At the Risk of Opening Pandora’s Box

by Christian Cale Deviney

Occasionally the dominant culture will impose its values onto a society to an extent they are engrained too deeply for most to consider the option of questioning them. This is most often achieved through force, co-opted with calculated rhetoric meant to indoctrinate the population throughout the succeeding generations. This was the chronicle of Greece and most of the Mediterranean as the Catholic church and its army conquered the region. It seems unthinkable in the progressive society we live in that one could address another person and say that the religion they follow is ludicrous to the degree we categorize it as mythology. This ethnocentric line of thinking has been the burden of not only Christianity but is indicative of all organized religions throughout most of history. Although organized religion and Greek mythology are considered to be opposites, they are actually quite similar when considering the categories of anecdotal allegory, ambiguous interpretation, and civil preservation.

            Anecdotal allegory is the art of storytelling with the intention of teaching a lesson. Many of our nation’s notable universities, including Harvard college, were founded on the basis of educating the common man in an effort to better understand the Bible on a personal level. Ironically, they saw their endeavor as an opportunity to advance society by making the wisdom of the Bible more accessible, not advancing human knowledge in the subjects of math or science. Organized religions have bestowed fundamental teachings to their congregations via their respective holy books since the dawn of theism. Christianity teaches of the necessity to abstain from persuasion and lust in the story of the first woman, Eve. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman created on Earth, were gifted by God all the facilities needed to sustain life with only the fruit from the forbidden tree prohibited to them. Eve is persuaded by a serpent to disregard God’s word and commits original sin which damned all human life thereafter. Greek mythology features Pandora, the Earth’s original woman, who is gifted a box containing all the evils and hopes of the world under the instruction to never open the box. Upon her insubordination, all life on Earth is damned forever to live with the escaped evils of the box. These stories make evident shocking similarities not only in content, but in the purpose of serving to set a precedent for the repercussions of disobeying God’s will, furthering the notion that both organized religion and Greek mythology use anecdotal allegory to educate their adherents on the basics of humanity.

            Ambiguous interpretations are ones in which there are several possible conclusions to be drawn. In John Carpenter’s The Thing, audiences abroad were left to decide for themselves whether the alien lives or dies with the famous closing line, “why don’t we just wait and see what happens,” as the screen fades to black. Organized religions have utilized this facet of narration in their legends. Before King Henry VIII of England broke away from the Catholic church, it was illegal for the Bible to be printed in English. Historians hold the belief this was chiefly a product of the Catholic Church’s attempt to keep the word of God inaccessible to the population in order to prevent them from forming individualized opinions conflicting with those of the church. As a result of a broader population’s comprehension, the true meaning of Christ’s words have been debated in a comparative fashion to our constitution and our Founding Fathers’ implied meanings. In the Book of Matthew, there is a story where Jesus instructs his disciples to tear out their own eyeballs if it causes them to sin; this could be interpreted literally as it is by many or metaphorically in the sense that if one has a problem, he should abstain from said vice in order to become closer to God. Throughout Greek mythology, human beings have communicated with gods via oracles. Oracles were humans chosen by the gods to speak through and relay messages to the population. These messages, however, were often vague and left much to the imagination in terms of application. King Acrisius was visited by an oracle whose only warning was that he would be murdered by a grandson, leading Acrisius to live a life permeated by paranoia. This story could be a lesson pertaining to paranoia, contentment, civility, trust, free will, or several other human tribulations. Both organized religions and Greek mythology use ambiguous interpretations to educate adherents on an array of topics.

            Civil preservation is the act of maintaining order within a society. The majority of modern societies maintain order through a codified system of laws integrated with an informal set of morals the society holds intimately. Organized religions have long assumed the responsibility of facilitating this function on account of civilization. Incorporated into the Jewish Torah is a distinct example of this in the story of Moses receiving God’s Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments serve the overt purpose of providing guidelines to follow in order to live a godly life. These commandments restrict actions that are deemed immoral by society and are detrimental to its continuance, such as murder and thievery. Christianity promises compensation in return for abiding by these same ten commandments in the form of eternal life, alternatively threatening eternal damnation as a consequential effect of disobedience. The intention of maintaining order in Greek mythology is manifested precisely the same way. Although the teachings of Greek mythology are encompassed in numerous tragedies of independent literary works as opposed to a single holy doctrine, they serve the identical purpose of providing instruction for living an ideal life. Greek mythology’s focus was teaching humility and respect for elders, as evidenced in the story of Icarus. Icarus was warned by his father to not fly too high or he would surely fall, a warning not heeded by young Icarus. Icarus eventually flew too close to the sun, melting his wings, causing him to plummet to his death. Hubris was considered taboo by the ancient Greeks and was the most undesirable trait one could personify. The story of Icarus serves to teach the lesson that youthful hubris proves detrimental to members of society and the larger whole of society itself. Organized religions and Greek mythology are both catalysts for civil preservation.

            When new cells are formed in the presence of cancer cells, the cancer cells attack the newborn cell before it ever has the chance to flourish; this is a comparative function to the one bigotry has played in the course of human civilization. When a child is born into circumstances of hatred and enmity, he internalizes these beliefs and forms his own around them. This cycle is the foundation of oppression and can take decades to break when these malevolent thoughts entrench themselves into our institutions, such as religion. There was a moment in time unbeknownst to its constituents where religious toleration was facilitated out of necessity due to the overwhelming variety of forming religious groups. Today’s generation should realize the importance of this occurrence and be grateful to live in a society where we can worship our deity of choice without trepidation of persecution or ridicule. Unfortunately for the ancient Greek Pagans, intolerance has been the enduring Achilles’ heel of mankind.