Friday, April 6, 2012

Religion without God?

 Oracle at Delphi

A few days ago, I posted about how the oracles worked in ancient Greece. It was this fascinating place where people came to receive answers from an old peasant woman in a trance. She spoke in words no one could understand and then the priests would "translate" her words and put them into hexameter. 

What's so interesting about not only the oracles but also the way these people lived is that, from what I can tell, they had a religion but no God. Solon mentioned God, capital G, in reference to how we obtain happiness and inferred that God has a will but there's not much more about God in Herodotus' history than that. Yet, there are a lot of things that the people do in these stories that we would consider religious. 

They often consult the oracles, asking what they should do in certain circumstances. This is much like prayer, going to a source "higher" than yourself, something supernatural, to try to get answers to your questions. One interesting story about the oracles is when Croesus wants to know whether or not he should go to war with Greece. He sends messengers to all the oracles to ask them what he is doing a certain day at a certain time, to see which oracle really speaks the truth. The Delphic oracle gets it right, so Croesus sends treasures upon treasures to the oracles and then asks the war question. A little bit like bribing to me. 

Another religious rite Herotodus talks about is "purification." Several times characters have to purify something. On one occasion, a murderer visits one of the kings so the king must purify him in order to have him enter his house. Another time, one of the kings purifies an island by digging up all the dead bodies around the temple and removing them to another part of the island.

And that's another part of their "religion"--a temple. The oracles tell them what to do but there is always a temple as well. The purpose of the temple isn't very clear in this book so far but there seem to be several and they are considered sacred. 

I just keep wondering: Where does God come into all of this? Why are they purifying things? Why are they building temples? Why are they patronizing the oracles? What is the purpose of all of this? Why do people have religious rites and ceremonies when it doesn't seem to have a higher purpose?

As for these ancient Greeks and Persians, I don't know the answers. I'll just keep looking.


Sarah Ratliff said...

Yes, Why have the Greek religious and war stories lived so long?

Audrey said...

I really don't know except that they are embedded into some of the oldest Western writings that we have which means that they have been read by every successive generation. They've been considered foundational so they live on.