Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 18): Proselytism

First view: Proselytism is unfavorable because it is associated with expansive monotheism

Second view: If monotheists converted others, polytheists should be doing the same in similar ways to counter them

Balanced view: Polytheists need to actively promote their religion, convince others that it is real as well as good, and generally increase their influence in society, which in the case of polytheism’s plural traditions does not constitute proselytism.

I need not emphasize the situation of polytheism in comparison with monotheism today, in regard to the number of followers and influence and community organization. It suffices to point out that we have a great deal of work to do, for several generations, before we can approach a state of serious competition. We have reason to be both fearful that we are too slow, but also to be hopeful that the time has never been riper. But while we do need to expand, the notion of proselytism is a misnomer in our case, because “polytheism” is not a monolithic faith, nor is it structured (like monotheism) to save people from damnation and eternal torment in hell. For this reason, proselytism also has (as it were) a sort of evil twin, i.e. apostasy and heresy, which follow the same imperialistic and pathological mode of thinking. And yet, in spite of our necessity and our difference from monotheism, too many among us confuse what may be better called “activism” with proselytism. We think it is rude or intrusive or arrogant to inform and convince others that our faiths and traditions are valid and worthy of following. It is true that part of this reluctance to engage actively with outsiders results from our injuries under the tyranny of monotheism and its derivative systems, but what other choice do we have? Do we sit back and be passive in a world that is very active? And what about the hostility in the world towards our faiths and traditions? Should we merely enjoy the current freedom we have, or lay a foundation for future growth? I have always sincerely believed (and will repeat, ad nauseam if necessary) that communities of faith that resemble those of Hindus or even monotheists are essential for our continuity; this is not a matter of well-being, but of survival. But this matter of fact should not make us pathological in such a way as to hunger after followers, but only aware of the necessity to work hard in order to honor our Gods and ancestors as well as secure our uncertain future. There are monotheists (even atheists) who dedicate many many days, if not their whole lives, to teaching and proselytizing and debating—they have the spirit and confidence that their way is the best and must expand. We know that polytheism, or at least a general plurality of faiths and traditions, is better for the world than merely one or some that pretend to be exclusively correct in spite of all others. If we have the spirit and confidence that our ways (emphasize on plural) are better, why not dedicate something more from our time and efforts to further the paths of polytheism that can ensure cultural self-determination, promote inter-ethnic harmony and defeat all imperialism. We need a larger presence and louder voice, but always a more balanced and reasonable view to prevail. 

8 thoughts on “Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 18): Proselytism

  1. caelesti

    Proselytizing tends to be seen as aggressive, but I think there are certainly appropriate ways to make our religions more available to folks who may be interested. Simply being open and answering people’s questions and going to events like Pagan Pride and participating in relevant cultural activities/communities (music, dance, language etc.) or other types of community service are all good ways to connect with others.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      Yes, we are agreed in this. I would only carry it further (yet certainly without aggression) and engage in discussions, debates, promotion, etc. There are other religions doing it, and thus it’s indispensable for us to compete successfully or at least to be better known and heard! To give an example, I would like to see many more of these events: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf7e8jle68Q

      There’s also a second part you may see. But notice how the “pagans” are much more civil and reasonable in this debate. We need to take advantage of this religious freedom the Gods have blessed us with, because one day we might have oppressive monotheism return again.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      That seems to be the case nowadays, although monotheism could rebound one day. Atheism and agnosticism are the chief opponents and I’m not quite sure whether they are easier or harder to challenge than monotheism.

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      1. K

        I haven’t been on the Internet at all for over a month. Just got back to using it. Here is a quote for you.

        “But before I deal with the question I will say a few words about myself. You must know then, Balbus, that I am not a little moved by your authority, and by the closing words of your discourse urging me to remember that I am both Cotta and pontiff, which meant, I suppose, that I should defend the beliefs relating to the immortal gods that we have received from our ancestors, and the sacred rites, and ceremonies, and religious observances. Now I always will and always have defended these, and no one’s utterances, be he learned or unlearned, shall ever move me from those convictions with regard to the worship of the immortal gods that I have inherited from our forefathers. But in questions of religion I follow the chief pontiffs, Tiberius Coruncanius, Publius Scipio, and Publius Scævola, and not Zeno, or Cleanthes, or Chrysippus, and in Caius Lælius, who is at the same time an augur and a philosopher, I have an authority to whose remarks upon religion, in that famous speech of his, I prefer to listen rather than to any leader among the Stoics. Since, moreover, the whole religious system of the Roman people has been divided into sacred rites and auspices, with the addition of a third part consisting of the prophetic warnings derived, by the interpreters of the Sibyl or by soothsayers, from portents and prodigies, it has been my opinion that none of these observances ought ever to be treated with contempt, and I have convinced myself that it was by means of auspices and the establishment of sacred rites that Romulus and Numa respectively laid the foundations of our state, which certainly could never have been so great without the most assiduous cultivation of the good will of the immortal gods. You are in possession of my opinions, Balbus, both as an individual and as pontiff; let me now understand yours, for from you who are a philosopher I ought to receive a reasoned account of religion, whereas it is my duty to believe our ancestors even when they offer no such account.”
        -Gaius Aurelius Cotta, a speaker in De Natura Deorum by Cicero.

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      2. Melas the Hellene Post author

        Thank you for this excellent quote, my friend! I will surely add it in the quote section, which I have lately extended. Go see what’s new there, if you wish; you’ll find very interesting points taken from important scholarship I’ve been reading.

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  2. Paul

    I’ve noticed a lot of agnostics tend to become very close-minded. At least in my experience, most of them aren’t actively searching for truth or answers but have settled into a comfortable state of not being sure and not moving beyond that, nor having any real desire to.

    By the way, friend, apologies for my absence. I’ve spent this evening catching up on your writings. For different reasons things have been very busy for me (weddings to go to, work, etc…) as of late, but things have returned more to normal now thankfully.

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    1. Melas the Hellene Post author

      No apology needed. It has only made me miss your engagement more and now I thank for your presence once again!

      Yes, agnosticism is a temporary state that when prolonged, becomes really uncomfortable to its subject and ridiculous to its observers. There is a learned professor by the name of Jordan Peterson who has been debating the famous atheist Sam Harris lately, and, although he wins Harris every time (in substance rather than in delivery, I should point out) it troubles me that he is agnostic. If only he could become a polytheist too!

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