“As the generations pass they grow worse. A time will come when they have grown so wicked that they will worship power; might will be right to them and reverence for the good will cease to be. At last, when no man is angry any more at wrongdoing or feels shame in the presence of the miserable, Zeus will destroy them too. And yet even then something might be done, if only the common people would rise and put down rulers that oppress them.”
I first read that passage when I was 10. Somehow, I ended up with a copy of a scholarly book by Edith Hamilton simply titled Mythology. I think someone gave it to me because of how much I had always loved the original Clash of the Titans movie. I am so enamored with the Greek pantheon that when I had twins, I gave them both middle names out of the ancient Greek religion. As I got older I wondered why we didn’t still worship those humanly flawed deities anymore. Personally, they seemed more welcoming than the Christian (capital G) God that I grew up with. Which lead me to my choosing to be Pagan instead of Christian.
But I lost the book years ago. Fortuitously, my son found a copy in his high school’s discard pile and picked it up. When he showed it to me, and found out how important it was to me when I was a child, he let me keep it.
Yesterday I finished reading it again. Now with the eyes and mind of an adult, the words stuck me in a much more powerful way. The passage above struck me most of all.
Reading that might make you think that government is the problem. It clearly states “rulers” as the oppressor. But does government really rule your life?
Think before you answer.
No. Government does not rule. Government, even oppressive governments, exist because the people allow them to, certainly. But they, as always, simply enforce oppression that was already part of the social standard.
Pontius Pilate did everything he could to keep the people from choosing to crucify Jesus. Yet it was the people who chose to murder Jesus for his thoughts, not government. His government actually tried to keep the people from it.
The government of India doesn’t allow gang-rape, the people who decide it’s not a problem do.
Women in the Middle East are not oppressed because the government keeps them that way. The government keeps them that way because the people insist upon it.
Homosexuals are not being allowed to marry, not because the government says otherwise, but because the people tell the government to say otherwise.
A tyrant cannot exist unless the people allow it.
So no, government is not our ruler. We are.
And yet, we allow so many other things to rule us instead of ruling ourselves. We choose to ignore strife and suffering; often saying that those who are suffering have somehow brought it on themselves in order to justify not helping them.
We blame the rape victim for what she was wearing, not the aggressor for attacking her.
We call the poor and unfortunate lazy in order to justify not helping them.
We are the ones who choose not to allow compassion to guide us; but instead allow selfishness to be our ruler.
So there is our ruler. Self Interest.
Instead of choosing to follow the message of unselfish compassion taught by so many of our prophets, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, etc, we choose to hear the message of divine aggression…which, it should be noted, is a much smaller message than the one about love and compassion.
We choose not to see the prosperity, compassion, and joyous love which can bless individuals who wish to bond as one.
We choose not to allow individuals to find their own version of happiness; but instead try to dictate to them what their own idea of happiness should be.
Of course, we then twist the idea of compassion to fit our own needs, and blind ourselves to the oppression that we are causing.
I feel I need to clarify that I am actually a very religious and very spiritual person. I actually enjoy seeing, and being a part of, people worshiping. Honestly, I really enjoyed going to church. But I left the Christian church that I was raised in because I was offered charity.
Every week I went to church in the same dress. Why? Because the dress was more comfortable than the others I owned. It fit better and I felt good wearing it.
But one afternoon, after Sunday service, I was called by the Pastor into his office. Waiting for us were our Youth Minister, the Choir Director, and the lady who keeps the record of all charity given.
They were polite when they asked if my family needed any sort of help. I asked why and they said it was because of my dress. They wanted me to have other clothes to wear to church so that I wasn’t always wearing the same dress every week.
I was 13 and didn’t understand why it mattered. Yes, my family is poor, but we get by. I have other dresses, but I like the one I’m wearing.
They pressed the issue.
I can’t remember the exact words after all these years, but the message was very clear. Ours was the second largest (in structural size) church in the area. A grand, multi-story, red brick building with stark white accents and a huge steeple; fronted by a historical antique brick road. By wearing the same dress every week I was bringing down their image.
So I asked them: Why does God care how I am dressed?
It was at this point when I began to gradually feel more and more unwelcome at church.
My mother moved us back down to West Palm Beach shortly after this. So I stopped going to church. Instead I sank further and further into the ancient religions that had always been considered mythology.
However, my cousin, who is only six months older than me, continued to go. This was the church I mentioned here. The one who wanted to give me an award for selfless compassion. It seemed hypocritical that, now that I better fit their image of themselves, I was being welcomed warmly as if they had never shamed or ostracized me during the intervening years.
Jesus, the Savior I was raised to understand stood for compassion, caring, understanding, was not the ruler of that church. So who was their ruler?
That is what we should each ask ourselves. Who is our ruler?
Do we follow a path of enlightened compassion? Or a path of divine tyranny? Do we adhere to the idea that the poor are poor because they are lazy instead of unfortunate? Do we continue to exclaim that a short skirt caused a rape instead of the attacker’s own desire to rape?
Do we continue to try to dictate who and how others can love instead of rejoicing that there is even more love in our world?
I left Christianity for Ancient Greece decades ago.
My gods are sometimes petty, sometimes selfish, and quite flawed….just like me.
However, in Ancient Greece, if a person came to your house you were required, by the gods, to give them hospitality. It was required, above all else, to offer what you had to those less fortunate than you. To enforce this, there are quite a few myths involving individuals who chose not to offer hospitality to someone less fortunate, only to later discover (too late) that the unfortunate person was actually a god in disguise.
I actually enjoy this idea.
I enjoy it even more so after hitchhiking through the so-called Bible-belt. It was there that I was most likely to encounter a majority of people who ask, or tried to force, sexual favors from me in return for a ride or a sandwich. Christianity can be warped to make this an allowable payment (an eye for an eye)….Zeus, however, would have quickly shoved a thunderbolt up their asses.
So why then did we leave behind these gods who wanted us to be the best people we could be for gods who give lip service to the poor and unfortunate, and bow before rulers such as Self Interest, Oppression, Profit, and Divine Tyranny?