Conversely, wherever false gods are present, we find just the opposite: falsehood (lies but especially illusions), power (control and being controlled), indifference (apathy, contempt, and violence), and finally death (including debilitation and despair).
These false gods, these principalities and powers referred to by the apostle Paul, have been around for a long time. The ancient Romans identified them as (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption.
Since the Romans imagined these gods as living on Mount Olympus, we may call them the Olympian gods. We may then refer to the religion based on devotion to these gods as Olympianity and contrast it with Christianity. Olympianity is the world’s oldest, most popular, yet least recognized religion.
Jesus says we may tell a tree by its fruit. Where we enjoy truth, freedom, love, and life, there we have witness to him. Where we suffer lies and illusions, a growth in power and a withering of freedom, and an increase in callousness and violence leading to death, there we have devotion to the Olympian gods.
Judging by its fruits, we must confess that America today is not a Christian nation. It is an intensely Olympian one. Its Olympianity is communicated constantly, instantaneously, and universally through the mass media especially television. America is so intensely Olympian that even Christians in America mistakenly commit themselves and their churches to the Olympian gods.
Let us briefly review the ways we Christians and churches unintentionally serve these false Olympian gods. Let us also imagine ways we might live as more faithful witnesses to Jesus.
(1) Jupiter, god of politics, is all about power. In their devotion to Jupiter, American political leaders after World War II created an American empire which still spans the globe. Jupiter then created the illusion among Christians in America that this empire was exceptionally virtuous, uniquely blessed, and would not fall so long as it remained faithful to Jesus (!).
Jesus invites us to appreciate anew the radical differences between his Kingdom of Heaven, which is not of this world, and every empire which is—including the recent American one. Jesus also wants to disillusion us Christians; that is, he wants to free us from our illusions of American exceptionalism. The American empire is collapsing and Jesus is not going to save it. Instead, he wants us to acknowledge this, look to him for creative responses to difficult days ahead, and share some real wisdom, strength, courage, and good cheer with our fellow Americans who will otherwise be completely lost and likely hurtful.
Secondly, in their devotion to Jupiter, American political leaders are as eager to control us as Pharaoh was to control the people of Israel. So we have total surveillance, mass imprisonment, systematic torture, and state executions.
Jesus, as eager to liberate us today as he was to free Israel from Pharaoh, would have us say no in our hearts to these practices. He invites us to quietly but persistently affirm civil liberties like freedom from surveillance, from false or gratuitous imprisonment, and from cruel or unusual punishment.
Jupiter, god of politics, would also have us regard political leaders as our saviors. For some, only Republican leaders can purge America of its moral corruption and restore our lost golden age as a Christian nation. For others, only Democratic leaders can guide our nation into a future golden age of peace and justice.
Jesus would have us keep our focus on him as our only savior. He invites us to the needed but thankless task of criticizing the hopelessly Olympian words and ways of all political parties. If we do participate in politics, Jesus invites us to do so solely and openly as a means of witnessing clearly, both in words and in actions, to him.
(2) Mars persistently justifies war, praises leaders who get us into them as strong, and regards those who fight them as heroes (saints). Because Americans are profoundly Olympian, we engage in an endless series of wars that are unconstitutional, gratuitous, and horrific.
Jesus invites us, as Christians and churches, to reject the climate of fear that breeds these wars, to question their dubious justifications, to decline to fight them, and to cultivate a peaceable attitude toward everyone in our daily lives including veterans.
(3) Vulcan glories in the exponential growth of a Global Technological System (GTS) even though that growth requires the systematic exploitation of billions of human beings and destruction of God’s good creation.
Jesus invites us to develop a way of living that protects all species and their habitats. He calls us to develop a sympathetic relationship with our fellow creatures: the land, water, plants, and animals that he surrounds us with. He wants us to refuse all justification for the GTS. He seeks to have us eliminate our participation in it and develop a meaningful alternative to it as rapidly as possible.
Through the mass media of communication, Vulcan prefers to surround us with the always-exciting, rapidly-changing, solely-relevant, instantaneous world of current events where only the latest matters, only those who know it are smart, and everything past is irrelevant.
Jesus invites us to join him in a slower, more deliberate, much quieter way of living. He’d like us to relax together and practice hearing and affirming the living words he seeks to speak to us as Church through the Bible. He would like us to learn Hebrew and Greek and even some Latin. He invites us to measure the relevance of current events in terms of their witness to him (little) rather than to measure his significance, or the Bible’s, in terms of them.
(4) Venus would have us believe that beautiful people are more virtuous than ugly people. She wants us to regard all sexual activity as good and enjoy it as much as possible (even vicariously through the media). She also delights in making us so delirious about the topic of sex that we either can’t talk about it at all or can do so only in outbursts of self-righteous indignation.
Jesus himself was ugly and much more frequently calls ugly people to serve as his witnesses than beautiful ones. In any case he’d rather we paid more attention to the words being spoken than to the faces or bodies of those speaking them.
Jesus himself values sexual intercourse as the celebration of a mutual commitment to love that is full, exclusive, and forever. Toward that end, he encourages us as churches to speak of the meaningfulness of sexual intercourse within marriage and of the ways our Olympian society drains that meaning away.
(5) Pluto would have us rank ourselves and others in terms of income. He would have us attribute great virtue to rich people and regard poor people as wicked sinners deserving punishment.
Jesus invites us to see greed for what it is: idolatrous devotion to Pluto. He invites us to acknowledge the increasingly damaging inequality of income distribution occurring because of greed. In the difficult days ahead, he invites us as congregations to take care of our own and of as many others as we can.
(6) Bacchus would have us set our hearts on ownership and consumption and to rank ourselves, our churches, and other social groups in terms of things owned and consumed.
Jesus invites us to remember that, as the apostle Paul put it, there are only three things that last—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love: that radical commitment to nurture and protect others as much as Jesus does.