Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, June 24, 2013

All hail Zeus

Richard Dawkins writes, "I have found an amusing strategy when asked whether I am an atheist is to point out that the questioner is also an atheist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon-Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  I just go one god further."

I suspect he chose that particular list because it is composed of gods that no one currently believes in.  Even the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a modern creation, isn't (I hope) worshiped anywhere as an actual god.  Most people consider him more of a statement of rebellion, I would say.

I bring all this up because it appears that Dawkins may have to revise his strategy some.  Because a piece on NPR recently describes a movement gaining strength in Greece...

... to reinstitute worship of the Greek pantheon.

Yup, that's who I'm talking about -- Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, and the rest.  And by "the rest," I'm talking about a crapload of gods.  The ancient Greeks had gods for just about everything.  There was Adephagia, the god of gluttony.  There was Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft.  There was Ceto, the goddess of sea monsters.  There was Mnemosyne, who was the goddess of memory who evidently doubled as the deity of unpronounceable letter combinations.  There was Lorna, the goddess in charge of making scrambled eggs for breakfast on Mount Olympus.

Okay, I made the last one up.

But don't think that I would have fooled Tryphon Olympios for a second.  Olympios, whose actual last name is Kostopoulos, is pretty serious about the whole Greek-god thing.  He is the founder of a movement called Ellinon Epistrofi (Return of the Hellenes), which has as its goal the abandonment of what he calls "Helleno-Christianity."  The Greek Orthodox Church, Olympios claims, has gained a stranglehold on Greek culture, and to be truly Greek you need to return to your roots.

Which, apparently, includes being rebaptized on Mount Olympus with an ancient-Greek-sounding name, and giving up Christianity for worshiping Zeus et al.

Now, to be fair, not all of the people who belong to Return of the Hellenes take it that literally.  Marina Tontis, a computer programmer who founded a philosophical group to discuss the new old religion, said in the NPR piece, "The difference between philosophy and religion is that philosophy is open to all ideas, and religion is based on dogma.  We support the investigation of our cultural background to find messages, good messages, to bring to today's world."

Which is pretty open-minded, I guess.

Still, there are people who are taking this pretty seriously.  The site Dodecatheon, which promotes a return to "the religion of the Twelve Gods," seems to consider the Greek pantheon to be real entities, a possibility that I'm not sure humans should be all that happy about.  For one thing, I've read a good bit of Greek mythology, and mostly what the gods seemed to do was either to have sex with mortals or else to smite them, or occasionally to have sex with them and then smite them.  So however much fun this must have been for the gods, their interaction with humanity didn't seem to work out in favor of humanity all that often.

So I'm not really in favor of the whole let's-worship-Zeus movement.  Despite my approval of these folks being proud of their heritage, the whole thing strikes me as a little... silly.  It's all well and good to revere an ideal, in the way that Americans tend to revere the concept of liberty; but when you start sacrificing sheep to Matton, the god of bread dough, you've gone too far.

And, for the record, I did not make that one up.

So, anyway, I'm not going to go to Mount Olympus and change my name to Hermes Apollyon any time soon.  Actually, if I was going to choose a pagan mythology, I'd go with the Norse gods over the Greek ones any day.  I was always particularly fond of Loki, who was a trickster god who was (to be honest) kind of a sonofabitch, but usually good for a laugh.  And you can't possibly find a cooler god than Odin, who had only one eye because he traded his other eye for wisdom, and who rode on an eight-legged horse with a raven on his shoulder.

Now that is badass.

Anyhow, that's the latest from the wacky side of religion.  I have to say that, as religions go, this one is pretty benign.  For one thing, Tryphon Olympios and his neo-Hellenist pals haven't said anything about going abroad to bring their Good News About Zeus to the unbelievers, which I think is a good move, and one that the Jehovah's Witnesses should take to heart.


  1. Apparently you (and Dawkins) need to spend a little time around the neopagan community. Revival of the "old gods" is nothing new. While a lot of pagans are rather...touchy, feely, new-agey, silliness (imo).
    But there are serious "Reconstructionists" who try to go back to the old ways of worshiping gods of various pantheons in as "authentic" a manner as possible. These Reconstructionists consider research an important element of their religion, so as to be as true as possible (given some of today's laws) to the original practice.
    There are Norse Reconstructionists (many call themselves Asatruar - true to the Aesir, the main Norse pantheon), Greek Reconstructionists (Hellenists), Egyptian Reconstructionists (Kemeticists), etc. for just about any pantheon you can think of.
    Here's a Wikipedia article on Polytheistic Reconstructionism, it's brief, but basically correct:

    1. To me, this seems like more a hobby than a religion. There's no particular reason to believe the details of ancient religious rituals matter unless you were brought up doing things in that particular way. Of course, people deeply believe all sorts of things that there's no particular reason to think are true, but there would generally be a motivation for it, which I don't see here.