Monday, December 10, 2007
In Xenophanes’ poem fragment no. 7.3 (p.115), he lamented that “Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all deeds/Which among men are a reproach and a disgrace:/Thieving, adultery, and deceiving one another.” He felt that the deities’ gross description by Homer and Hesiod made them unworthy of worship. He criticized the depiction of gods as having characteristics that humans themselves condescend to see in their fellow humans. He did not approve of the dishonorable and blameworthy portrayal of the Greek gods as thieves, adulterers and cheaters. For Xenophanes, Homer was ridiculous for portraying Zeus, for instance, as a womanizing god who would not think twice about raping an innocent girl if his libido got the better of him and of assuming all forms of trickery in order to conceal the crime. Also, the chief god’s jealous wife, Hera, was portrayed as a capricious nagger who unjustly punished the raped girls even if her husband perpetuated the violation against them. The famous Trojan War was described as having been caused by the covetousness and vainglory of three goddesses who, while the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans raged on, had the gall to take sides. Meanwhile, Hesiod showed the gods to be selfish power-trippers who would not regret devouring their own children if only to keep their throne at the mercy of being usurped by their own family. This traditional Greek polytheism was, for Xenophanes, scandalous, since the gods or, more appropriately, God is spotless ethically speaking. It is senseless to dignify gods who do not approximate the respect of humans, precisely the kinds of Gods produced by the abovementioned poets for the ancient Greeks. It is clear from this violent take of Xenophanes against such immoral gods that their existence was unacceptable.
I should like my belief of God to be in consonance with the impersonal god that Xenophanes eventually developed from his criticism of the poet-postulated corrupt Greek gods. I want to think of God as someone who deserves my worship because He is not given to the quirkiness and abuses commonly associated with flawed humans. God for Xenophanes is perfect, which is what humans must aspire to, despite their imperfect selves. I believe the same: we need an ideal being to pattern ourselves from so that even if we do not become perfect in the end (as may most probably be the case), at most we tried. It does not help that the God we will attempt to emulate is not so different from all of us, because by then the attempt to be less imperfect is an exercise in futility. If I take Zeus or Hera for a model, I may end up acquiring unfavorable traits like deceptiveness, corruption, and decadence. On the other hand, having an inherently ethical God can get me closer to the standards of morality. God, being immortal, cannot show the similar emotions and behavior visible in humans, or He will most probably not be taken seriously. God’s constancy and faultlessness in decisions should credit Him the mystery that inspires reverence among us humans. With a god that is not blameworthy, capricious and unjust, I will not think less of my Creator. On the contrary, I will hold God in great awe because my imperfect self pales compared to His perfection. With a model for perfection in the guise of God, I can elevate myself from a mere human being to a godly person that God expects me to fulfill during my lifetime on earth.