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Polytheism vs Monotheism

DrZoidberg

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Christians often like to make a big deal about the distinction between polytheism and monotheism. As if everything good that comes from Christianity is because it's monotheistic. I don't get it. All monotheists have done is blended all the aspects of the gods into just one god. But they still talk about these different aspects when they talk about their god. So in practice the same thing IMHO.

There's other dimensions which I think make more sense. Like personal vs impersonal gods. Or gods that need to be submitted to vs gods that can be controlled.

I heard the argument that it scales better. But Monotheism is about as fractured and local as polytheism.

The scalability surely has to do with it's religious text being written. Polytheists have had no problem writing down their sacred texts either.

Christianity and Islam emphasizes belief over ritual. Also a different dimension than number of gods.

The highest religious ideal for Roman pagans ca 0 AD was "pleonachos tropos", ie its complicated. That doesn't scale well at all. It's easy to see how the Christian extreme simplicity of doctrine swept that away. But, again, has nothing to do with number of gods.

Basically, I don't think the monotheism is relevant at all for Christianities success. I suspect it's just something they repeat because their first commandment is that it's really really important. Even though it isn't.

Thoughts?
 

Politesse

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It unites the priestly class, at least on paper. Theologically this isn't so important, but in terms of political implications? I can easily see why Constantine might prefer one unified ecumenical council to deal with, rather than a hundred warring factions that owe each other not even feigned consideration. There was no "Romanism" in polytheist times, no central authority or doctrine that everyone ostensibly agreed on. The gods themselves owed each other no special favors aside from the supposed supremacy of Zeus/Jupiter, and the priesthoods that served them certainly did not. The priesthoods weren't just divided by person either, geography also played a role. The adoration one Greek deme offered to Athena was not identical to that offered by another, and only a vague sense of shared civic duty and occasional shared festivals tied them to their earthly basileus.

Of course, this system fell apart a bit as the monastic orders divided with increasing acrimony, and shattered altogether when the Protestant Reformation collapsed into holy war. Such rigid control is unnatural to human interaction and cannot last forever.
 

DrZoidberg

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It unites the priestly class, at least on paper. Theologically this isn't so important, but in terms of political implications? I can easily see why Constantine might prefer one unified ecumenical council to deal with, rather than a hundred warring factions that owe each other not even feigned consideration. There was no "Romanism" in polytheist times, no central authority or doctrine that everyone ostensibly agreed on. The gods themselves owed each other no special favors aside from the supposed supremacy of Zeus/Jupiter, and the priesthoods that served them certainly did not. The priesthoods weren't just divided by person either, geography also played a role. The adoration one Greek deme offered to Athena was not identical to that offered by another, and only a vague sense of shared civic duty and occasional shared festivals tied them to their earthly basileus.

Of course, this system fell apart a bit as the monastic orders divided with increasing acrimony, and shattered altogether when the Protestant Reformation collapsed into holy war. Such rigid control is unnatural to human interaction and cannot last forever.

I'm not so sure you've successfully argued for that it makes any difference.

In Christianity belief is important. Rather than ritual. That's what causes the priests argue about doctrine. Not the number of gods. I'd say the number of gods are pretty irrelevant to that aspect.

Not to belaber the point but Gnostic Christians believed in thousands of gods, and Marcionists two. They were both Christian. I feel that these are all interchangeable.

Christianity is monotheistic, yet manages to have a devil. So they have no need for a second god in their pantheon yet squeezes one in anyway. It looks pretty arbitrary to me
 

Politesse

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In Christianity belief is important. Rather than ritual.
In the context of a conversation about the fourth and fifth centuries (when the two forms of belief most significantly co-existed) this perspective is anachronistic. Doctrine was important to Christians at this time, but it was not all important in the way it has become in the Modernist era, and it meant nothing at all to the polytheistic priesthoods.

It looks pretty arbitrary to me
It's not, though, unless in the same vague sense that all beliefs are arbitrary. The fact of the matter is that a particular campus may not have changed all that much before and after Christianization, in terms of daily practice or even belief, certainly from the perspective of adherents, pilgrims, and supplicants. But organizationally and politically, the nuns at the shrine of Santa Maria Magdalena were under the direct thumb of the Roman archbishop and emperor in a way that the priestesses of Artemis Phillipiana never were and could not have been by the conventions of the time of their ascendancy.

I think you're hung up on the abstract (and also anachronistic) concepts of monotheism and polytheism, rather than thinking critically about how these specific traditions and hierarchies were interacting. Could there have been a theoretical polytheism functionally indistinguishable from the monotheism of early Christianity and Islam? Of course. Anything can happen. But, in both cases there wasn't. Polythesitic and monotheistic beliefs took on a set of semiotic associations with particular political structures in the history of Eurasia whose momentum can't be overlooked.
 

steve_bank

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Throughout history assimilation and cross pollination across cultures has been the norm.

We see it today. Western culture has spread to Aia and Asian culture has spread to the west.

Americans have a wide range of beliefs.
 

lpetrich

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I think that one should distinguish between inclusive and exclusive monotheism.

Exclusive monotheism is what's familiar from the Abrahamic religions: there is One True God, and the rest are all delusions or devils.

Inclusive monotheism may not be very familiar to many of us, but it's what Hindu monotheists tend to believe, and what many Stoics believed. It incorporates polytheist deities either as aspects of the single big one or else as lesser beings compared to the single big one.
 
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