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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


‘Death of the Gods’ gave way to Christianity, says scholar

Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat Phi Beta Kappa’s Visiting Scholar program welcomed Dr. James J. O

The Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society invited Georgetown University Provost James J. O’Donnell to give his speech on “Death of the Gods: What we can learn from paganism,” in the Union Kiva Room of Student Union Memorial Center on Wednesday.

“If you compare ancient gods to Republican candidates … they get their moment, they have their votary,” O’Donnell said, explaining how paganism faded gradually over time.

O’Donnell, a specialist in Roman history and culture from 100 BCE to 600 CE, talked about Roman and Greek paganism and how it evolved and eventually turned into Christianity.

Classics professor Cynthia White coordinated the invitation to bring O’Donnell as a guest speaker to the UA and asked Phi Beta Kappa Nationals about hosting a public lecture.

“He (O’Donnell) is a gift to us,” said Margaret M. Houghton, president of the Alpha chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and a retired superior court judge. “He is an incredible classics expert.”

After discussing the many gods, what they look like, where they exist, who worshipped them and when they were celebrated, O’Donnell said the many gods of ancient Rome and Greece “didn’t exist.” He also compared belief in paganism to modern day thoughts about hobbies, entertainment and exercise. According to O’Donnell, people’s feelings and practices about which gods to respect, and when, changed freely and frequently without much fear of punishment.

O’Donnell also lectured about the history of sacrificing animals to the gods, the fade of this trend and the eventual fallout of all pagan practices and beliefs. “Fashions come, fashions go,” O’Donnell said.

“When something has been fading for 200 years it’s not a revolution. You didn’t need to convert to Christianity … you just had to get right with this God (Christ).”

Ultimately, O’Donnell said, instead of fencing paganism as non-Christian historic beliefs, we should understand the resemblances and differences between paganism and Christianity.

Phi Beta Kappa hosts one guest lecturer a year. The honor society invites undergraduate juniors and seniors to become members, many of which continue to be a part of Phi Beta Kappa throughout graduate school.

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