Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blame it all on Pandora: Holding onto Hope in a World of Pain and Suffering

Naked Pandora sitting on a rock with a closed box

According to Greek mythology, the mighty Zeus was very angry (to use a euphemism for “pissed off”) that Prometheus had given humans the secret gift of sacred fire. So Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create a “beautiful evil” in flesh to tempt and lead astray mankind through her charms.

This beautiful woman was given to Epithemeus as a “gift,” incidentally the brother of Prometheus. Prometheus, speaking from his own experience, let his brother know that one should neither mess with the powerful Zeus nor accept any gifts from him. Nonetheless, Epithemeus disregarded all those warnings and accepted not only the beautiful wife but also a precious jar or box from Hermes, the messenger of Zeus.

The object itself did not pose any threat in itself, yet Pandora was told not to open it. She could look at it as much as she liked; as long as she managed to gain an upper hand on her curiosity, there would be no danger. So Pandora was amazed and kept staring at the precious gift, and gradually the inner voice of temptation would whisper in her ear. Over time, she did succumb to her curiosity, a trait once given to her by Hera, the wife of Zeus, and she actually opened the box.

What did she find inside? Evil spirits in various shapes and forms flew out and devastated the earth below. The place was filled with evil and mischievous laughter, and these spirits brought with them disease, decay, and death everywhere they went. Humans below were then punished since time immemorial with pain and suffering.

Pandora was devastated at the effects of her actions and began to lament her act of curiosity. However, she noticed a frail being that was crawled up in a corner of the box. It was a fairy with broken wings. She took it gently into her hands and kissed its wings. Slowly, this creature came to life, and, soon enough, it was flying all around the place. And she gave this fairy the name of "Hope."

Our first immediate question might be: Was it really worth the endless suffering of billions of people for the satisfaction of a curious itch, Pandora? It would be so easy to blame her! All the suffering shall be her fault, the same way Cain was branded with the mark on his forehead for his evil ways. Similarly, we can blame Adam and Eve for trying of the forbidden fruit even though they were explicitly told not to! Was it worth to curse the human race for a momentous satisfaction of the craving for knowledge?

Or we can decide not to point fingers and accept the facts of (human) life. Suffering exists, yes, we are all bound to die and the countdown towards the inevitable starts with the piercing newborn's cry; yes, we are left in the dark and lack the reasons why and are left with puzzling attempts to answer those classic questions of the human condition.

Yet the message in Pandora's case does have an uplifting tone. We need to hold onto hope. Blindly and stubbornly, against all odds of logic. We need to believe, have faith and boldly take the step into the void, as Kierkegaard would urge us. We need to put it all on one card, as Pascal would like us know. And in the case of Eden, I think it is this kind of knowledge that the fruit wanted to erase from our minds, that yes, a benevolent creator, whatever his or her or its name or attributes, is watching us with loving and understanding eyes.


John said...

It all sounds very Greek:

This idea: “A benevolent creator, whatever his or her or its name or attributes, is watching us with loving and understanding eyes.” We know this. After all, He blessed us with hope.

Hmmm. That idea is often embraced with no thought anywhere in sight. I appreciate finally seeing the concept expressed with back-story. Here is the problem, Arash: The notion is rubbish. At least if you believe the stories about the God who planted the garden or the God who prepared a box. They are, incidentally, partially the same God, just dressed a little differently, which makes all of the similar stories seem more cohesive, a little more genuine. This fact, however, is in no way a credit to God. Better for Him if the tales of His unparalleled cruelty where exaggerated. This God, no matter the age in which you find him, bullied his suppliants without mercy and then killed them.

Both Zeus and Adonai/Jehovah/I AM, etc. convicted the race of humanity for the crimes of a few completely innocent children, who in one version could not have committed any crime, as they had no knowledge of evil. Now one could say, “Yes, but that is just an allegory to make a higher point. Look at the God, not the specific allegory.” I think this is His best defense. However, Zues was always known to be an angry psychopath, even by those who fearfully worshiped Him. The Christian God was worshipped under the full authority of the Stockholm syndrome. Almost ever virtue attributed to Him is directly challenged by His favorite set of Books, the very thing His suppliants use to guide them in life. He repeatedly advocated the torture of man, woman and child, if you trust the allegories of the Christian Bible or the historical writings contained therein.

Most of the Christian God’s unconscionable acts toward mankind were completed in the Old Testament. By the time He got around to changing his mind about lots of things and invented a New Testament, he found that inflicting the same ole pain grew tiresome. A plague is a plague is a plaque. With this in mind, He came down to earth personally and tortured Himself.

He did this to pay for our sins. Perhaps He recognized that we were sinners because he taunted completely chaste children into eating an apple filled with instructions on how to be evil. Because this childish act was the root cause of all evil, He must have figured out the “justice” in Him paying for the crime. He had the right idea, but bungled it. His suffering did not alleviate any of ours. I still get corns on my toes, and my contacts never sit exactly right on my eyes, and children in the Sudan are dying in agony every day. If any one of us lived by His example, we would be condemned as evil, over-emotional and psychotic.

I must admit that I am being a little facetious, as I do not believe the stories of Zues and the Garden of Eden are considered historical by any of the Christians to whom I have much to say. They are, however, silly enough to entertain me over and over again.

While I cannot dispute the obvious benefit of embracing hope, I do challenge the notion that Pandora's Box or the Forbidden Fruit or the Trojan Horse, were bestowed on their beneficiaries as an act of love or harsh benevolence. If hope was truly contained in the apple, or a box, or some other container that barely had room for it, because evil and agony was hogging up most of the space, then I would much prefer to be denied hope (and the need for it). I am sure as the devastating army exited the Trojan Horse and the gates of Troy swung wide, the Trojan’s still had hope for survival, and they probably knew it more intimately than ever before. They may even have felt some affinity for the Greeks for having revived that wonderful emotion again. I understand why believers thank the Deity du Jour for the Problem of Evil (and its companion, hope). What else can they do? You have to thank Him for all His Gifts, or He may think we do not appreciation them and withhold them forevermore.


Arashmania said...

Thank you very much for your insight and I found your comment both refreshing and original.

Regarding your views on Christianity you will probably enjoy one of my upcoming posts within the next month or so where there will be a different version or alternative interpretation of Christianity if you will.

Yet in my post I have never identified a specific God, but simply a creator and I think yes the cosmos has been created because "nothing comes out of nothing" and I am not so sure about random luck.

Anyhow, I think we need hope and I do think that it is not misplaced no matter what religion or philosophy one may subscribe to. And in my view, Pandora`s myth reinforces exactly that.

John said...


Yes, I did use Christianity as my example, because it is the myth with which I am most familar.

Your observation that hope is the best defense against the agony of earthly humany destiny is noted, and I think well-thought.

My primary objection was to the notion that a loving entity bestowed hope upon us. If such an entity exists, He put us through a paper shredder and then gave us a bandaid.

While I gratefully accept His charitable offering, I am still unwilling forget the devestation that came with it.