I’ve had a fairly thoughtful week.
For me, adjusting my brain to “think like a polytheist” has been quite the adventure. For someone born into an Indo-European culture, this kind of stuff would be second nature – much like the Protestant Work Ethic is second nature to most Americans (the idea that if you work hard, God will reward you, therefore success means you have pleased God and failure means you’re a lazy good-for-nothing and God is displeased with you/you don’t deserve success). This belief influences all kinds of things, from how we teach our children to how we relate to the poor, but there are two parts that specifically stuck out at me.
First, this kind of thinking is essentially binary – a trait common in Western monotheism. There’s “God’s way” (the specifics of which are hard to pin down) and the Wrong Way. If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy. If you’re successful, it’s Gods blessing, if you’re not, it’s a personal failing on your part. Very black and white. (It also fails to reward people for doing good, by giving all the credit for their goodness/skill to God, but that’s a different post).
Back when I was in college, my rhetoric professor was always challenging us to “spot the third option”. This was an especially fun game when reading the newspaper or any political speech, which relies on creating binaries to sustain the “I’m the good guy, the other guy is the bad guy” image. If you can spot a third option, you can usually spot a fourth and fifth, and the discussions that resulted from that exercise were always way more nuanced and thoughtful and productive than just everyone “taking sides”.
Polytheism is, at its heart, pluralistic to monotheism’s inherent duality. Corrigan (article here) derives this from Nature, where all things are varied, and which – if we use Nature as our expression/model for the Divine, suggests a plurality of divinity as well. There are certainly categories of things, but each thing is both totally individual and yet part of a greater ecosystem.
This all got me to thinking about a lot of things, from the nature of Gods to the problem of “evil” (which I think will have to be its own post).
Overall, though, it’s been an interesting process to realize just how accustomed to dualistic thinking I’ve become, even though I know it’s often fallacious. It’s a big tie in to the virtues, which seem fairly straightforward but are, in practice, highly nuanced as well. (Especially when you consider that each one can be applied differently in different cultures, making it all quite relative.) It’s certainly easier to think in terms of black and white, but I’m finding my model of the world is more sensible the more options it has. It’s also a lot more compassionate (though that may just be my reading of things), which is something I strive for.
The more I look for black and white thinking, the more of it I see as well, which can be a little frustrating if I don’t want to get into rhetorical arguments all the time.
The “problem of evil” is even a bigger issue for me, and reading that article made a lot of things clear up that had bothered me for awhile. It’s rather intensely personal stuff, so I’m not sure how to blog about it, but I’ll see if I can’t figure out a way to approach it in the next few days.