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The Myth of Monotheism

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icymist Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-11-11 12:01 AM
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The Myth of Monotheism
For thousands of years people lived in a world they experienced as populated by a multitude of spiritual forces, nor did they think of them as being subordinate to some central divine king. Today many scholars see this awareness of spiritual multiplicity as a first step towards more sophisticated spiritual understandings, a spiritual journey culminating in monotheism or, alternatively, a focus on NonDual reality. To them, we contemporary Pagans seem a kind of romantic throwback or perhaps even an evolutionary degeneration.

This dismissive attitude towards polytheism affects more than Fundamentalists and other conservative monotheists, although in other critics it lacks the venom. Liberal Christians and tolerant secular scholars of religion are often friendly to non-European Pagans, such as practicing Hindus or traditional Native Americans. But they often have a hard time taking Western NeoPagans seriously. I believe this is because they buy into the view that monotheism is more advanced. While they can benignly, even benevolently, tolerate polytheism among non-Europeans, they cannot understand how it could flourish among Euro-Americans. (Happily this dismissive attitude is improving, but it is still prominent.) I want to argue this attitude is a mistake.

The seemingly inevitable spiritual, intellectual, and cultural progress towards monotheism is a fable. Monotheism never evolved from polytheistic roots, nor did it triumph because of its persuasive power. In nearly every instance a form of monotheism became a cultures dominant religion through brutal imposition, with adherents to other Gods and faiths imprisoned or killed. Monotheisms marked the first totalitarian effort to impose a way of thought on people who had other ideas.

This was true in ancient Egypt, where the Pharaoh Akhenaten sought to force monotheism onto his subjects. It was true in ancient Israel where Moses and his allies slaughtered Pagan Israelites who did not focus their attention only on Yahweh, and if the reports are to be believed, went on to slaughter many of their Pagan neighbors as well. Among later Christians it was true within the Roman Empire, in Central. Eastern and Western Europe, in South America, Australia, in North America, and on any islands where people happened to live. Only India, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan remained relatively untouched. Small Christian communities had lived peacefully in several of these places for over a thousand years, but in the absence of having the power to destroy their opponents had never transformed their host cultures. In some cases, such as China, they eventually died out.
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