Not all descriptions of God are worthy of commitment
In the development of religious thought, various ideas about God have been advanced. Many have been rejected. When considering the appearance of any kind of "atheistic" thinking, it is essential to consider what particular concept of God is being rejected, or whose idea of God is being renounced. Is the objection to the God of the prophets, the God of the mystics, the God of the reformers, the God of dogmatism, the God of piety?
Are people casting aside an image of an omnipotent deity, an ineffective godhead, a silent or removed Being?
Not all descriptions of God are worthy of being the basis for commitment and adherence. To rely on some classical definition begs the point, since any definition will begin with assumptions that might not be universally accepted. That same kind of warning can be directed back immediately to these very remarks. Yet definitions can provide some guidelines and limits, all the while aiming for consistency and coherence of thought as well as adequacy and applicability.
When was it that Ares/Mars as a war god was discredited? Was it at Troy where Athena, goddess of wisdom, joined forces against Ares in the battle with the Greeks? Was it in other encounters where this Olympian offspring of Hera and Zeus was challenged and humiliated? What was it that took the divine mantle from the shoulders of Ares, known to the Romans as Mars? Was it eventually the fall of Rome itself?
But Rome had others gods who were more prominent and admired than the hated Mars. Relying on Tyche (Fortuna) was more common behavior. And celebrating the victory of battle by recognizing Nike, the winged goddess of victory, was common. Or another god or goddess to whom the success of battle could have been attributed meant that Ares/Mars was often overshadowed or shunned.
Of course, references to the Greek and Roman gods sound strange to us who have been accustomed to the notion of monotheistic thought while discarding any mythological and/or polytheistic notions.
And yet I wonder if a god of war has been totally discredited. Perhaps some kind of polytheism is necessary to explain the daimonic, possessed experiences that accompany most every extended war.
Is it this kind of daimonism that accounts for the frenzy, hatred, adrenaline rush, intensity, glorification, sacrifice, vengeance, bloodthirstiness, camaraderie, loyalty and obedience within war? Is it the spirit of Mars/Ares or Athena that intoxicates a warrior? Is it that same spirit that feeds war profiteering, greed and cronyism? Is it this activity that again brings to life Ares, and Nemesis, goddess of vengeance and retribution?
My own attempt is to try to understand and embody what I perceive to be the nonviolent spirit of a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth. I believe that he was deeply committed to ridding the countryside of his day of the oppressive policies of a foreign empire and a corrupt aristocracy. He knew, I imagine, what the consequences would be for any brigand or social protester against the powers that be. He not only had his beheaded cousin, John the Baptist, as an example, but the community's memory of the crucifixion of 2,000 Jewish rebels by Gen. Varus in Palestine in 9 B.C.E. Threats to the governing authorities were not tolerated.
In the conflicts he encountered, he challenged the powers-that-be by dissembling, confronting conventional practices, telling subversive stories and offering an alternative sense of community among his followers. His tough nonviolence did not invoke any god of war. Rather, his notion of God seemed to include qualities of purpose, relationality and immanent presence.
The Rev. Fritz Fritschel, a Lutheran clergyman for 40 years, was formerly chaplain of Hospice Hawaii and assisting pastor at Lutheran Church of Honolulu.