display | more...
IV. What Judaism Had, What Greek Religion Had, and how Christianity Took the Best of Both Worlds

The Benefits and Problems of Greek Religion

One of the major flaws with Greek Religion was its lack of any kind of all-powerful deity to whom man could appeal. All of its gods were very personal and very human, and all were subject to jealousy, envy, and fate. Looking at just a few of the better-known myths, Zeus was constantly philandering, leaving poor Hera out in the cold. As seen above, the goddess Persephone was forcibly abducted from her mother and made to live in Hades. Dionysus died. These characters don't seem particularly godly; they simply seem super human. Certainly having gods so similar to man is tempting: they are easy to appeal to because they are so much like the worshipper. Their will is easy to do because they seek the same things men want. They are easy to plead with and easy to exhort.

And yet though this jealousy, envy, lust, and very near mortality makes them approachable, it also makes them difficult to deal with, plainly open to weakness and folly, and ultimately incomplete.

One of the rudimentary ideas of paganism is that no god is fully supreme and that an all-powerful, all-consuming, entirely impersonal force controls everyone. To the Greeks, this force was the triad Clothos, Lachesis, and Atropos: the fates, the moira. "Greek moira . . . not only predetermines the destiny of men, but of gods as well" (Zeitlin 1). Under this system of beliefs, both gods and men are under the thumb of fate. Edith Hamilton writes, "Zeus was not omnipotent or omniscient, either. He could be opposed and deceived . . . Homer makes Hera ask Zeus if he proposes to deliver from death a man fate has doomed" (27). So if even Zeus, the mightiest of all in the Olympian Pantheon, can be deceived as man, opposed as man, thwarted as man, lacks omniscience, and is subject to moira's whims, how much help or salvation can such gods possibly offer?

Furthermore, though Greek Religion did have some common ideas about how the gods were to be worshipped, little of it was actually written down. It lacked "an explicitly formulated and dynamic theology." This was because the cults were run by a professionally trained priesthood with an internalized creed, and also because Homer and Hesiod had enumerated the gods' natures, doings, and beliefs centuries upon centuries before (Price 126).

By virtue of all of this, Greek Religion also didn't have a firm morality in place; how could one exist in a world with so many disparate gods? Who doesn't know the story of the apple of discord, in which Paris incurs the wrath of some gods in an attempt to please others?

<<<Back | Main | TOC | Works Cited | next>>>

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.