Know Your Enemies, or The Statue of Gaia in Nashville

I don’t usually like to talk about religion. It tends to get people angry. I’ll make an exception here though, because it relates to a broader, secular lesson.

Recently, I skimmed a book by Jenkins and LaHaye, the authors of Left Behind. It was titled Are We Living in the End Times? Surprisingly, their answer to that question is “No,” due to their desire to take the Bible literally and insist on their particular version of the order in which prophesies get fulfilled.

The statue of Athena in Nashville.

Yet that’s not my focus here. Instead, I’ll narrow in on a particular passage in their book. “A replica of the Parthenon located at a park in Nashville, Tennessee features a huge statue to Gaia,” they write. I’ve been there. Unless they’re talking about the indirect representation of Gaia by way of the snake next to the big statue, they’re confusing Gaia (Terra in Latin), the goddess of the Earth, with Athena (Minerva in Latin) the warrior goddess of knowledge.

Gaia and Athena Separate
Gaia (below, as befits an earth goddess) hands her newborn, Erichthonius, to Athena as Hephaestus watches – an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC copied here from a public domain photo on Wikipedia. Clearly they’re separate people.

There are several problems with this mistake. Athena is a virgin. “Wide busomed” Gaia, on the other hand, is Mother Earth, who slept around, including with her own children and grandchildren, such as Zeus. Also, she apparently had children with her first husband/son Uranus’s castrated penis. Greek mythology is weird like that.

Athena, from the same goddess merchandise website as that last picture.

The mistake is understandable. To Jenkins and LaHaye, all gods and goddesses who aren’t Jesus are evil. For them, calling something evil seems to be more important than understanding that evil thing.

I’m using this example, because regardless of your positions, there are two ways to look at things you perceive as wrong. Ideally you should do both.

    1. Focus on how wrong it is and fighting it.
    2. Focus on understanding it.

LaHaye and Jenkins focused on the first rather than the second with regard to Greek mythology.

When you’re particularly with people who hold positions you view as wrong, or have done things you consider bad, these two ways of seeing things can be at odds with each other. After all, trying to understand someone’s reasons for doing a wrong thing or holding a wrong position can feel like buying into a series of bad excuses. Sometimes it’s not even really necessary.

Yet sometimes it is. Sometimes your own arguments make no sense if they’re up against something you got wrong. Sometimes you’ll just come off as stupid to people in the middle or ones who disagree with you.

I’m probably just as guilty of this as anyone. People may point back to this post when I say certain things that seem to misunderstand people who disagree with me. All I’m doing here is raising a fairly obvious point which people can use to evaluate their own arguments and the arguments of others.

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