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Does polytheism have any advantages over monotheism?

Polarbear

Active Member
Does polytheism have any advantages over monotheism? Are there any rational reasons for being a polytheist rather than a monotheist?
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
Aside from being able to ignore most of the theological/philosophical problems that plague monotheistic faiths? I have a book recommendation for you: John Michael Greer's "A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism." A primary subject of the book is pretty much the question you're asking. It's good to be familiar with philosophy of religion beforehand. The book isn't perfect, but unfortunately philosophy of religion traditionally ignores that polytheism (or anything that isn't monotheism, honestly) even exists. Hence, most of the rational arguments against theism - which target monotheism in particular - fall flat on their face when you try to apply them to polytheism.

Problem of evil? What problem? The gods are many, and not all of them are nice; our gods aren't omnibenevolent in the first place.

Problem accounting for the variety of religious experiences? What problem? Many gods means many different religious experiences; the human religious experience is inherently plural (polytheistic), not monotheistic.

Problem deciding what the one true religion is? What problem? Many gods means many paths; each to his or her own. Religious exclusivism is largely a foreign concept to polytheism.
 

Mestemia

Advocatus Diaboli
Premium Member
Does polytheism have any advantages over monotheism? Are there any rational reasons for being a polytheist rather than a monotheist?
What "advantages" does monotheism have?

How does the Henotheism in Christianity effect the alleged "advantages" polytheism has over monotheism?
 

Polarbear

Active Member
What "advantages" does monotheism have?

How does the Henotheism in Christianity effect the alleged "advantages" polytheism has over monotheism?

I am sorry I don't understand your question and are you assuming I am a Christian? FYI I am not.
 

Mestemia

Advocatus Diaboli
Premium Member
I am sorry I don't understand your question and are you assuming I am a Christian? FYI I am not.
I fail to see how your personal beliefs make any difference....

Which question are you not understanding, the first one, the second one, or perhaps both?
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
Ah, to clarify something, I would say any belief system has advantages and disadvantages in equal measure. Whether something counts as an advantage or disadvantage depends on your personal values and needs, as well as the situation and context. It's a subjectively arrived at judgement, in other words. That polytheism has certain advantages over monotheism from a certain point of view is pretty evident. As is the converse. Either can be argued. Unfortunately, monotheism - with its occasional perchance for religious exclusivism - tends to belittle god-concepts other than its own as somehow inherently less-than or inferior. That's nonsense. Neither is better than the other on the whole; the question is which is better for YOU and YOUR path.
 

Mestemia

Advocatus Diaboli
Premium Member
Ah, to clarify something, I would say any belief system has advantages and disadvantages in equal measure. Whether something counts as an advantage or disadvantage depends on your personal values and needs, as well as the situation and context. It's a subjectively arrived at judgement, in other words. That polytheism has certain advantages over monotheism from a certain point of view is pretty evident. As is the converse. Either can be argued. Unfortunately, monotheism - with its occasional perchance for religious exclusivism - tends to belittle god-concepts other than its own as somehow inherently less-than or inferior. That's nonsense. Neither is better than the other on the whole; the question is which is better for YOU and YOUR path.
How does the Henotheism in Christianity effect the alleged "advantages" polytheism has over monotheism?
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
How does the Henotheism in Christianity effect the alleged "advantages" polytheism has over monotheism?

Personally, I see it as an illustration of why arguing about "one vs many" is an irrelevant distraction in some (many?) cases. In one of the courses I took on religion as an undergrad, the professor posited that the distinction between monotheism and polytheism is somewhat superficial. All religions understand reality to be composed of diversity with an underlying unity. The names given to the things differs and the focus of worship differs, but in all religions there is something that is understood pluralistically and something that is understood singularly. This is probably a reflection of how people see reality as a whole. We can see both component parts and overarching similarities. The picture is more complicated than one vs. many.

So the short answer is "it throws a massive wrench into things because god-concepts in religion really aren't as simple as breaking it down into a simple one vs. many argument." :D
 

The Sum of Awe

Brought to you by the moment that spacetime began.
Is there any reason to like winter better than summer?

The reason I believe in gods not god is through my faith, not choice, it's not that polytheism is better than monotheism, it just makes more sense. Logic is relative, afterall.
 

Polarbear

Active Member
Problem of evil? What problem? The gods are many, and not all of them are nice; our gods aren't omnibenevolent in the first place.

Problem accounting for the variety of religious experiences? What problem? Many gods means many different religious experiences; the human religious experience is inherently plural (polytheistic), not monotheistic.

Problem deciding what the one true religion is? What problem? Many gods means many paths; each to his or her own. Religious exclusivism is largely a foreign concept to polytheism.

Could you please elaborate on these points?
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
Could you please elaborate on these points?

I could, but you'd probably be better served by scoping out the book I recommended. Although Greer's explanations are not perfect, they are by and large better than I can offer. I will present a short exempt from his book that addresses one of these points.

J.M. Greer in A World Full of Gods said:
A stronger challenge to theism comes from the argument from evil.

...

The argument can be outlined as follows. If there exists a god who is omnipotent and omniscient, such a god would have both the power and the knowledge necessary to prevent all extreme and unnecessary suffering. If the same god is also omnibenevolent, such a god would be motivated to prevent all extreme and unnecessary suffering. However, there exists a vast amount of extreme and unnecessary suffering. Therefore no such god can exist.

On the face of it, this is a potent argument. When a five-year-old child dies slowly of an agonizing cancer, or a landslide wipes out a village, it's hard to square this with the existence of a god who is simultaneously omnipotent and loving. Such considerations have made the argument from evil the most effective weapon in the arsenal of atheism. Even among people with no background in philosophy at all, thoughtful reflection on the reality of horrendous, pointless evil in a world supposedly ruled by a loving and all-powerful god has been a potent factor in the loss of religious faith.

[He goes on to discuss theodicy in detail]

Clearly, given the amount of energy displayed by theists and atheists alike, the argument from evil poses a powerful challenge to the existence of the god of classical monotheism. Yet it offers no challenge to all other systems of belief. If the god in question is not omnipotent and omniscient, evil and suffering can readily be explained by limitations in the god's power and knowledge. If the god is not omnibenevolent, evil and suffering can be explained by the fact that the god may have no motive to eliminate them. Finally, if more than one god exists, and conflicts between gods is possible, then the argument form evil loses nearly all of its force, since the benevolent action of one god could be countered by the opposing action of another.

Thus traditional polytheism provides no effective targets whatsoever for the argument from evil. Since many of the gods of traditional polytheism are limited in power and knowledge, and are associated with specific moral ideals and qualities (rather than goodness in general), the existence of evil and unnecessary suffering in a polytheist universe causes no logical difficulty. Indeed, the absence of evil and unnecessary suffering in such a universe would be a good deal more surprising.

Excerpted from Pages 55-56 and 60-61.

I would also add to his treatment of the subject that dualistic "good vs evil" doesn't always track well in polytheism to begin with. The gods just are what they are and do what they do. There are gods whose actions humans would construe as benevolent and that humans would construe as malevolent. The gods are as much behind disease and death as they are behind healing and birth. The "bad" aspects of reality are understood as an intrinsic part of the fabric of the universe instead of denied as something to be outright eliminated. That doesn't mean you endorse them. Ares is acknowledged in the Greek pantheon, but what he stood for was never particularly popular nor supported. War and conflict is part of what it means to be human, whether we like it or not, and a deity like Ares shows that the polytheistic mind is better able to acknowledge such realities.
 
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Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
If you are mad with one god you can pray with the other ones? :D

Technically. *laughs* But typically you grant respect to all the gods regardless. Ceasing to acknowledge them simply because they don't placate your petty mortal desires and revolve their existence around you is an example of human hubris and arrogance.
 

Polarbear

Active Member
Thanks for your response Quintessence, I will try and check out that book you mentioned.

However all gods need to have been created by a single god that is more original than the others, right? So I have two questions: 1) If the gods are separate entities why did this one original god create all the others? 2) If the gods are diffrent aspects of the one original god why did s/he choose to fragment him/herself?
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
Eeeeeh... that is complicated to answer because it depends on the specific mythology you are looking at. Beyond that, what you describe sounds a lot like soft polytheism, and although it is relatively popular among contemporary Paganism, it was NOT the traditional way of understanding things to Pagans and polytheists of antiquity. To say there is an "original god" is nonsense in polytheism. Yes, there are often creation stories discussing divine heritage and these sometimes trace back to a singular something, but I would be very careful interpreting that through a monotheistic lens. It risks misunderstanding the polytheistic mindset to call it an "original god."

Take, for example, Greek mythology. Yes, in Greek mythology, we can trace back the heritage of the various gods to Chaos. However, to say all the other gods are somehow facets or fragments of Chaos would be just plain wrong. A soft polytheist might be comfortable saying that, but traditionally this isn't how it would have been understood. Saying the gods that emerged from Chaos are simply facets of Chaos is like saying the child of a man and a woman is purely derivative of its parents instead of having its own unique identity. That's a no-no in polytheism as it is understood traditionally.
 

Quintessence

Consults with Trees
Staff member
Premium Member
I don't honestly ask the question. I don't ask the question because, on the one hand, I don't care about creation mythos in general. My path is about the right here and the right now; it's about the land immediately around me and how I can honor its gifts and wonders.

On the other hand, I personally feel that playing the numbers game is missing the point. When you answer "how many" the divine is, you're making a map of the territory. It's a construct. The maps are never the territory. I don't believe the divine is many. Nor do I believe it is one. I believe reality as a whole utterly transcends and defies categorization. However, as humans, we have to stuff things into categories to understand and relate to them. We have to use maps. I prefer a polytheist/animist/pantheist map because it works the best for me. I worship in a polytheistic fashion. But, philosophically, I don't think that's what the divine (territory) is. If that makes sense. My understanding of reality =/= reality.

Was there a "single god" that became "separate" ones? Yes.
Was there a "single god" that became "separate" ones? No.

I think both answers are correct. I think both answers are incorrect. In terms of how a traditional polytheist would see it, it really does depend on exactly which Pagan mythology you're looking at. To use the word "becoming" wouldn't be appropriate for some of them, but might be for others. In some mythos, the void is destroyed and "becomes" reality as we know it. In others, the void endures and acts more like a bacteria; multiplying without itself changing.

Wow, that was a terrible metaphor. >_<;
 

Me Myself

Back to my username
Technically. *laughs* But typically you grant respect to all the gods regardless. Ceasing to acknowledge them simply because they don't placate your petty mortal desires and revolve their existence around you is an example of human hubris and arrogance.

I think it depends on how you define this "gods".

In any case, even if it is our fault, if we are mad at a deity (even when knowing it is our fault :p ) it may take time to get the anger to go away, until then you can pray others.

In any case, I kinda like the african approach in which you can humilliate the deities you don`t like :p . Mostly because of how different it is though :D
 
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