Throughout history, Jews and Christians have been different from everyone else. We alone argue that there is One True God. Other religions have also sensed from the creation the need for God's attributes, and have invented gods whom they could discuss, control, and worship.
I want to discuss today one very strange god, and at the end give you something to think about.
The god's name is Ares.
Ares was a god worshipped in many cultures, including many of the most powerful empires and kingdoms in history.
Now, Ares-worship is an interesting religion.
Ares is commonly seen by us as the god of war. And this of course makes sense--his primary use (indeed, virtually his only appearance in the culture from what we can see) was by definition violent.
But according to his cult disciples, he is the god of freedom and safety. The idea is that worship of Ares is the only thing which guarantees freedom from oppression and safety from war and attacks. He is seen as the offensive force when approaching unbelievers and the source of justice, freedom, and safety with regard to his cultic worshippers.
The idea was that the same strength that Ares used to propogate war on unbelievers was a positive, defensive trait with shrines or icons in the home. Thus, worshippers should have one or two icons of Ares in their home if the wish to guarantee their safety (the more, the better).
This is interesting because the icons to Ares were very complex and have to be carefully made. As a result, they turned out to be very expensive, and often also very dangerous in the way they were constructed. Icons to Ares were known, because of their design, to actually crush the heads and bodies of children in the homes they were supposed to protect! Even poor families however felt the need to have many, many icons of Ares in the home.
Now what was very interesting is that of course--like all false gods--Ares offered no security. True security can only come from One Source, and Ares is not that god. Yet nonetheless, devotees to the cult of Ares absolutely refused to think of it in any other way, no matter how many times their children were killed or their cities sacked or their markets destroyed. It was fundamentalism at its best: in the face of all logic, reason, or evidence, Ares shrines were considered the best protection.
Indeed, the answer to attacks that had been unprevented by shrines to Ares was to build more shrines to Ares!
Here is what I mean: historical statistics tell us that the countries which most followed the cult of Ares, and had therefore the most shrines to him, also had the highest probability of being killed. One would think that it would therefore be obvious, even without much mathematical skill, to conclude that having shrines to Ares was not an indicator of safety but (best case) was neutral and (worst case) was somehow creating a culture of death and violence and lack of safety.
Why didn't people see through this?
Because the priests of Ares were exceptionally good at their jobs. Perhaps never in the history of religion has a cultic leadership group been so impressive at controlling the message. The priesthood of the cult worked with the imperial governments to ensure that the cult of Ares was wide-spread and that blasphemers against it were punished and (if public officials) removed from office. Meanwhile, the priesthood reinforced what amounted to propoganda mantras to reinforce the beliefs. Some of these mantras are mind-bending in the lack of logic (but then, these empires were not very advanced anyway in the studies of philosophy): for example, one popular mantra pointed out that if you did not have a shrine to Ares in your home and robbers broke in, the constabulary who protects you do have shrines to Ares so obviously therefore in that way it is still protecting. If you don't have a shrine and are under attack, your best chance was to call on someone who did have a shrine.
As a result, when people would point out that members of the cult of Ares actually saw more violence as a result, the priestly response was--this only happens because the number of worshippers is too low. The lack of promised freedom and safety was not because they were false prophets, but due to the lack of devotion of the citizens: if Ares shrines were in every home, then no violence would occur. And if the person attacked did have a shrine in his home, or was involved in violence of his own, well that was very easy for the priests to explain away--he just wasn't caring for the shrine appropriately. It is not Ares who was the problem--it was the neglect of, or misuse of, the cult of Ares that led to violence and death.
The priests would tell stories of far-off lands in which this was the case, where everyone were true disciples with shrines in every home properly maintained, and which therefore suffered no violence. But of course it is no surprise to you to find out that we've found no historical evidence to support the claims that the answer to the Ares-inspired violence was actually more Ares icons.
All in all, it was very odd.
Can you imagine? Imagine taking a god of violence and war and building a shrine in your house which is of great expensive, by its design routinely injures or kills the family it is supposed to protect, and then praying to it every day for your security?
Imagine getting wrapped up in the twisted priestly memes that your security is dependent upon Ares and if it isn't working then it is either your fault, or someone else's fault for degrading a shrine, or you just need to buy more Ares shrines?
How could people not see through this?
Imagine the fundamentalism required to buy into the belief that only this shrine--not wise decisions or a sturdy defense system or proper legal protections or (in the case of Christians, trust in God)--is the source of safety.
Crazy, isn't it? I sure think so.
Oh, one thing I forgot...
Ares is just the word I chose as a stand-in for "guns."