Why Study Pagan Mythology?

Dispute between Minerva and Neptune over the Naming of the City of Athens by René-Antoine Houasse, 1645-1710
Why study Greek and Roman mythology? Three reasons come to mind.

I recently got a good and interesting question: Why do the students at Mount Hope spend time studying Greek and Roman mythology? Admittedly, it can seem rather silly. We obviously have the true God and don’t expect great theological insight from paganism. There are plenty of other books we could be reading that have nothing to do with pantheons of false gods. Why study Greek and Roman mythology?

Three reasons come to mind:

First: The Greeks and Romans laid the foundations of Western Civilization: our ideas about philosophy and history, logic and rhetoric, mathematics and music. It’s helpful to know what religious beliefs undergirded their life and culture so that we know what to accept and what to reject from them. The Greek and Roman pantheons took a huge hit when Constantine the Great legalized Christianity by issuing the Edict of Milan in AD 313. The false gods suffered another major blow when the Western Roman Empire fell in AD 476. Men like Boethius and Cassiodorus, who were born just after that date, did much work preserving what was worth preserving from the Greeks and Romans. They were Christians—Christians who knew what pagans believed and what God’s Word says—and that knowledge of both religions enabled them to be true heirs of Western Civilization and to set that Western Civilization on a better foundation, namely, on the Word of Christ. By continuing to learn pagan mythology, students are able to discern what to claim from the Greeks and Romans and what to reject, and thus they take their place in a long line of Christians before them who have done the same and become architects of Christian culture.

Second: In spite of the Greek and Roman pantheons falling out of favor, pagans still worship the same pagan gods that they’ve always worshiped. While the Canaanites, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians called their gods by different names, they all worshiped essentially the same gods. This trend continues into modern paganism; the difference is, people tend to talk about their gods as abstract concepts rather than living beings. Modern pagans worship raw power. The Greeks called him Zeus. Modern pagans worship good looks and sex. The Greeks called her Aphrodite. Modern pagans worship warfare and triumph over their enemies. The Greeks called him Ares. As students learn the mythology of these pagan gods, they’re learning how to rightly view, scorn, and guard against the pagan gods that the world has always worshiped.

Third: Even though the Greeks and Romans worshiped false gods, they still surprise us in some ways. They understood that education involves not just the transfer of facts and skills, but the inculcation of virtue. They understood justice better than many modern countries do. They acknowledged that there are such things as objective truth and beauty. And they embodied these correct ideas in memorable stories and good literature. What epic better illustrates the harm that anger causes than the Iliad? Who hasn’t picked up some great moral lessons from Aesop? However, the Greek and Roman gods come up all over the place in this literature, and in order to glean the truths that these stories contain, we must understand the roles of the various gods. We end up brushing the gods aside as the nothings that they are and contemplating truths that are far above false gods. But the first step is comprehending the story itself, and that means understanding the characters involved.

For all these reasons, we study Greek and Roman mythology at Mount Hope. God grant that this study turns our children away from false gods, instills in them truths that are in accord with His Word, and teaches them discernment to reject what is evil and hold fast to what is good.

In Christ,
Pastor Richard

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