Delphic Maxims 1 & 4 – Rod’s Thoughts

As a reminder the maxims being discussed are:

Follow God and Worship the gods.

Drew’s initial take can be read here.

 

I think the first thing to point out is that, for a large part of Greek history, religion was much more of a communal ritual than the kind of personal affair it largely is today. That is, Greek religion was not about personal salvation (at least not until the mystery cults took off, which had a profound influence on Christianity) but civic solidarity and appeasing the gods. So, when the maxim says to “Worship the gods,” I feel it is less a matter of evangelism as saying “Be a proper Greek.” There is of course a social element to American religion as well, but not to the same degree.

There is also a philosophic tradition that had much to say about the divine, which bears little resemblance to Greek mythology. What we typically mean when we say “God” is largely a product of this tradition, namely a being that is all powerful, all knowing, all good, and ever present. That is the God of the Greek philosophers, but not always of the Hebrew Bible. To follow God, from the standpoint of the philosophers, is to contemplate and conform yourself to the will and virtue of this Highest of all possible beings/ideals. That is a far cry from the American/Christian conception of God. That God is an absent judge with a definite agenda. An agenda which we either fall in line with or oppose to our own peril.

For all their follies, jealousies, and capriciousness, I find myself peculiarly drawn to the Greek gods and their mythologies. Even with my interest in Norse myth, I have to admit there is something unique about the Greek equivalent, so much so that I’m not sure you can really compare the two. I’ve heard Greek myth described as philosophy in narrative form, and I think in many respects that is true. The Greeks gods are humanity writ large. At their best the myths are about what constitutes a good life, and seeing the world for the mixed bag of ecstasy and tragedy that it is. There is a reason these stories have thrived for 3,000 years, and undoubtedly that’s part of why I feel compelled to teach them to my own children.

To venture somewhere more esoteric, I see the Greek gods as archetypes for universal forces, both internal and external to mankind. As symbols they allow us a handle by which we can mentally and spiritually grasp and encounter these forces, if at least partially. I’m not sure I have much more to say about this at the moment, but suffice it to say it is my experience that if you treat something as being real in some surprising ways it can become so.

The trouble with following gods is pinning down what it is they want. It’s probably a small blasphemy for me to say this, seeing as I’m part of the ministry of a religious sect that insists God is speaking to people all the time, but I have my doubts of whether divinity cares about us in any way we would recognize as caring. If God is truly the creator of all the cosmos then God is responsible for all it, the beauty and the shit. If anything I can relate most to the polytheist position, because when I look out at the world I see a battle of conflicting forces, not the product of a divine unity. I can’t even say I believe God is good. All I can say with any certainty is that there are moments when I experience a mystery that is at times comforting and others unsettling and that I feel compelled to chase after that mystery, though like the knights questing for the Holy Grail I have no expectations I’ll ever apprehend it.

Rather than “Follow & Worship the gods” I would instead pose a single query “What gods are you serving?” Whether you are a fundamentalist Christian or a staunch atheist, we all have some conception of what we think is worthy and best in this world, and we will all likely apply our efforts towards realizing those ends at some point, whether through conscious choice or simply slouching our way into it. Wealth, success, contentment, safety—there are numerous gods to serve and altars to lay our lives down upon. The question is whether we do so knowingly. I’m reminded of something Aristotle wrote in his Eudemian Ethics. “[E]verybody able to live according to his own purposive choice should set before him some object for noble living to aim at—either honor or else glory or wealth or culture—on which he will keep his eyes fixed in all his conduct (since clearly it is a mark of much folly not to have one’s life regulated with regard to some End), it is therefore most necessary first to decide within oneself, neither hastily nor carelessly, in which of the things that belong to us the good life consists, and what are the indispensable conditions for men’s possessing it.

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