Do you ever wonder why the ancient Hellenes depicted the Gods as they did? As peak examples of human beings; strong, muscular, handsome and broad for the men, either aged and wise or young and beautiful; or young, curved and stunningly beautiful for the women? The ancients questioned it too, actually, especially Xenophanes.

Xenophanes of Colophon (Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος) was a Hellenic philosopher, theologian, poet, and social and religious critic. He lived from around 570 to 475 BC and is, perhaps, the first monotheist. His work survives solely in fragments but in those fragments it becomes apparent he considers many achievements of humans to be falsely contributed to Gods. Discoveries in science were ours to make, not of the Gods. Greed, jealousy, wrath and other negative emotions cannot and should not be waylaid to deities but should be accounted for by humans themselves. He saw divinity not as many Gods but as one supreme God. This God is one eternal being, spherical in form, comprehending all things within himself, is the absolute mind and thought, therefore is intelligent, and moves all things, but bears no resemblance to human nature either in body or mind.

Xenophanes was especially critical of anthromorphing the Gods. In religion and mythology, anthropomorphism refers to the perception of a divine being or beings in human form, or the recognition of human qualities in these beings. In Christian writer Clement of Alexandria's 'Stromata', Xenophanes is quoted as follows:

"Now, as the Greeks represent the gods as possessing human forms, so also do they as possessing human passions. And as each of them depict their forms similar to themselves, as Xenophanes says, 'Ethiopians as black and apes, the Thracians ruddy and tawny;' so also they assimilate their souls to those who form them: the Barbarians, for instance, who make them savage and wild; and the Greeks, who make them more civilized, yet subject to passion." [Book 7, Chapter 4]

And elsewhere in the same document:

"But men have the idea that gods are born,
And wear their clothes, and have both voice and shape.
But had the oxen or the lions hands,
Or could with hands depict a work like men,
Were beasts to draw the semblance of the gods,
The horses would them like to horses sketch,
To oxen, oxen, and their bodies make
Of such a shape as to themselves belongs."
[Book 5, chapter 14]

Interesting point to make: Clement quotes Xenophanes for quite a different purpose than Xenophanes intended his words. For Clement, this is all proof that the Gods are false, for Xenophanes proof there is only one God.

As long term readers of this blog might know, I have--what I have come to label as--a multiperspectivalistic view of religion and life as a whole. Multispectivalism, in short, is an approach to knowledge that suggests that reality is made up of multiple perspectives, none of which can grasp reality-as-is on its own. As such, the more perspectives one takes into account--biological, scientific, psychological, theological--the better the understanding one might have of reality. Multispectivalism in relation to religion thus implies that all reality can never be summed up under any one religion, concept, or perspective but is, in essence, a combination of all.

Unlike Xenophanes, I do not believe there is only one God. Paradoxically, my believes place me both at the opposite of the spectrum of Xenophanes as outside of it; above it, perhaps. I do agree with Xenophanes that the Gods express our best qualities, but unlike Xenophanes, I do not believe this is proof there is only one God. I consider it a single perspective that there is but one God, falsely divided into parts by ignorant humans. Another perspective would be that the Gods are most certainly distinct. That They looked upon the species of animal to worship Them (us humans) and made Themselves the pinnacles of this species. Perhaps the ox and lion worship pantheons of ox and lion-shaped deities who are either the same or different still from our Gods. Perhaps both, in different perspectives.

I have gone off into quantum mechanics, I fear. Let me take a step back. We do not know the true nature of the Gods. It is my firm belief They exist. I am also cognizant of the fact They might not exist. Consider multispectivalism as a box with the very essence of an issue inside, in this case the nature of Divinity. Now picture every side of the box a window with a different lens. One might be anthromorphism, one monotheism, one atheism, one a more scientific concept like particle science, hunting down the God Particle, and so on. When you look at the issue in the box from all different angles--perspectives--you learn something a little bit different every time.

Now, a box usually has six sides, which is limiting. You will only gleam a limited amount of information this way. True reality can only be observed when you've looked at the issue through every possible lens, every possible side. So our box does not have six sides but a hundred, or a thousand. Currently, we have not discovered all the required lenses to truly understand divinity and we cannot solve the issue of the nature of the Gods. But we keep creating lenses through religious interpretation, through scientific discovery, through philosophical and psychological understanding. As we evolve as humans, we become more capable of reasoning and understanding.

Here is a thought: what if we can only grasp the true nature of the Gods when we evolve into Gods? Is divinity itself the final lens through which to observe divinity and understand it? If so, is it hubris to consider the pursuit of that knowledge, or is it heroism? Herakles trained his body and mind in imitation of the Gods and eventually became one. There is mythological precedence.

I believe study is important to Hellenismos. The ancient Hellenes struggled with these questions just as we do. Xenophanes, Socrates, Plato. Philosophical, theological and scientific pursuits are at the very core of what makes us human and it's a path we were in part put on by the ancient Hellenes. To look for divinity in mathematical equations is as much a worthy pursuit to me as the practice of sacrifice or the study of mythology. Only by combining views can we hope to understand. Personally, I can't think of a worthier pursuit in life than the pursuit of true and all-encompassing understanding.