December 19, 2007
PAGANS AND CHRISTIANS
Caption: Zeus, courtesy of wikipedia.
El Cabrero is musing this week about the history of early Christianity. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.
The religious climate in the Mediterranean world in the first century of this era was a lot different from anything we're used to. Most people these days, for example, believe in one God (sometimes less).
In the Roman empire, atheism was virtually nonexistent and monotheism was a minority viewpoint. Jews, the main monotheists of the time, made up maybe seven percent of the Roman empire--and many of them weren't too happy about being part of it.
Polytheism was the rule and it seemed as natural then as it does weird today. In fact, worshipping one god to the exclusion of all others was considered a kind of impiety. In classical Greek religion, the gods were like a deck of playing cards--one only made sense within a system of relationships with other ones.
There were gods and gods. Some pagans imagined one very remote supreme god, with other major gods and goddesses below that level and a host of lesser ones. Kind of like a divine pyramid. There was a divine division of labor whereby you turned to one or the other god to deal with this or that problem.
There were many views about what happens after death (ranging from nothing to a lot), but the main focus of pagan religion was on meeting temporal needs. Pagan worship consisted mainly of prayers, sacrifices and festivals designed to keep the gods happy or at least placated. They didn't require a whole lot of attention.
Here are some things about pagan religion that seem strange today. First, it didn't really matter what you believed about the gods. There was no pagan Bible or creed. The gods didn't care much what you thought about them as long as you didn't tick them off or neglect their sacrifices.
Second, ethics weren't a big part of pagan religion. It wasn't that pagans were less moral than non-pagans. Rather, questions of ethics were considered important in their own right and were more a part of philosophy or wisdom.
Third, pagan religions were pretty tolerant. Becoming a devotee of, say, Isis, didn't mean you had to neglect Zeus or couldn't be initiated in the Mysteries of Demeter.
Christianity stood out from all the other contenders as being everything paganism was not.
El Cabrero is no pagan, although I do admit to a soft spot for the Olympians. But there is something kind of nice about a pluralistic approach to the universe in an era of all too common fanaticism.
EMOTIONS AND HEALTH. There's a big connection.
SPEAKING OF HEALTH, here's an item on health care as market failure.
HELL HOLES, JUDICIAL AND OTHERWISE. Social scientists at WVU took a close look at WV's legal system and found the claims of the Chamber of Commerce about our "hellhole" status don't hold up. Here's the full report and here's a link to a report by Scott Finn from WV Public Radio. You may have to scroll down.
MEGAN WILLIAMS UPDATE. Here's Gazette coverage for a rally held last night in Charleston.
GIANT RAT UPDATE. They found some in Indonesia five times the size of a city rat.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED