Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Our New Religious Pantheon

I like the ancient Greek stories of their pantheon of gods.  Their stories are always less god like and usually way to human with problems of lust, envy, jealousy, and revenge.  They can be tricked, lied to, and make deals.  They are fickle at best and even in their most glorious moments act in ways that are selfishly motivated. They really serve better as cautionary tales rather than models to follow. But just the same humans made temples, paid homage, and sacrificed for these gods.  They believed the pantheon of hundreds of gods with their intertwining stories literally made the world go round, were the source for the seasons, rains, and crops. Over time the stories grew bigger and more complicated, the gods themselves matured over time.  For a great summary of ancient Greek pantheon read "Mythology" edited by Edith Hamilton.

These myths shaped the lore of the near east for a centuries.  Myths have always been part of cultures.  Egypt, Rome, Babylon, Persia, Europe, Asia, and Africa all have have myths for creation, floods, seasons, and people of noble character.

America being only a couple hundred years old and a mixture of hundreds of cultures does not have ancient mythical stories.  Instead we have created a pantheon of gods and goddesses with their own special powers and temples.   Our pantheon of gods are usually built around real people who did impressive things.  In the political spectrum there are our early presidents and so called "founding fathers."  Their holy city is Washington D.C. and the temple is the Capital Building or the White House.  And their annual feasts come around during the election seasons.  In the entertainment pantheon are our movie stars and musical icons.  Their holy cities include Hollywood, L.A., and New York.  Their temples are movie sets, concert venues, and celebrated theaters.  Their feast days occur nearly daily with award banquets, premier days, and contests where viewers get to elect the next god into the pantheon. Our pantheon of warriors are not in fact
warriors at all but athletes who conquer their foes on the playing field rather than the battle field (a much preferred alternative to the gladiator arena or attack on Troy I think).   Their temples are stadiums and their feast days include Super Bowls, World Series, and the Final Four.  I could add to the pantheon military heroes, wealthy tycoons, even spiritual leaders, and a host of others. Sometimes these gods are able to cross from one realm into another much like when the Greek gods moved between Athens, heaven, earth, and the underworld.  Athletes become entertainers, entertainers become politicians, and politicians become wealthy tycoons.

With the recent biogenesis clinic problems that MLB is facing in suspending twelve players for 50 games and one of their most notable warriors Alex Rodriguez through 2014, we are reminded much like the Greek pantheon, our gods are all too human.  Celebrities, politicians, athletes, entertainers, and others we hold up as our heroes fall from grace on a regular basis, some even end up as convicted criminals.  We watch their larger than life dramatic stories much like the Greeks listened to the pantheon of old. We scrutinize their actions and celebrate the consequences to their actions as though they are fictional people without real feelings, damaged hearts, and wounded families. It serves as our entertainment and as our worship.

The one big difference between the Greeks and us, I believe, is that the average Greek probably didn't believe they could become a god. True enough some humans married gods or had half-god half human children.  But for the most part this was not the norm.  But these humans never became gods or were ever worshiped themselves. We on the other hand are encouraged to believe that with just the right break we will join the pantheon someday.  We can move from worshipers to the worshiped.  We can become a god.

I like sports (Go Red Sox!).  I watch movies and television.  I read books.  I stay mostly current on the political arena and local news.  But I am afraid we as Americans worship these things.  And worse still, we are training our children that through hard work and focus they can become gods. That they will be professional athletes, musicians, or the next governor. That is why the biggest church in many states is their state university football stadium (it certainly is in my state) or pro baseball teams cathedral.   That is why the final ten minutes of local news is always about what...local sports and coaches. That is why high school coaches can demand teenage student athletes practice, lift weights, and sacrifice their entire summers for a fall sport.  That is why we drive our kids from soccer, to band, to baseball, to dance, to whatever else because we may not admit it, but we really believe these kids will go pro and become a god.  To move from the worshiper to the worshiped.  If we don't believe they will go pro we certainly believe they can at least say they participated in the games the gods play so we can yell at them on the TV and in their stadiums and shout how they could do it better or coach it better if only given a shot.

I don't know if this pantheon of athletes, entertainers, and other gods is a primary part of why we have a hard time seeing the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it.  It certainly serves as a barrier.  Our worship of anything other than God is an idol.  But to believe we are not worshiping these things is to lie to ourselves.  We need to step back and call a spade, a spade on this one as Americans, especially if we believe that Jesus is Lord.  We may not have mythical heroes of ancient tradition, but we certainly have a growing pantheon full of temples and gods all across this country.  None of them are Christ.