These debates are drawn from a British program called “The Big Questions”. Although somewhat dated, they provide an interesting insight into interactions between pagans and monotheists. The pagans don’t necessarily represent polytheists, but more or less they do offer words of wisdom that sets our movement in a good light. Note how uncomfortable and intolerant the monotheists usually appear, in contrast to the pagan confidence and serenity. The first debate is entitled “Are many Gods better than one?” and the second (which consists of two parts) “Is Paganism more relevant than Christianity today?”. The total length for each debate is about 15 minutes.
A recent study has found that, in the course of history, complex societies throughout the world evolved a moral interpretation of their Gods, rather than the opposite. By moral it is meant the application of dualism, the rewarding of good and the punishment of evil. This does not suggest that duality of good and bad did not exist before, but that it became solidified and mandatory in its decrees and consequences, moving towards black and white rather than grey shades. Divine moralization of this kind occurs in a regular and predictable pattern: “we systematically coded records from 414 societies that span the past 10,000 years from 30 regions around the world, using 51 measures of social complexity and 4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality. Our analyses not only confirm the association between moralizing gods and social complexity, but also reveal that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity. Contrary to previous predictions, powerful moralizing ‘big gods’ and prosocial supernatural punishment tend to appear only after the emergence of ‘megasocieties’ with populations of more than around one million people.” On the one hand, this seems reasonable because as social complexity increases, so do social problems; the more people there are, the more effort and management will be needed to keep them stable*. Therefore, the priesthood (whose task it was to officiate rituals and interpret signs) tended to support the moralization of the Gods in order to promote social harmony; perhaps the Gods themselves changed their behavior towards the changing society that worshipped them. But on the other hand, moralization can serve a political function for the upper classes at the expense of the lower. Moralization can only go so far before people notice a discrepancy among classes and groups. Thus, it is no wonder there is a connection between it and imperialism: “Moralizing gods are not a prerequisite for the evolution of social complexity, but they may help to sustain and expand complex multi-ethnic empires after they have become established. By contrast, rituals that facilitate the standardization of religious traditions across large populations generally precede the appearance of moralizing gods. This suggests that ritual practices were more important than the particular content of religious belief to the initial rise of social complexity.” This realization makes me reflect on the content of this website. On one hand, I have been trying to promote a rediscovery of original religious traditions/ideas, together with distinct standardizations of those within distinct communities. But on the other, I have also moralized the Gods to a certain extent (mainly as far as indigenism is concerned) in order to solve the complex problem of how to revive polytheism nowadays in the most stable, effective and fair manner. Everyone would need to return to simple animism and the earliest form of society in order to do away with these instances of occasional cognitive dissonance. But such is complexity: it is both beautiful in its bounty and cruel in its confusion.
* A notable example of this moralization is in Hesiod, who writes in the early Archaic period (around 750 BCE), at a time when the population and social complexity of Greece had increased greatly. The difference between his views and those of Homer, who is said to have lived a mere 50 years before, is striking. In Works and Days, Hesiod invokes Zeus several times as a God of justice who can right the wrongs of the oppressed and reform what Hesiod perceived to be a declining society.
A better world would be one where the nation-state, the empire, and the capitalistic system do not exist and are instead replaced with autonomous/indigenous regions that have particular peoples, cultures, dialects, natural environments, and indeed polytheistic cults worthy of preservation without interference from greedy powers. Here, the many have power rather than the few; identities become solid and distinct, all equal in their diversity; production as well as art is local and varied; community celebration and neighborly exchange becomes the new rule; temporary confederations are desired rather than permanent federations. Perhaps many will think such a world is too ideal and too good to be true, but when there is a will, there is a way. Is it “human progress” to reach the moon, but not seek harmony and happiness?
The following are three videos in ascending order according to their length (3 minutes, 11 minutes and 42 minutes). Think of the first video as a trailer. The best of the three is obviously the documentary (1998), but the second video is also well done. You will notice a striking parallel to Henry VIII of England. A very similar thing happened among the Jews with king Josiah, who was the first after Akhenaten to institute monotheism as a state religion.
There was news today that the Catholic Pope Francis met with the Sunni Grand Imam Ahmed of Egypt. The latter called the Christians “our companions” and urged the Muslims of the Middle East to “embrace” Christians in their communities. Then the two leaders proceeded to sign a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” wherein it is stated that “God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorize people”. Another passage within the magnificently titled document goes on to state the following: “[Let us] intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline the world is presently experiencing”.
When I heard the news, I couldn’t help but scoff with disgust at the hypocrisy of these leaders who pompously believe themselves to be responsible spiritually for millions of people and who actually believe they are doing great good by this conveying this ludicrous and inane message. Surely it would be far more effective and *honest* for these two leaders, if they truly wish to eradicate the problem, to go straight to the heart of the matter. The Document is absolutely worthless unless it were to state clearly (and “at the earliest opportunity”) that it was an error for people to be misguided all these years into thinking that “God, the Almighty…who does not want His name to be used to terrorize people” would be punishing by *eternal damnation and hellfire* those who don’t wish to follow him or follow those spiritual leaders who claim such a thing, and claim it even against one another. Once this is done, the world will be a far better place, devoid of devilish jihads and crusades. But this is obviously to much to hope for, because the world is infected by the cancerous idea of monotheism and the cancerous ambition of those who can’t be called by any other name except that which also applied to their predecessors and founders: spiritual imperialists.
This ailing world needs more polytheism and more polytheists…
I have never heard so much polytheism expressed within a lecture that never explicitly used the term. Arturo Escobar is a very wise man and his lecture may be long and dense, but it is altogether worthwhile.
One of the main reasons I have been away from writing here for some time is my deep occupation with the state of the world in general as it compares with history. Sometimes it is necessary to remove yourself from the continuum of the present in order to study the course of time and all the important events of history more carefully and impartially. This can be quite a burdensome task and may lead to dejected moments, as I have experienced. The mere thought of what polytheism once was and what it now is, for example, can be enough to put me in low spirits for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, when a useful purpose in life is strongly kept in mind, these troublesome moments become vehicles for further improvement and achievement rather than despair. Each of us has a certain part and function to fulfill within the larger order of things, and we ought to do the best we can for the benefit of those people and things we hold dear. This is why I have lately channeled some of my emotions towards writing a short book containing debates between a polytheist and people of other persuasions. It is one of the several works I hope to publish one day to contribute to an already growing literary movement of polytheism and paganism. In the meantime, the following are some general predictions I will attempt to make about the coming years and decades, as far as I have learned and observed. These are more or less disturbing but ought to make us more conscious of what may be coming as well as make us value our time and exert ourselves better. We are living in transitional times indeed…
- There will be great social unrest and uprisings in Europe and America as decaying cultural and social institutions continued to be divided and political authority continues to be distrusted. A possible financial recession will aggravate this situation. Secessions and coups may occur, unless some sort of military dictatorship is established*.
- America may need to start a new war with a foreign country in order to keep itself from a civil war. It may join with the Western powers, who are also suffering from dangerous divisions at home.
- While China hopes to regain Taiwan and increase its influence in the Pacific, Islamic terrorism (supported by the US) will spread in China from the now disaffected Uyghurs in the Western provinces.
- Turkey’s power will continue to rise at the hands of Erdogan, but his imperial pride will earn him many enemies. Turkey will leave NATO and establish a new alliance with Russia, Iran, China, or the “Muslim world”.
- In the meantime, a gradual or sudden change of climate towards unbearable heat or perhaps an Ice Age will cause unimaginable disasters of famine and war resulting from crop failures and huge displacements of population.
The above is uncertain but, seeing how the world goes, there is already plenty of smoke for a fire to break out. So, what can we do as polytheists? Work towards improving ourselves and our groups for the benefit of polytheism and people in general. Let us not hesitate to look back 1800 years ago and learn a valuable lesson: while the Roman Empire was suffering from wild instability during the “Crisis of the Third Century” which lasted from about 235 CE to 284 CE, the Christians managed to build their ranks and communities steadily, spreading their influence by preaching as well as writing, and all the while gaining new followers because of their collective efforts on the ground. In 20 years time, the Christians had their own Emperor on the throne, Constantine, who was to change history ever after. Now that we are in a crisis of the 21st century, we have a similar opportunity, not indeed to conquer the world like the Christians, but to restore divine balance to a world that is decaying from monotheism (no longer accepting it as right) and wrongly choosing modernism to replace it.
* The most likely thus far is at the hands of Trump.