Why do we worship Jesus instead of Zeus?

There is an account on the platform formerly known as Twitter, which shares posts encouraging people to worship Greek gods. For real. At least, it seems to be in earnest. We all know that many social media platforms openly pay contributors who stir up lots of engagement, and an easy way to do this is to post crazy, provocative things.

At the same time, we also all know that people in the year 2024 will really, truly believe anything. People are uneducated in a way we haven’t seen in quite some time, and they are thirsty for meaning and direction in direct proportion to how little truth they are encountering. So it’s plausible that “The Hellenist” is making money on social media, but is also someone who thinks the Greek gods look cool and has decided: Sure, I’ll go with that.

Here is the recent post that got my attention. He wrote: “What if instead of forcing our children to become Christians, we let them choose which gods to worship. Does anyone honestly think they would choose Jesus?” And the image that accompanies it has photos of statues of Zeus, Aphrodite, and Apollo, pointing out that they are the Gods of (respectively), “the sky, lightning, thunder, law, and order,” “love, passion, pleasure, and beauty,” and “oracles, archery, healing, music, light, knowledge, and protection of the young.” And then it has a picture of Jesus hanging limply from a cross, and under him, it says, “God of loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, meekness, and poverty.”

It matters to God whether or not this fellow is in earnest, or if he’s just yakking about sacred things as a way of earning some cash; but it doesn’t really matter to me. The truth is, he’s asked an excellent question. Why WOULD we chose to worship Jesus, when he puts up such a poor show? It’s easy for comfortably established Catholics to say, “Oh, how ignorant this guy is,” and wave him away, but this is a missed opportunity, especially since he’s specifically talking about children, and what they would do if they had a choice.

Since I do have children, and since they do have a choice about whom to worship, but they also presumably have the advantage of knowing a thing or two about why we follow the man on the cross, I went to my kids, and I showed them the image. I asked, “What would you say, if someone asked you this?” Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Liked it? Take a second to support simchajfisher on Patreon!

12 thoughts on “Why do we worship Jesus instead of Zeus?”

  1. You know, why do people want to choose over a bunch of “gods” that have done horrible things like unfaithfulness and raping, why not choose the one who died for the horrible things that you and I and everyone else has done

  2. Christianity DID overwhelm earlier more parochial “religions” to become the largest “world” religion that persists today. This fact can be analyzed on the basis of Christianity’s emotional appeal (a god who sacrifices himself for us, etc) which touches upon its relevance for humanity which so often feels itself acted upon, powerless, and subject to victimhood. This fact can also be analyzed on the basis of Christianity’s relevance to geopolitical power, especially with the military and economic urgencies of empire starting (in its Jewish roots) before the Roman and proceeding through the American (or even “from Plato to NATO” if you will…).

    There’s also the questions and challenges of Christianity’s intellectual relevance. The temptation (Gee, I love that word!) would be to focus in on the weeds of all the delightful and perplexing conundrums and heresies emanating from monotheism (like what and why is evil, etc), Christology (how god is human and logos, etc), and so on. But this “intellectual” perspective probably should focus on “words” and “reason,” the two most popular translations of the Greek “logos” which can also mean “intelligibility” (which relates to “relevance”) And this might point to another advantage that Christianity inherited and appropriated from its Jewish roots.

    If they are not an “advantage,” the Jewish scriptures and the ideas behind them are certainly an important resource — and are fairly unique. The question of “why Christ”instead of ‘why Zeus” is thus also a question about story telling. The Greeks had great stories. So did the Jews. However, when comparing these story sets, there is another *temptation* which is to focus on how they each contended with violence and morality. But that might too quickly devolve into a contest about which god did more evil: Zeus who who was a serial rapist with a propensity to hurl thunderbolts, — or “the Name” who also struck down a fair number of individuals, inflicted evil spirts on others (poor King Saul), rained fire and brimstone on entire cities, and wiped almost every living thing off the earth in a great deluge. (The Virgin Mary gave her consent, it is written…) No, the key difference between the Greek and the Jewish (and therefore now also Christian) story sets is that the latter were somehow compiled into one “book of books” that might serve as a touchstone and a centering guidance.

    A great deal of scholarship continues to wrangle with how so many books and voices were redacted over many centuries to form the “Old” Testament, and there are similar efforts dealing with similar problems involving the books and letters in the “New”. But the persistence of these megaBooks gives rise to questions about how they can and should be used… how they can be relevant in the generations and (now) millennia since they were “finalized.” The Oven of Akhnai is a pointed, poignant, and quite amusing summation of one Jewish non-final solution to this problem in which the bulk of the rabbis essentially tell God to “buzz off” and leave the Torah interpretation to THEM … which, of course, generates new universes of commentary and stories, one of which involves God telling Elijah how proud he was of his “children” for taking on this dire responsibility.

    Christianity, at least its Orthodox branch led from Rome, is more careful about risking the appearance of irreverence in its struggle to remain relevant. I’m going to post a link to an article about Catholicism’s most salient current project to remain relevant to problems not clearly addressed in ancient scripture (recording revelations received thousands of years ago in the past). The key word here is “metanoia, ” and the author Timothy Howles does a very good job of focusing on the most vital questions facing humanity now which, by the way, are not whether women should be ordained as deacons – or if and how same sex unions should be blessed.


  3. I’d add to that… have you read Greek Mythology?? They’re all assholes! Say want you want about Jesus, but he defiantly was not an asshole.

    Even Monty Python were so moved by the Gospels (which they read cover to cover to write Life of Brian) that they decided to make fun of everyone else around Jesus, instead of making fun of actual Jesus. Which is why life of Brian is actually one of the Best Christian Films ever made.

    Low bar maybe, but it’s a snarky internet start.

  4. In today’s New York Times, David French has a piece about Christian nationalism and it’s emotional power.


    Below is my comment, informed by Simcha’s piece and the ensuing discussion:

    Before Christianity, many gods (including the God of Abraham) demanded sacrifice, but Jesus Christ is God sacrificing himself in the most bloody, agonizing, and publicly mortifying means of slow execution the Roman Empire could devise to serve the necessity of ruling through violence and terror. By itself, this could be the most dynamic and destabilizing source of Christianity’s visceral POWER in terms of emotional symbolism.

    Christianity, when taken seriously in an EMOTIONAL way, is arguably much more demanding than the localized pluralistic cults that were replaced or subsumed by the universalizing religions that predominate today. Today’s universalizing religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism etc.) have their own intellectual and emotional demands. But let’s focus on the “passions, a word with the same root as “suffering.” The concept of “martyr” was originally Jewish, as was, of course, messianic fervor. Islam, the youngest of the Abrahamic religions developed the concept of “jihad,” a spiritual struggle that can morph into bloody conflict.

    I’m only intimate with Christianity where children can be told that every little sin is another lash or painful insult on the body of our crucified LORD who created us and will later judge us as worthy of destruction—or much MUCH worse. The idea that we TORTURE God while also damaging ourselves through sin and error is a powerful propellant subject to its own types of agonizing reversals and reforms.


    As they used to say on McHale’s Navy, “Gee, I love that kind of talk.”

  5. We probably do worship Zeus. “Zeus” comes from the ancient proto indo european “Dyous Piter” which means sky father. Jupiter also. Also Deus Pater. As well as the lithuantian Dievas. It’s probably all the same Sky Father down through history.

    1. I think there’s something to be said for people seeing certain same attributes of God. I think most cultures have had SOME idea of him. So in that sense, yeah, you’re right.

      In another sense…it’s important to differentiate between a “Sky Father” who creates intelligent life for its own sake and acts in love and one that acts like the Godfather in his dealings with humanity, spiced up with a heavy helping of raping various people whilst disguised as an animal. God the Father asked Mary for her freely given permission before she became pregnant with Jesus, Zeus disguised himself as a bull, kidnapped a woman, then raped her. Pretty big difference there.

      I think those differences in what you believe is the origin of things drives a lot of how you see the world and your place in it, as well as how you treat your fellow man. It matters who your “Sky Father” is.

      1. In the old testament God massacred the whole planet except for Noah’s family. That sounds more like Saddam Hussein. But if Sky Father decided to become incarnate as Jesus you could say a lot of people were wrong about certain aspects.

  6. That’s why St. Paul said the cross is madness to the gentils. He really meant it. The idea of worshipping a God whose most important doing was dying, was crazy to them. The Greek and Roman Gods were imortal and powerful.
    When we think of baby Jesus, we forget how counter-cultural it was, back then, to serve such a fragile God.
    This meme is exactly how the Ancient Greek thought about Christ. Spot on. St. Paul would be proud.

  7. The better question is why we don’t worship Jupiter instead of Christ. The easy, but valid, answer is that the Roman Jupiter is a “god of power” whereas Jesus the Christ is a “god of power” but also a god of “love and justice.”

    Βut there’s probably also a longer, more complicated, answer.

    First, it’s not just pedantry to point out the distinction between the Roman god (of whom we have practically no stories) to his Greek illegitimate step cousin twice removed. Zeus may have had better stories than Jupiter, but as the highest ROMAN God, Jupiter had legions and an empire of vast expanse with obscene wealth that persisted for dozens of generations and which today still persists in MANY ways, not least of which in the hierarchical structures of parishes, dioceses, arch dioceses and the Papacy (which, by the way, was NEVER in Jerusalem or Athens).

    The pluralist localized religions we call “paganism” were under immense pressure from the cosmopolitanism and violence of empires. In the Roman Empire the cosmopolitanism was generated by trade, but also by the systems of resettlement that supported the legions. (Serve 20 years and get a nice homestead in the provinces so that a man born in Syria could retire at 40 to raise a family in Britain). The violence speaks for itself, but who can resist referencing “crucifixion” the agonizing and grisly fate of rebellious slaves or anyone judged to be a threat to Roman Civic authority.

    Jesus became “the Christ” because, as the victim of crucifixion, he (as the authentic letters of Paul help attest) represented a direct threat to the Gods of Power. And he was an uncompromising threat too. Other Jews simply didn’t want a statue of Jupiter in their temple and were willing to die to prevent it. But HE defied ALL other gods EVERYWHERE (including people’s hearts and minds). Christ as a god of power represented the violent (metaphorical?) destruction of all empires which were represented by ghastly beasts in the Books of Daniel and in the Apocalypse from Patmos. As a god of love, and as the son of MAN, he opposed the anti-human rule of empire with a humane vision of a brotherhood of man and a kingdom of heaven ruled by Christ with retroactive “justification” of resurrected martyrs, saints, and true believers.

    Apostles, like Paul with burning visions of the resurrected Christ, spread this “good news” throughout the Greek and Latin speaking realms of the great empire. Every convert they made was a multiple loss to paganism because converting a head of a household (pater familias) could mean the conversion of dozens and all their descendants. At first the apostles had more luck with the poorer sorts, but converts (and martyrs) came from many strata and included ancestors (or maybe just the parents) of Constantine.

    When Constantine became the sole emperor, Christianity was a troublesome sect representing perhaps five to ten percent of the population (however numbered). As emperor, Constantine patronized churches all across his domains and set up a diocesan patronage system sorely needed because traditional pagan based religion and administration (they were not “separate”) depended on voluntary service and funding by local elites who had checked out during the generations that endured destabilizing civil wars prior to Constantine. Constantine’s sponsorship helped centralize and stabilize imperial power while also co-opting a divisive and seditious sect.

    It might have gone otherwise. A different emperor might have decided to subsidize a different unifying world religion that may have tolerated the old gods the way contemporary Hinduism still tolerates and even honors ancient tradition gods and their many emanations.

    The nature of empires (globalization) put all kinds of pressures on older, more localized, forms of religion. The idea that there was really ONE god was not unique to the Abrahamic traditions; a cursory acquaintance with the teachings of Plato makes this clear. The same goes for the ideas of “covenant” and “justice.” It’s not like ancient peoples before Christ didn’t yearn for love and justice—or didn’t honor its approximations in other humans. They simply didn’t believe there was any god who would voluntarily be just and merciful for all time. (For one thing, that would make their despotic overlord conquerors a little uneasy. But witches and sorcerers might offer ways to temporarily bind less than omnipotent gods—and force them to serve humans under limited terms.)

    Force and power are only so persuasive—and external coercion is not always the best way to run an empire. Some people will always be condemned to trust only in the material (what can be seen, heard, and felt), but that’s because they have been traumatized by their own sin and violence or that of others (simply the fear of these can be debilitating). But Christian or not, it is possible to realize that all kinds of abstractions including social systems, mythologies, and values are as real in their own ways as are rocks and fire, stars and oceans. And even the most hard hearted, hard headed materialist believes in MONEY though it is one of the most fictional of all abstractions as witnessed by the Greek story of Midas who could not eat or love after he was cursed by a “touch” that turned everything to solid shining gold.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *