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David Wang 11/5/2011

Ancient Religion/Philosophy Greece Short Write

During the Classical Age, the Greek civilization brought forth a plethora of brilliant philosophers. Thinkers from Xenophanes to Aristotle proposed numerous revolutionary ideas that pondered the nature of divinity and the reason behind human existence. Yet their ideas, steeped with logic, seemed often at odds with the strong religious pantheon that they worshipped. For every aspect of life, there existed a god that protected, oversaw, and interfered with that particular aspect. While other civilizations seem more predisposed towards deep philosophical thoughts than the Greeks, it seems that the polytheistic religion of the Greeks actually contributed the most to emergence of their philosophers. The ancient Greek religion revolved around a pax deorum, a contract of sorts between gods and mortals where the mortals made offerings to their gods in return for divine protection. This, however, did not bar them seeking explanations for the focus of their thought, which is that of the human mind and choices. Thus their ideas are slanted towards changing not the direct scientific understanding of nature as opposed to the gods, but towards the process of exploring new ways of thinking itself. While the gods may dictate or protect the nature of harvests, storms, boundary, doorways, they have no hold over the thoughts of man. In fact, in stories such as the Iliad, the actions of the gods hold no power of the thought processes of the mortals. Achilles is motivated more by a thirst for glory than the dictates of fate. In a more historical example, the stoics were focused on reducing desires to attain happiness, which does not contradict any natural phenomena previously prescribed by the gods. Even Socrates, who questioned traditional views, did so out of a desire to teach others to analyze situations in a new light.

The appearance of contradiction between the god-filled religion and their philosophical outputs exists largely due to the new ideas that come out of a new thought process. Philosophers such as Xenophanes of Colophons directly questioned the nature of gods and even their very existence. However, it is easy to see that this conclusion resulted from an emphasis on logic and reason espoused by earlier philosophers. While earlier philosophers pondered a method to enrich reasoning, later philosophers used these reasonings to reach new conclusions. These new conclusions are what contradict the nature of their religion. Eventually, the conclusions drawn from this process reached a point where it directly attacked the whole premise of gods and anthropomorphic divinity. For example, Xenophanes proposed that the concept of anthropomorphic gods is erroneous and that all nature exists as a single composite deity. Thus Ancient Greek philosophers, with their pursuit for new ways of thinking, unleashed a series of thoughts that brought about propositions that challenged their faith. While the nature and all-encompassing power of their pantheon may not support free thought, the Greeks themselves set up the ideal conditions for which revolutionary thoughts are proposed.