Somewhere in the first millennium, God seems to have lost his sense of humor. Most of what we call Christian theology consists of the teachings of Saint Paul filtered through the lens of the North African Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the most humorless and fun-free ex-hedonists to ever take up a pen. Allah was never going to be a barrel of laughs, considering the violent struggle Mohammed was forced to undertake in establishing Islam. And the Jewish Yahweh was too much of a desert phenomenon to leave much room for trivialities like humor in the day-to-day struggle for his people’s survival.
Zeus with his Trumpian approach to sex and female sensibilities; Hera with her Clintonian outrage; Dionysus lolling around in a chronic drunken stupor; Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena lining up for a beauty pageant to be judged by the airhead Paris; Neptune and Athena bribing the citizens of Athens to secure their devotion; Narcissus drowning in his own beauty; and Ares the God of War bedding down Aphrodite the Goddess of Love to produce Eros (love), Harmonia (peace), Adrestia (revenge), Phobos (fear), and Deimos (terror). Not exactly the Brady Bunch.
All of which seems odd when you consider how thoroughly the ancient Greeks infiltrated and influenced every other facet of our western cultural heritage. Because the Greek gods were nothing if not fun. And irrational. And capricious. And sometimes downright nasty. But at least they vaguely resembled the complete and complex human beings who prayed to them.
In 1974, I was invited to an ashram of the Guru Maharaj Ji, a wealthy boy wonder of the Eastern mystic trade then so fashionable in American college circles. Dozens of acolytes frolicking, playing, and giggling their unfettered joy as they explained away the guru’s five residences, two private jets, and overflowing bank accounts. It was then I realized that there is no more excruciating torture than the sight of religious people having fun. And yet the ancient Greeks seem to have hoisted their Gods on their own petards at the same time that they venerated them. Not a hint of pretension about it.
And this should come as no surprise, because Greece is a Mediterranean paradise lying on a major earthquake zone with weather that only comes in two flavors—perfect and dreadful—and a people who have literally been at each others’ throats for the last two thousand years. But if chaos is the natural order of things, at least the Greeks—and their Gods—have embraced it. No wonder the dour, desert-bred Christians were so determined to destroy every Greek pagan statue they could lay their hands on. No wonder the straight-laced modern Germans have despaired of regularizing Greek politics and finance. These people are having far too much unlicensed and uninhibited fun for their own good.
Let’s just hope it stays that way.