Tag Archives: polytheism

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 17): The Jews and Judaism

First view: The Jews and Judaism are not at all responsible for the later evils of monotheism which were mostly Christian and Islamic

Second view: Since the Jews invented monotheism, they are responsible for all its later legacy and evils

Balanced view: While Judaism can be partly responsible in certain ideas, the Jews are a people who (like many others) may have been misled from their original polytheism, and mainly because of foreigners 

 A friend of mine referred me once to a few videos by one Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian tribal anarchist who not only is notorious for his dislike of Jews, but who has also carried his foolish theories so far as to condemn all Southern Europeans (whom he believes to be impure racially and therefore subtly inferior) for adopting and spreading Christianity (an un-European, inferior “Jewish” religion according to him) in Europe. Being offended, I tried to counter this absurd notion by raising a simple question in the comment section “You blame the Southern Europeans for adopting Christianity from the East, but not the Northern Europeans for adopting it from the South. How is that logic fair?” As one might expect, he replied by saying that “Christianity was forced on us” and this was the perfect opportunity for me to turn his theory on its head by mentioning that it was the “racially pure” Germanic king Charlemagne who forced it on North Europe, a man who was actually strong enough to march against Rome and destroy Christianity if he had chosen to do so. I concluded also that we shouldn’t attack people but only bad ideas, because by attacking people who adopt certain wrong ideas, we make them only hold more strongly to them. Varg didn’t and couldn’t reply without making a greater fool of himself than he already was, and after some heated altercations with his minions, I was banned. I wish to transfer this aforementioned conclusion to the question of Jews and Judaism, because it is very significant and fair to do so. What I have to say here is threefold. First and foremost, it wasn’t the Jews who invented monotheism, because, if we are to believe scholarly evidence, that was the work of Akhenaten the Egyptian Pharaoh, whose imperialism gave rise to the idea! There is no historical basis for the existence of an Abraham nor even a Moses, and scholars have also pointed out that in both cases, the characters and the events surrounding them fit the Iron Age (beginning from 1000 BCE). Furthermore, there is no evidence for Jewish monotheism as we know it, till about 600 BCE in Jerusalem; this is why we see strangely unbiased references to ancient Canaanite and Semetic Gods in some parts of the Old Testament. The Jews (properly meaning the branch of Canaanites living around the region of Judea and Jerusalem) till that time were henotheists who accepted other Gods, but only worshipped Yahweh out of them. By around 600 BCE or so, a priesthood seems to have arisen from Jerusalem, under the kingship of Josiah, advocating for a reformed theology that rejected images and henotheism. This biased zeal may have been fueled by imperialism in the region, since Judea was in danger of conquest and cultural influences from their Assyrian and Babylonian neighbors, which is actually recorded to have happened in 586 BCE. The mourning priesthood, or perhaps even the captive people (who are said to have been enslaved by the Babylonian), then viewed this as a punishment from Yahweh because of their neglect towards him, and thus a sort of ideology, albeit defensive in its purpose, was born. My second point is that further imperialism in the next centuries was responsible for the exacerbation of the problem; this was carried out by the successors of Alexander’s new Hellenistic Empire. The Maccabean revolt of 167-160 BCE against the Seleucid Empire was as much a noble movement for independence as it was a zealous force that was later to grow into intolerance and systematic conversion. But who do we blame for this? I say the Greeks and their imperialism, who are the causes. We know for certain that it was the Greek sense of cultural superiority and cultural imperialism that angered the conservative Jews and made them revolt afterwards on three occasions against the Roman Empire, but this occurred only after a great deal of Jewish blood was unmercifully spilled in the streets of Alexandria and Antioch during riots there. The monster of monotheism, that was later to become Christianity, was born out of this struggle for cultural supremacy, and because it was advocated by Hellenistic Jews (that is ethnic but not religious Jews), it soon grew into a multicultural movement that by 200 CE distanced itself so far from Jews and Judaism that it professed open hatred towards them! The Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus much more than the occupying Romans or Greeks who had caused the Judean resistance of Jews against foreign imperialism in the first place—Strange irony. This leads me into my last point, which is brief. The Jews are by all accounts a noble set of tribes and peoples whose endurance through so many hardships can be a valuable lesson for us polytheists. Their resistance to Rome above all is to be remembered as entirely worthy of imitation and indeed a most beautiful thing in itself*. Surely they can make excellent polytheists and indeed their anti-monotheistic efforts have already done much to pave the path: We owe a great deal to the likes of (among others) Baruch Spinoza, Karl Marx, Franz Boas, the Kabbalists, Jacques Derrida, and indeed Margot Adler for the gradual revival of polytheism that we have today. Let us unite and join with them in rediscovering our polytheistic origins and ancestors, in order to enjoy a more harmonious existence blessed by the plurality of all our great Gods and peoples.

 

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*I say in itself, to distinguish the heroic acts from the later erratic & pathological product that grew out of their miserable defeat in Jerusalem, i.e. Christianity. 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 15): Equality & Hierarchy

First view: Polytheists should oppose hierarchy because monotheists are so strongly for it

Second view: Polytheists should embrace hierarchy because it brought civilization which in ancient times were polytheistic

Balanced view: Hierarchy is inherent to any society, even that of the Gods, but it ought to have a limit set by tradition, law and necessity

It is interesting to observe, in the first place, that the term hierarchy was once one related to religion and meant “authority of a high priest”. In the early societies of civilization, a ruler often combined religious and political authority, serving as a priest-king. This position of power, besides fulfilling an important function, served to remind people that the natural order of the world was one where certain ranks existed, and there was always a head to rule and carry the burdens of such authority. Indeed, all societies, even the simplest bands of hunter-gatherers, acknowledged the reality of hierarchy; even the Gods acknowledge that it is needed among themselves. Nobody is truly equal to another in regard to wealth or power, and yet all people are equally important for society, regardless of their rank. Hierarchy brings stability and strength, which in turn ensure the well-being and survival of a society, not only within itself, but also among others. Nevertheless, hierarchy operates best when moderation is applied to it, because it is this moderation or limitation that keeps the structure sustainable and healthy. If hierarchy is too rigidly and unjustly expressed, there is risk for grievance and revolt, which could overturn the whole society. This is why tradition and law are needed regulate hierarchy, which is often difficult nowadays because of the exorbitant size of society and power of the state. A hierarchy becomes too complex and imperfect, therefore unjust, when it is applied to millions of people as we see nowadays. Hence, smaller countries are most often happier than larger ones, which can’t fail to remind us about the harmful effects of imperialism, i.e. expansive power and wealth. Nor does this secular, materialistic world take care to counterbalance law with ritual tradition*; there are no priest-kings today who fear a power above them. Polytheism once again can set the world straight, and we certainly should not imitate the Christian Church or the Roman Empire to do so. We need institutions and communities which can accept and apply a moderate measure of hierarchy, just enough to bring our hopeful movement to stability, strength and renown rather than weakness in the face of so many competitors. And if those who are wise, just and pious lead, we will surely please the Gods, consolidate our own ranks, and attract many numbers of disaffected people from monotheism who are tired of the absolutism in their institutions and indeed in their god.

 

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*The same world which produced capitalism and modern colonialism, the most horrid systems of inequality.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 14): Moral & cultural relativism

First view: Moral and cultural relativism are consistent with polytheism’s diversity and should apply at the level of the individual.

Second view: Moral and cultural relativism are wrong because they divide polytheists and hurt their reputation.

Balanced view: Moral and cultural relativism, much like pluralism, apply far more to the distinct community and tradition than the separate individual, but this occurs mostly with details rather than broad principles.

The variety of traditions in polytheism and the historical distance between them, attended by several differences in customs and morals, lead us to reflect on the topic of moral and cultural relativism. When universalism was discussed previously in part 11, it was shown how promoting one standard for all usually results from imperialism. Here we are brought to the very fundamental question of what is right and what is wrong, a topic that has occupied the minds of many philosophers throughout history. As usual, polytheism can provide us with a rather simple and powerful answer that we can examine further: each tradition has both similar and differing cultural and moral principles, that is to say, its own yardstick to measure right and wrong by. It is not surprising that most philosophers of Western Civilization, drawing from the tradition of Plato (emphasis on the word tradition), always tried to apply moral and cultural universalism, in order to arrive at what is the “best” for all people. This narrow-minded fault and futile attempt (however well-meaning) was attended by another one espoused by a minority of radical philosophers, beginning with Protagoras: that the individual only is the judge of what is right or wrong*. It was only after many centuries following the decline of polytheism and the loss of tradition that a reasonable academic reconciliation was arrived at: the terms “moral relativism” and “cultural relativism” were first used by archaeologists in the early 20th century who sought to explain without bias the differing traditions and beliefs they encountered during their study of various indigenous peoples who had not yet become modern**. The terms have since become well established in archaeology, but are still misunderstood in both philosophy and its other dependents like international law. In the current universal interpretation (which follows Epicureanism and materialism) of what is right and wrong, right is often confused with pleasure and wrong is confused with pain. This is why, for example, some people frown on blood sacrifice and cannot understand (I don’t say approve of) the reason many of our ancestors practiced (though rarely) human sacrifice as part of their rituals. Once again, this attempt at objectivity (another word for universalism) fails in view of the distinct traditions in polytheism, because it is not for outsiders to judge nor can they judge fairly. Indeed, in all cases where outsiders take it upon themselves to correct a perceived “fault” in another tradition, it is a sure sign of imperialism and colonialism. While it is too well-known that this was done and has been done always by monotheists towards polytheists (recently by Indonesian monotheists against indigenous peoples), we must be aware that polytheists did it too. The Romans exaggerated the human sacrifices of the people of Gaul and used it as a pretext to colonize the region, and again afterwards to exterminate the druidic tradition that was promoting resistance to the Romans. Who were the Romans to judge the Gauls? Weren’t there enough Gauls to judge other Gauls? Certainly. But the Romans desired to conquer and used their hypocritical self-righteousness to justify it. The monotheists likewise never ceased to repeat that trick. The conclusion is easy to make from here: Humankind shares a set of broad principles and behaviors we call cultural universals (another archaeological term), but the details are left and must be left to distinct traditions and relativism. This does not divide us, but distinguishes*** us.

 

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*Protagoras is known to have said “Man is the measure of all things”, a statement that carries several meanings, but falls largely within the interpretation above, as Plato understood it. It was certainly a radical thing to preach (because it challenged customs, traditions, and even the Gods themselves) and therefore it afterwards caused, among other untraditional beliefs he held, his banishment from Athens.

**An obvious synonym for “modern” is “western”.

***Pun intended.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 13): What do the Gods desire most from us?

First view: The Gods mostly desire offerings, prayer, and devotion correctly and sincerely performed

Second view: The Gods mostly desire appreciation through intellectual reflection and spiritual understanding, whereas ritual and other formalities are less necessary in the modern world

Balanced view: The Gods desire all personal efforts to gain their favor (both intellectual or ritual), but mostly as *a means* to a *greater end*, i.e. their glory and restoration through the growth of communities that invoke their patronage, honor ancestral traditions and provide for many future generations to do the same.

 In a recent discussion that followed a post about the problems of an impious community, there was some debate concerning the necessity of a community and how to attain it. But a point arose then which wasn’t directly discussed, i.e. the most important desires and expectations that the Gods have of us. This is a very fundamental concern for polytheism and all the traditions under it not only because it relates to the Gods intimately, but also because our success or failure depends very much on it. Pleasing a God is always a blessing and the opposite may lead to disaster; as self-evident as this observation may be, it is important to reflect a little more on its implications regarding our way of life and our aspirations in their service. Our movement is quite hopeful, but it is more accurate to say that polytheism will probably rise now or never. In spite of competition from atheism, the conditions are absolutely ripe for a huge revival in most parts of the world that are actively escaping from monotheism. A further concern is there are two possibilities for polytheism rising: it may rise strong or it may rise crooked. The Gods will bless us in the first case, but may very well curse us in the second, if we abuse our opportunity and do not follow what they most desire. So, the question is, what do the Gods most desire? Some believe it is piety and devotion, whereas others choose a more intellectual and less ritual path. As shown throughout the series, neither side is entirely right or wrong, but they both are incomplete and invite adjustment or balance. In this case, the two sides shown above lack a greater purpose beyond the satisfaction of the self and a small group. That is to say, they begin well at the task of pleasing the Gods, but do not actively look forward and prepare for the kind of communal and expansive growth that would please the Gods *most* and secure our future power *most*. I am ashamed of this comparison but wouldn’t a chairman of a commercial business always seek to improve and expand the company’s reputation, employees, factories, partnerships, etc. and therefore reward those who contribute to that effort and *punish or remove* those who do otherwise? I couldn’t help but notice the similarity (I don’t say uniformity) of the competition between one business against another and that of polytheism against monotheism or atheism. Now, although it should really be unnecessary to prove how essential community is for our rebirth and the pleasure of the Gods (one need only look at what the monotheists and indeed Hindus do), I find it quite unfortunate and disheartening that many (and well-meaning people) are choosing solitary paths, as if there is no better choice or greater ambition. This resignation (I cannot call it by any other name) is not only insufficient for our true rebirth and successful competition, but also dangerous because it sometimes causes despair and thus reverses piety. I know several people on Facebook who have considered leaving polytheism precisely because they are alone (hence spiritually weak) and don’t have a real community on the ground to support them. When will all this end? To speak for myself, I will certainly not use my website except as a means towards a greater end, even (hypothetically) if it becomes the best website for polytheism with the most subscribers…Our movement may have been fueled by individualism, but it will never last with it alone; this realization must make us reconsider our current practices and prepare for greater (synonymous with holier) undertakings for the sake of our Gods and ancestors. The mere sight or knowledge of the communities of Hindus and even Wiccans (to mention nothing of monotheists) should make us polytheists far more active and hopeful than we now are in pursuing and expanding the collective interests of our movement and indeed the collective desires of our Gods.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 12): Pluralism

First view: Pluralism is good in polytheism because it allows for individual choice and differences in opinion and practice.

Second view: Pluralism is bad for polytheism because it doesn’t encourage unity and causes weaknesses by multiplying differences.

Balanced view: Although being a term that properly applies *between* rather than *within* distinct communities, polytheism also inherently allows for individual choices that are not divisive.

By virtue of the history of polytheism, as well as the etymology of the word itself (many-Gods), there is natural and necessary room for plural ways to exist. A quick observation over the multitude of traditions, past or present, throughout the world proves this point. However, at this time of revival and regrowth for lost traditions, the question of unity and division inevitably arises and necessitates some reflection. To what degree can we differ before we undermine our efforts, and are there any limitations and rules to follow in that regard? I think this extremely important point can be best understood, as well as resolved, by the concept of “community”, which I am glad repeat so often. Our ancestors, while belonging to one or another larger ethnic tradition, always rooted their practices of polytheism within their smaller, distinct communities. This allowed for slow and organic variations* to develop, bearing the distinct and collective mark of the people and the Divine Beings that patronized them. People naturally exist within groups and homogeneity of people and principle within that group is what enables a community to remain stable and happy. For this reason, while individual choices did certainly have a place within community, these had limitations and were regulated by the authority of a majority and the chieftain, archpriest, elder, etc. who represented the interests and unity of that same majority. It is common sense to believe that that individuals cannot find happiness outside of a group to which they can truly belong, and at the same time it is equally true a community cannot stand firm if too many individuals within it set their own choices above the common good and collective interest. This is where pluralism can really be useful: individuals who find themselves alienated by their native community, for whatever reason, always have the ability to join other communities or even establish new ones. This is much more preferable to stirring up division and weakening the unity of the majority, and it is also the natural way of our ancestors. How else do we have so many wonderful and distinct traditions, and why else do we oppose the uniformity of all communities that monotheism enforces? Monotheism prefers the structural power and expansion of a permanent federalism (if not an absolute state), whereas we may better choose the fair diversity of a confederalism (with room for a temporary federalism in times of difficulty) not only between distinct communities within a region, but also among all traditions throughout the whole world. This is why pluralism is better than multiculturalism, and this is how we can both unite and preserve our distinct ways for future generations to come.

 

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*The metaphor of a slowly cooked meal, which is always more delicious and healthier than a meal cooked fast, applies very well here.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 11): Universalism

First view: Universalism is an important part of polytheism because humanity unites us

Second view: Universalism has no use whatsoever in polytheism because we are all distinct in ethnicity and tradition

Balanced view: Polytheists do and should share certain universal values and aims, but their traditions are also distinct and ought to remain so

In a comment for the previous post, I noted that systems of imperialism, whether political or religious, use a kind of moral universalism as a means to gain followers and maintain power. I illustrated this by comparing a quote by Alexander of Macedon with another by Jesus, as shown below respectively:

“Now that the wars are coming to an end, I wish you to prosper in peace. May all mortals from now on live like one people in concord and for mutual advancement. Consider the world as your country, with laws common to all and where the best will govern irrespective of tribe. I do not distinguish among men, as the narrow-minded do, both among Greeks and Barbarians. I am not interested in the descendance of the citizens or their racial origins. I classify them using one criterion: their virtue. For me every virtuous foreigner is a Greek and every evil Greek worse than a Barbarian. If differences ever develop between you never have recourse to arms, but solve them peacefully. If necessary, I should be your arbitrator. You must not consider God like an autocratic despot, but as a common Father of all”.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It is plain and requires little examination to understand that both Alexander and Jesus used specious invitations and deceptive justice to expand their empires at the expense of others. Post-modernism can be useful in its tendency to examine everything, including morality and other points seemingly above criticism, in terms of power and I am employing this theory here. As I mentioned before, what we take for granted as being “universal” were originally ideas and practices derived from a certain culture and period, and always that culture and period was one of imperialism. The universal language (lingua franca) today is English because of British & American imperialism throughout beginning from the 19th century*. The universal law today (i.e. of the United Nations) is largely based on English common law and English political philosophers (perhaps a few Dutch and German too), which in turn had derived from Roman law. The universal culture of the masses today, in regard to fashion, norms and entertainment, is mainly American and Western for similar reasons. It would therefore be a fault for us polytheists to overlook the source of universalism as well as  universal ideas and practices by believing and taking everything we know for granted. Better it is to examine society with some depth and search for the origin and development of things. At the same time, it would be impossible to forget that we polytheists have something in common with one another as well as with other non-polytheists. I don’t think this point needs much emphasis because it ought to be obvious to us all, but reminding ourselves of it from time to time can help us avoid unnecessary misunderstanding or unwarranted hostility. Although we don’t believe in the story of Adam and Eve, we acknowledge gladly the common qualities of humankind, and at the same time, we are also proud of what distinguishes us in our separate traditions and groups. The verb “distinguish” is perfect within this context since its noun “distinction” means both “difference” and “excellence”. This sense is exactly what I hope to convey here: the way for any group (ethnic or otherwise) to advance and rise to greatness is to understand how they differ from others (i.e. what makes them unique) and by that means achieve excellence by their spirit and effort. Universalism, on the other hand, tells everyone “you can be anything” which is a kind of individualization that removes people from their natural groups and identities, i.e. weakens them. It is sometimes no better than a variation of the rule of “divide and conquer”, as employed by the empire or nation-state to mold the populace into a uniform cast for its own benefit and for the ease of controlling them. Whenever I hear the words “humanity”, “human progress”,  “we are all alike” and such like expressions, I can’t help but think of it in terms of imperialism. The imperialism of “humanity” is its cruel dominance over Earth’s plantkind and animalkind (I am sorry that there are no such words in our monotheistic language), a  dominance maintained by a euphemism called “human progress”. The notion of “we are all alike” (similar to quotes above), although partly correct, can also be used to trick people into following the dominant imperial system. We are bound to compete and wrestle for power, just like the Gods, but let us do so with art, tradition and justice, rather than with superficial tricks. May polytheism, in all its manifold hues and indigenous glories, rise to end all imperialism one day!

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* As soon as Napoleon was defeated, the British Empire supplanted the French Empire as the leading colonial and imperial force in Europe and subsequently the world.