Category Archives: The Greeks

Greek Religion (2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Greek religion was anthropomorphic – the gods were made in the form of man himself. The gods, as their statues show, were idealized human beings, having far more power than, but with all the character flaws of, their worshippers.

The chief difference was that whereas man is doomed to die, the gods are “the deathless ones,” “the born-for-always ones,” and “those without cares.” The presence of such beings inspired in men a sense of fear and unworthiness – close to but perhaps not exactly guilt. Thus, the relationship between the gods and men thus could only be one of men giving to the gods in order to placate them and to hopefully receive blessings back from them.

In the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic eras of Greek history, religion was wrapped up with one’s civic duty to the city. Cities were thought to have been founded by gods, and to worship the gods was to show one’s care for the welfare of one’s city.

Worship consisted of formal story-telling with certain associated rituals, such as the pouring out of libations or the burning of sacrifices to the gods or reverencing statues of the gods or observing certain burial rites.

These rituals were aimed at the formation of public moral character, the ethos of the individual Greek person in terms of his public duties to his city. For the Greeks of Homer’s time forward, the polis (city) was the sum total and center of life.

All of life was political because all of it was lived in the polis. Sine the polis was divinely founded, in a sense, then, Greek religion was fundamentally political.

A quite important question that gets passed forward into Christian wranglings with the Greek heritage is thus: What is the proper relationship of religion and politics? To this question we cannot seek an answer from the Greeks, but we must continue to reflect on the Greeks nevertheless.

Greek Religion (1)

Unlike many religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism, Greek religion had no developed theology such as we would recognize. Nor was there an institutionalized worship of the gods such as we would recognize. The Greeks did not go to temples and worship the gods like we go to church to worship God. There were priests, but these were not like the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament. The priests oversaw the operations of the temples, but the Greeks did not need to go to the temples to worship the gods.

Moreover, there was no special revelation such as the Bible, the Koran, or the Book of Mormon. The works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were in a limited sense “holy books.” All Greeks revered them, and Homer was called “the teacher of all the Greeks.” But unlike the Bible, Homer’s books contain no codified religious dogmas and no detailed religious law codes.

Further, unlike the Bible’s portrayal of God, the Greeks came increasingly to rezlie that the character of the gods was not worthy of imitation by man. The moral code of Homer’s works is not spelled out systematically like in the Bible, but would have been “absorbed” by those who heard him performed (or later read him). How should you think and live? Why, like the great heroes and heroines in Homer, of course! This meant seeking arete, or “excellence,” and part of excellence was showing proper reverence for the gods – the most excellent beings of all.

Rather than being a covenantal bond as it is in Christianity, Greek worship of the gods was what some have characterized as a do ut des affair. The Latin phrase means, “I give in order that you may give [to me].”

(Continued in Part 2)