Monday, March 19, 2012

I know that prior to my recent investigation, I had actually found my way to "", and was both unsurprised, and underwhelmed by its contents. It was not until a few days ago, however, that I found my way back and actually began going through a good chunk of the content provided by the site. As it turns out this site has managed to inspire me, because it is probably one of the more duplitious sites out there. It provides just enough actual information, that anyone not familair with either the historic/modern cultures discussed or with polytheism in general, would actually mistake it as a legitimate source of information. It isn't, of course, being what amounts to a thinly veiled, web based Christian tract. The "articles" are loaded with imbeded links to webpages produced by the same company, all under the auspices of "All About Philosophy", which in turn is owned and maintained by "", of "All About God Ministries".

There are many "tells" on the front page which betray its true nature, but a lot of folks wouldn't be aware of these and so the insidious nature of the site, and the misinformation it provides, is all the more troubling. So why bother talking about it at all? Two reasons:

1. The first is that I think pointing out just how dishonest the information is, merits some commentary, if for no other reason than to provide some content fellow polytheists may get a chukle out of, or shake their heads at.

2. The second, and probably more useful, is that the site is replete with just about every agument that has been made against polytheism, from archaic to obscufitating, to down right lying. I think that while the information is bogus and with a juvenile analysis, it does represent a given world view: that of a certain type of monotheist's understanding of polytheism, and if nothing else provides clear points of argument, to which rebuttals ought to be made.

The front page consists of a basic explanation of what polytheism is, drops some of the polytheisic cultures which everyone would be familiar with, mentions how primitive it is, how it is in stark contrast to the Abrahamic monotheisms and how most modern polytheists are either those "exotic" others from the "east" or new agers. My guess would be that pagans and reconstructionists would be lumped in with the new age in such an aproximation. As I mentioned the information is innocous enough, but it is towards the bottom of the page that the tone shifts from condescendingly curious to two central commentaries which show the lacking elements of polytheism (or to be fair, any non-absolutist, monotheistic worldview).
  • The lack in a supreme, all powerful deity, who is the embodiment of morality, necessarily makes these religions/cultures 'moral relativists'.
  • Ultimately, these people are unhappy because they, necessarily, lack the direction and purpose presented by the monothesitic god. 
The bottom of the last paragraph spells it out, "Monotheistic faiths such as Christianity teach that absolute truth is reality, mankind is on earth for a purpose, and eternal salvation is possible for those seeking a reconciled relationship with the one true God." This of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with monotheism at all, but consdiering the authors, is typical. So, lets "Explore More Now!!!"

This link, unfortunately for the purposes of this post, redirects to a page comparing the "meaning of life" between those who think "this life is all their is", and those who "know there is more". I'll not go into great detail here, but one of the "points" raised on this page reveals the highly immoral nature of the very world view they espouse as being "moral." The argument boils down to the need for an ultimate reward to provide meaning to any aspect of human culture or history, because without this reward, everything is meaningless. It really doesn't provide anymore detail than that, and is a perfect example of circular logic. The real life example they posit is that without an ultimate reward, there is no difference between living a life like "Billy Graham" or living a life like "Osama Bin Laden". I'll just play along with their simplistic good/evil bifurcation; they completely fail to see that living a life of morality for the sake of morality is a worthwhile endevour. Are they so morally callous to just ignore the suffering, however temporal, that an "evil" person inflicts, or the joy that a "good" person provides? For people who are making judgements from a position of "absolute" morality, they lack even the basic ability to distinguish "right" from "wrong".

Which brings me back to the first assertion about polytheism listed above; that polytheists are "moral relativists", and this ultimately means that here is no morality at all. Proving this assertion is again the work of another website (well two actually, one on "cultural-relavitism" and the other on "moral relavitism". Neither of which have anything at all do (directly) with polytheism. Ultimately, however, this is one of the most important arguments for the monotheistic outlook, especially when it comes to issuse of ethics and morality. It is also a canard. The entire argument hinges on the belief that monotheism provides a single source of morality, and that without this all other methods of determing "right" from "wrong" are incorrect, or impossible.It also relies on the assertion that the source for understanding morality, their holy book, is infalliable. Anyone who isn't blinded by their unwavering, unfalsifiable faith is such baseless assertions, can readily see the problem with relying on such a source as THE source of ethics. Considering that such individuals are unable to see the intrinsic value in living a good life vs. living a life of vice, you'll forgive my skepticism of their ability to make sound moral choices.

In normative ethics, the kind of ethical model espoused by these people, is a sort of bigoted deontological ethical system; something is moral because it has been established by some authority (in this case a very crude "divine command theory"), and so what is moral amounts to adhering to these rules. Funnily enough, the same site redirects to an article on deontological ethics and tries its best to show how flawed even their own approach is! What is so twisted with this particualr view, however, is the assertion that it is actually impossible to do so. Morality is actually impossible without the direct intervention of the "supreme law giver", which in turn establishes a need for such intervention made possible through the religion being promoted. This assertion is of course, non-sense, as not only do other ethical systems exist, but even a simple application of my personal preference, virtue ethics, shows both that moral agency is possible without divine intervention, and that the idea of "moral relavitism" being the only option outside of absolutist bifurcation, is simply wrong.

One of the foundationa principles of vitrue ethics is the idea of the "golden mean". The "golden mean" is what qualifies as a virtue, and exists between deficeny of the virtue, and excess of the virtue. For example, "bravery" is considered a virtue, where as deficeny of "bravery" is "cowardice" and excess is "foolhardiness". The deficency results in the inability to act at all, and the excess in reckless acts. Bravery, then, is held to be a virtue because it allows one to act in a given situation while preventing one from reacting in an unthinking manner. A tad simplistic, but serviciable to the point where it becomes fairly easy to establish an objective basis that is not based on "cultural relativity" or "moral relavitism". Of course, there is a considerable difference between an objective basis and an absolutist one; in the former, context is taken into account whereas in the latter it necessarily needs to be true in every context. In essence it can be shown that the virtue is a virtue objectively, and not simply based on culture/relativism, while understanding that the context of the situation can impact the applicability. In such a case then, it is simple to see why the life of the "good Billy Graham" is superior to the life of the "evil Osama Bin Laden", without the need to posit a scheme of reward/punishment to give it significance.

There is a side bar on the main page which has a number of links which redirect to related subject matter and so I will next turn my attention to them. The top link is titled "Gods and Goddesses" and redirects to a series of pages which discuss (in chronological order) Egyptian, Greek and Roman polyteism. Again terribly simplistic, but there is a recurring theme throughout all of the pages: the nature of the (ancient) gods and goddesses, and their worship, was arbitrary and ever changing. The assertion that the various gods of polytheism were "created by man", is present in every summary and so posits that none of these deities have actual existence external to the myths of the specific cultures. What the mileage of these myths do reflect, is a sincere desire of all human cultures to explore and understand their origins and purpose, but the instability of such belief systems ultimately leaves no certainty, and ultmately no real answers at all. When the author moves on to discussing Greek deities, who were also fictional, emotional (... such as jealousy or wrath?) and interfered in human afairs (... like destroying all but a handful of life?). The next culture was that of the Romans, split into earlier and later developments. A brief mention of the genius/luna and household deities, with the inclusion of how silly having a deity for an absurd amount of specificity is. The later development comments on the inclusion of broader mythology and the syncretic tendencies of Rome to adopt deities from other cultures, again playing on the transience of such worship.

The second page concludes with the same "Explore More Now" link which redirects to the same "meaning of life" page discussed above. Except where the eariler page then provides some related content to the link, these pages do not merit any further discussion. The argument is actually very tacit in these examples; a belief in polytheistic deities is from a bygone era, where people did not know any better, but reflect or anticipate the desire for the "absolute truth" presented by this particular monotheism. Such assertions, however tacit, ultimately betray a sincere lack of understanding of the development of their own mythology, and of course the bias inherent in rejecting out of hand all mythologies (and deities) except ones own, because they believe the assertios their holy book/religion provide. Special pleading at its finest, but again very typical. Relating back to the second overall theme of the web page, this discontent or aimlessness which is present in those who do not belong to this particular monotheism, is symptomatic of the void which must exist in those outside this particular world view. Those outside must be unhappy, because if they were happy, content and fulfilled, then this would mean that such things were not the exclusive purview of their religion and the deity they represent, and so their claims of exclusivity would fall flat. No mention is made, of course, of modern polytheists, because we are not even an afterthought.

All in all the page doesn't present any information which is not readily available, and in better quality, through even a quick goolgle search or glancing at a wikipedia article. The information which is provided is not done in an objective fashion, and instead is presented in a very condescending tone. What then is the purpose of this web site; well to steer those rare people who may be genuine "spiritual seekers", maybe who've heard of this so called polytheism and are curious, back to the "winning team". How? Through misinformation and deception, two tried and true methods in the arsenal of this particular monotheism. How much of an impact would this site have on individals looking for information? Well its the second site listed in a google search of "polytheism", being nudged out of the top spot by he wiki article on polytheism. So while anyone who is already cognizant of polytheism as a legitimate way of understanding deity wouldn't waste their time after the first paragraph, those who are not aware, but may be contemplating or exploring other theistic perspctives are vulnerable to such tactics.

There is still a lingerng question though, why go through all this trouble; why all the effort and deception to discredit an apparently "defunct" religious perspective? I would suggest that the very existence of this website and its associated content pages, proves not only that polytheism is being seen as a contemporary religious view by the authors, but that it is actually providing a competing perspective popular enough to merit such a response. So that while the website is indeed a testament to strawman polytheism, that it exists means that perhaps we do, infact, merit not only an afterthought, but serious contemplation.


1 comment:

  1. Thank You! I'm so glad you wrote this! Oh, by the way, I bet there are some people of the Christian religion that don't agree with the way who ever wrote that article was really sneaky about it. Seriously, I click on there because I'm curious about the Polytheism beliefs, and all it did was basically refer me to a Christian website. That's not what I wanted to read about. And I'm still left curious about the Polytheism belief because I'm certainly not going to believe what a Christian website has to say about it. That would be a pretty silly thing for me to do. So I'm left wondering, and my research will continue.