Multiple God Religions

You know, Roman, Greek, etc. I am wondering if these types of religions exist anywhere in the world still. I am amazed they got replaced by the single-god idea. They are just as plausable, to me (agnostic). Anyone here have opinions on WHY they were replaced?


"No job’s too small, we bomb them all."
-Ace Wrecking Company

The Christians had better PR?

Hinduism still exists, and has multiple gods.

The Aztecs were put out of business, sadly enough, I have a number of people I’d have like to suggest as sacrificial offerings.

Christianity and Islam not only had better PR, they had better weapons. Let’s not forget that much of monotheism was spread by the musket and the sword.

I have read (in “History of God” if IIRC) that cultures seem to go through a boom-and-bust cycle of monotheism-polytheism. The first God is alone. But that’s not personal enough, so they make many smaller gods (many religions started out with a single God who gave birth to other Gods, perhaps reflecting the religion’s change), one for the hearth, one for the crops, etc. It just seems like you’ll get more useful help if you have a bunch of gods that specialize. Then people evenually go back to monotheism (like when people went to the Jewish god, instead of Baal and the rest). I think that the proliferation of saints, etc. in the Christian religion looks like a hidden polytheism. After all, people pray for them if they need help in their particular specialty instead of just praying to God. No, I’m not saying Christians are polytheists, it just does seem like people want a single all-powerful god sometimes, and sometimes specialists.


“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

A big Hello! from the Wiccan contingent. Wicca isn’t an especially old religion, but it’s based on pre-Christian religions. Depending on which Wiccan you ask, Wicca is either bitheistic, polytheistic, or bitheistic but believes in a pantheon which are all aspects of the Goddess and God.

There’s a (non-Wiccan) pagan coven called Twin Rivers Rising who base their beliefs on translated Sumerian tablets. As near as I can tell, most followers of Mesopotamian religions are solitary, though.


possibly the world’s only naive cynic

To me, they’re not “just as plausible”. If there is more than one god, and are in competition with each other, and there is no chief god who created the others and controls them, then there really is no god at all, at least as I understand the term. If there is a chief god on top of the hierarchy, who created and controls the others, then that is the only real god worth obeying and praying to.

In other words, to me, plural gods is as plausible as zero gods, but a single god is a whole nother story.

Silly Keeves said, “…plural gods is as plausible as zero gods…”

As someone who practices polytheism I see no relationship between creator power and other gods powers. In various religions, the creator/father god only creates other gods. Zeus was birthed by Kronos (IIRC) and later turned against him and killed him. However, IIRC again, Kronos was the one who made the universe not Zeus. He did not have the power to create plant life or anything else like that (that was Demeter and her cronies). He did not rule over anything in the Sea, that was Poseidon. Etc. The other gods looked up to him for leadership, because he was a good leader, not because he was capable of doing everything. To me this feels significantly more plausible than a single god who does and is everything at once. In some Celtic mythologies Dagda(ie mostly Irish, sometimes he transfers to a pan-Celtic mythos) is the father god. Again he was not necessarily the one who created the universe, he was just the god who lead the other gods. This is evidenced even more in Nordic mythology where Odin (obviously the leader of the gods) was still not the creator of the universe, he was just a good leader, his leadership qualities are evidenced by the fact that the other gods followed him into battle at RAgnarok, or the battle at the end of time).

Christianity is a relatively recent religion. If one let’s their mind drift back to Ancient Egypt, their religion was around so long even their gods died of old age. This is evidenced by the fact that Ra (the sun god) was later usurped by Osiris (I believe he was originally the god of the underworld, not to be confused with Anubis <although I think Anubis was invented after Osiris usurped Ra>). There religion was around for 10-20,000 years, according to some sources (ie college literature, we only discussed mythology). Again the leader of the god is not a creator, just a good leader.

Many of the other sources of information I have read about mythological gods talk of a hypothesis that the leader of the gods were originally great leaders on Earth and after they died they were deified (well not necessarily afterwards). There leadership was such that even the gods with more power than they would later bow to their skills.

All of these ideas preface the thought that several gods are as plausible as one. In pretty much all instances I believe that man made god in his image in order to have explanations for things that are too bizarre or difficult to explain. Eventhough many of the gods had absolute power over a given element, quality, etc, it does not mean that they could work together. That is why the leader is so important. He gives everyone else limits and purpose so they can work in synergy. In addition, it gives examples of community and parables regarding bad behavior (i.e. Loki changing sides in Ragnarok to fight with the giants). If the gods give examples of how you should and should not behave it gives them relatable qualities to the relatively minor humans.

With one god, unless he is extremely unstable, you don’t get this (I won’t even go into how Jehovah made a deal with Satan to torment Job). Sure you may argue that the Bible is all parables on how one should exist, but it is much more interesting if these parables all involve supernatural powers. It makes them easier to remember. Having multiple gods with faults humanizes (is that an oxymoron, humanized gods? hehe) them and allows people to feel more on par with their abilities. (Think of Arachne and Minerva. Arachne spun wool and wover better than Minerva so Minerva turned Arachne into a spider.) Even some regular humans, Arachne in this last case, could have talents on par with the gods. It gives the sense of not feeling as awestruck when coming within the divines presence.

On a slightly unrelated thread, I believe Christianity is polytheistic as well even without considering the saints. Hear me out. Christianity has a trinity god. Everyone who knows anything about the Bible knows that there is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Unfortunately I am not as well versed on that, I guess I should talk to one of my ex boy friends (he was a Catholic priest for about 15 years). Most Christians whom I know don’t consider this three gods, but in specific instances they would pray to one specific incarnation. That sure sounds like three gods to me. If you take into consideration the saints, there goes monotheism. With all this in consideration, it seems monotheism in the form of Christianity is just veiled polytheism. (I am sorry if I am picking on Christianity, I figured the majority of the Dopers could relate to that.)

Actually, since I am on a rant about Christianity being polytheistic, I will go into the Job dilemma. As many of you know, God made a deal with Satan to torment Job. Satan basically said that if you tormented a good man enough then he will renounce God (there is a parable here). Well God tormented Job by killing off his entire family, food supply, slaves, all property, and then left Job destitute. (Sounds pretty evil to me.) This basically leaves three choices as to God’s essential qualities (others may be variations on a theme).

  1. God is wholly good, powerful, and all knowing, but still tormented Job to prove a point.
  2. God is not all powerful and all knowing, this is evidenced by the fact that God was “tricked” into tormenting Job by Satan.
  3. Satan is wholly evil, powerful, and all knowing that he is an inverse equivalent with God, thus making him a god too.

Reconciling one of these outcomes will put one in philosophical bind. For example 1) God torments Job, so he really is not all that good afterall. 2) God really is not all that powerful since he can be tricked rather easily. 3) God is not the only all powerful being if another individual has an equal amount of concentration of demeanor (good and evil), power, and omniscience. Thus there is more polytheism.

Well, I could go on for days, but I think I will leave it there.

Thanks
SC

SqrlCub, our problem might be semantics – we might not have the same understanding of the term “god”.

For example, if Kronos created the universe, but could not create plant life, where did Demeter get that power from? And if Zeus is relatively weak but has good leadership qualities, why bother worshipping him? Just wondering.

I think that at least one reason for the rise of monotheism is found in the philosophy of Neoplatonism, the dominient world view of the late Roman empire. Neoplatonism is an exquisitly subtle doctrine that I don’t begin to understand (my mind, unlike the anchients, being roted w/TV and easy living) but the super oversimplified explaination seems to be that all matter eminates from one super abstract force, whose substance is more pure and more “real” than that of the mundane earth. What the early church fathers did, starting with Origen in Alexandria in the 2nd century and culminating brilliantly in Augustine in the fourth, was to replace the nebulous “one” at the top of the pyramid of emanations with the Christian God. After that, monotheism had the sort of philosophical background that the Greek and Roman upper classes, who were well versed in this kind of thing, liked in a religion and did not find in paganism. That conversion of the upper classes was critical to the success of Christianity. The man to read on this is Peter Brown, a Princeton Professor and one the the most renowned European historians in the world.

Gibbons, in the Decline and Fall gives his interpretation of why Christianity (and thus monothiesm) succeded in his famous five points. Unfortunatly, I’ll have to go to the library to get a copy; I don’t feel like I can do the man justice from memory. If anyone is interested, the five points can be foud in chapter 15 of Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol. 1.

Keeves, I think you are right. We seem to be arguing semantics.

Could someone explain to me why christianity, especially the Catholocism branch, are considered monotheistic? I can count four major gods and a pantheon of demigods. (4 gods: Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Satan; Demigods: insert any saint)

From a heathen,
SC

Keeves might be the wrong one to ask for the Christian party line on that one. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all aspects of one God. The Son (Jesus Christ) was the manifestation of God on Earth, in human form; the Holy Ghost is the purely spiritual incarnation of God; and the Father is, well, God. Christians may pray “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” but we do not pray to the Holy Spirit, for example, but to God.

Satan is not a god nor a manifestation of God. We do not pray to Satan or in the name of Satan. I’m the wrong one to ask about the nature of Satan, however, since I don’t believe in him.

“Polytheism” is worshipping multiple gods?

Gee…

I thought it involved parrots.


We have met the enemy, and He is Us.–Walt Kelly

The easiest way to understand the concept of the Trinity is to relate it to yourself.

You are one person, yet you are
“Me, myself and I.”

You are one person, yet have three states
“Emotional, Physical and Mental.”

Think of (as a previous poster stated) the Trinity as an aspect

God the Father (Mental State)
God the Son (Physical State)
Got the Holy Spirit (Emotional State)

That oversimplifies it, but it makes the Trinity easier to understand.

Satan btw is an angel. A fallen one.

The Mormans have a real complicated system, where humans can be as (or like God) but not God…Well that is another point. But interesting.

Marxxx, can you get “Me, myself and I” or your “mental, emotional (and I’m not so sure those are separate things) and physical states” to appear as three different entities in one place at the same time? No? I didn’t think so.

Now check out Jesus’ baptism, where he is standing in the river, the Spirit lands on his head as a dove, and the Father speaks from the sky. Clearly three different entities, in one place, at one time. Three separate individuals, three separate manifestations at once, clearly implies three separate entities. Oh, wait, I know–“It’s a mystery.”

Sorry, you’ll have to do better.

Wow. I have never read the bible cover to cover; so that Job thing is news to me. Now I’m even more amazed than before that religion was as a whole renounced (or is it denounced? Where’s my dictionary when I need it?) years ago.

Great post SqrlCub.

As for the person who said the monotheists had better weapons, the Romans won in their time with better tactics and weapons. Times change, and the weapons do with them. Had the Roman Empire lasted until modern day, we’d probably have skipped the dark ages altogether, and developed fission in the 1800s. Muskets weren’t brought down from on high by god. People developed them, the Christians didn’t all of a sudden run around brandishing guns while everyone else had swords.


"No job’s too small, we bomb them all."
-Ace Wrecking Company

What I think happened is that Christianity swept away other religions because it delved into the spirituality of humans like no other western religion had at that time. If you look at polytheistic religions you find that the gods are imperfect, more human. Polytheism is good for explaining materialistic matters since the gods are all more or less related to tangible aspects of the universe. On the other hand, the gods can be petty, unfair, and sometimes outright cruel.

Christianity dealt with the spiritual aspect of people, and that was a revolutionary concept at the time. You’ll notice that Christianity isn’t very prevalent in the East. That’s because Asian religions have dealt with spiritual matters long before it was an issue in the West.

On the other hand, polytheistic religions or polytheistic ideas are easier for humans to grasp. They reflect the physical universe and its complexity in a more compelling way. A God of everything is much more abstract and difficult to grasp.

Which one would you choose? If you opt for the One and Only, you can rely on His authority for all serious matters, but He’s pretty tough to satisfy. If you choose the many or infinite you can deal with problems of any size but satisfying one god can cause problems with another (anyone recalls the story of Orestes and the curse of the House of Atreus).

In Japan they’ve opted for both at once. Now THAT can become very confusing.

Christianity is definitely ‘plagued’ with polytheistic concepts. Three gods in One for starters. Think angels and you’re warming up. Think saints and you’re definitely hitting the nail on the head. People knowlegdeable in the way of saints can call upon a whole pantheon of man turned holy (or godly), each one concerned with different kinds of problem.

However, this is not a new trend, and the Catholic Church has been aware of that ‘problem’ for quite a while. They even had to put an angel on trial for behaving as a god. All this to drive home the point in the Catholic community that it was monotheistic religion.


Only humans do inhuman things.

Jodih said, “…we do not pray to Satan…”

To begin, I know Christians do not pray to Satan, but there are people that do. To me, this would make him/she/it a god. On a side note, I also believe (IIRC) that Satan is supposed to be the ruler of Hell. Could this be a holdover from earlier polytheistic religions where the main god was a just a good leader with some “magical” powers?

Marxxx said “…Satan is a fallen angel…”

I remembered when I took Foundations of Christianity (yes, I went to a Catholic univesity) that there were several different types of angels (7, I believe but I don’t remember for sure). IIRC Satan was at the top of the line and pretty much second in command to God. This is a little off topic, but what did he do to piss God off? This is another topic that bothers me with Christianity. (Much of the philosophy I agree with {the modern tenant of the “Golden Rule”} and follow but the mythological part of the religion I just don’t agree with or really understand.) It was my understanding that God was supposed to be completely loving and forgiving but somehow Satan irritated him so much that he could not be forgiven and was thus cast out and damned to live in Hell for eternity.

Marxxx, thank you for clearing up the concept of the trinity for me. No one seems willing to clear up the saint question for me as of yet, but to me they sound pretty much like the demigods of earlier pagan religions. From some earlier readings I did (John Caitlan) St. Patrick was an Irish pagan god (Dagda, I believe) and St. Brigid was originally Diana (the Greek/Roman Goddess of the moon later brought into the Celtic religions) just to name two. There are many others but I am too lazy to look them up right now. Back in San Antonio, the city was largely Catholic due to its large population of hispanics (not a knock on hispanics by any means, I have dated many many hispanic men). Anyway, the men and women I knew (including nuns at the university I went to) would periodically pray to saints for things that they thought would be too trivial for God to pursue. To me this also deifies the saints.

I guess to simplify my points we would have to determine what people determine to be gods. I believe if someone/something is prayed to and can exemplify a concept or group of concepts in the collective mind then that someone/something has achieved deification.

Momotaru said, “Christianity dealt with the spiritual aspect of people, and that was a revolutionary concept at the time. You’ll notice that Christianity isn’t very prevalent in the East. That’s because Asian religions have dealt with spiritual matters long before it was an issue in the West.”

I agree with practically everything you said; however, Christianity originated in the East. Not the Far East that you probably mean, but still the East. Most of the modern religions seem to have started around India (IIRC, yet again). They include, Hinduism, Buddism, Christianity, Islam, and more that I can not think of. I do think many of the earlier gods seem petty and cruel but that is just the way nature is. But I also think the Christian God seems petty and cruel as well. Having only one concept, he/she/it can not shift the blame for negative things around too much. Perhaps that is how the Devil (Satan) became an entity.

My $0.02

SC

The substantive Trinity (F. S. and H.G. as entities) is even more confusing than the economic Trinity (F. S. and H.G. as they relate to people), but here goes: on orthodox Christian doctrine (shared by Armenians, Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, and all varieties of Protestantism) there is only one God, i.e., one entity with the characteristics of godhood. Being supernatural, He is capable of being more than one persona (customarily but inaccurately transliterated as “person”). A persona is one of those masks they wore in the old Greek plays, a role the actor took on. One actor could portray more than one role by changing his persona. On this view, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are God playing multiple roles. Just as a woman can be her mother’s daughter, her husband’s wife, and her child’s mother simultaneously, so can God be F, S, and HG simultaneously.

The prose parts of Job are from an ancient Edomite legend, on which the writer has grafted some outstanding poetry aimed at unscrewing the inscrutable. The picture of Satan found therein is based on the pre-Exile Jewish view, that Satan is God’s servant set as tempter. The interview of Satan and God is blatant anthromorphism for the purpose of setting the scene for what happened to Job. (CMK, please correct and extend; my background is not thorough enough.)

In our discussion we’ve missed bitheism (two co-equal Gods) which does have a few extant followers, the Parsees. Ormuzd (Ahura Mazda) the good god is of equal strength with Ahriman the evil one. A lot of the post-Exilic Jewish and Christian popular view of Satan derives from the influence of Zoroastrianism, from which the Parsee faith descends (or is).

SqrlCub, good to hear from you. Can you expound a bit more on how polytheism works in your life? I for one would be fascinated. (Resisting temptation to make a bad joke on Priapus being your tutelary deity ;))

Polycarp queried, “Can you expound a bit more on how polytheism works in your life?”

I would be happy to talk more about my polytheistic views but before I do so, I should state that I did not grow up with a religion. I was allowed to do pretty much what I thought was right and as I got older (around 10 or 11) I found witchcraft/druidism. I had read the Bible several times previously but it did not really relate to how I viewed life. Anyhow, my basic belief is that everything contains consciousness, maybe not consciousness as we see it, but it is there nonetheless (yes, even things that are considered inanimate or manmade). In life I had some basic fundamental questions (ie why is/are anything/we here, where do emotions come from, how is it that the Earth works like it does? etc). Well, I thought that the Christian god was more of a theoretical entity. With ultimate power I could see something creating the universe and all the subtleties involved, I just thought it (the Christian god) had too many holes in the concept. I know my religion has holes, I am not knocking anyone elses version of the truth, but these were holes that I could fill easier without going against any rigid doctrine.

Now for the explanation into the fundamental question that was asked by Polycarp. I basically use my gods and goddesses like Catholics use saints except that my gods tend to have a larger powerbase than the average saint. I pray for specific gods for specific things that are appropriate to their sphere of influence. (Yes prayer and magick work, just not in the way most people think.) Also, for the most part my gods are just focusing entities for the innate energy we all have within ourselves. They have no true physical form. I must admit that I think of them as male and female and some of them I have an image of what they would look like, but that is just an easier way for me to grasp the concept.

Like most religions there is ritual involved. I think of a ritual like a guided meditation or an empty template to get the followers to think of an idea or problem and how that issue can be resolved. It is more philosophy than spiritualism with me personally; although that is not completely the case since I believe in magick.

I had a whole essay written about why and how I thought magick worked, but after reading it again lately, it seemed like kooky pseudoscience. If it were possible for me to back up the speculations involved with research, I would. But since I have no research I will not expand on it here. If you are interested in hearing about it you can write me at paganbearcub@hotmail.com . Also, if there is anything else that you would like me further to explain, either write here or my email.

HUGS!
SC