by Amir Arsalan
Within the thread
"Tribute to Russell"
to Bertrand Russell
I touched upon
the concepts of Polytheism and Monotheism briefly. This is a noteworthy
comparison in and of itself, and so I will now review it again in
its own thread, and further expand upon it.
L. The classical philosopher, Bertrand
Russell with classical pipe
R. The modern philosopher, Bertrand Russel with modern pipe
It is a most
curious finding that theists today contend that polytheism is not
only historically archaic but also intellectually archaic as compared
to monotheism. They hold that monotheism is morally and logically
superior to polytheism. So let us explore them both in order to
reach an educated conclusion.
Intellectual and Moral Comparisons
all forms were initially created in order to fulfill a function.
That function has primarily been to provide explanations regarding
the world. The explanations have ranged form physical to philosophical
in nature. From the basic physical explanation of lightning to the
most complex philosophical explanation of the existence of the universe,
religion has served as the source of the explanation.
It was this
query and search that gave birth to religion. It was this same search
that incidentally also gave birth to science - but that contrast
is the topic of another discussion.
Since all humans
share the search for explanations about the world, independent but
amazingly similar pathways to religion emerged in different parts
of the world. An examination of history reveals that uniformly this
pathway led to polytheism. The only exceptions are to a small extent
Zoroastrianism and a larger extent Judaism, which I will return
to shortly. The point is that if a culture is not influenced by
another's religion and is allowed to independently invent its own
religion, in the overwhelming majority of cases that religion will
So then the
question emerges as to why the natural inclination of man is toward
polytheism. The answer lies within the initial fundamental role
of religion itself. Religion's primary initial role has been to
provide explanations regarding nature. The universe and the questions
it poses are quite diverse. Thus, diverse answers are given in response,
which are in turn linked to diverse sources, or Gods. A God is assigned
to explain the behavior of water or the seas, another to explain
lightning, another to explain the sun, another to explain death,
and so forth.
The other commonality
of various religions has been their anthropomorphisms. "Did
God create man in his own image, or did man create God in his own
image?" pondered Nietzsche. In all religious motifs the Gods
are more powerful and immortal representations of men. In this way,
man attempts to better relate to nature. Furthermore, the anthropomorphism
of the Gods allows man the opportunity to plead with them and perhaps
persuade them to act in his favor. Man can plead to a different
God as the circumstance and subject dictates.
structure is also reflected in his Gods. As man's social world is
structured and tiered, so is his Gods'. Some Gods are more powerful
and dominant than others. Usually, there is a supreme God, such
as Zeus. As in real life, a certain person may have his favorite
God, and vice versa.
of Gods provides variety of choice. One may not fair so well with
one particular God, but has the opportunity to plead with another,
which may view his cause more favorably. The variety of choice of
polytheism also carries a balance. The Gods balance each other out,
and absolute and irrefutable power is not in the hands of one, but
many. In a way, polytheism compares to a democracy at best or an
oligarchy at worse in contrast to monotheism's absolute dictatorship.
It is within
monotheism that one finds the concepts of omnipotence and omni-benevolence.
Within polytheism, no one God has all the powers and therefore lacks
authority over every aspect of the world. In this respect, the shortcomings
of the world are at least a little more understandable since no
being has complete power. So from a logical perspective, it is actually
more difficult to disprove the polytheists' Gods than it is to disprove
the monotheists' God. A great pitfall of monotheism is the inability
to reconcile an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God with the flawed,
imperfect world and the evil within it. Within polytheism, there
is a logical shield that provokes the defense that the multiple
Gods interact in a manner that causes such shortcomings in the world.
No God has complete authority over everything.
From the perspective
of practice, since these Gods don't truly exist one may wonder why
such a distinction is even relevant. It certainly is not relevant
in the sense of the Gods themselves, but becomes very relevant in
the effect that such a belief system has upon the men that practice
such a faith. Polytheism's multiple Gods impresses better religious
tolerance upon men. If there are ten Gods, it is possible that there
are a hundred. If a hundred exist in one's country, perhaps a thousand
more exist outside of it. The religion of other men does not provoke
contempt. The Gods of other men are not seen as diverting, heretical
and evil. The men that believe in those Gods are not in turn branded
as heretical and evil and dealt with accordingly.
In ancient times
religious wars and persecution were unheard entities. With the arrival
of Judaism, Christianity and Islam did such horrific practices bare
Within the context
of religious tolerance also lies a large domain of morality. Religious
intolerance leads to ethnic intolerance, political intolerance,
and general intolerance of all others except oneself. Religious
intolerance is the doorway to dictatorship, sadism, and oppression
in all of its forms.
THE LORD THY GOD, THOU SHALT NOT HAVE STRANGE GODS BEFORE ME."
This is the first commandment. The first commandment, which usually
signifies the most important of all other entities within a list.
The very first, and probably the most important commandment of theism
is to denounce all other Gods. Within this first commandment lies
religious intolerance of all others. Polytheism is thus fiercely
opposed by the monotheist, even though the polytheist cares nothing
about the monotheist's God.
how monotheism which is not morally superior managed to dominate
the world while polytheism faded away. Again, the answer lies within
monotheism's intolerance. The very thing that made monotheism morally
inferior was also its vehicle of expansion. Via intolerance and
force, all others were squeezed into oblivion. Monotheism spread
first against polytheists, but when they ran out, the different
sects of monotheism opposed each other and engaged in a never ending
struggle to dominate and extinguish the other's light. It is a struggle
that has been ongoing and has no end in sight.
The first completely
monotheistic religion to develop was Judaism. However, it obtained
some of its framework from several other religions, one of which
was Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was the first religion to divide
the universe into two camps: Good and Evil. A Good God versus a
Bad God epic was born. Duality thus developed in its infancy.
Prior to this
Zoroastrian concept, purely good Gods and purely evil Gods did not
exist. Some Gods were more righteous than others, and by nature
were the masters of certain domains that one may consider more or
less desirable, but none were purely good or evil Gods.
Citing the Greek
pantheon as an example, no God acted always righteously and no God
acted always deviously. The God of the underworld was Hades, brother
to Zeus. Hades was not evil by any stretch of the imagination. He
was simply the God that was allocated the position of ruling over
the underworld and dead men's souls. Zeus was no more virtuous than
Hades, or any other God for that matter.
This is in stark
contrast to the Zoroastrian concept of Good God (Ahura Mazda) Bad
God (Ahriman). By associating virtue and goodness with one God and
evil and darkness with another, a polarization occurred in the history
of religion that would have disastrous consequences. The polarity
of good versus evil destroys shades of gray and tolerance. It beckons
humanity to take up arms and join the forces of good (which is defined
differently depending on who is doing the defining) in battle against
the forces of evil. It sets up an artificial showdown which ought
not exist. It serves as a valuable excuse to conveniently call others
servants of evil so that their extinguishment may be justified.
It allows fascists, conquerors, and oppressors to simply invoke
divine guardianship over the good cause in order to wield their
ruthlessness over their enemies without any other rational explanation
This first appearance
of duality of good and evil in the Zoroastrian Gods served as a
precursor to the framework of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam which
expanded this concept and carried out all of the above inhumanities
in the name of a Good God.
Going back to
the Greek Gods, they were very similar to humans, in that in different
circumstances they acted with good intentions, whereas in others
acted with poor intentions. In one story, a particular God may be
the protector of a hero or people, whereas in another incident that
same God may be the antagonist of the story. The Gods themselves
acted morally or immorally, and morality was not at all intertwined
with the Gods.
a very distinct concept from the Gods themselves and existed independently
from them. This is a very important distinction between monotheism
since Gods were neither good nor evil, morality did not need to
be mixed up with them. However, as the monotheistic God developed,
which was defined as a good God, it forced that God to be fused
with morality. There was no other way around it. If out of the concept
of duality, only a Good God remains along with his nemesis (the
Devil), then the goodness of that God must be emphasized and defined
in order to explain his nature and the ultimate explanation as to
why only that one God exists. How else can the goodness of that
God be explained and emphasized, if he is not married to morality?
As a side note,
it is worth mentioning that by invoking a God that is concerned
with morality, monotheism falls into yet another logical pitfall
when attempting to explain God's existence based on the moral argument.
I will not repeat the argument and its pitfall, but for those interested
in reading about it they may refer to my post "Tribute to Russell,"
Part 2 (Why I Am Not a Christian), Section D: The Moral Argument
to Bertrand Russell
In short, out
of "Good God Bad God" was born monotheism, which was subsequently
forced to maintain its one God's hold on morality. Ironically, monotheism's
forced grasp for morality is a reason for its own ultimate immorality.
mended morality with its own God, causing strict definitions of
the morality mandated by its respective God, which the clergy of
each religion were more than happy to deal out. The so-called religious
experts materialized and using nothing more than the cultural trend
of the time began carving laws into stones that were subsequently
enforced upon the population whether that population liked it or
not. As these laws were presented to be from their particular God,
they were seen very stringently and thus resistant to change. With
changing times and sociological evolution conflicts arose between
the evolved notions of morality and the old, dogmatic laws. Given
the monotheist's characteristic intolerance of others, it is no
surprise as to which party usually was on the receiving end of God's
justice and moral code. In short, the monotheistic claim to morality
has historically caused the monotheistic religions to act immorally
secondary to the intolerance that such a claim to morality enticed.
Polytheism within Monotheism
In the above
paragraphs, the intellectual and moral inferiority of monotheism
was explained. Now, let us explore another aspect: monotheism's
secret incorporation of polytheism within its practice.
argument has ever been presented on the inter-relationship of the
Christian Trinity - the God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Many
attempts at explanation have been given by the theists on the matter,
but each sounds just as contradictory and illogical as the next.
The vaguest of all is the Holy Spirit. Isn't God's role to act as
the "Holy Spirit?" How is another God-like spirit entity
both a part of God, yet distinct from him? Furthermore, if God has
a Son through a mortal mother, is that son not a half-God, half-mortal,
or Demi-God? Here are three different Gods, clearly a part of polytheistic
belief, yet billed as a single God within monotheistic beliefs.
A God which has reproduced has clearly become pleural, thereby falling
within the realm of polytheism. Yet, Christians avidly deny this.
The Christian reluctance to abandon the concept of the Trinity,
all the while maintaining its grasp to monotheism serves as yet
another of its logical inconsistencies.
is not limited to just the concept of the Trinity, or even to Christianity
alone. The dozens and dozens of Saints show the unconscious acceptance
of polytheism within Christianity. These Saints are seen with a
certain super-human quality about them. Miracles, guardianship,
and supernatural events are linked to them. Specifically, each is
a "patron saint" of a certain act, event, or group of
people. Is that not how the Gods of a Pantheon were viewed? Each
with his or her own specialty and area of protection?
Added to this
are the angels. What exactly are angels? They belong outside of
the natural and physical world, and are God's workers / helpers
/ collaborators. They certainly have supernatural and super-human
abilities. They are therefore Gods, if only subservient and less
powerful ones than the supreme God. This is flagrant polytheism.
of angels applies to Islam as it does to Christianity. Idolatry
was strictly prohibited in both religions specifically as an attempt
to eliminate other polytheistic religions that relied heavily on
pictures and graven images. Last year, the Moslems were in an uproar
because the image of Mohammad was depicted. They claimed it was
because his image is not to be portrayed, but the real reason was
that they did not like the manner in which it was portrayed.
I recall pictures
of Mohammad and Ali hung up on frames everywhere I went as a child
in Iran. Every male in my family also had a golden neck-chain with
a picture of either Ali or Mohammad on it. An image of religious
people carved on a piece of gold, and displayed on the neck for
all to see. Is that not idolatry, and in following of pagan polytheistic
practices? The same is true with Christians, who have graven images
of Jesus on a cross, and pictures of Saints in Churches.
In line with
the Christian Trinity is the close analogy of Ali's divinity. The
Shia hold him as almost God's equal.
Vali as khoda joda nist
may not be God, but he is not separate from him. Is that not calling
him a God in his own right, only slightly inferior to the supreme
of the secret incorporation of polytheism into monotheism are cited
to illustrate the natural human desire and attraction to polytheism
as opposed to monotheism, as well as monotheism's hypocrisy and
self-deceit. Although polytheism was forcefully driven out of men's
lives, there is a curious attraction that it still maintains.
and moral poorness of monotheism as compared to polytheism have
been demonstrated in this essay. From a developmental standpoint,
it is shown that man's natural tendency is towards polytheism. However,
the reason why monotheism replaced polytheism had more to do with
the incorporation of politics into religion than the merits of monotheism
bestows upon ruling religious and political classes a right to dominate,
punish, and expel rivals by virtue of a defined moral code unique
to its God, it becomes an extremely powerful political tool indeed.
Furthermore, its inherent intolerance of other religions has served
as the ultimate enabling force used to eliminate the competition,
causing the emergence of monotheism as the dominating belief system
of the world.
illogical and unnatural existence is further highlighted by its
own hypocrisy of containing polytheistic elements within its own
ranks, all the while denouncing polytheism as a cardinal sin. It
condemns polytheism as a matter of religious decree in attempting
to maintain its authority and justification for existing, although
it cannot control the basic human attraction to multiple Gods and
sub-specialized domains of the divine. It has extinguished formal
polytheistic religions, yet adopted polytheism within itself; a
most illogical stance.
was the primary influential religion which laid the framework for
the subsequent monotheistic religions. It was not, however, a purely
monotheistic religion. Although it incorporated morality for the
first time into religion by inventing a Good God and an Evil God,
it still held to a pantheon of Gods, that through the passage of
time lost their significance to some degree.
It is most curious
to see modern Iranians and Zoroastrians maintain that theirs is
a monotheistic religion from a time before Judaism. This reflects
the domineering effect that monotheism has had in this world, to
the point that a religion such as Zoroastrianism feels compelled
to emphasize its own monotheism and de-emphasize its elements of
polytheism in order to be more palatable as well as less persecuted.
As there is neither intellectual nor moral superiority to monotheism,
a drive to portray a religion such as Zoroastrianism as monotheistic
is driven more by political pressure than truth or progress.
Since the disappearance
of polytheism, almost all people would scuff at the notion of a
polytheistic pantheon. Rightly so, because with man's current knowledge
the concept that a God dwells in the sea, a volcano, Mt. Olympus,
or Damavand is ridiculous. Polytheism is nothing more than mythology.
Yet, it is a mythology that intellectually and morally is superior
That a mythological
polytheistic religion is found to be superior to one's own monotheistic
religion should act as a wake up call to all members of such a religion.
Nevertheless, that wake up call will go unheard by most, because
after all, it is a call based on reason and logic. Two entities
that are in short supply within the environment of the monotheist.
Bertrand Russell, the pipe smile!