+quot;In the Beginning, God created.+quot; From the Archaic period of ancient Greek writin

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"In the Beginning, God created..." From the Archaic period of ancient Greek writings to the time of the Roman Empire, writers, philosophers, and religious thinkers leaders powerfully impacted the way in which their societies viewed that which some call "god" or "the gods." For Plato, the opening statement from the Christian Holy Bible certainly would have been controversial even though he speaks of gods and a God in his own writings. Undoubtedly, the Epicurean Lucretius would have a different version of the time's beginning: "Nothing can ever be created by divine power out of nothing." An important question to be raised, however, is how there exist so many differing opinions as to the nature (or lack of it) of "the gods" or "God" from a race of humans which are essentially alike. Perhaps the diversity of these strongly held opinions which have shaped our world of today aren't as different as they may seem. If one cross references implications of the Homeric, Christian, Platonic, and Epicurean thinkers, it can be seen that they may have something in common after all. First came the writings of a Greek named Homer. In his most famous work, The Odyssey, Homer immediately presents the most widely held view of deity among the Greeks of the Archaic period, polytheism. Immediately following the invocation in The Odyssey, the dialogue begins, "My word, how mortals take the gods to task!" (1, 2) making a strong indication that the gods would be taken to task individually. Furthermore, not only are Homer's gods presented as separate entities, but also as willful individuals. 2. One fine example of this conflict in wills is when "the god of earthquake", Poseidon, honored the request of Cyclops to curse Odysseus while Athena, Odysseus' protectress, always sought his protection. (1, 161) Another peculiar aspect of the polytheistic belief is illustrated when the gods alter their physical forms to meet necessity of a particular situation. For instance, it was convenient for Athena to pose as Mentor when helping Telemakhos sail out and look for his father, as she could not have sailed with him otherwise. (1, 30) Despite this uncertainty and unpredictability of the gods changing their forms, Penelope retains her trust in the god Athena, unlike Hermes who decides that "...it is not to be thought of - and no use - for any god to elude the will of Zeus,". She pleaded to Athena, "Tireless child of Zeus, graciously hear me!...Save my son!" (1: p 84, 75) If Homer's representation of the Archaic Greek society was correct, then Polytheism, a belief in more than one deity, dominated the religion of the Greeks with much support. Christianity, a belief which arose from Judaism hundred years after the life of Homer, presents an interesting case to analyze as well. According to modern Christian doctrine, Christians believe in a monotheistic god. This belief is also consistent with another religion which emerged five hundred years later, Islam. The early "Homeric Greeks" probably would not have adhered to any of these religious doctrines for apparent reasons: it would have completely contradicted their views of polytheism. Ironically, there are 3. remarkable similarities in what seems to be a contradiction in these Homeric and Christian beliefs. For example, Christianity has always accepted the Holy Trinity concept of God, one divinity existing in three separate forms. While the Holy Bible, the foundation of Christian doctrine, has record of Jesus saying, "I and my father are one", Jesus was also to have said, "...I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him (God) that sent me." (Holy Bible, John 10:30, 6:38) This leads one to believe that Jesus and God the father had very distinct, individual wills, hence implying a form of polytheism among the Christian Trinity. Comparing this observation with the gods of separate wills which Homer presented, it isn't difficult to see the strong resemblance between Archaic Greek and Christian religions in this respect. Again, searching for other similarities in the two religions, we find in the Holy Bible that the Holy Spirit, it was even said to have "descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him (Jesus)". A strong parallelism can once again be drawn, as this event is similar to Athena changing her form to protect Telemekhos. So if these gods or "parts of a God", as you may refer to the Trinity, can so easily alter their forms for humans, why then are they portrayed by nearly every religion in history as having human form? That, Plato implicitly argues, is a very tacit and ignorant assumption. Plato, one of the most noteworthy thought reformists of ancient Greece, appeared on the public scene at about 400 B.C. with 4. his own revolutionary ideas of the reality of god. In The Republic, Plato spoke of developing a perfect education system. Concerning what should be taught, Plato declared, "But if he must introduce the gods, at any rate let him not dare so completely misrepresent the greatest of gods.." and that "...truth should be highly valued..." (2: 74-75) Taken on a literal level, this would imply that he undoubtedly believes in the existence of a higher power, namely a god. However, if Plato's arguments are carefully followed throughout his other works, the real meaning of truth which he attempts to convey can be seen more accurately. Through a variety of arguments, he focuses on one specific point: reality and ultimate truth is that which is absolute. For example, in his famous cave allegory, Plato portrays men being chained to the inner wall of a cave, never to see anything but the shadows of men cast from behind them. He argues that if shadows are all they ever see, that is their unfortunate their reality. (2: 205-206) Plato implies that Shadows, love, and justice are but mental scaffoldings which lead to a higher truth. He asks, "But what if a man had eyes to see the true beauty- the divine beauty..." He quickly responds that "...he would be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities; for he has hold not of an image but of reality..." (2: 354-355) It is this ultimate beauty divine, truth divine, and justice divine which Plato believes leads to the ultimate singular truth. Plato, if claiming a god at all, has consequently defined "god" by that which is absolute. He claims no personification to this ultimate truth. Rather, he sees these myths (love, justice, 5. etc...) of mental structuring as positive routes to attaining the truth, provided they themselves are not held in absolute esteem. So Plato's answer as to why there are so many differing opinions of the nature of god might well be that people have ignorantly "missed the mark" if they have personified a god with truthful attributes rather than seeing the absolute truth itself as the ideal. However, as one might freely choose to label this truth with the name "god", another very interesting question arises: Is there a distinct difference at all between a purely monotheistic god as in Christianity and the absolute truth as Plato presents it? Advancing forward even further into time to the rule of the Roman Empire, there is Lucretius. Undoubtedly, the core of Epicurean thought employed by Lucretius was reason, almost identical to the reason used in modern science. He believes strongly that "The existence of bodies is vouched for by the agreement of the senses. If a belief resting directly on this foundation is not valid, there will be no standard which we can refer any doubt on obscure questions for rational conformation." (3: 39-40) These obscure questions of which he speaks are of those things which cannot be confirmed or proven in a physical sense-- a very materialistic view, indeed! Since procuring satisfactory proof of a god or gods under Lucretius' standards has always remained an elusive task, he rationalizes that "...it may happen that men who have learnt the truth about the carefree existence of the gods fall to wondering by what power the universe is kept 6. going...Then the poor creatures are plunged back into their old superstitions and saddle themselves with cruel masters whom they believe to be all-powerful. All this because they do not know what can be and what cannot..." (3, 173) Like Plato, Lucretius faults people for their ignorance. This time, however, they are ignorant for not knowing that "...nothing exists that is distinct both from body and from vacuity." (3, 40) It may be said therefore that his final conclusion is, "that nature is free and uncontrolled by proud masters and runs the universe by herself without the aid of gods". (3, 92) However, leaving the universe to itself does not imply that it is randomly controlled by any means. Lucretius noted correctly that there is a definite relation between the characteristics (behavior) of substances and their shape and form. (3, 70) Essentially, he is saying that although the universe is not controlled by gods, it is governed of itself according to discreet laws by its distinct properties. These properties can be detected and rationally determined as he requires. Therefore, this nature of the very laws which govern the elemental properties, the macroscopic ordering of microscopic random probability distribution of energy and matter, from a modern scientific point of view, is the ultimate regulator, controlling the "forces" of nature. Although Lucretius may not have known that, he did recognize order. Now, if god is defined as one being in ultimate control, then he has therefore recognized a very unique "god", in the very materialistic sense of nature, as does every modern scientist who bows before the unyielding physical laws. Although Plato, Homer, 7. and virtually every world religion would probably reject this view of "god" for themselves, it is important not to allow preconceived notions and individual views of god to dominate every mode of thinking. This is particularly important since each notion of deity or deities, all somewhat similar, exclude the other, simply on the basis of their own self-defined, beliefs. So there seems to be a question which has yet to be answered. Could all of these beliefs, each seemingly very different in nature, actually be similar? Primarily, we see a potentially strong relation between the obviously polytheistic Homeric gods and the Christian God in trinity form. They reflect not only a similarity in form, but also show occasional resemblances in actions and nature. Christianity likewise possesses many characteristics of Platonism as well. Probably the strongest similarity is the sharing of the belief that God or absolute truth (take your pick) is eternal and unchanging in nature, always just, and always truthful. In fact, the two notions of God and absolute truth are so similar, that their very definitions are recursive. That is, "Plato's truth" can be given the name "god", while Christianity simply says that god is true. Lucretius at first seemed to have gone "out on a limb", so to speak, by declaring the universe independent of divine intervention. Even he was found to have acknowledged the presence of something beyond randomness which governs the universe. Although the concept of the Epicurean "god" is complex to comprehend, it is analogous, in some ways, to our 8. modern system of mathematics. Numbers are invaluable to our society, but do not, within themselves, exist. Similarly, the forces of nature are ultimately real, but simply not existing. Remembering now that the truth as defined by Plato was reality, but not in a personified or existing form, we see similarities in Platonism and Epicurean thought, even though they disagree as to the nature of the absolute, spiritual or physical. There are many striking similarities among the numerous views of deities from early Greek literature up to the religious beliefs during the Roman period of conquest. In spite of the similarities, it simply isn't possible to unite every single belief. Unifying the various religious beliefs, however, isn't necessarily as important as trying to lace the patterns of each doctrine or persuasion into a general framework so that we can see what characteristics of a "God" or "gods" are common within each belief. Although the founders and supporters of Platonism, Christianity, and Epicurean thought often show unyielding devotion or dogmatism toward their respective beliefs, the significance of the similarities between each of these religions should not be neglected. Throughout history, unifying these beliefs has proven to be an elusive task, as the opposition to any such consolidation springs from the mutually exclusive doctrines of each religion, if they may be called religions at all. Recognizing apparent similarities in each religion, one may take the results of this 9. complex, networked comparison of these various religions and attempt to define a new religion, a new "God" or "Group of gods" which would represent a sociologically, culturally, and time independent religion. However, we find that if this is done, such beliefs may be viewed as too "liberal" among these "religions" and perhaps, in itself, turn out to be nothing more than simply another opinion. SOURCE CREDITS 1. Homer. The Odyssey. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1963. p. 2. 2. Homer. p. 161. 3. Homer. p. 30. 4. Homer. p. 84, 75. 5. Plato. The Republic and Other Works. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1973, p. 74-75. 6. Plato. p. 205-206. 7. Plato. p. 354-355. 8. Lucretius. On the Nature of the Universe. London: Penguin Group, 1988, pp. 39-40. 9. Lucretius. p. 173. 10. Lucretius. p. 40. 11. Lucretius. p. 92. 12 Lucretius. p. 70. Oh God, Another Opinion Consolidating Traits of the Greek, Roman, and Christian Religions Bart O. McCoy P.O. Box 191 Holmes Hall University of Kentucky Lexington, Ky 40526 Phone: 258 - 5551


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