The Weird Ancient World
I’m reading Christianity in the Greco-Roman World by Moyer V. Hubbard and I just finished the chapter titled Religion and Superstition. I find it amazing the kind of superstitious practices that were widespread in the ancient Roman world. Practices like burying a frog at an intersection to prevent a fever or pouring wine under a table after hearing a cock crow [p. 26], or a mother who vows that her sick son will stand naked in the Tiber River on the day of the fast if Jupiter will save him.
I find it comical that the Romans had a god of the door post, a god of the beehive and a particular god who cures hangovers [p.20-21] among a myriad of other deities available to the shopper.
We want to laugh at such ridiculous nonsense – and we do, but then we turn on the evening news and…
The Weird Modern World
Then I sat down the other day to join my family in watching the news and what do I see? Dozens of excited folk running around dressed up like groundhogs anticipating the next mornings, uh well, prediction?
You know the tradition? If the groundhog sees his shadow then wa-bam, six more weeks of Winter (Who’s Winter? Are we talking globally? Do all groundhogs in the world have a vote? Who selects which groundhog gets to make the prediction?). In any case, in at least at one location the groundhog has seen his shadow 98 times in the past 112 years – I think by now he knows what’s coming and sees his shadow just to get a joke out of us.
Then the news began to talk about the Super Bowl that starts in a few days, the stats for this are simply crazy: 151.6 million (yah that’s not a typo) total viewers on average sat down to watch it last year. To put that number into perspective, Canada’s total population hovers around 30 million! So 5 times the entire registered population of Canada sits down at once to watch a bunch of men in tights run around hitting each other for several hours – woo hoo! (I wonder what future archaeologist will say about this weird North American phenomenon?)
Many people often say that they watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Well for 3 million dollars a pop (at only 30 seconds) they better be good!
In Perspective: Then and Now
As I reflect upon these recent events it has occured to me that we – as a culture – really haven’t come all that far in the past two thousand years.
In short, we have no right to mock the weird customs of the past because, well in many ways, we’re still there. (Ever bury a St. Joseph statue in your yard to help sell a house – if not it may surprise you how common this superstitous practice is today).