The Effects of Polytheism

[Previous typos have been corrected]

Anthropomorphic deities in any religion often serve as a model by which humans shape their lives, and order their actions. Christians sometimes ask what would Jesus do? and such things as this. In the ancient Hellenic world, a warrior might ask what would Ares do? or a  ruler might ask what would Zeus do? In a strictly, perhaps fanatically monotheistic system, because there is only one unique divinity, everyone strives to have all the same virtues, often embodied in that divinity, and all the same qualities; ethics are universalized. In the enlightenment, this manifested itself in the ethics of Kant and the destruction of aristocracy; and in more modern times it is manifested through the destruction of traditional gender roles.

In a polytheistic system, however, different gods act as a  role model for certain vocations. Zeus (and similar deities such as Odin and Varuna) is a role model for judges, and people for whom wisdom and justice are necessary virtues, Ares is the role model for the warrior, Apollo for the young man, student or athlete, Rhea for the mother, and there are many others. If one takes a broader view of Indo-European religion, one will find that the various deities usually act as archetypes corresponding to the various “three estates”: the oratores, bellatores, and laboratores (priests, aristocrats, and commoners). Research Georges Dumezil’s Trifunctional Hypothesis to find out more about this. Polytheism, for our ancestors, was not just some silly idea of Zeus throwing thunderbolts at people he was angry at (you can also find many such instances of so-called ‘silliness’ coming from the monotheistic deity of the Pentateuch). For them, polytheism was a cosmic blueprint for how society was supposed to be run. Not everyone worshiped the same gods nor was everyone expected to live up to the same virtues. The hierarchy among the gods, and their various duties in keeping cosmic order was the model for a hierarchy among humans and their various roles in a complete society. The different virtues of different gods marked the virtues different virtues different people were supposed to aim for depending on who they were, whether a priest, king, warrior, or farmer. Polytheism is probably the most reliable way to avoid Kantian categorical imperative ethics because it destroys the notion that all maxims by which individuals act must become universal law. It does this through the multiplicity of archetypes, showing that there are inevitably different types of humans with different virtues to be exercised.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy kept a quasi-polytheistic tradition going through a hierarchy of saints and angels, whom devotees would look up to in iconography. A warrior might look up to St. George, a mother to St. Mary, etc. The patron deities which set the virtues for various vocations were replaced by patron saints which served the same function. However, once all vestiges of polytheism were lost through radical Protestantism, we lost our blueprint for an orderly society where each person fulfilled his or her role according to his or her inherent virtue(s); humans became ‘equivalent’ understood as interchangeable units, leading to utilitarianism, democracy, Marxism, ‘gender studies’, and globalism.

So if any religious revival is to take place in the West, polytheism, or a similar system such as the veneration of saints found in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism, must be present in some form or another.  We cannot build a new West on the foundations of evangelicalism, Puritanism, or any other form of radical Protestantism. We must have anthropomorphic ideals and archetypes in place to encourage mothers to be caring for their young, warriors to be courageous and fierce, rulers to be just, and so forth. Otherwise, we will just end up back where we started.

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8 thoughts on “The Effects of Polytheism

  1. I think the real problem with the monotheistic is not this. Polythesitic societies rarely have any intrinsically ‘good’ deity – and if they do they tend also to have an intrinsically ‘bad’ deity. And, as Kaufman says these deities are still subject to metadivine forces – including fate. And the metadivine is unlikley to be intrinsically good or evil so it is morally neutral. That means good and bad ultimately emanate from the same source.
    Generally monotheistic religions struggle with that because the one deity is generally seen as good – that might be a simplification and biased towards Christianity but let’s assume it. The metadivine ceases to exist. God is all-seeing, all-knowing; there are no unplanned events to which he is subject. So evil can longer come from the metadivine. And if the deity is good, then it can’t be from God….

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  2. but this is actually very important because it is no longer ‘possible’ for a human to influence the metadivine – because it no longer exists and, at teh same time, there is no other source for evil than humankind – that is a bad combination really

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