In the last posting, I asserted that Pagans don’t believe in saving the world, and I’m now going to begin explaining what I mean by that. In a political context, “saving” denotes establishment of a regime of perfect (or near-perfect) peace and justice, where controversies are settled without recourse to violence and every person is treated with fairness and respect. A wonderful ideal, you may think.
Pagans might well think otherwise.
There’ve been lots of different Pagan religions, reflecting many different ways of life. Yet for all their variation, these spiritual paths are identical in one respect: they’re polytheistic. That is, all Pagans, of all ages and traditions, have venerated a multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses – who don’t necessarily get along with each other. The old-time Greeks and Romans worshipped the Twelve Olympians, as well as a swarm of daemons and heroes, and their mythology was largely an account of how these Divine and semi-divine beings made love and war.
The Celtic and Nordic/Germanic peoples had their own sets of Divinities, whose interactions, good and bad, shaped the universe – as did ancient peoples further afield in Egypt, Babylon, India, China, and America. It’s the same with contemporary Pagans – Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, even eclectic solitaries like me – all acknowledge a whole array of Deities, with various domains and dispositions.
By contrast, the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – only recognize and worship One Supreme God – necessarily the same God, it would seem, though some are loath to admit this. They consider other spiritual beings to be either agents of the Devil or figments of the imagination.
It’s vital that we fully appreciate the significance of this.
Those who revere the God of Abraham get their moral guidance from what they take to be His Will, and since He is, in their view, the one and only authoritative source of righteousness, it follows that all of humanity is required to observe the standard He prescribes. His Commandments have been given to us in the sacred scriptures, so there shouldn’t be any doubt on that score. We’ve only to interpret Holy Writ in the proper spirit, to know what the Lord expects of us. It’s well known, in fact, that the Abrahamic faiths are all riven by bitter disputes regarding doctrine and morality. Still, in principle, there can only be one true rule for each of these religions, and every minor faction must therefore consider itself to be in sole possession of the Will of God.
I admit that in the 21st century, Christians have become less inclined to perceive heretics and infidels as inevitably destined for eternal damnation. Burning at the stake has been out of fashion for some time. Leaders of the several Christian denominations are nowadays prone to play down their differences, while stressing benevolent projects they can work on together. This is, no doubt, a good thing, but it represents a triumph of ecumenical feeling over clear thought. If there’s more than one valid interpretation of the scriptures, we’d have to say that God hasn’t explained Himself very well. Yet if God’s Will is unambiguously revealed in the pages of the Bible, why should we coddle those who won’t, or can’t, perceive it?
Be that as it may, the key point for our current discussion is that the Abrahamic religions all suppose that there is one universal standard of moral judgement, certified by God, binding on every human being. If a government were to be established fully in accordance with that standard, God’s own paradigm, it would be perfect by definition. Christians disagree as to whether this result is only to be brought about by Jesus at the End of Times, or whether human beings must establish a Godly regime for a thousand years to pave the way for Jesus’ return. Yet, in either case, perfection is seen as possible and desirable – and, one way or another, sure to come.
Secular-minded individuals, living in a heavily Christianized culture, frequently retain this confidence in the ultimate triumph of goodness, even when they’ve given up everything else they were taught in Sunday school.
Like Christians, Muslims, and Jews, Pagans look to the spiritual realm to provide meaning and depth to the mundane world. Our Divinities are architypes of wisdom, power, beauty, and grace. They afford us comfort and good advice. And – sometimes – They bless our efforts with success. They do for us what the God of Abraham does for His worshippers. Yet They are Many, while He is One.
This is relevant to the present context because the Pagan experience of spiritual diversity and plurality provides grounds to be very skeptical regarding any claim of a uniform, perfect solution to the problem of politics. As every ethnos has its own Family of Goddesses and Gods, peculiar to itself, so every nation should be entitled to its own, maybe unique, style of government. Pagans generally will stand against the globalizing uniformity of the age, and in favor of local control.
To a Pagan, perpetual peace – the absence of strife – suggests repression, rather than perfect happiness. Different Divine Truths will always jostle for attention, and no Deity, not even Marduk or Zeus, is entitled to blot out the Rest.
I’ll have to wrap this up, but I’ll have more to say about the political implications of polytheism in future postings.
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