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Today in the United States of America, the vast majority of the world happens to be a Christian. The Pew Forum shows that 22 percent of the country are non-religious affiliated and that approximately 70 percent of the people living here are Christians. With this religious belief contaminating the country like a virus, the people of America should learn where a lot of the origins for their religious cultural beliefs really came from. They did not come from the famous super hero by the name of Jesus, but a great deal of these ideas and models derived from the ancient Greeks.
Thanks to the development of the human brain, we have managed to thrive in a violent world where we are now the most dominant of all species. Evolution changed us to out think the predator instead of always having to out power them. In the ancient world, we used our imaginations to make weapons, armor, hunting tactics, shelters, and other things fundamental to help us survive. As time went by, our thinking brain improved these ideas to facilitate our daily lives. However, the downside to having a thinking brain with an imagination that was crucial for our survival, is that it sometimes gets the best of us. As human beings, we have the tendency to become spiritual creatures. Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson referred to this in an interview with Richard Dawkins at the planetarium. He said that he observed that when the majority of people are asked to identify the subject they struggle with in school, a very common answer is math. This leads him to believe that maybe the human species did not evolve to be rational and logical creatures, but rather to be spiritual, creative, and very fond of the imagination. This is a very demonstrable assumption with the realization that there are many people who believe in visiting aliens, loch ness monsters, big foot, ghosts, zombies, vampires, mediums, and other irrational nonsenses. Hollywood has managed to capitalize on these beliefs by making many unrealistic movies that stimulate the human imagination, and thus help to bring in the money. But when it comes to capturing the human imagination, perhaps nobody did it like the ancient Greeks.
The ancient Greeks were a sophisticated civilization with a knack for storytelling. In The God Gene, there is a quote by Frank Lloyd Wright that says “I believe in God, only I spell it nature”. This seems to describe the Greeks foundation for their mythology. It seems like most of their stories were a way to describe nature. “But even these legends of the gods contain a germ of empirical reality, for they are connected with cosmic phenomena, such as the sky, the stars, earth, and sea…”. They personified aspects of nature by giving them a human figure and magical powers that explained certain events and called that “God”. After passing the stories down for generations, it is only natural that the people would then start to feel some kind of connection with them. Especially when they are stories about hero’s and idols in a civilization that was constantly at war. That connection can give people a sublime feeling and become a component of self-transcendence. Therefore, making them believe that these gods really did exist.
Zeus was the god of the skies, Poseidon the god of the seas, Hades the god of the dead, Hephaestus the god of fire, and Demeter the god of agriculture and fertility. These were some of the gods in Greek mythology that were attributed to natural causes of the world. It was the best attempt that they had at making sense of their world since they did not have the sophisticated technology that exist currently in modern times. However, they did not just have gods to explain the cosmetic phenomena. They also had gods to explain basic human psychology or emotions. Examples are Eros who was the god of love and Ares who was the god of violence. These were a very important part of the Greeks culture as well as their education.
In the ancient Greek mythologies, the poets who wrote them seem to be concerned with the origin of evil that is all around the world. Prometheus was a good example. He was known as the helper of man because of all the deeds that he did for the human race. One of these deeds was when he gave fire to the humans by stealing it from Zeus, because Zeus was withholding it from humanity. As a result, Zeus’s anger was uplifted and he then had Prometheus and man punished. Man was punished by having the first woman, Pandora, introduced. When she was introduced she came with the gift of death, disease, and despair. Prometheus on the other hand was punished by being hung off a cliff for around 30,000 years until Heracles came and saved him. According to this myth, man and Prometheus share the same guilt and that is the origin of evil.
Heracles was an important figure of the Greeks, he represented courage and strength. In the myth, Heracles is punished by Hera for being the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Heracles kills his family and goes through twelve gruesome tasks in order to ease his guilt. After accomplishing his tasks, he returns home where he is burned alive. The ways in which he was burned vary depending on the which version of the myth is being told. But essentially, the ending is still the same. When he is burned, his mortal self descends to Hades while his god self ascends to Mount Olympus where he is united with his father Zeus. This ending, of a hero descending and ascending is common in myths even to this day.
Myths, being as powerful as they were in ancient Greece, also had an influence in philosophy. Perhaps one of the greatest philosophers of all time was Socrates, and even as great as he was, it is possible that he was still influenced by these myths. Rene Descartes, known as the father of western philosophy as well, had made the claim that no matter how great Socrates and Plato were “…they were still constrained by the consciousness of their time periods” . But even so, Socrates had managed to put a new perspective into the minds of people. When it came to the soul, he had explained it by dividing reality into two realms. The first realm was eternal and the second was physical. The physical realm is the material world where the body lives and dies, the eternal realm is where the soul is. He claimed that the soul searches for truth and wisdom and that is the only way the soul can achieve eternal happiness. Now while this may not seem like a typical myth, it actually is by definition. A myth is a narrative that is used to explain a phenomenon, and Socrates view of the soul does indeed tells a narrative about life and the afterlife.
All these myths of the ancient Greeks are deeply rooted into the modern world today. And better yet, seventy percent of America live by these myths and do not even know it. As mentioned earlier, the Greek gods had powers for every aspect of the natural world, emotions, and pretty much all of reality. We can see this resemblance in the god of the Christians today. It seems like what happened was that the Christian religion took all of these Greek gods and merged them into one super god. That can obviously lead to a few contradictions, but for some reason seventy percent of Americans have not been able to figure that out yet.
We also see a lot of the Greek heroes influencing our culture. Hercules was the one of the first stories ever told about a powerful man with super human strength. A few hundred years later we get thousands of these in the forms of folk tales, super heroes, and cartoons. And most importantly, we see a similarity between Heracles and the famous Jesus Christ. When Heracles dies, his mortal soul descends to Tartarus and his divine soul goes to Olympus where he is with his father Zeus. Jesus has a similar journey where he goes to hell and after a day and a half ascends to heaven to be with his father. The whole concept of hell also comes from the Greeks. It is even mentioned in the bible in 2 Peter 2:4.
Satan and Prometheus seem to be almost the same character. In modern day mythology, Satan is said to have been cast out from Heaven according to the book of Enoch in the Catholic bible. Prometheus was also cast out of Olympus and sentenced to hang from a cliff for tricking Zeus into giving fire to humans. The very obvious similarity however is in Genesis when the serpent, said to be Satan later in Revelations according to modern Christians, is described as being crafty. Prometheus is also described as being crafty and nimble witted. Even though in Greek mythology Prometheus was the one who created man (using the exact same method the bible god used), he was also the one that gave man knowledge and wisdom. This is a replica of Satan giving knowledge to humans in the Garden of Eden because god wanted to keep that from them. At the end of both stories, both Prometheus and Satan were punished for their actions and both shared guilt with the human species. (Gods and heroes, 31).
The Christian idea of human souls wanting to be together with god in heaven comes from the roots of Socrates. Plato added to Socrates philosophy and then Saint Augustine, a Christian philosopher, took these ideas of Socrates and Plato and merged them into Christianity. Augustine took the eternal realm and the physical realm of Socrates and turned into a transcendent god. Then the truth and wisdom that the eternal soul seeks in the eternal realm was transformed into the souls seeking god. In Socrates view of the soul, once the soul has truth and wisdom, that is when it has achieved eternal happiness. This concept Christianity just took it and turned that eternal happiness into a place called heaven. This is where Christianity’s view of the afterlife came from.
The Greeks have a huge amount of influence in our daily lives. Maybe not directly, but through religion. Pew research shows America to be seventy percent Christians, that is the vast majority. It seems like in every street corner there is a church planted that wants to spread their own version of the myths. They completely took over. The salvation army is being ran by a Christian organization, so are the good news club, and it has even made its way into the government and politics. It also managed to make its way into the pledge of allegiance and it is engraved into our dollar bills. So basically there is a great chain that is occurring. Greeks influence Christianity and Christianity influences the modern daily lives of millions of people, sometimes unconsciously.
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