Thursday, September 23, 2010

Polytheism and you

I'm used to the typical discussions about religion where they happen; after all religion and politics are the two things not to be discussed in polite company. In most cases some people may be sitting around a table and drift onto some "out there topic" which gets tied into religion and peoples opinions on God. That is usually it, monotheism by default. "Are you religious ?" is code for "what church do you belong to?". So unless you are a visible minority (in which case Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist), the default assumption is some denomination of Christian. Even in the off chance that one extends the discussion to include non-believers, the discussion is couched in terms of monotheism. "Oh, you're not a Christian, so why don't you believe in God?" is something I have been asked on several occasions.

The either/or dichotomy, and the defacto monotheistic perspective are facts of life for those living in western cultures, I understand that. I get that a lot of people do not spend absorbent amounts of time contemplating the divine, and if they do, it is a contemplation of the nature of the Abrahamaic god. Understanding this however, does little to soothe my ire at having any discussion, be they layman or scholarly, couched in terms of a monotheistic conception of deity. There are other options, and for someone who is a dyed in the wool polytheist, it gets old. So most of the interfaith discussions I wind up contributing to are among pagans or other polytheists.

However, something amazing occurred today. I was in my ethics class, and the instructor was lecturing about how to make a strong argument, and got to talking about making an argument without facts. Someone asked what sort of arguments one could make without facts, and she replied, "well, arguing for the existence of a god...." My ears perked up, had I heard right? Maybe I had, for the remainder of the class I had that statement gnawing at the back of my mind. After class I approached the instructor and asked her why she worded her statement that way. She looked at me with a kind of flustered look, unsure of what to say, then simply said "some people believe in more than one god." Elation! I found out shortly after, that she had been concerned that she had somehow offended me by stating her phrase just so.

Why does this matter at all? Well that little "a" makes all the difference. For all of the times I have ever discussed religion, or the nature of deity, unless I was speaking to another polytheist I was always the one mentioning that there were perspectives other than monotheism. That someone who is not a polytheist (as far as I know) casually stated her argument to the class as "a god" and not just "God", makes all the difference. It means, in some small way, that people (who are not polytheists) are actually accepting that polytheism is a valid way of understanding deity.



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