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Author Topic: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion  (Read 13341 times)

RandallS

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Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« on: July 05, 2011, 05:02:45 pm »
People today are not the people of Ancient Greece. The world has changed in major ways since the golden age of Athens. While many of our needs are the same as those of people in ancient Greece (or anywhere/anywhen else, for that matter), our culture and world are different in so many ways from that of ancient Greece.

What modern needs to you expect a modern Hellenic religion to meet? Do you think these needs are compatible with a reconstructionist Hellenic religion?
« Last Edit: February 13, 2013, 12:59:20 pm by RandallS »
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Nyktelios

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2011, 08:30:17 pm »
Quote from: RandallS;1549
People today are not the people of Ancient Greece. The world has changed in major ways since the golden age of Athens. While many of our needs are the same as those of people in ancient Greece (or anywhere/anywhen else, for that matter), our culture and world are different in so many ways from that of ancient Greece.

What modern needs to you expect a modern Hellenic religion to meet? Do you think these needs are compatible with a reconstructionist Hellenic religion?

Good question, although i don't know how well I can answer it, as I've become really disillusioned with reconstructionism lately. I agree that it needs to meet the needs of the modern world and not fossilize. Neo-Paganism is relevant to modernity by encompassing prominent political concerns like feminism and environmentalism, although I can't think of how reconstructionist paths make themselves relevant in the modern age to society in general.

For me, personally, though I no longer identify as a "reconstructionist", Greek polytheism offers a way to view the Divine in plural forms encompassing all aspects of life, values and ethical guidelines, simple yet meaningful practice, and a way of feeling connected to the Cosmos.

I agree with what you said about modern culture being very different than Classical Athens. I often struggle with reconstructionism because ancient traditions really do belong to their own time, and though we can learn a lot and be inspired by ancient religious tradition, we can't reconstitute the whole culture. There was no concept of "religion" in the modern sense of being its own unity of codified beliefs and practices, so it bothers me when Recons (or, at least, people who identify as such) go on about *the* "Hellenic religion", as if it were a universal, monolithic entity. There was only the culture, and how people interacted with the gods within that social framework, not a religious discourse in the Christian sense. To make an ancient indigenous tradition a modern religion, cultural and societal norms are often used as religious doctrine, like values such as hospitality and moderation, which is different than how they would have been understood in ancient Greece. Culture and "religion" were so intertwined, that one doesn't really exist without the other, so I think extreme reconstructionism causes more of an alienation from modernity than anything else, as it is so dependent on cultures that are long dead.

Also, because these cultures existed so long ago and were so different than modern society, reconstructionism requires a high level of scholarship that, to be honest, I don't think the average person is capable of. There is certainly a lot of bad information spread in the Hellenic Recon community by various people/organizations. I won't even get started on what I think about the YSEE and some of its American supporters. There is a lot of ignorance of ancient culture in a community that should, in theory, be more informed about these kinds of things.

I also think it's weird how the norm has become to view philosophical teachings as religious doctrine, while simultaneously idealizing Classical civic cult worship. Not only are most philosophical movements rather late additions to Greek civilization (only appearing around the end of the Classical Period and into the Hellenistic Period), they also contradict traditional piety to a large extent. It seems to me like an oxymoron to say one is a traditional Hellenic polytheist and also a follower of the teachings of Plato, for example, but I suppose such people would feel more comfortable in a Christian context in which Platonic philosophy has more influence on traditional religious doctrine. Not that there is anything wrong with Greek philosophy, or even Christianity, I just think people should understand these things in their historical contexts and not think Aristotle's views on the nature of deity had anything to do with traditional polytheism during the Archaic or early Classical periods.

In my opinion, Hellenic polytheistic traditions (yes, I think it should be pluralized) could be relevant to modernity for the reasons I mentioned earlier, but the way alleged Hellenic Recons usually go about it make reconstructionism more about pseudo-intellectualism and elitism over Neo-Pagan religions than anything of substance.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2011, 08:34:45 pm by Nyktelios »

RandallS

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2011, 09:10:42 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;3101
Good question, although i don't know how well I can answer it, as I've become really disillusioned with reconstructionism lately. I agree that it needs to meet the needs of the modern world and not fossilize. Neo-Paganism is relevant to modernity by encompassing prominent political concerns like feminism and environmentalism, although I can't think of how reconstructionist paths make themselves relevant in the modern age to society in general.

For me, personally, though I no longer identify as a "reconstructionist", Greek polytheism offers a way to view the Divine in plural forms encompassing all aspects of life, values and ethical guidelines, simple yet meaningful practice, and a way of feeling connected to the Cosmos.

Quote
I agree with what you said about modern culture being very different than Classical Athens. I often struggle with reconstructionism because ancient traditions really do belong to their own time, and though we can learn a lot and be inspired by ancient religious tradition, we can't reconstitute the whole culture.

And contrary to what some people think, I don't think you can really reconstruct the religion separate from the culture. You certainly can't do the great city-wide festivals today. There's no cultural support and governmental support for them -- both of which are critical to them.  Worse, we (or at least most of us) don't live in Athens or Sparta or one of the other classical era Hellenic city-states. Following the festival schedule of ancient Athens when you live in modern Waco or San Francisco not only doesn't make sense but isn't very realistic. When Athens (for example) started a colony city it soon developed its own festival schedule, patron deities, etc. It was not a carbon copy of Athens. Yet today, many Hellenic Pagans do not want to deviate from the Athenian festival calendar because it is the only complete one available. This seems to be putting the limitations of scholarship over what we know was certainly true about classical Greece: Each city had its own festivals -- they were not carbon copies of Athens.

Quote
I won't even get started on what I think about the YSEE and some of its American supporters.

I can't understand how any American could support groups like YSEE. As for as I can tell they are just a bunch of somewhat racist nationalists using ancient Greek religion as a thin cloak for their political agenda. I will admit that the Greek Orthodox church has far too much influence over the Greek government, but from what I've seen better the Greek Orthodox church than groups like YSEE.

Quote
I also think it's weird how the norm has become to view philosophical teachings as religious doctrine, while simultaneously idealizing Classical civic cult worship.

Agreed. The two don't really mix well.
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Nyktelios

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2011, 10:10:25 pm »
Quote from: RandallS;3123
And contrary to what some people think, I don't think you can really reconstruct the religion separate from the culture. You certainly can't do the great city-wide festivals today. There's no cultural support and governmental support for them -- both of which are critical to them.  Worse, we (or at least most of us) don't live in Athens or Sparta or one of the other classical era Hellenic city-states. Following the festival schedule of ancient Athens when you live in modern Waco or San Francisco not only doesn't make sense but isn't very realistic. When Athens (for example) started a colony city it soon developed its own festival schedule, patron deities, etc. It was not a carbon copy of Athens. Yet today, many Hellenic Pagans do not want to deviate from the Athenian festival calendar because it is the only complete one available. This seems to be putting the limitations of scholarship over what we know was certainly true about classical Greece: Each city had its own festivals -- they were not carbon copies of Athens.


Yup. I do follow the Athenian calendar just because it gives a structure to follow, although I mainly just follow the monthly sacrifice days and a few of the major festivals. Since the Athenian agricultural year is pretty much the reverse of the Canadian one, as plants grow in Attica during the cooler months and things are pretty sterile during the hot summer, celebrating the return of Persephone in the autumn and the Holoa fertility festival in the winter when there is snow on the ground doesn't make too much sense to me. I have to re-interpret things a bit based on my own circumstances, but I know some Hellenic groups refuse to change the Athenian calendar in any way and insist on following it as is (it's the same people who think Plato represents tradition Hellenic polytheism *ahem*).

Ancient Greek worship happened in the context of community -- either publicly in the polis or privately in the family -- so yeah, practicing Hellenic religion the way it was practiced back then is not possible for most people. I agree the religion can't really be reconstructed without its culture, and it really bothers me when cultural things that were not necessarily associated with religion are incorporated into "Hellenismos" as "religious".

Quote from: RandallS;3123
I can't understand how any American could support groups like YSEE. As for as I can tell they are just a bunch of somewhat racist nationalists using ancient Greek religion as a thin cloak for their political agenda. I will admit that the Greek Orthodox church has far too much influence over the Greek government, but from what I've seen better the Greek Orthodox church than groups like YSEE..

 
I agree. Even though they appear to hate the Greek Orthodox Church, I think the YSEE actually has a lot more in common with it than it will admit. Greece is a very conservative, Christian nation, and the YSEE is part of that culture, since it seems they can't really differentiate between ancient Greek culture and modern Greece. The US is also largely a conservative Christian nation, so American Hellenic Pagans who lean more towards the right wing probably relate well to the YSEE's fanaticism. They often treat the YSEE like Hellenic polytheism's version of the Vatican, as if there could be such thing. Whatever stance the YSEE takes on things becomes the official stance in the Church of Hellenismos to these people.

RandallS

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2011, 10:53:47 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;3160
Whatever stance the YSEE takes on things becomes the official stance in the Church of Hellenismos to these people.

I tend to question any stance on Hellenic religion that YSEE supports. Just their support of it makes me want to double and triple fact-check it.
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sailor

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #5 on: July 09, 2011, 09:35:24 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;3101
Good question, although i don't know how well I can answer it, as I've become really disillusioned with reconstructionism lately. I agree that it needs to meet the needs of the modern world and not fossilize. Neo-Paganism is relevant to modernity by encompassing prominent political concerns like feminism and environmentalism, although I can't think of how reconstructionist paths make themselves relevant in the modern age to society in general.

For me, personally, though I no longer identify as a "reconstructionist", Greek polytheism offers a way to view the Divine in plural forms encompassing all aspects of life, values and ethical guidelines, simple yet meaningful practice, and a way of feeling connected to the Cosmos.
(snip of stuff for later responses)

 
Maybe I'm mis-reading you, but you seem to be saying that Neo-paganism is relevent thru it's connection to the modern political scene. I'm not seeing any difference between what I see as an assumption about Neo-pagans and the involvement of conservative Christians in American political life. Both would seem to be following their religious codes / ethics / ideas.

As for Hellenic recon offering a way to see Divinity as plural, what makes Hellenic recon different from modern Hinduism?  Both seem to offer the same view of Divinity as plural, etc.

sailor

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #6 on: July 09, 2011, 09:44:23 pm »
Quote from: RandallS;3123
Quote from: Carnelian;3101


And contrary to what some people think, I don't think you can really reconstruct the religion separate from the culture. You certainly can't do the great city-wide festivals today. There's no cultural support and governmental support for them -- both of which are critical to them.  Worse, we (or at least most of us) don't live in Athens or Sparta or one of the other classical era Hellenic city-states.

 
I don't think you need to have a city-wide festivals. The Greeks had foreign people living in their cities who didn't celebrate the local events. I think it was more of at the time, almost everybody in the city was celebrating the same holiday due to being the same religion.

Take a look at the North End of Boston, MA. It's about a 10 block by 10 block area that sort of shuts down for various Italian Catholic holidays. Or South Boston that does the same for Irish hoildays. Or parts of Ghent / Stockley Gardens section of Norfolk that shut down every Friday night for Jewish Sabbath.

Or look at the SCA's Pennsic.  10,000 people for two weeks for mideval fighting, etc.

With time and effort, there is no reason that you couldn't have a couple of huge national travel to events, nor why you couldn't have a neighborhood wide celebration.

Nyktelios

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #7 on: July 09, 2011, 10:00:22 pm »
Quote from: sailor;3446
As for Hellenic recon offering a way to see Divinity as plural, what makes Hellenic recon different from modern Hinduism?  Both seem to offer the same view of Divinity as plural, etc.

I think they are actually quite similar, with just the difference of Greek culture versus Indian culture.

Quote from: sailor;3451
I don't think you need to have a city-wide festivals. The Greeks had foreign people living in their cities who didn't celebrate the local events. I think it was more of at the time, almost everybody in the city was celebrating the same holiday due to being the same religion.

But they weren't "holidays" in the modern sense, and people didn't identify with a "religion" so much as a culture. Greek festivals were days of public sacrifice, in which the polis would participate to keep the deity appeased for the benefit of the community. Not honouring the gods was a big deal, as it was thought to anger the gods and incite their wrath, so people were expected to take part in public sacrifices. Of course festivals also did include celebrations and revelry, depending on the festival and the deity in question, but sacrifice days were meant as a communal experience to honour the gods for the sake of the polis.

These festivals were a civic requirement, and foreigners were also expected to take part in some of them, although some festivals were very exclusive to certain types of people. They were expected to honour the gods on behalf of the community in which they lived, and this was why Romans persecuted Christians, as they refused to honour the state gods.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2011, 10:01:35 pm by Nyktelios »

RandallS

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #8 on: July 09, 2011, 10:04:17 pm »
Quote from: sailor;3451
With time and effort, there is no reason that you couldn't have a couple of huge national travel to events, nor why you couldn't have a neighborhood wide celebration.

National events, although attendance would be pretty much limited to those well-off enough to affors the trip and enough vacation time to actually make the trip. Sadly, I think neighborhood-wide festivals are all but a pipe-dream until there are a lot more Hellenic Pagans.
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sailor

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2011, 10:17:18 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;3457
But they weren't "holidays" in the modern sense, and people didn't identify with a "religion" so much as a culture. Greek festivals were days of public sacrifice, in which the polis would participate to keep the deity appeased for the benefit of the community. Not honouring the gods was a big deal, as it was thought to anger the gods and incite their wrath, so people were expected to take part in public sacrifices. Of course festivals also did include celebrations and revelry, depending on the festival and the deity in question, but sacrifice days were meant as a communal experience to honour the gods for the sake of the polis.

These festivals were a civic requirement, and foreigners were also expected to take part in some of them, although some festivals were very exclusive to certain types of people. They were expected to honour the gods on behalf of the community in which they lived, and this was why Romans persecuted Christians, as they refused to honour the state gods.

 
So, you can't have Hellenic recon religion unless you have a enough of a theocratic state to ensure that everybody in a city particpates?  Anything short of that would be a contradiction of the religious beliefs associated with Hellenic recon?

Or are you saying, or additionally saying, that hellenic recon can only occur if you can get everybody to also change their culture?

Either way, you seem to be setting the bar to a point that anything short of fully converting most of a country to Hellenic religion / culture is a waste of time.  While Christianity wants to convert everybody (at least from an outsider's view), they still consider it a success and worthwhile for the people who do convert even if nobody else converts.

Nyktelios

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2011, 12:24:31 am »
Quote from: sailor;3462
So, you can't have Hellenic recon religion unless you have a enough of a theocratic state to ensure that everybody in a city particpates?  Anything short of that would be a contradiction of the religious beliefs associated with Hellenic recon?

Or are you saying, or additionally saying, that hellenic recon can only occur if you can get everybody to also change their culture?

Either way, you seem to be setting the bar to a point that anything short of fully converting most of a country to Hellenic religion / culture is a waste of time.  While Christianity wants to convert everybody (at least from an outsider's view), they still consider it a success and worthwhile for the people who do convert even if nobody else converts.

 
I was pointing out that religion and culture went hand-in-hand in most ancient cultures, and that worship was usually a social phenomenon rather than something for individual spiritual fulfillment. Of course it can't be expected in the modern age for everyone to convert to the religion of a dead culture. It just makes reconstructing modern Hellenic practice difficult since most of the evidence we have for ancient religion comes from public cult worship, and modern people usually aren't practicing in that context.

sailor

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2011, 06:58:48 am »
Quote from: Carnelian;3481
I was pointing out that religion and culture went hand-in-hand in most ancient cultures, and that worship was usually a social phenomenon rather than something for individual spiritual fulfillment. Of course it can't be expected in the modern age for everyone to convert to the religion of a dead culture. It just makes reconstructing modern Hellenic practice difficult since most of the evidence we have for ancient religion comes from public cult worship, and modern people usually aren't practicing in that context.

 
OK. Still, are thinking that Hellenic recon can't be done unless the practitioners not only convert to the religion, but also adopt the ancient culture?

I always thought that extracting the values, ethics and religious orthopraxy from the culture was the goal of any recon religion; and then using what was extracted to create the modern religious practices.

The public cult worship has been availiable in neopagan groups.  More later.

Nyktelios

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2011, 10:08:18 am »
Quote from: sailor;3534
OK. Still, are thinking that Hellenic recon can't be done unless the practitioners not only convert to the religion, but also adopt the ancient culture?

I always thought that extracting the values, ethics and religious orthopraxy from the culture was the goal of any recon religion; and then using what was extracted to create the modern religious practices.


That is true, but since there was no religion as a separate entity back then, values and ethics are cultural rather than religious in the Judeo-Christian sense.

Reconstructionism usually becomes a system of cherry-picking elements from the culture and making them "religious". Same-sex marriage has been a big issue in the Hellenic Recon community because there weren't same-sex marriages in ancient Greece, however, marriage was mainly a civic contract with very few religious associations, so there are few reasons to keep marriage like it was in ancient Greek culture. Female virginity was a prerequisite for contracted marriage in Athens, but that aspect isn't cherry-picked I guess because it's inconvenient for modern Recons.

Since the religious ideology and practice was indistinguishable from culture in most ancient societies, reconstructing the religious aspects of the culture without the culture as a whole can be very tricky. Yes there are things like slavery that have no relevance to Hellenic religion, but on the whole, religion reflects the society which creates it, and as Randall pointed out, modern western society is quite different than ancient Greece. There are always internal debates going on in the community about what is and what is not "Hellenismos" because no one quite agrees to what extent the role of the ancient culture should play in modern practice, and it gets very tiresome.

Although, I do admit I have a personal bias when it comes to Hellenic Reconstructionism. As much as I love ancient Greece, I find many Hellenic Recons to be misinformed and ignorant when it comes to Greek history and culture. It's very frustrating and groups like YSEE and the hellenismos.us community make me lose hope that Hellenic religious traditions can be reconstructed authentically without mistaking foreign elements, like modern conservative Christian culture, for actual ancient tradition that can translate to the modern world.

xerces_blue

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2011, 11:47:03 am »
Quote from: Carnelian;3555

Reconstructionism usually becomes a system of cherry-picking elements from the culture and making them "religious". Same-sex marriage has been a big issue in the Hellenic Recon community because there weren't same-sex marriages in ancient Greece, however, marriage was mainly a civic contract with very few religious associations, so there are few reasons to keep marriage like it was in ancient Greek culture. Female virginity was a prerequisite for contracted marriage in Athens, but that aspect isn't cherry-picked I guess because it's inconvenient for modern Recons.

Since the religious ideology and practice was indistinguishable from culture in most ancient societies, reconstructing the religious aspects of the culture without the culture as a whole can be very tricky. Yes there are things like slavery that have no relevance to Hellenic religion, but on the whole, religion reflects the society which creates it, and as Randall pointed out, modern western society is quite different than ancient Greece. There are always internal debates going on in the community about what is and what is not "Hellenismos" because no one quite agrees to what extent the role of the ancient culture should play in modern practice, and it gets very tiresome.

Although, I do admit I have a personal bias when it comes to Hellenic Reconstructionism. As much as I love ancient Greece, I find many Hellenic Recons to be misinformed and ignorant when it comes to Greek history and culture. It's very frustrating and groups like YSEE and the hellenismos.us community make me lose hope that Hellenic religious traditions can be reconstructed authentically without mistaking foreign elements, like modern conservative Christian culture, for actual ancient tradition that can translate to the modern world.


This, all of this, plus some other things, is what keeps me from being a Hellenic Recon. There seems to be much cherry-picking, and clinging only to sources that support their view. I don't know if I've ever seen a Hellenic thread where anyone is agreement about anything. I'm not saying it just happens among Hellenic reconstructionists, it's just the recon group I'm most drawn to and therefore where I notice it most.

Because culture and religion are so connected, as it's been said already, especially in ancient religion, I think it's honestly close to impossible to reconstruct an ancient religion and still have it be relevent to the time and culture we live in today. I think we can take some elements from ancient Hellenic philosophy, world view, worship practices and so on and incorporate them into a modern practice, but I think in order for some things to be workable, they would need to be adapted to the point in which it would no longer be the original religion of the Greeks. So in other words, I think making an ancient religion relevant to modern times while keeping it faithful to the original is basically impossible.

I would go on more about the issues I see with reconstructionism, but it would be going on tangents unrelated to the topic of modern needs and Hellenic religion, so I'll save it for another thread, another time. :)

sailor

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Re: Modern Human Needs and Hellenic Religion
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2011, 12:07:54 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;3555
That is true, but since there was no religion as a separate entity back then, values and ethics are cultural rather than religious in the Judeo-Christian sense.

Reconstructionism usually becomes a system of cherry-picking elements from the culture and making them "religious". Same-sex marriage has been a big issue in the Hellenic Recon community because there weren't same-sex marriages in ancient Greece, however, marriage was mainly a civic contract with very few religious associations, so there are few reasons to keep marriage like it was in ancient Greek culture. Female virginity was a prerequisite for contracted marriage in Athens, but that aspect isn't cherry-picked I guess because it's inconvenient for modern Recons.


 
Well, values are religious rather than cultural only for the past 100 to maybe 200 years at least as far as Judaism goes. I won't speak to Christianity.

I disagree with the idea that ancient marriage was more a civil event rather than a religious event. Ancient marriage included various sacrifices to different gods which are religious items.  You couldn't go to the city clerk and register a marriage as a civil event.

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