Tag Archives: Monotheism

Was Xenophanes a proto-monotheist?

This topic seems to have been in discussion lately and John Beckett published on it a few days since. I think it is a part of a larger topic of huge importance about early Greek philosophy (of the religious or secular form or indeed a mixture of both). I will stick to the man and also touch on the movement. Now, we have many fragments about Xenophanes, as well as a historical period to which he was contemporary, that allow us to form a clear view of the man’s ideas and let me add, motives. We know that he lived after Homer and Hesiod, and was very bold to criticize them: “Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another.” Xenophanes belonged to a movement, anticipated a little by Hesiod, which criticized the old ideas and traditions (including mythology and anthropomorphism) while searching for a universal “Truth”. What surprises me is that Xenophanes doesn’t try to allow Homer and Hesiod much credit, or attempt at least (using the very “critical thinking” he seemingly wishes to distinguish himself by) to allegorize some myths and their import. Nor is there any constructive criticism; Xenophanes boldly attacks his renowned predecessors (somewhat like his contemporary and  Heraclitus, who said “Homer should be turned out of the lists and whipped”) and without much reason. First of all, Homer and Hesiod were widely acclaimed throughout Greece, and deservedly so, because they wrote beautifully and wisely, including about the Gods. Very few doubted that they did anything wrong, either artistically or theologically, and if objections were raised, reverence was most likely shown. Secondly, Xenophanes’ movement owed part of its existence to some of Hesiod’s new ideas which were in opposition to Homer’s. Greece had already begun to change and it seems Xenophanes was a thorough individualist who sought to have his own ideas spread, in order to “reform” a Greece that had been “corrupted” in its religious thinking. We know from another fragment that he travelled throughout Greece for 67 years, most probably for that purpose. His main concern was anthropomorphism, which we can infer from three fragments on the topic:

“But mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form.”

“Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds.”*

“The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.”

One cannot be exactly certain where this new idea against anthropomorphism first arose and why**, but it was undoubtedly damaging to polytheism in the long run. The traditional view of mythology and cultic practice was that the Gods were represented in a form similar to the people who worshipped them. This has universally been done throughout all polytheistic cultures. Indeed, it’s an obvious and necessary thing for ritual practice that wouldn’t have been questioned in the first place by someone who cared about ancestral and cultic continuity as well as the sanctity of religious tradition, rather than an individual opinion. That Xenophanes objected to such a common and strongly established cultural/theological/mythological norm inevitably gives the impression that he was either unduly confused or ambitious. It’s not wrong to suspect someone who objects to what everyone else does in an environment that was entirely original, that is to say, where there wasn’t anything previously lost in order to be restored (which we polytheists are doing today). Instead of enjoying his travels by expanding his knowledge of the distinctions in regional Greek practice, he sought to teach everyone how they were mistaken and needed improvement. In one fragment, he says “The Gods have not revealed all things to men from the beginning, but by seeking they find in time what is better.” Well, how could Xenophanes be so sure he was “better” and everyone else was less so in regard to this point of anthropomorphism? Apparently he wasn’t better by his own admission, as we can see from another fragment:

“There never was nor will be a man who has certain knowledge about the Gods and about all the things I speak of. Even if he should chance to say the complete truth, yet he himself knows not that it is so. But all may have their fancy.”

I must say I commend the frankness of Xenophanes here, because unlike so many other philosophers, he conceded that the “Truth” in a universal sense was really unattainable. One ought to acknowledge that he was honest about the reality of where intellectual universalism always ends, i.e. uncertainty. Each culture has its own ideas and traditions, and therefore it would be impossible, not to mention unfair, to attempt to bring them all under one system, especially an arbitrary one derived from individual conception. This is why we have pluralism inherent in polytheism; just as there are many Gods, there are many traditions, and just as the Gods are venerated, the traditions should also be respected. The essence of polytheism is far more continuity of ancestral practice rather than refining conceptions about the divine in a universal manner. Xenophanes contradicts himself and undermines his validity when he simultaneously attacks Hesiod, Homer, as well as anthropomorphism, and in effect doubts what he is saying. This makes Xenophanes somewhat of a skeptic. But now let us move to the more relevant question of proto-monotheism. Xenophanes was far removed from the time of Akhenaten, an undisputed monotheist or proto-monotheist, depending on interpretation. Yet he was part of a new movement in Greece, originating in Ionia, the same region where the first philosophy of Thales and his Milesian school developed. It was a prosperous, commercial region where commodities and ideas were exchanged among Eastern Mediterranean cultures and somewhat beyond. Thales, like Xenophanes’ contemporary Pythagoras, is known to have travelled abroad. In encountering various cultures and their differences, he must have had the negative reaction of doubting his own beliefs because of plurality rather than the positive reaction of admiring that very plurality. From this doubt, which Xenophanes shared also from extensive travels (albeit Hellenic) he sought a greater “Truth” that explained this new, large world he experienced. Everything, he must have thought, was related and had a common origin, and therefore it was only prolonged isolation and merely popular tradition that led to differences, which “covered” this primal “Truth”, which was equated to natural elements. This anticipates the rise of monotheism (one could also say deism) in its second form, i.e. the intellectual form that differed from the earlier quasi-political & imperialistic form under Akhenaten**. Xenophanes gives a strong impression of this proto-monotheism, when he states the following in several fragments:

“One God, the greatest among Gods and men, neither in form like unto mortals nor in thought . . . .”

“He sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all over.

“But without toil he swayeth all things by the thought of his mind.”

“And he abideth ever in the selfsame place, moving not at all; nor doth it befit him to go about now hither now thither.”

Now this is not monotheism, but only an earlier anticipatory form of it. Xenophanes is still a “polytheist” but he is also making a transition unto something else. The phrase “One God, the greatest among Gods and men”, looks like ambiguous evidence, but it is the first term ‘One God’ that really holds almost all the weight, especially if we also consider the three latter fragments. Some philosophers, like the Orphics contemporary to them, accorded to the ruling God (in this case Zeus, but sometimes they held the God to be a natural element) greater powers than ever before, and although they did acknowledge other Gods, the status of those Gods now dwindled in the rising supremacy of the Head. The “Mind” was now absolutely supreme and pure in the order of things, and intellect, not ritual or prayer or festivals, was the way to reach it. As M.L. West explains in an article from the book Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity:

“Empedocles describes a God who does not have human form—no head, no arms, no feet, no knees, no hairy genitals—but consists simply of a marvelous holy mind, darting across the whole universe with its swift thoughts. This may remind us of Xenophanes’ and Heraclitus’ accounts of a disembodied intelligence; but they were speaking of a unique being, whereas Empedocles‘ description may have been applicable to any of the life-long Gods…The philosopher who first gives us a clear statement of the role of the controlling Mind in the material universe is Anaxagoras, who is a little older than Empedocles. Like Heraclitus [and most probably his contemporary Xenophanes also–my note], he emphasizes that Mind or Intellect is something separate from everything else. He says it is unlimited, unalloyed, homogeneous, eternal, autonomous, the finest and purest of all substances, with knowledge of everything and the greatest power, governing all living beings, and responsible for initiating the rotation of the cosmos, which led to the separation of all things from the original mixture and continues to be productive in the same way…Here we have a single power, uniquely responsible for shaping the world we know. There is no mention of other Gods. We might say that here at last is a clear case of a monotheistic system, except that it is difficult to justify treating Anaxagoras’ Nous [the Mind] as divine…Nevertheless, theistic or not, his system interestingly illustrates the tendency to look for a single, intelligent governing power in the world”.

Michael Frede adds the following in his article from the same book, when he speaks of the continued developments of Aristotle to the concept of the “one God” above:

“Given that it is clear that there is a substantial sense in which Aristotle believes in one God, though there are many other things he is prepared to call ‘divine’, let us consider these…It is part of the order of the universe which depends on the first unmoved mover [Nous/the Mind] that there be immaterial substances, pure unembodied minds who, being immortal, enjoy eternal bliss contemplating the first unmoved mover and the order which depends on him…[As for Plato’s position in Timaeus] So there is one God, but there are also other beings which are called ‘divine’, though they are created, because they are by Divine grace immortal and enjoy a good life. But they only exist as part of God’s creation and they are immortal and hence divine only due to God’s benevolence or grace, that is to say they owe their very divinity to God. So far, then, the Platonist account, in its essential features, is very much like that of Aristotle and that of the Stoics.”

What we see here is proto-monotheism through and through, where the status of the other Gods is reduced subserviently (one may say blasphemously) to that of “angels”, dwarfish beings in comparison with the absolute, supreme God. There are those who may object (and perhaps even quibble) in the defense of Xenophanes or others, by stating that this was merely another form of polytheism and not proto-monotheism at all. Such an objection is rather inane, because if that kind of reasoning is used, Christianity itself becomes a form of polytheism too, except for the thin partition of intolerance that divides them apart. This fluidity was actually present in Late Antiquity, when all what differed between a Neoplatonist and a Christian was really not so much the point of whether there is one or many Gods, but whether Jesus was the savior and intercessor. The Christian author Augustine points this out in The City of God:

“If the Platonists prefer to call these ‘gods’ [lower case ‘g’ for emphasizing lower status] rather than ‘daemons’ and to count them among those of whom their founder and master Plato writes that they are Gods created by the highest God, let them say what they wish. For one should not engage with them in a controversy of words. For if they say that they are not blessed by themselves, but by being attached to him who has created them, then they say precisely what we say, whichever word they may use for them”

For fear of falling into this trap of quibbling where evidence is otherwise strong, I must therefore state in conclusion that Xenophanes is certainly a polytheist, but at the same time he is undoubtedly a proto-monotheist or a proto-deist or both, depending on your interpretation.

 

 

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*It’s easy to detect a satirical, overbearing tone here, and one that does our friend Xenophanes no credit at all, but rather weakens his case.

**Akhenaten’s defacing and prohibiting of divine images is known, but no connection has been established with Greece. Nevertheless, we know the Greek minds whose new ideas paved the way against anthropomorphism, i.e. Thales, the first philosopher who equated Gods with elements, and who was followed later widely by fellow philosophers. Even earlier than Thales, a problem with anthropomorphism was already anticipated from the Theogony of Hesiod, wherein he shows that traditional, anthropomorphic Gods that were worshipped, were preceded by earlier generations of non-anthropomorphic and non-cultic Gods, and in a few cases, allegorical Gods that represented the forces of nature. See Hack’s article on Hesiod in his work God in Greek philosophy.

***The two forms were later to combine very destructively under the Emperor Constantine and again under Mohammed.

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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. 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 9): Politics

***As a very brief preface, I am most pleased to return once again to writing here after a very busy term at college. I have greatly missed all the excellent learning I gain through reflection, writing and discussion, which are always a blessing to my spirit.

First view: Polytheism ought to follow Liberalism on the left, because religious monotheists tend to take the right.

Second view: Polytheism ought to follow Conservativism on the right, because Liberalism is often antithetical to tradition, religion and culture.

Balanced view: Polytheism needs both right and left, and at the same time, must move beyond this often stifling dualism.  

 The origin of the political left and right parties has already been mentioned previously. Within the faulty Athenian system of democracy, which lacked the balancing presence of a king, the nobles were divided against the commons. This was later transferred to Rome upon the overthrow of the monarchy in 509 BCE, after which the Senate found itself constantly at odds with the Plebian common classes.* This situation in politics has earlier (though not necessarily related) origins in monotheistic morality and ideology, i.e. the good against the evil. Although a form of this dualism existed in Egyptian and other polytheisms, it differed from the monotheistic in that it assigned an eternal God to both sides, to suggest an inherent balance and cycle in the forces of nature and reality, a notion well illustrated by the symbol of yin and yang. Monotheism on the other hand placed supremacy for a single universal good that was to battle with a single universal devil (who represented matter and native Gods) and win in a linear fashion towards the end of times. The purpose of mentioning this here becomes evident when we reflect on the current state of political ideology and activity, particularly in the West; the Left and the Right are at total war for domination and are acting with the same sort of reckless and linear behavior that makes monotheism dangerous. There is hardly any room for dialogue and exchange; the use of a particular expression, sometimes a single term, can mark someone out as a member of the other side, and that often leads to immediate conflict and little understanding. What deepens and perpetuates this division is that the “liberalism” and “conservatism” have gone beyond politics and established themselves firmly in culture and language. But where does polytheism stand here? A simple answer: both above and in the middle. The Left has the wisdom of condemning the modern world’s assaults and pollutions against nature, and they do very well to support indigenous people, reduce the excesses of monotheistic domination, and advocate for population control. On the other hand, the great value of the Right comes from their deep concern for the family, ethnic culture, security and prosperity. Polytheism requires both to flourish, and although this is difficult, it is possible and reasonable to shift our support from one party candidate or platform to another, according to the nature of the occasion and urgency of time. No one party or politician is an “angel” or “devil”, in spite of how disappointed we may be. Polytheism is a balanced identity and way of life that can bring the balance desperately needed in modern politics. The more we look into history and understand its complex events and ideas, the more we will see value in not being firmly partial to one outer group or the other. Our inner groups, that form the basis of our identity, must be stable and constant, but politics shifts with time, because it has to do with the needs and concerns of a huge, complicated and unstable group like a nation.

 

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* A condition that led to several conflicts in the history of the Roman Republic, most notably that between Julius Caesar and Pompey which created the even more oppressive and unstable Roman Empire. 

 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 6): Indigenism

First view: The indigenous people of the world are faring very well and are part of modern society, therefore they don’t need our help

Second view: The indigenous people of the world are in great misery and they need to be championed by everyone born with privilege (i.e. people descended from European colonists)

Balanced view: If we all think of ourselves as indigenous to a certain part of the world, and act accordingly, the problem will be solved.

Although it was my intention to consider ethnicity and ethnic religion, it is impossible to do so without understanding indigenism and its integral place within the system of polytheism. In ancient times, the various peoples of humankind spread themselves through the Earth gradually and accidentally in the course of many tens of thousands of years. When these journeys ended, and most lands were inhabited, peoples diversified further within distinct territories to form distinct cultures, practices and languages. It is difficult to determine when exactly this permanent or regional settlement occurred, but it seems to have been (in general) hardly later than the past three thousand years ago. However, with the rise of population (mainly because of agriculture), states arose and battled for wealth and power, and before long, the vile spirit of imperialism was born, and its lust for absolute domination, false glory, and unjust expansion began. As shown in the previous series (good and bad polytheists), we see it occurring throughout the world where agriculture was adopted along rivers, even (though to a lesser degree) in South America with the Incan Empire. It is thus easy to understand how indigenism lost to imperialism and its twin colonialism.  After  extended periods of growth (following fall of the Roman Empire) an absolute tragedy occurred in Western Europe: Ethnic groups on the margins of national empires, formerly indigenous Celts, who were now oppressed and disliked by the new dominant cultures based in the capital cities, undertook to colonize actively (as if in escapism) the New World. It is no secret that most settlers in the New World were poor, scorned and therefore hungry for some sort of wealth or acknowledgement— the Spaniards on the fringes, the Northern & Western English, the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots, the Portuguese, the Scots-Irish, the Hugenots of France, the Southern Germans, etc. These people had been oppressed by an inner colonization & imperialism in the form of nationalism, and now they were tempted to help themselves, not knowing that they were also feeding the same oppressive system of nationalism, and this again at the expense of other indigenous people. Thus, by a most unfortunate twist of fate and conspiracy on the part of the theocratic & national forces, the marginal groups of Europe, formerly indigenous, founded their own theocratic & national systems throughout the New World, in order to prove themselves and put an end to their former oppression, as if in defiance of the native countries that had scorned them. The obvious observation here is that imperialism and colonialism cause destructive cycles that expand and diversify themselves—the very definition of a disease. But since this is not a conclusion, we must answer the question, what is to be done nowadays? Although I am somewhat biased to the second view above, it seems to imply (ironically) that people of European descent will be committing only another sort of colonialism by championing and speaking on behalf of indigenous peoples. The solution? Leave. Yes, leave however and whenever you can to rediscover and resettle your indigenous homeland. This is already a time in history during which people are travelling more than ever and changing their residence constantly, because it has never been easier; this is likewise a time when several parts of the world, especially Europe, is declining in its birth-rates. As polytheists, it is furthermore impossible to overlook we are rebels and more or less distant from our families. So, what can be the excuse? Say what you will, but I’ll maintain that the Hellenic Zeus has no place out of the original lands inhabited by Greeks, nor do the Celtic or Germanic Gods belong to America, Canada, Brazil, Australia, or any part of the New World. By worshipping them there, we commit a sort of absurdity, and above all, we disappoint our Gods by alienating them from their original holy areas and at the same time, we anger them by allowing them to encroach on the lands of other Gods. Now, if you ask me, how can Gods own lands? The answer is quite simple: Since every indigenous people has their pantheon, the Gods preside as patrons of the land and all that belongs to what we call nature. What makes us different from monotheists is that we don’t believe there is one supreme, omnipotent, omnipresent (aka imperial) deity ruling over all peoples and all parts of the Earth. Gods and cultures and peoples and lands in polytheism are all connected within distinct groups, which all have the right to remain and continue, with neighborly exchange and sharing, otherwise we commit imperialism and colonialism. Another difference from monotheists (and their descendants the modernists) is that we don’t misuse the universal term “humanity”, as if to show we are all happily united as one people on one earth*. If Zeus can exist within Ireland, it can only mean he is appropriating the thunder of Taranis. If Taranis or Odin can exist within America (with a majority of people as descendants of colonists), it can only mean they have overthrown the realm of the Great Spirit, and therefore they are superior to it because of current supremacy. If this seems wrong, it is because we are too accustomed in our thinking to the transcendent immaterial side of divinity only, as practiced by monotheism, while forgetting of the solid material side. Let us therefore no longer be tokens and playthings in the hands of colonialists and imperialists. Let us do our part to end the problem of immigration by replacing its false economic purpose for a real cultural one. Let us then return to our own ancestors and Gods in the true sense and spirit of the word, by returning to their lands.

 Please visit this website, if you are interested in learning more about an ambitious project & discussion of unsettling America and re-indigenization begun by a fellow polytheist. N.B. The author uses the term “whiteness” in the sense of “westernization”, not in the sense of “race”, and she explains this under the section “heal whiteness”.

 

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*The term “humanity” is rather generic and bears no real significance as a united and universal concept, except when monotheism is applied (or its descendants: atheism and modernism). One god leads to one people, doesn’t it (just as atheism leads to people vs god, ironically)? But this only means that imperialism is in force by one culture over all others. Notice how the language of “humanity” is English nowadays. Surely that has a connection with British and American imperialism? And surely that extends to cultural values also? This is by no means a coincidence.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 5): Community

First view: There is a growing community of polytheists, who happen to be active individuals online

Second view: There is really no community at all for polytheists, but they pretend there is

Balanced view: We should use our groups and communications online in order to make a transition towards communities on the ground

As things stand, it is a ripe time for the growth of polytheism in many parts of the world. Various freedoms, a quick access to learning, and the decay of monotheism encourage us to go forward and seize the day. But while we are enjoying these fruits while going forward, should we not also look forward and plant the seeds of our fruits? We all know the consequences of a lack of foresight and an attachment to the present only—add to that our individual concerns and comforts, which we often place above all other things. Polytheism is not a fashion that we put on and display, to share with others on social media, or to stand out in a crowd. It is rather an organic and structural entity that is only nourished and managed—no, kept alive—with proper care and collective effort. I wish I were sitting at the moment around a campfire sharing stories with fellow polytheists, rather than writing this piece alone. There is a question to be reflected on seriously: how do we define community and how do we wish to see the future condition of polytheism in the world? Here I recall my thoughts and the discussion I had with my kind readers in the first part of this series, regarding the common vision and mission of polytheists. The necessity of a community on the ground is one that can never be emphasized enough. Planting the seeds of the fruits we enjoy is one good step, but scattered individuals can only serve themselves and a few others by doing so. The next step, which determines whether we will enjoy the fruits for many generations to come, is to come together in order to survey, build, till, sow, irrigate, and harvest.* This is not so much a project, as an extension of a simple notion—that of settling. Why do people tend to marry and settle in a certain place with their children? Because that is what leads to a more convenient life of sharing and caring. Many families of a certain culture and belief make up a community. I am biased towards the second view, from time to time, because I hear the first view too often. But why not combine them rather than make a dualism out of it? We can and should exist in local and distinct communities, while participating in the modern world. There is much room for variation in this, and a pluralism of communal models can be considered and accepted, according to the needs and opinions of each community—which is the case with monotheists today. We can certainly discuss and differ on such models, but we can’t let individual comforts & opinions delay the formation of lasting communal structures for our future generations. I would dare say it is not even acceptable to the Gods that people should worship too much individually, so long as we are able to get together. As much as we seem comfortable, we are actually in a state of survival and self-preservation, if our numbers and the competition is taken into consideration, much less the dangers we could face one day, if monotheism rises up again to a state of fanaticism. There is one community of polytheism I can think of which has undertaken the project (i.e. Asatru), but I have a disagreement with their method—I can’t understand why a northern Germanic tradition would accept all “European” people. This leads to another consideration about “race” and ethnic religion, which I will look into in the next topic, because it is almost inseparable from the same discourse of community or at least inevitably connected to it. Meantime, let us look into community and the necessity of it for our preservation and continuity. Are any of you fellow polytheists comfortable enough with knowing a few people like yourselves, either family or friends online? Surely you must be lonely as I am, more or less, and in need of many more people like you within your life daily and in person. 

 

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*The metaphor of the farm and agriculture is perfectly applicable, although I don’t mean extensive or intensive agriculture, but one that supports a community of a modest number with as little interference with nature as possible.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 4): Monotheists to learn from?

First view: Since monotheism is opposed to polytheism, we can learn nothing from monotheists

Second view: Since monotheism is another system of belief & culture like our own, we can generally learn as much from monotheists as polytheists

Balanced view: What we can learn from monotheists is limited, but it can be of great importance for our successful competition

If there is no question that monotheism has brought much detriment to the world, there is also no doubt that its adherents exceed our own (at least nowadays) in resolution, unity, and action. The many centuries that separate us from our pious and powerful ancestors should make us far more active and concerned for the welfare of our ancient ways and beliefs than we have been. It is excellent for us to teach or remind ourselves of the good (or indeed bad) examples of famous ancient polytheists—that is a sacred duty. But if this brings us inspiration or admiration, we are still not prompted to action and energy as much as we would be by the example of a monotheist. Be it from shame or jealousy or both, when we see our rival successful or powerful, we seek to do something similar with far more passion and concern than if we see our friend in the same situation. Even the Gods themselves underwent and undergo such emotions. It need not be shown how this is not only natural, but also necessary and useful. And since our world today is still dominated by monotheists, we must act accordingly and beat them at their games. For this purpose, we can learn from several ancient and modern examples. Moses is said to have suffered and sacrificed his high position in order to save his people from bondage in foreign lands by rebellion and then given them laws in their native lands. Although this is largely false propaganda, it remains a powerful story for monotheists and in our own case, it suggests that we need similar leaders who will rise up and inspire us all to action and unity. Paul of Tarsus is regarded as a Christian saint because he traveled and preached zealously throughout the Roman Empire; he wrote letters to existing congregations, established new communities, and is said to have been crucified for it. We polytheists don’t lack ancient martyrs, but where is the one today who can approach such piety when it is needed most? There were many Christian apologists who wrote tracts and engaged in debates with polytheistic authors—the disputation must return in public. Just as Christians attracted new followers because they were a “counter-culture” against Roman hegemony, we can and must do the same against Christian dominance! Next, where is a rich Hindu or capable polytheist who can rival Louis IX’s zeal, give up several years of his or her life, and return victorious after an ideological and cultural campaign, not a military one? Who among us polytheists can do what Loyola accomplished, in establishing a new movement of education and schools for youth that spread very quickly throughout Europe? Give me a polytheist, who like Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, can reinvent and re-establish an ancient language for a new people like the Jews in Israel! Show me the polytheists ready to match with the unyielding zeal of the Jehovah Witnesses or the noble patience of the Amish—Rise polytheists to greatness, while you may!

Restore our families, Ye Gods of Love,
And You of War, our breasts to vengeance move!
Redeem our shame, oh raise our hearts and hands
To worship rightly, and regain our lands!
Condemn’d are they who left our ancient path;
May their invented guiles inspire Your Wrath!

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 3): Systematic “polytheism”

First view: Polytheism is a mode of religion that governs the relations between people and Gods.

Second view: Polytheism is a mode of philosophical thought that governs how the world is viewed.

Balanced view: Polytheism is a religious, cultural, and social system based on tradition that governs our relations with the Gods, our way of life, and the world itself.

Words and terms can sometimes entrap those who think they are served by them; languages are by nature imperfect, especially when a complication arises because of time and tradition. There are also the problems of common usage, connotation, newly coined words, and mixing cultures. One thing is certain, however, within the scope of our discourse: The English language, together with probably most modern languages, does not contain a word that adequately explains “polytheism” as a concept or system. The word “polytheism” in itself is artificially constructed to provide a contrast to “monotheism”, a later system that supplanted its predecessor. Since both are defined through their differences, what we have left amounts only to “religion”, without the necessary considerations that accounts for the greater system that existed surrounding belief and worship. To think of either monotheism or polytheism merely as a religion, as many do, is to fall into the trap of modern language and its tendency to isolate or specialize terms, as well as to pretend it can encompass all ideas, beyond the confines of culture. The first and second views above are also examples of a kind of dualism that is at best unnecessary and at worst factious. Both views are correct, but they are also both partial, leaving out something greater that makes a complete whole. It behooves us in such a case to use larger words, as shown with the balanced view above. The worshipping of Gods existed amidst a cultural and social framework: There was agriculture or pastoralism to support their worldview, there was little pollution or oppression of nature to spoil it, there was oral tradition that passed through generations, there were customs that weren’t questioned or challenged selfishly within the group, there were priests or holy leaders who were revered by all (but not in a theocratic manner), there were elders and matrons who were respected by the young, and certainly there were communities of people that depended on one another. These are examples of a system surrounding the worshipping of Gods; take those all away and you are left with “religion” or “philosophy”, an isolated idea that applies to thinking and to individuals, more proper for books and discourse than as a true way of life. We should all aim at exploring and embracing all the parts within the larger system of polytheism that once existed in the better and more balanced world of our ancestors. In doing so, we will purify our worldview of the remnants of monotheism and its system, and lead a life that is more harmonious with people, nature and the Divine Beings.