Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Graveyard of the Gods

Have you ever stopped to think that Isis once ruled the hearts of men and women? And not just a few! The Egyptian goddess was exported beyond the Nile and was worshipped far and wide for a very long time. Whatever happened to her?

What about the hammer slinging Thor? In Northern Europe he was pretty huge. We don't find many temples honoring him today.

Baal? Other than being vilified in the Hebrew scriptures, how often do we hear anything about him? But once, he was fierce and mighty.

The Canaanite "El" seems to have morphed into "Elohim" and "El Shaddai" and other "El Something" names for the deity of the Judaic scriptures. But in a culture now long gone, El ruled the roost, and the heavens for that matter.

What of the Sky-god, Yahweh? He seems to have been adopted by the ancient people of the Old Testament, but to us Christians, Yahweh barely gets more than lip service. Except to the angriest of fundamentalists, the jealous, punishing, war god Yahweh has been replaced by the more accessible and likeable "Abba" or simply "God" for contemporary Christians.

We argue so vehemently about "our" god or "our" religion or "our" faith or "our" truth. Don't you imagine the disciples of Baal and Isis and Zeus and Apollo and Minerva and Pan and Bacchus and Artemis were as devoutly attached to their understanding of the divine?

In the Christian book of Acts we see very clearly that the citizens of Ephesus were outraged that St. Paul and his companions suggested that members of the Artemis cult convert to the new cult of Christ. But Artemis seems to be retired in the 21st century. Her followers are few, or in hiding, if they exist today.

My point? We are likely to worship something. We will contemplate the meaning of life and ultimate reality; we may even name this Reality and consider it divine. But the names and images we conjure and the stories that our imaginations create to help us relate to this Ultimate and Supreme Is-ness are suited to our needs, understandings, culture, personalities, and longings as they are now. The god we are willing to end friendships over, condemn others for, fight and kill for, conquer societies for may not withstand the test of time.

The Norse considered the Eternal, and one of the names and images they attributed to It was "Thor." But apparently we outgrew what Thor had to offer. Other names, other images, other mythologies have come and gone, and we have ours. But are we so certain? Dare we be so arrogant as to think our stories, our images, our names, our present understanding is it? Will nothing more relevant be discovered? Will nothing more useful be found? I bet the cult of Isis thought they had all the answers and that their goddess was the best way, the highest truth, and the key to the most abundant life. Are we so much wiser than her devout, sincere followers?

The god of your understanding is precious to you, and you are entitled to your understanding. But so is the next person, and her understanding may differ significantly from yours. Both understandings may be a mere page in a history book a few thousand years from now. So enjoy your understanding of God, but allow the same enjoyment for your neighbor. Christ and Allah may be the top contenders for Head Diety in Charge these days, but Yahweh and Baal once held those positions as well. Times change. Whatever God is, She must be big enough to respond to the honest heart regardless of what we call Her or how we imagine her to be.

Our image of God may one day wind up in the graveyard of the other gods, but that's OK. What all of these gods were pointing toward is the true mystery of life, and that is eternal and it is big enough to include every human spirit. Name the divine if you must, but consider that your name for the divine may not actually limit the divine. Ultimate Reality may, afterall, be more than any of us have imagined so far; It would almost have to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Any god who can be killed, should be killed as a public service. That's a paraphrase of a quote I heard a long time ago. I can't remember to whom to attribute it. I like it however, and since I don't make it to the literacy center or food bank as often as a decent human might want, I try to perform this particular public service whenever possible. Praise Jeebus.