Last time, I pointed out that the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – necessarily view politics according to a God-given standard which more or less requires them to pursue goals of absolute righteousness; I also noted that, by contrast, a Pagan political theory will give little credence to notions of human perfectibility, due to the polytheistic nature of Pagan spirituality.
That was a long sentence, mixing a whole bunch of ideas together. I’ll be riffing on them for weeks to come.
True, most Christians don’t believe in secular political perfection, on account of the sinful nature of humanity. Still – like Jews and Muslims – they’ve been given a set of Divinely-inspired moral rules they aren’t free to disregard. Also, Christians are led to expect a Heavenly Kingdom that’ll be established at the time of the Second Coming. If they’re truly faithful, they’ll judge political situations by this exalted measure, noting all deviations from the Will of God and acting accordingly.
And we shouldn’t forget those materialists of the revolutionary variety who’ve secularized the transformative message of Revelation, thereby wrecking great havoc on the world. Christians might be embarrassed by their illegitimate Marxist offspring, but it’s hard to deny the connection.
Pagans don’t believe in any kind of political perfection, either secular or Divine. It’s not just that people are bumblers and would mess up even a faultless plan, though that surely is the case. Pagans don’t think perfection exists. It isn’t possible under any circumstances. Even Goddesses and Gods have flaws.
Pagan mythologies are essentially accounts of how successive generations of Divine Beings overthrew their predecessors and then proceeded to argue and fight, and to kiss and make up, amongst themselves. One Deity, such as Jupiter or Odin, may be ascribed a degree of pre-eminence, yet control is never absolute. Neither Mt. Olympus nor Asgard is entirely harmonious for long. Spiritual Power is intrinsically pluralistic; contention is inherent in the cosmic scheme of things.
As a result, contradictory demands are made on human beings. What one God enjoins, another punishes. This can be maddening. Pagan Divinities possess uncanny strength, majesty, beauty, and grace, and They will impart something of these striking qualities to the mortals They love, which is why we try to win Their favor. Yet They are also self-centered and fickle, with arguments and enmities that entangle Their votaries. All of the maidens beloved by Zeus are persecuted by Hera – understandable, though hardly fair. Goddesses don’t have to be fair.
A polytheistic universe is no place for the faint-hearted.
The transition from the Pagan worship of many conflicting Gods and Goddesses, to Abrahamic faith in one and only one Supreme Being, is generally considered to be an advancement – some sort of progress. Yet, as I’ve said before, I don’t entirely believe in progress. What first attracted me to the Pagan cosmology was that, unlike the mainline religions of today, it acknowledges and resolutely accepts the world as I’ve experienced it – the world of politics, anyhow.
Above all else, I want a religion that’s true to real life – and politics is a big part of my life. I’ve studied it and practiced it, and I’ve found it to be incredibly convoluted, with intricacies and connections that defy unraveling. It’s full of surprises, improbable happenings that could never have been predicted, and that upend everybody’s rational calculations. It’s ambiguous, replete with disputes where both good and bad are found on all sides, and where someone is bound to be treated unfairly, whatever the outcome. It’s paradoxical and perverse; the noblest of intentions frequently leading to disaster. And it’s changeable. The stream is always flowing. Yesterday’s winners oft become today’s losers – yet tomorrow, they could be winners again.
Does all that signify a cosmos created by One Mind according to a coherent plan? This world – the political part of it, certainly – seems rather to have been assembled by a committee, and a fairly discordant committee, at that.
Let me repeat what I said in a previous posting. I’m not arguing that political activism is futile – not at all. It’s certainly possible to do good through politics. Social evils can be detected and their harms can be exposed, public opinion can be swayed, laws can be enacted and enforced. Political struggles may be carried on for generations, yet in the end, great goals are achieved – a king is forced to sign a charter of rights, slaves gain their freedom, women win the right to vote.
We can do particular things, but we can’t do everything.
That may seem like an obvious point, but let’s take a moment to dwell on what it means. The good we do is always partial good. To take up one cause, inevitably means setting other causes aside. To strike at an evil, we abet another. There’s almost always a mixture of positive and negative in whatever we achieve, and none of it is guaranteed to last forever. There’s a tragic element in all that, for sure.
The great advantage of the Pagan political perspective that it protects against one of the epidemic political diseases of our era: the delusion that all of our social problems can be “solved” through a violent revolution or a miracle of mass consciousness-raising or the direct intervention of God.
Imperfection is endemic to politics.
# # #