No one worships Zeus anymore. There was a time when he was the biggest bad-ass of them all, but now he’s just a character in a mythology book. How does that happen? How does a god go extinct? I mean, he’s a GOD. Dinosaurs and dodos go extinct, they are flesh-and-blood. But Zeus? He was immortal. Note the oxymoron: “was” immortal. If you are immortal you can’t be a “was.” But Zeus is a big-time “was.” Historically we know it was the emergence of monotheism in the person of Yahweh/Jehovah aka The God of Abraham that did in the Greek deities. Jesus Christ and the early Greek-speaking Xians held the nail, and Constantine the Great wielded the hammer that finally finished them off. And they are dead, dead as a doornail.
So where did Zeus and Athena and the like go? I suppose contemporary religion-istas would tell me they never existed in the first place, that there is only The One True God. But for the many thousands, perhaps millions, who were devotees of the Olympian pantheon, Zeus was very real, as were Hera and Artemis and the rest. I’m going to suppose that once a certain critical mass of adherents is reached, a belief, no matter how ridiculous, becomes a truth. It takes form and becomes real. Once the number of worshipers drops below that critical number, the gods disappear. A consequence of that supposition is that the gods should re-appear if the people choose to follow them again!
In our time, our gods, other than those in the primary religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.), are the fruits of capitalism. Automobiles, smart phones, and affordable hot tubs are our new deities. We worship a concealed carry permit, a single-family dwelling, and fifteen minutes of fame. A piece of the pie is the raison d’être of our existence here in the hustling, bustling US of A. It’s no wonder the old gods are suffering! They can’t compete with ATVs, streaming porn, or Amazon Prime.
But what if people decided to worship Zeus again–would he be real? I have to think so. And what’s the critical mass needed? Would half a million be enough? In fact, if half a million people fervently believe something, doesn’t that make it true? At least it’s true for them, that gang of 500,000 folks. I suppose if you had 500 fanatics that might work, too, as enthusiasm might be more important than roster size. Remember the Moonies? The so-called Unification Church and Sun Myung Moon? How many of them are around? There has to be at least a million, and you have to figure they have pretty strong beliefs to go along with all that stuff, particularly since most regular folks think Moonies are nuts. Remember the Rajneeshees? The so-called Bhagwan and his followers? There were hardly any of them, a few thousand if I remember, but they caused quite a stir up in Oregon and we got a real-live bio-terror attack out of them. They poisoned dozens of locals with Salmonella! You have to be a true believer to pull off that shit, that’s like these ISIS assholes, willing to do whatever to whomever to advance the cause.
That guy, the former Bhagwan, re-named himself “Osho” and went back to India and preached his thing and re-habbed his tarnished image and died surrounded by worshipful followers. Go figure! You can be a dickhead and yet people will still see you as their god. After all Zeus was no prize, exhibiting the worst of human traits, regularly inflicting violence on his subjects over petty grievances and jealousies. But I’m not interested so much in the quality of these god-like figures, just what it takes for them to be real. I know that both those guys, Moon and Osho, were real men but they became like gods because enough people believed them to be special.
And that’s what’s got me thinking. How many believers does it take? And, if that many people truly believe, does that make it true? I hate to say it, but I think so. Scary, this thought. The implications are indeed terrifying. Think about the Holocaust. There are persistent un-believers out there who truly do not think millions of Jews and others were slaughtered by the Nazis. There are Americans among this bunch, sad to say, people who don’t believe the stories brought home by their own fellow citizens, soldiers who served in Europe in WWII and liberated the death camps. In some countries denial of the Holocaust is a crime. On a sillier note, there are people who believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked.
It’s easy to dismiss these people as simply mean, deranged, or stupid. But their beliefs are real to them, and our reality is the sum of what we believe in. Our current president believes certain things to be true, like three million Californians voted illegally, and it matters not to his followers whether there is evidence for that claim. They believe it too, so it’s real. “Fake” news isn’t fake at all. It’s just an expression of one’s beliefs. Over a billion people believe Jesus of Nazareth is a divine being who rose from the dead. It matters not to them if science supports or disputes that, their faith is sufficient. The Irish Christian Brothers who taught me in high school rendered unto science what was science and rendered unto the Lord what was the Lord’s. They didn’t see a conflict, their faith was even stronger than their love of scholarship.
I’m not sure how I dug myself into this solipsistic rat-hole. If anything can be true, then everything is true, and nothing is false. In science, repeatability is the real nut. Recreate the initial conditions and you should get the same results I got. If it’s not repeatable it’s not science. But belief trumps science, and if the belief is fervent enough it’s as real as a repeatable result. Perhaps I’m just too good at being open-minded, too facile at seeing other points-of-view, too tolerant of differences that I can’t help but see them all as equally absurd. I’ve un-moored from my philosophical anchors and now I’m just splashing about, looking for the life ring. Some of the realities out there are a scary; others inconsequential. But they’re out there. And they’ve got that critical mass, either in number of adherents or sufficient passion or both.
By Jove, we have to come back to Zeus! He’s out there waiting to be revived. He’s just as real as you or me, in fact he’s more real. Add up all the folks we know, have known, or will know, and it won’t come close to all the Zeus-ians who ever lived. So don’t be surprised if you get a thunderbolt tossed your way one of these days.