I don’t understand monotheism

There’s just something about monotheism I never understood.

A friend recently linked me to an essay, that comes around to the old tired polytheism/monotheism comparison to organisms, and suggesting that not all birds with wide bills and webbed feet are ducks — some are swans, and some are geese, and so just because an entity is Divine doesn’t make it a god. This unfortunate metaphor, though, ignores that in the Family if Anatidae, there are many subfamilies, genii, and species that include hundreds of species of ducks, geese, and swans. The fairer comparison would be that monotheism takes, say, Mallards, and declares their species The One True Duck, and all other ducks are False Ducks. (If we’re talking Zoroastrian-style monotheism, all other species of duck are variant faces of The One True Duck, and their existence as separate is an illusion. In this sense, Zoroastrians are argueably not “true” monotheists, but simply taking “soft polytheism” or perhaps Platonic philosophy’s “One” to its logical extreme. Some schools of Hindu belief also subscribe to this sort of Extreme Soft Polytheism, but I digress.)

While I can be tolerant of the monotheist who can only see his Mallards, my tolerance only really goes as far as my own religion being tolerated and respected. Furthermore, over the years, I’ve been witness to many in pagan and polytheist communities adopting an approach of “all religions must be tolerated, therefore all religions are right”, which, if such phraseology is taken at face value, seems to be a thought that simply cannot be held by one who is truly polytheistic, at least not with added thoughts to reconcile this conflict and inconsistent logic.

While there is certainly wisdom in bowing out of an argument before it descends into a free-for-all flame-war, there’s also a point before it gets there where debate can remain respectful and tolerant, even if both sides will ultimately agree to disagree. Basically: Just because I can respect you as a person and be tolerant of what I see as an illogical religious belief does not mean I’m going to tell you that you are right and your beliefs are correct.

This does not mean I am proselytising, either. If the Theoi have it written that one will come Their way for worship, then it will happen just as surely as the next total solar eclipse will be on 13 November 2012 (visible from northern Australia) — until then, I may debate theology and the nature of divinity with a monotheist, but I am under no illusions that any such debate will lend toward converting one’s beliefs — so one shouldn’t maintain such illusions oneself, either. In this sense, I can respect Mormons, cos their structure makes active proselytising very clear to others, and rarely are they pushy (though they undoubtedly would welcome any “accidental” converts) — unlike Evangelists, who will take any opportunity to “witness” and can turn an ordinary outing to the grocery store into another pathetic attempt to “win souls”, as if whomever converts X-amount of people or more will get upgraded to Platinum Status in Heaven. (Really illustrates the whys of my recent penchant for referring to Christianity as a death cult, eh? And yes, I really was once a victim of a “witnessing” at a grocery store by a complete stranger — and no less than two bus rides, a trip to K-Mart, a visit to the pool at my old apartment, and who knows how many times at my old high school….) The difference, plainly, is debate is invited by both parties and maintains the assumtion that nobody’s mind is going to be changed so much as each person will be heard and respected as an intelligent human being.

I’ve never had a good debate with the overwhelming majority of monotheists I’ve encountered, and the only exception was Jewish — and some sects of Judaism seem to encourage spirited debate on the nature of the divine. Ultimately, we all just end up talking past each-other, and no-one ends up truly being heard on account of either one party using faulty logic and poor analogies to make his points, and the other party possessing of the intellectual capacity to actually make some sense out of his analogies and use internally consistent logic. Sometimes I think it might be nice to eventually encounter some-one who can challenge me to think about my beliefs in a debate, but then on occasion, I wonder if those occasions mightn’t be me wishing to ruin a good thing.

Even when I encounter concepts like “One”, its definition reeks too much to “trinity” and generally comes across as something for people who “want something that’s like Christianity, but isn’t”. If Khaos was so perfect as One, then what made Her fracture into Many? If the goal of spirituality is to reunite as One, then why does Physis drive Her charge of Nature into Many? It seems an inconsistent idea of what “perfect” is, and not to mention a presumptuous idea of what the Theoi has planned. While Big Bang theory of the scientific origin of the universe certainly seems compatible with Hesiod’s Khaos origin in Theogony, there is also loads of evidence to support it — indeed, the universe is still expanding, little by little, with each passing century; there’s simply no evidence to support the notion of an eventual Big Crunch (not just a plot-point in an episode of Red Dwarf), and the whole hypothesis rests on the notion that the universe is of finite dimension — though it certainly is not the only one compatible with a finite universe. Even cosmologically, the idea of One simply doesn’t hold much water, even ignoring the fact that I find it philosophically uncomfortable a fit to the nature of the divine as I’ve known it. In short, I don’t even understand the appeal of “monotheism, but not”, as it seems to fly in the face of basic knowledge, in spite of its insistences to the contrary.

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5 thoughts on “I don’t understand monotheism

  1. So, so, so with you on this. In fact, even if I were inclined to entertain the monistic position – which I’m not, thanks mostly to my direct experiences with assorted divinities but also the fact that it just doesn’t make any logical sense to me – the way that adherents of this philosophy behave, especially while engaged in dialogue, would adamantly put me in opposition to it. Seriously, of the five people I’ve had to ban from commenting on my journal three of them were zealous monists (one was a fundy atheist, and the other some creepy chick with a tendency to overshare.) I really don’t get why they’re so worked up about it. If all things are ultimately one anyway, then they’re one regardless of whether I see them that way or not. My “blindness” really only hurts me – and I don’t see that it does – so why be a complete ass about it? I suspect it’s because they’re really trying to convince themselves and suffering from cognitive dissonance. You have to pretty much shut out the whole world around you which is absurdly pluralistic … which ought to tell you something, ya know?

    Anyway, just wanted to chime in and say I loved this post!

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    • You’ve probably hit a nail on the head there, which reminds me of what seems, from casual study, to make Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrians seem inherently different from Jehovah/YHWH or Allah:  As noted, in Zoroastrian religion, it seems that it’s a logical extreme of “soft polytheism”, and they have several minor divinities, angels, spirits, etc…, that are ultimately considered a face or part of their singular transcendental deity.  When interacting with others outside that religion, it seems encouraged to take a syncretic approach, and I’ve spoken with one Zoroastrian who believed all other deities of all other pantheons were simply tribal faces of their Mazda.  While I definitely appreciate that approach for all sorts of reasons, it’s clearly very different from Abrahamic religions, especially their “Big Two” (after all, Judaism doesn’t actively seek converts, and Baha’i seems to have a similar “interfaith” approach to Zarathustrians in that they seem to believe all religions have truth and the potential to teach great good).  While I certainly don’t understand the appeal of consolidating all manner of deities as simply a single deity with multiple personalities, I don’t have an idealogical problem with those who do so, since it maintains peace and can encourage discourse rather than proselytising.

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  2. I made a youtube video about this very thing recently, and I totally agree. I think all of life is based on separateness and certainly not unity, nor do I believe we melt into a unified goo after death. This is why I think all consciousness is individualized. I don’t think even monotheists understand half of what they say in any event, they certainly don’t seem to require rationality. The cool thing about being human is you can believe things that are not true at all, or have no basis in logic/rationality or even common sense. Very good article.

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  3. I’m a life-long pagan and I am really impressed with your posting here. I have reached the conclusion that the problem with the One somehow becoming Many can be revolved by understanding that One is both infinitely large as it is infinitely small. They are identical. So, since the One is infinitely pretty much everything, it has to include “the Many”. Thus we have the refraction of the Divine Light into the Rainbow Bridge, uniting mortal with immortal. I keep searching backward, looking for symbols that reach back to the point when we stopped being not-human and recognized that there were patterns which corresponded to our own existence, our own life story, yet had cosmic impacts. The Father and Mother created Humanity, just like fathers and mothers create sons and daughters.

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    • Your offer is really nothing new to me, but allow me to explain:  While I suppose it’s nice to think of it all that way, if that’s what works for oneself, for one such as myself, I see pretty obvious logical inconsistencies.  Furthermore, the way you’ve broken it down is to say that “One” is pretty much the spiritual unity of the universe (Platonic Ta En, or rather what makes it a unique definition of One), and also that from which everything is derived (Hesiodic Khaos), and also everything the universe is made up of (Atomism).  While I wouldn’t be surprised if one could articulate how these can all be that definition simultaneously, this is how the idea really starts to lose water, for me:  Individually, each philosophy has internally consistent logic (though varying degrees of consistence with reality), but uniting those ideas requires competing such an obstacle course of logic to make them remain internally consistent and also become consistent with each-other that it doesn’t hold to even Cyreniac scepticism — and we are probably the laziest of all sceptics.

      Like I said, I offer props, if that’s what works for you, but you’ve offered me nothing that would spark a personal spiritual revelation — especially so cos I’ve heard it all before.  The only reason I’m not insulted by this is cos this seems to be our first encounter, and I’ve no real reason to assume you’d know of the several people who’ve tried to put it this way in hopes that I’d be swayed to Ta En.

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