When I was gearing up to teach The Odyssey again this year, I was really concerned that I wasn't going to be able to drum up the same enthusiasm that I have in years past. It's easily one of my favorite things to teach, but this would be the eighth year doing it - and I've averaged 2-3 freshmen classes every year, so that's a whole lot o' Homer. I am glad to report that not only did I once again drum up some enthusiasm, but I think that I love this epic poem more now than I ever did before.
That brings me to today's blog. I had been toying with the idea of writing an entry about why Superman is better than Jesus for some time now, but then I found out that "The Good Atheist" beat me to it. So much for that. Instead, I'm going to give my five reasons why Odysseus and The Odyssey are better than Jesus and The Bible.
5. Odysseus is more human. Sure, he's the great-grandson of Zeus (or is it Hermes?), which gives him a little bit of divine cred, but he's much more relatable than somebody who's either the son of Yaweh or Yaweh himself (or both or neither or one or the other - who the hell can figure it out?) For me, the best part of the Jesus story is when he gets ticked off and starts tossing out the money lenders from the temple. That shows that Jesus has some human characteristics and emotions. However, how can Jesus say that he's ever experienced the human condition when he's never known physical love? Sexuality is a big part of what it is to be human, and how can MacYaweh ever say that he knew what it was to be human if he refused to experience that? Odysseus? He's getting laid left and right - by a goddess, a sorceress, and his wife too, no doubt. Oh, and he also owns a dog. That alone makes him better than Jesus, who only had a donkey. Donkeys suck.
4. More consistent values. Read The Odyssey and it's very clear where the gods stand. Be a good host. Be a good guest. Be kind to old beggars and care for them. There's nothing more important than your home and family. Sure, Jesus has a lot of good things to say with things like how the meek will inherit the Earth (sounds pretty socialist to me), and it's pretty good when it stands on its own. However, when you try and reconcile it with the Bible of the Old Testament, it just doesn't make a lick of sense. The Chosen People sure as heck weren't being very meek when they took over the Promised Land, that's for damned sure.
3. Better family values. Odysseus could have spent all eternity making love to the goddess Calypso, but all he wanted to do was go home. She had him under a spell, but whenever he was free to be by himself, he'd cry and wish that he was with his wife. Not only that, but we learn what it means to be a good son and a good father. What does Jesus say? He says that you have to abandon your family in order to follow him. Odysseus doesn't even insist that you follow him; he just sets a good example.
2. The Odyssey promotes a love for life. When in the underworld, Achilles tells Odysseus that he'd rather be alive and a poor man's slave than the King of the Underworld. The message that many Christians take away from The Bible is that things will be better when you die. I've even had Christians tell me that they "look forward" to dying because they'll be in a better place. Too bad they didn't have Achilles around to tell them much it sucks.
1. The Odyssey promotes being smart. Jesus encourages his followers to be like sheep, but Odysseus gets out of trouble by using his brains and having Athena, the goddess of wisdom, on his side. Sure, you got that bit about Solomon in The Bible and his bright idea to cut a baby in half, but for the most part, The Bible just wants you to believe and shut the hell up. The Odyssey just tells a good story and shows that using your brain is the best way to solve problems.
BONUS REASON: Nobody's trying to tell you that The Odyssey should be used as a guidebook to modern living. It's just a good story (and a much better read than all that "begat" crap in The Bible).
This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to The Amazing Spider-Man #38: "Just a Guy Named Joe!" It's also a nod to my favorite part of The Odyssey where Odysseus tricks the Cyclops by telling him that his name is "Nobody". (Read the thing to find out why that's so clever.)