"Messenger" by Hunter Madsen



Religion is not only about retelling others what God has done in the past. It is also, just as importantly, about determining what God wants from adherents today, and about exactly whose words get to fill in for God's magnificent silences. 

The fisticuffs over who may speak for God within any given tradition become the stuff of grim legend.  After the prophet Mohammed's death in 632, for example, his followers promptly fell into violence over who shall inherit his mantle of divine authority, with those known as Shiites choosing his son-in-law Ali and others in Mohammed's family line, whereas the zealots known as Sunnis venerated the prophet's disciple Abu Bakr and a string of subsequent caliphs, many of which were promptly bumped off by Shiites in the mutual blood bath that was to drench the sects over the next several hundred years, and well into our times. 

Who gets to speak for God is the question afflicting every faith: one could, I suppose, take the Bible's periodic re-edits, or the Pope's final word on things, or any exotic brand of animist shamanism as prime illustrations of such authorized retelling, but why not step back instead to consider Hermes, the winged herald and messenger of the Olympian gods?  

As current followers of Hermes recognize, He is the only Olympian who can cross the border between the living and the dead. Hermes is also a divine trickster, esteemed as the god of roads, flocks, commerce, elegant couture, and thieves. Not to be entirely trusted, then or now. 

In visiting, Hermes has brought mortals not only unearthly tidings, but also, some say, the very gift of human speech, by which our kind may comprehend and inquire. The formal interpretation of divine texts still goes by His pagan name, hermeneutics. Almost needless to say, the craft of hermeneutics - or the divine retold - is not entirely to be trusted, either.