I know it's Wednesday. You don't have to remind me that the Soapbox is late again. ;) Seriously, I post these things on time. Right on the dot. But the Internet is so lagged these days that it takes a week for the files to finish being uploaded to the server. I kid you not.
I've been thinking about this one for awhile, but certainly not long enough. It has to do with how we incorporate religion into our literature. I am not well-read enough to know much more than what one can find in English or translated text, so my background deals mostly with Christian works out of England and the States, and with Greek and Roman mythology. I haven't had much of a chance to study other forms of religion, but I can discuss some of the primary differences found just between Mediterranean and British religions, particularly polytheism versus monotheism.
Admittedly, it might just be that I'm a Latin/Greek fanatic, but I find literature written in that period to be overwhelmingly more fascinating than Christian literature. It also might just be my aversion to Christianity in all its forms. But for the purposes of this week's essay, what I'm going to discuss for the most part is my theory that the Greek/Roman gods just work better as believable entities than the Christian God does.
Let's start with my own personal religious feelings. They really aren't well-defined yet, and they certainly shouldn't yet. I haven't found any particular religion that appeals to me, mainly because I try to remain very open-minded about the possibilities. I don't try to fool myself that I know the answer already, if I ever will.
I mean, how are we supposed to know which religion is the true religion, if there is such a thing? I just can't be sure. Why do I need religion? Why do people expect me to need a religion? Gone are the days when death and loss of hope were so common in everyone's lives. Depending on where you live in the world, you're probably living better than kings and queens did in periods past, even if you're just in the middle class. We are safer, more healthy, living longer, producing stronger offspring, finding more opportunities to expand our minds and wallets, and every cylinder is clicking, in comparison to the past. Religion just isn't needed for some people anymore. Sure, science has done its part to dispel myths and miracles by explaining them rationally and logically, but religion is still a large influence in the world, and it's now accepting science into its framework. I see science and religion conflicting only in facts, but not as philosophies. I see science as evidence for the order in our world and I see religion as the faith we need to deal with our mortality, successes, and failures.
I have no problem with people who choose to follow a religion. I really don't. It is when religious fanatics go to extreme lengths to convince everyone else that they need their religion that I get upset. I also have a problem with believers in science who overstep their bounds, but sadly I'm not as harsh on them -- only because I support their core beliefs. Everyone shares this flaw, though. One's more likely to be friends with someone he agrees with in mind (but not necessarily in actions). We're all stuck on this planet, see, and there's no frigging way we're going to change each others' minds, so we might as well get along with each other. That's what I have to say to everyone else. Me? I think it's possible for different opinions and theories to be acceptable and even correct at the same time. It amazes me how much humans rely on an either/or sort of mentality, when much of human communication and thought really works in more complex ways, offering literally infinite ways to think about things.
I'm not going to dwell much on the publicity religious groups try to employ to gain new members and to witchhunt people of other religions, mainly because people are stupid and there's no way around that. What I want to key on is the fundamental problems I have with religion.
Christianity, at least in my readings of Latin texts written by authors like Gertrude, Anselm, and Abelard, and works like Augustine's Confessions, the Song of Solomon, and The Murder of Charles the Good, and whatever else I've picked up through living in a very Christianized area of the United States, Plano, Texas (see, I am in no means an expert on Christianity), has never appealed to me one bit. I even spent a year in a Catholic school in England and I must admit that was somewhat of a life-scarring ordeal (you try wearing green and yellow suits as a small, respectable boy). Greek and Roman mythology on the other hand has fascinated me so much I'll probably do intense and extensive study in it for my major. More on this later.
My parents weren't particularly religious, and they, partly because of their jobs and partly because of their personalities, didn't smother me with attention as I got older. The result of all this was that my parents laid the firm groundwork which made me turn out the way I am, which is to say, very independent-minded. I had a stable, consistent, and open home to live in, and so I was comfortable to explore what I wanted to explore and do what I wanted to do. I was given the independence to make my own decisions, to study and read when I felt I needed to, to push myself harder when I was slacking off, and to be an independent youthful boy. So, you see, the faith I needed was found within myself. If I feel down or I feel like I'm all alone, I get the motivation from myself to be more positive in my mindset. I do not loathe myself, and that's a crucial part for me. If I ever do not love and respect myself (as many do not for themselves -- my confidence is my faith), I will be a doomed man. Or I will turn to external faith, in the form of a religion. I would not have my life any other way than how I have it now -- I have the possibilities open to me because of what my parents and I have done for myself.
It is no surprise, then, that my prevailing theory regarding religion is one of faith from inside, that every one of us, when we ask some force for motivation, blessing, strength, or safety, we are actually mustering the will from inside our own hearts and souls to carry on. I think there's a lot of biology behind religion. In our attempts to understand this unknown power that we are suddenly granted, we make up a physical embodiment of our faith and share it with others who believe in it as well. In most all religions, the supreme power is found in a being or beings, something easier and more tangible to think about. The power is supreme because many people have come together to believe in it, and that makes both the being and its followers stronger. I believe all living things are powerful and I think that living things which learn to work together and commune together are even more powerful because they understand the importance of grouping together for safety. Definitely not the only reason, but I do think humans are among the most powerful creatures, if not the most powerful creatures, for learning to come together and overcome physical weaknesses, which for humans, are many.
I know I share a lot of my father's feelings about religion. He feels religion is a necessity for the human race as well. I won't bring him in anymore into my web of half-witted and intellectually-lacking thoughts than that, but I did want to acknowledge that I am not alone in how I feel about religion, fundamentally.
Religion is a necessity for humans as a whole. Some of us, like me, depend on a different sort of religion, reliance on oneself, but most people are not like that. This isn't to say those people are weak and not independent, but they find it more comfortable to share their religion with others, and that's perfectly acceptable to me. Most people, at least in my opinion, become great human beings because of the will and motivation their religion gives to them. God, for example, has inspired writers and poets like John Donne and the Archpoet to write wondrous and beautifully radiant works that we still identify with even now.
But let's, as a rapid change of subject, not kid ourselves. Is monotheism really as interesting to read about as polytheism is? I myself don't think so. If you've read The Iliad or The Aeneid, you'll agree that they're amazing pieces of work which show the many personalities of the gods. What I like about the gods is that they're more realistic and human! Imperfect! Something I'm more likely to believe exists. All the gods were not model human beings. They were impulsive, emotional, stubborn, lecherous, lustful, cruel, and at times, abusive. Poseidon held a long grudge against Odysseus just because Odysseus poked out Polyphemus's eye in self-defense. He was his son, dammit -- the fact that Polyphemus was cruelly treating Odysseus's men was irrelevant. And the losers of Paris's golden apple chose to hate the Greeks and support the Trojans simply because of that! It shows personality. It's real, emotional, and oftentimes comedic. Dionysus was the god of wine! Don't you love that? Making mothers rip their sons' heads off? That's entertainment, although in this example, a more cathartic experience than an amusing one. The gods were conceived out of the Greeks' and Romans' attempts to understand their world. The gods were not too good to be perfect. They demanded ritualistic sacrifices on a consistent basis. They were so...human.
Christianity, on the other hand, supports a benign, omnipotent, perfect, gracious, wonderful being as God. He has no flaws. He is never wrong. He never breaks his own rules. He never asks too much of people. He is never given to excess. I use "he," by the way, not because I think God is male (I think he is more likely a combination of both man and woman, if we can conceive of what "gender" he is at all). I feel bad for even having to say that. ;) Anyway, God is just the essence of everything people look up to and respect and admire and fashion themselves after. I can't swing that, no matter how hard I try. It's just such a cold and foreign idea to me. How can you see God as anything other than a stranger if he is perfect in every way? When you meet people in real life who seem to be perfect, yet obviously aren't, don't you have trouble talking to them and identifying with them? You just can't. God is foreign to me. He does nothing to arouse any vigor or motivation in me. God is inhuman. Humans are quite imperfect and quite prone to commit sin. There is no relation at all.
God in literature is not inspiring for me, unless he is implemented correctly. Some writers detail incessantly how much they love God and how much they thank him and how much they blindly follow him without questioning his actions and motives. I don't want a god who would not want me to question his reasons for doing things, for not using my God-given brain. The ancient gods were always feared and always respected, even if they were criticized and questioned even by the other gods. They were imperfect. They had color. They had a soft flesh that you could touch. They were like us in many ways, but they were still superior in their arbitrating and power.
When God motivates me in works, it is when someone employs his power effectively and passionately to attain goals. We all love movies and novels where a warrior receives a sign from God to rid the world of the enemy's filth. Whole cities and empires were built on the basis of religion. When a divinity fills a man with unmatched passion in his heart and rock-solid determination in his mind, there is no beating that as far as motivation for the reader or viewer goes. You know what? Satan is often more interesting than God is, using examples like Milton's _Paradise Lost_ and Dante's _Inferno_, as we see his pain and his violent rage. In fact, we get to SEE him. He acts and moves and feels and is an active character. God is somewhere out there, in some ethereal place, with an indifferent, almost inanimate posture. Satan seems more human, and therefore, easier to identify with and understand.
The ancient pantheistic gods existed in all things, which gave everything a sense of importance and meaning. That made the world more realistic and palpable inside a religious framework. Instead of a Heaven and Hell which were untouchable except in death, the divine material and objects were right there in front of people to touch.
The ancient gods were active in peoples' lives, saving Paris, blessing Achilles, pushing Aeneas, and cursing Aegisthus, and, at least in literature, did people doubt the presence of their gods. The gods were involved in each of the elements and with the night and day and with everything. God is not thought of like that. In fact, the deists and various other groups of Christians think that God has deserted us. We don't see signs anymore. We don't witness miracles that can't be proven to be fake beyond all doubt. God is not an active force. He is far away, and that disillusions many people, including me. Having no feeling or touch or sight or any experience of God, how can you expect me to believe he is there? What makes God any different from any other kooky theory out there? Having some preacher in the west campus of UT tell me that God exists just isn't enough. Don't push me into changing my mind on that. I don't espouse an opinion unless I have good reason to feel that way, so why should God be the one thing that changes who I am?
I don't think God would want me to not think about what's really happening in the universe. But we're not supposed to question him. I don't get the same feeling of blind faith when I read of the ancient gods, although I could be mistaken about that (I admit it). It seems to me as if the people in Greek and Roman literature were very close to their gods, if only if they were popular and heroic.
No, I don't really believe Hephaestus forged armor and a shield for Achilles or anything like that, but I believe that literature is an indirect expression of the feelings toward religion at the time it is written, just as my essay will be. Poems, essays, books, or whatever do an effective job of providing clues as to the personality of the author and of the people in one's time. What I feel is that the Greeks and Romans were close enough to their gods that they'd dare showing that in their literature. They wouldn't use literature to plead for the gods to pay attention to their woes and pleasures.
So can you tell yet that I really didn't know how to get to all the issues involved, and how to structure it all into a coherent manner? I would be stifled if I was able to do that. It would make me a bit depressed if I could sum up my views on religion inside of one Soapbox and after only living nineteen years of my life. It would be an insult to religion.
I've probably been blatantly ignorant in not discussing some aspects of the two types of religion, in the readers' eyes, and I'm sure I've not explained things well enough, or included everything I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it. I'm sure some people will think this is a very shallow essay and I have not explored religion at all. I really don't know what to say to that. I've done much more than I feel other people have, and I admit that I have a long way to go, but to expect me to do a thorough analysis on something as ubiquitous, powerful, and interweaving into my soul is ridiculous. Be generous with me, at least for this one essay. It's been a very difficult essay to write, knowing that it wouldn't be the best, most interesting, most well-thought out, or most thorough. What's important is that these things and many more ideas are moving around in my head, locking into place and becoming easier to put into words.
If I rewrite or add to any Soapbox, it will be this one. It is just too important. Not because of its definitiveness, but because I've noticed in rereading it that it will serve as an excellent hypothesis to use for testing as I get older, stronger, and more experienced with the ways of the world. It is a thesis only, short and brief, very general, leaving plenty open for thoughts in the mind. The whole work, I assure you, is a grand piece of work, which I expect will never be even near completion, even when I am old and about to die, as mortals do.
So witness the power that questioning religion has on a person -- he doesn't know where to start, or where to end, and the best thing he can do is describe how the whole affair affects him. Religion to each of us begins with ourselves, with our self-exploration. And to me, this isn't a surprise.
So of course I'm going to believe a religion which is more hospitable and more realistic to me personally -- Hell (it's ironic that I use this, by the way), if a religion doesn't incorporate the world I live in beyond the miracles of Cuthbert and Saint Columba, I just can't accept it. It's a fake to me then. I need something that affects me, not everyone else except me, and I need something I can experience without sheer faith. I need something warm that urges me on, that inspires me, that loves me, that cares for my well-being, that makes me happy and safe, that makes my life worth living, that will always be there for me. Love fits this description perfectly, certainly, but most of all, it will be myself who can provide what I need for me. Not in an arrogant or possibly blasphemous sense, but in the context of this paragraph, I am currently my own god.
Never desert yourself or your own, or you will cease to be.
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