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Friday, August 13, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: Let's Talk Greek

Recently I've noticed a growing public interest in Greek mythology--for instance, movies like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and Clash of the Titans, among other books, movies, and television shows over the past decade.  I also speculate that the majority of modern comic book superhero genre type productions have their roots in Greek myth.  Is this harmful?  Well, not necessarily.  A nice break from reality can be fun sometimes.

However, the popularity of Greek myth does reveal to me a subtle change in the ideology of Western culture in general that has previously been mostly limited to educated circles.  Let's get this straight: I highly doubt that the average person in the world today believes in the Greek gods and goddesses themselves, or any of their exploits.  I do, however, believe that the secular humanism movement has influenced modern culture by emphasizing the godhood of man, that is, the belief that mankind is not corrupt, and that there are no external rules we should follow (in essence, we are a law unto ourselves).  This teaching leads to one conclusion: all morality is relative, and we should just do whatever comes to us because we are capable of setting the rules for ourselves.  What religion has modeled this better than Greek mythology?

The stories of the Greek gods are like patterns for living according to the modern secular humanist's model.  However, when you strip away all the superhuman powers, you will find you have a bunch of very selfish individuals, always fighting, sleeping around, and otherwise toying with the little mortal beings they were supposed to govern.  True, the gods and goddesses believed in things like justice, but often twisted it into something rather sadistic.  Take Prometheus, for instance, who according to legend was sentenced to be chained to a cliff-face for all eternity as punishment for giving fire to mankind.  Part of this punishment was to have his immortal, self-regenerating liver eaten out daily by an eagle.  Justice was acted out on a whim and seemed to be rather random and excessive according to this model.

So, I'm putting this question forward:  Is it preferable to base laws and decisions on situational concerns, or should we operate by a set of unbending, unmovable rules to govern behavior?

Personally, I must opt for the latter.  While it is fun to operate on the principle that it "felt good to me at the time," or "it seemed right for me," it is not fun to have others operating on that model also.  For instance, it might seem justifiable to steal something small like a candy bar from a store, perhaps on the principle that you were hungry and didn't have time to pay for it.  If you were the merchant, however, you wouldn't think it was justifiable, since you were selling that candy bar to help pay your bills.  As the merchant, you'd want to beat up on the thief, and you'd probably want to hit harder as long as it was him and not you getting the beating. 

There must be an external standard, an external justice, which both parties must uphold.   This external justice doesn't favor the thief or the merchant with penalties that are greater than the situation, but rather sends them both away feeling that their concerns were heard and weighed.  I must say, this kind of a standard is beyond human capacity.  There are always excuses, justifications, and shortcomings that get in the way of perfect justice.  This is especially true when we get to the level of judging whole cultures or time periods.

Greek mythology often weighs justice and other key concepts, but I feel it falls short of a perfect model of justice, because the gods by nature are too human.  They are very biased, very fickle, and often are above the rules they set for others to follow.  I would never want someone like that ruling my life, because I could never be sure I would get fair treatment.

I'm thankful to know a God who by nature wields perfect justice, because He exists outside of humanity and can truly judge our behavior without that personal or cultural bias and self-justification.  His standard is Himself, and He doesn't change (James 1: 17).  This means that He is held to the same standard, even if it inconveniences Him or prevents Him from attaining something that He wants.  This is why Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sins; God wanted a relationship with humanity, but Christ's death was the only way this was possible without breaking the rules He had set for us to follow.  Beyond laying out the rules by which we are judged, God has challenged us to judge Him by those standards, so that we see that He is fair (Psalm 34: 8).

I could talk longer about this, but I think I'll just leave you with this to ponder:  Does mankind's objection to God's perfect standards indicate errors/imperfections in the nature of those standards, or does it reveal uneasiness about how we each personally measure up to those standards?

2 comments:

Kamal said...

Rachel,

Thank you for the insightful details about the Greek Mythology and putting it in context with today's secular humanism.

The last paragraph has my favorite lines - " His standard is Himself, and He doesn't change (James 1: 17). This means that He is held to the same standard, even if it inconveniences Him or prevents Him from attaining something that He wants. This is why Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sins; God wanted a relationship with humanity, but Christ's death was the only way this was possible without breaking the rules He had set for us to follow."

Yes, it is our uneasiness about how we measure up to God's standards.

Rachel M. said...

Thank you for your comment. :)

The reason why I asked that question was that I've noticed how society (including within the "Christian" community) has been calling God's standards into question, one by one, and suggesting that God was somehow wrong on one point or another. I trace that habit back to the humanists, including those who long ago studied Greek mythology with great zeal. The unfortunate thing is that this has been a part of history for so long, there are many who think this is a part of our Christian heritage. It is not!

Okay, I'll get back off my soapbox now. ;) Thanks again for reading!

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