Questioning the local gods
I wonder if each city has its own god.
The idea was rather common in the ancient world. Many first century Jews believed demons ruled entire cities. Pagans too believed in local deities. In Ephesus, the mother goddess Artemis ruled supreme. When she was challenged, it was seen as a challenge to the well-being of the city (Acts 19:26-28).
But local gods reigning over a city? Surely we’ve grown out of such myths, haven’t we?
Two weeks ago it snowed in Denver. The forecasters predicted 8-12 inches (which turned out to be a drastically generous estimation). High winds, close to no visibility. Stores were closing; churches canceled services. Stay home. It’s the obvious choice. But many Denverites did the opposite. SUVs were warmed up, skiis and snowboards were strapped to the top rack, and true Coloradoans braved the weather to shred some fresh powder, blizzard and all. The mountains called. And we answered – dutifully, faithfully, bravely.
It’s no secret that Denver is a city defined by the Rocky Mountains. Our culture has been defined by the outdoors. Everybody does triathlons here. Even me. Biking, camping, skiiing, running. I even have friends who do the “Tough Mudder” – a romp through the mud to show your Spartan spirit. Our 300 days of sun a year shape more than our interests. They shape our very being.
Several friends and I speculate about the culture of Colorado. What is ultimate to these people? The earth? That would be Boulder. The individual? We certainly are a state of cowboys. But what, or who, really reigns here? The purple mountains majesty, of course. We live for recreation – for the weekend.
How does this influence our view of work? Everybody moves to New York to work. But nobody moves to Denver to work; they move here to play. Yes, put in your hours, but ultimately its about finding a villa, a latte, and a black diamond run with some fresh snow.
But how can we determine if something good (ie God’s creation) has become something ultimate? The best definition of a god I’ve found comes from philosopher Neil Postman. In his book The End of Education, he points out how easily teachers are swayed by the “god of Technology.”
“At some point it becomes far from asinine to speak of the god of Technology – in the sense that people believe technology works, that they rely on it, that it makes promises, that they are bereft when denied access to it , that they are delighted when they are in its presence, that for most people it works in mysterious ways, that they condemn people who speak against it, that they stand in awe of it, and that, in the born-again mode, they will alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits and their relationships to accommodate it. If this is not a form of religious belief, what is?”
Postman is not only writing for Silicon Valley here. In Denver, to what extent do we rely on nature, stand in awe of it, condemn those who speak against it, marvel in its presence, and alter our “lifestyles, schedules, habits and relationships to accommodate it?” When church planters come to Denver, they learn quickly that they start services on Sunday night, not Sunday morning, because that’s when Denverites return from the mountains.
Questioning loyalty to the local gods is awfully unpopular. Easier to work around them. Far easier yet to believe that we’ve grown out of silly, ancient myths of gods ruling over entire cities.
Discussion question: What are the gods of your city?