I realize it’s been like a month since I’ve written anything for this site. The ADF dedicant program seems to take up the time I had once allotted to blogging. It is precisely because of an issue that ADF has brought to mind that I am writing this now. My longest held belief about the nature of deity has been a combination of soft polytheism and pantheism. [Defenitions: Soft polytheism is the belief that all gods are really aspects or archetypes, ways of understanding one great deity (monism). Hard polytheism is the belief that all the gods are real, individual gods.] However, because hard polytheism seems to be the prevailing view in ADF, I have been re-examining my views. I read “A World Full of Gods” by John Michael Greer, to get a better idea of what the hard polytheist view is. This was very helpful and made me think of a lot of things I hadn’t thought of before. For example, one of the main philosophical arguments used against theism does not really work against polytheism; the argument from evil… the gods of polytheism are not omnipotent, omniscient (infinite knowing), nor omnibenevolent as monotheistic gods claim to be. Also, the best argument in favor of theism, the argument from design, does not rule out polytheism. The argument goes that some things are so intricate that they cannot be explained by evolution alone, that they point to the existence of a designer. I think this is a good argument, and it seems reasonable to me that life may be the result of a combination of evolution and design. It makes a lot of sense that there could be more than one designer, given the sheer diversity of life. A team of non-omniscient gods a creators would explain all the imperfections in the world a lot better than the monotheistic model. These arguments are enough to convince me of the logic of polytheism, but there are a few questions that hard polytheism still does not answer for me…
If hard polytheists believe that ALL the gods are real, what is the view on the existence monotheistic gods? I fully realize that believing that a god exists is totally separate from worshiping said god. Do hard polytheist believe that the “monotheistic” gods exist but that the teachings about them are false? This leads to a related question: if one believes that some gods are real, and some are not, then what is the criteria for believing in any god? If hard polytheists believe that all the gods are real, then what about demons? I’m not totally clear on this, but I think that hard polytheists probably have some criteria for deciding for themselves whether to believe in the existence of all the gods or not.
Here’s something else to think about- if each culture has, for instance, a sun god, how can this be reconciled in hard polytheistic thought? We all share one sun. It would make more sense to say that all the sun gods are aspects or personalities of one sun god, but now that is soft polytheism.
Or actually, it could be considered “medium” polytheism. It seems quite logical to me that there are many gods, but also, that there are also gods that are actually another god in a different form. This idea is not as “new age” as some believe. The Romans viewed the deities of other cultures this way. Many folks would make the point that most polytheists of the ancient world were hard polytheists. Is that reason enough to be a hard polytheist? I would think not. After all, one cannot convince oneself to believe a certain way without having the logic of it. Right now, “medium” polytheism makes the most sense to me. I believe in archetypes but I don’t believe that the gods are just archetypes, but rather, archetypes are merely one way of understanding the nature of various deities.
Anyway, getting back to ADF- their stance is that piety is more important than belief, so the differences in the details of belief of various members is not really much of an issue.
[Side note- the theories that make be believe in the existence of any kind of deity in the first place are the Gaia Hypothesis and the Living Energy Hypothesis.]