yourself, but here are three parting thoughts.

First, Lefkowitz asserts a religion of pragmatism: whatever fits best with what we want is true. As an epistemology, pragmatism offers no foundation other than the utilitarian whims of its followers. Using the same logic, we could claim that we should believe that no Indians died when we came to America because we're a great country. Blah, utter nonsense.

Second, although Lefkowitz is said to be publishing a book on Greek gods, I wonder if she's actually studied them. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the Greek gods can tell you that they were the most cruel and capricious gods in nearly all religions, using humans and their lives as pawns in their own childish squabbles. Take for example, Leda and the Swan, where Zeus takes the form of a swan and rapes Leda. Or the myth of Io who is seduced by Zeus, turned into a cow, and forced by a jealous wife to wander the earth without rest because she slept with Zeus. I could be wrong, but bestial rape and torturing a woman for being seduced by a nearly all-powerful god hardly qualifies as progressive thinking.

Third, to some extent, Lefkowitz has received her wish, the Greek gods do seem to be highly esteemed by our culture. Heavenly beauties whose decisions and actions shape the very fabric of our culture, whose infidelities and failures comprise the primary source of all our stories, and in whom each individual can see a reflection of their own personal struggles and hopes--if these are Lefkowitz's Greek gods, they walk among us still.

*Before someone calls me out as a fool, yes, I get that the article isn't really suggesting that people believe that Zeus is real. Lefkowitz is tapping into Dawkin's argument that being a Christian is no more rational than believing in Zeus. But unless we call out this equivocation people will continue to go on using it, poor logic and all.


Candy Minx said...

Interesting...give me a bit to read the entire article and get back to you. My first response though is why not both...we can't force peopel to adapt their montheism or polytheism onto each other...tolerance is compassionate...why not allow many perspectives of faith and religion?

Hope life is treating you well


noneuclidean said...

Well, I don't think the article or I am suggesting that anyone force anyone to believe anything. We do allow many perspectives of faith and religion. The assertion the article makes is that polytheism is more rational and practical than monotheism, an assertion I believe is ill-founded.

While we should never "force" anyone to believe a certain religious belief system, there is genuine good to be had in lovingly and reasonably discussing the differences between belief systems. Under the guise of tolerance, a censorship of religious dialog has overwhelmed much intellectual life in American.

Rich Clark said...

Hey Alan! Can you email me your email address? Thanks!