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.