Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 3/28 Posting

Here’s an odd thought: What if polytheism is better suited for our times than monotheism?

Monotheism isn’t just the belief in one abstract godhead; rather each monotheistic religion believes that its idea of God is the one true idea of God. The inherent exclusivity of monotheism makes it competitive and even violent, and thus, as Constantine realized, a far better tool for empire building than polytheism, which, by allowing for the legitimacy of many gods and ideas about God, has no need to defeat other gods or impose one homogeneous religious system.

Monotheists do better in a homogeneous world, but the 21st Century is anything but homogeneous, and it may be that polytheists are better suited for navigating the plethora of gods, truths, and realities that make up our postmodern global village than monotheists will ever be.

Abrahamic monotheists try to get around this problem through what might be called the Abrahamic Fiction: the idea that Jews, Christians, and Moslems worship the same God. Again, God, as we humans understand God, always exists within a theological frame. What we call God is simply our ideas and claims about God; and the theological claims of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are mutually incompatible. If any one of these religions is True, the other two are false.

The only way to prove which religion is true is global jihad. By definition, the True God always wins. Since this is inconvenient to say the least, most of us postpone this war to the mythic future, though all too many of us are currently working to make that future a reality here and now.

Polytheism doesn’t have this problem. Live and let live, believe and let believe, is its creed. This is much more suited to life in the global village than monotheism’s begrudging: your wrong and your damned, but I won’t kill you; I’ll let God deal with you later.

So, whereas the Second Commandment may have been a practical tool for consolidating the diverse Jewish tribes and their gods, it may be the wrong policy for our time. Perhaps we need a different revelation: “You shall recognize all gods as Me for I am Infinite and cannot be reduced to one form or idea or religion or theology. I manifest as all form even as I transcend all form.” Or as the 4000-year-old Rig Veda of the Hindus puts it, Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti: “Truth is One. Different people call it by different names.”


LCR said...

It is true that monotheism has its rough edges. It does not fit neatly into our society or any society as far as I can tell.

You say that “the second commandment may be wrong policy for our time.” As a person of faith, I see my task as one of discovery, rather than policy maker. I relinquish the job of creating (including policy) to a power greater than I.

I readily agree that “Truth is One”. Years ago I learned a great definition of truth. “Truth is what you must adjust to because it will not adjust to you.”

By that definition if truth exists, then it can be discovered, tried and tested but it cannot be created or altered.

The names (labels) that people place on Truth are important only to the extent that they accurately represent Truth.

If Polytheism is simply different people calling Truth by a different name then let us embrace polytheism. But, I fear that polytheism is much more about people who desire to be policy makers than Truth discoverers.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

Good point, and I agree: "if polytheism is simply different people calling Truth by a different name then let us embrace polytheism."

And I agree that most theologians are more about policy making rather than Truth discovering. We need deep humility when it comes to religion. People of faith should be the most humble people, the least certain of the idols they worship, the most aware of the limitations of language and imagination, and the most comfortable with uncertainty, not-knowing, and insecurity. That too me is what authentic faith is all about; not believing that you know the Truth but knowing that you do not.

AaronHerschel said...

I tend to feel we're getting ahead of ourselves with this polytheism thing.

Live and let worship, radical religious freedom, seems more like a secular humanist policy than a polytheistic one. Certainly the gods of Greece and Persia were at each other's throats from 499 to 448 BC. Moreover, even within polytheism there is conflict, as the gods pair off and choose sides: the Trojan War, for example. Whether the theological assumption here is sound or not--that is, whether polytheism has no built in need to depose gods from other pantheons--the trail of blood belies any claim to non-competitiveness and nonviolence.

I suspect that which God we say we believe in has less to do with the fundamental reasons for war than issues of economics, available resources, and population pressure. And while religion has a great deal to do with how war is mythologized and promoted within a culture, one can just as easily construct a mythology of superiority and xenophobic tribalism based on secularism: witness Soviet Russia, Communist China, Nazi Germany.

Even in the United States, our protestations of multi-modal religious freedom certianly didn't stop us from slaughtering the American Indians. I imagine we would have "displaced" them regardless of whether they were pagan, Christian, or Jewish: we wanted to expand. Reasons would be found.

AaronHerschel said...

Woops. I should clarify that the Persian Empire was monotheistic under Zoroastrianism. The Greeks, however, were polytheists. Does this undo my argument? Perhaps. But then again perhaps not. Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt didn't get on much better than Greece and Persia.