The Atheistic Origins of Polytheism Part 3

The Development of the Gods

Eusebius switched subjects from origins to the development of the gods. He went first to Phoenicia, believing that its philosophers recorded the oldest theology. Next, he traveled to Egypt and noted the changes the Egyptians made to the theology. Finally, he arrived at Greece and its development of theology. In all this, he argued that the gods were merely deified men and women who were vial and cruel at their core. And thus, since the Greeks were worshipping humans, and not God, they were therefore atheists.

The Development by the Phoenicians

For his Phoenician mythology, Eusebius drew from the work of Sanchuniathon, a Phoenician priest who lived shortly after Moses (c. 1300 BC). Sanchuniathon investigated the earliest known theological works of mankind and wrote a history on the subject. This history was translated into Greek by Philo. In Philo’s words, then, Eusebius records a summary of Phoenician theology:

The first principle of the universe [Sanchuniathon]supposes to have been air dark with cloud and wind. . .. But when the wind, says he, became enamoured of its own parents, and a mixture took place. . .. From its connexion Mȏt was produced . . . and out of this came every germ of creation, and the generation of the universe. So there were certain animals which had no sensation, and out of them grew intelligent animals. . .. Also Mȏt burst forth into light, and sun, and moon, and stars, and the great constellations.

And when the air burst into light, both the sea and the land became heated, and thence arose winds and clouds, And very great downpours and floods of the waters of heaven. So after they were separated, and removed from their proper place because of the sun’s heat, and all met together again in the air dashing together one against another, thunderings and lightnings were produced, and at the rattle of the thunder the intelligent animals already described woke up, and were scared at the sound, and began to move both on land and sea, male and female (p. 38).

From the description above, Eusebius concluded that, because God was nowhere discussed, “such was their cosmogony, introducing downright atheism” (p. 38).

Leaving behind the matter of origins, Eusebius discusses the history of the gods. He relates the stories of, among others, Beelsamen (Zeus), Taautus (Hermes), Epigeius (Uranus), Elus (Kronos), Persephone, Athena, Atlas, Poseidon, and Melcathrus (Hercules). These stories were remarkably human—that is, they were not the exploits of the gods in the Grecian narratives, but stories of real humans attacking and vandalizing each other for their own lusts. From this, Eusebius concluded:

The ancients who first composed the account of the gods did not refer at all to figurative descriptions of physical phenomena, nor make allegories of the myths concerning the gods, but preserved the histories in their literal form (p. 49).

That is, they record the history of the gods without mythologizing the stories or making the gods anthropomorphic representations of physical phenomena. And so, they do not portray great gods, but men. And not even good men, but men of the vilest sort. Thus, since they worship the creator rather than the creator, Eusebius concluded that this too was atheism.

The Development by the Egyptians

Moving down the Mediterranean to Egypt, Eusebius again drew from Diodorus, who wrote about the religion of Egypt. About the origin of the gods, he said, “the gods, they say, had been originally mortal men, but gained their immortality on account of wisdom and public benefits to mankind, some of them having also become kings” (p. 50). In these accounts, while they still portray the gods as men, there are more mythical elements, such as satyrs and the raising of the dead back to life (p. 51, 53). Further, the Egyptians added the worship of animals to their religion. For example,

The he-goat, they say, has been deified, like Priapus among the Greeks, because of its generative organ, for this animal has the strongest propensity to lust; and that member of the body which is the cause of generation is rightly honoured, as being the source of animal nature. And speaking generally, not only the Egyptians, but also not a few other nations have consecrated that member in their initiatory rites, as the cause of the reproduction of living beings (p. 55).

With these things as the Egyptian’s gods, Eusebius again concludes that they are really atheists, because they worship men and lustful animals. Therefore, it is from these things “which we naturally revolted with abhorrence, when we found redemption and deliverance from so great evils in no other way than solely by the saving doctrine of the gospel” (p. 56).

The Development by the Greeks

The Greeks developed their theology later than the other two, claiming and renaming the gods of other countries and patching together their own mythologies. At this point, the stories became the least human and took on the flavor of full mythologies: Zeus commands thunder and lightnings, Dionysus travels about with the Muses and Satyrs, and Heracles completes his labors.

Based on the exaggerated stories of the gods, the Greeks formed cults with secret initiations, rites, and mysteries. About these rites, Eusebius drew from Clement who apparently explored these before he became a believer. He discussed the utter debauchery of the rites, such as the worship of genitalia and the use of crude language. And further, he noted that their holy objects were not grand spectacles, but ridiculous and common objects, such as a child’s ball, a flat cake, a lamp, and a woman’s comb; all these reflecting parts of the stories of the gods which they were memorializing. Clement concluded:

These are the atheists’ mysteries. And atheists I rightly call them, since they have not known Him who is truly God, but worship a child torn in pieces by Titans, and a poor wailing woman; and things for very shame unmentionable they shamelessly worship, and so are involved in a twofold atheism: the first, in that they are ignorant of God, not acknowledging Him who is God indeed; and the other and second delusion this, that they regard those which are not as though they were, and call them gods who have no true being, or rather no being at all, but have only received the name.

Summary and Conclusion of Eusebius’s Argument

Therefore, Eusebius concluded that the doctrines of the polytheists were atheistic. First, they did not account for God in their conception of origins. Second, they were assigned to worship the stars (or as Eusebius explains elsewhere angelic powers) which are not God himself, and from which they quickly departed. Third, their gods were mere mortals, who received the status of god after their deaths. Fourth, their gods became obscene objects worshipped in their secretive cults. In all these things, they did not worship or serve any god in a true sense—let alone, the God—but they chose to worship and serve the creature. Thus, Eusebius concluded that they were atheistic.

To be continued…

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