Thursday, March 18, 2010

Father or Rich Neighbor?

“With liberal grace and serene naiveté, the pagans modeled relations with the gods on political and social relations among themselves. It was the Christians who substituted the paternal model, basing relations with God on relations within the family, which is why Christianity, unlike paganism, would be a religion of obedience and love.

If God is a father, there is little to do but pray to him. But if the gods are patrons, one can offer them gifts and receive gifts in return, symbolizing a friendship between unequal partners, each with a life of his own; indeed, there would be no reason for men and gods to enter into relations at all were such relations not in the interest of both parties. If the human partner behaved any more humbly, he would not be acting like a free man. People smiled when women went to temple and told the goddess Isis their troubles. Such intimacy with the gods was plebian. A free man knew how to maintain a proper distance between himself and other men and between himself and the gods. He did not abase himself before his deity. Leave it to the common people to spend all day in the temples waiting on their gods like slaves, behaving like valets and hairdressers before the statues of their deities.”
From “A History of Private Life: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium”, chapter Tranquilizers in the section on Pagan Rome.

Such a temptation to think that everyone is like us, only (in this case) they wore togas and liked fighting Gauls. This is why period pieces in film and literature are so convincing, when they should really be anything but. To interact with such people would probably be a disorienting experience.

These two worldviews, Christian and pagan, would seem virtually irreconcilable, and yet a couple hundred years later they ended up in a rather peculiar forced marriage!

You need a happy family, or an example of one, to formulate a positive image of God. Otherwise Heaven is as frightening as a drunken parent. No problem for the Roman, reconciling earthly disfunction with heavenly perfection - heaven was as dysfunctional as Roman society!

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