I like the stories of the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.
Their stories are always less godlike and usually way too human, with problems of lust, envy, jealousy and revenge. They can be tricked, lied to and make deals.
They are fickle at best. Even in their most glorious moments, they act in ways that are selfishly motivated. They really serve better as cautionary tales than models to follow.
But just the same, humans made temples, paid homage and sacrificed for these gods. Over time, the stories grew bigger and more complicated. These myths shaped the lore of the Near East for centuries.
Myths have long been part of cultures. Egypt, Rome, Babylon, Persia, Europe, Asia and Africa all have myths for creation, floods, seasons and people of noble character.
America, being only a couple hundred years old and a mixture of hundreds of cultures, does not have ancient mythical stories. Instead, we have created a pantheon of gods and goddesses built around real people who did impressive things.
In the political spectrum, there are our early presidents and so-called “Founding Fathers.”
Their holy city is Washington, D.C., and the temple is the Capital Building or the White House. Their annual feasts come around during election season.
The entertainment pantheon covers our movie stars and musical icons.
Their holy cities include Hollywood, Los Angeles and New York. Their temples are movie sets, concert venues and celebrated theaters. Their feast days occur nearly daily with award banquets, premier days and contests where viewers get to elect the next god into the pantheon.
Our pantheon of Titan-like warriors is our athletes, who conquer their foes on the playing field rather than the battlefield.
Their temples are stadiums and their feast days include Super Bowls, World Series and the Final Four.
I could add to the pantheon military heroes, wealthy tycoons, even spiritual leaders and a host of others.
Sometimes these gods are able to cross from one realm into another, much like when the Greek gods moved between Athens, heaven, earth and the underworld. Athletes become entertainers, entertainers become politicians, and politicians become wealthy tycoons.
We are often reminded, much like the Greek pantheon, that our gods are all too human. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, entertainers and others fall from grace on a regular basis; some even end up as convicted criminals.
We watch their larger-than-life dramas, much like the Greeks listened to the pantheon of old. We scrutinize their actions and celebrate the consequences, as though they are fictional people without real feelings, damaged hearts and wounded families. It serves as our entertainment and our delight.
The one big difference between the Greeks and us, I believe, is that the average Greek probably didn’t believe they could become a god. We, on the other hand, are encouraged from an early age to believe that with just the right break we can join the pantheon someday.
We can move from worshippers to the worshipped. We can become a god.
I like sports. I watch movies and television. I read books. I stay current on the political arena and local news. But I am afraid we, as Americans, worship these things.
That is why:
â— The largest places of worship in many states is their university football stadiums or professional sports arenas.
â— The final 10 minutes of local news is always about local sports and coaches.
â— High school coaches (coaches are the new high priests) can demand teenage student athletes practice, lift weights and sacrifice their entire summers for a fall sport.
We willingly invest hundreds of dollars a year and hours of driving to take our kids from soccer, to band, to baseball, to dance, to whatever else because – though we may not admit it or even recognize it – we worship the activity and hope for our children to go pro so they can become part of the pantheon.
If we don’t believe they will go pro, we certainly believe they can at least say they participated in the games the gods play, so we can yell at them in their stadiums and shout how we could do it better or coach it better if only given a shot.
I don’t know if this pantheon of athletes, entertainers and other gods is the primary reason we have a hard time seeing the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it. It certainly serves as a barrier.
Our worship of anything other than God is an idol. But to believe we are not worshipping these things is to lie to ourselves.
We may not have mythical heroes of ancient tradition, but we certainly have a growing pantheon full of temples and gods all across this country. None of them is Christ.
Greg Mamula is an ordained American Baptist minister and serves as the associate executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He blogs at ShapedByTheStory, where a longer version of this article first appeared.
Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister and Region Missionary to American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He is a husband, father of two, author and baseball fan. His latest book, “Table Life: Five Spiritual Habits of Discipleship” (Judson Press) is scheduled to be released fall 2020.