The Battle for Polytheisms’ Soul?

The title is a riff off a video I’ll be discussing toward the end of this article. Still, while I may be engaging in a bit of expressive rhetoric myself with it, there is likewise truth in the concept. Polytheisms today are religions under siege. This is true not just in our communities but for indigenous polytheisms like Hinduism too. There is a trend, and that trend is gross whether it is manifesting in ways large (Hinduism) (1) or small (us).

When the subject of polytheism comes up in community discourse, there are inevitably nay-sayers, non-theists, secular-pagans and the like who pounce in proudly with “but there were non-polytheists in the ancient world too.” They will bring up pantheism, monism, atheism and the like as though this somehow strengthens their attempts to dismantle our traditions.(2)

I think the time has come to address some of this ideological undercutting because while what they say is technically accurate, it is presented without context and that context is important. We live in a very different world from our polytheistic ancestors. We are an occupied people. Our world is doggedly, demonstrably, and sometimes violently monotheistic. Those ancient Polytheists and others living in a world where the dominant paradigms were all polytheistic had a luxury we don’t have. They could entertain questions about divine ontology and metaphysics, turning polytheism inside out in their arguments solely for intellectual excitement without risking harm to those polytheisms. The world was polytheistic and that wasn’t going to change (little did they know) so what harm was there in batting ideas around? One could even indulge those who didn’t believe in the Gods so long as they remained outside of religious discourse and participated in the civic rituals.

Two caveats to that: when faced with a religious worldview (Christianity) that desired exclusivity and extinction of polytheism, our antique forebears had the good sense to impose a litmus test to ferret out the destructively impious. That litmus test was sacrifice to the Gods (something that I have seen all but pathologized by parts of the community). It was, as I have noted before, crucial to the proper practice of the faith, was the first thing targeted when Christianity gained supremacy, and was also the one rite held up as a standard against which non-polytheists were judged.

Secondly, yes, our polytheistic ancestors were – with occasional exceptions– tolerant of every possible approach to polytheism. Look where it got them. Exterminated. So maybe we might want to rethink reifying “tolerance” of every assed up, non-theistic view put forth as ‘polytheism.’ We have clear evidence of where such tolerance leads. Perhaps we can afford to be tolerant when we’re not under siege but that day is not today.

I’m taking an online course in world religion in my off time and this week we were assigned to watch and comment on this video.  It is a short video. Take a few moments and watch it. Note the rhetoric.

I was appalled that such a biased video would be promulgated in an academic course. Of course I shouldn’t have been. How is it biased? Were you able to parse it out? Yes? No? Well, I’ll help you. Note the following language:

India must reflect “on what kind of country they want to live in; one dominated by Hindus or one that respects all religions equally.”

This of course puts the onus for the problems and violence on Hindus, ignoring the fact that they are responding to having one of their own sacred sites co-opted, ignoring the fact that they are responding to monotheistic colonization of their spaces, ignoring the fact that they are reacting to incursion into their religious world, and ignoring the fact that they are in fact the religion originally native to the area. While it may be rooted now, monotheism of any stripe was a late comer, a foreign intruder in that land. Isn’t it amazing how “respecting all religions equally” always seems to mean allowing monotheistic incursion and the destruction of polytheistic sites? It never translates as leaving polytheistic religions in peace. 

Note also at the end where the narrator comments that this “all started with a tiny statue being placed in a mosque in the dead of night.” No, it didn’t. It started with a monotheistic religion laying claim to a Hindu holy space. Monotheisms have a history of destroying or claiming and repurposing polytheistic spaces. This is not an isolated incident as the briefest of explorations of fourth and fifth century Rome will show (not to mention Christian expansion north). With both Christianity and Islam (and even Biblical Judaism) it was standard operating procedure. Are the people whose religions spaces are being destroyed or polluted supposed to be grateful for it? I think not.

In the TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I posted last week, she notes that if you want to dispossess a people, start with “Secondly.” In other words, if you want to dispossess Native Americans, don’t start telling the story with the incursions and violence of European invaders, start with the arrows shot by Native warriors and make it look as though it was without provocation. If you want to dispossess polytheistic Hindus, start with the statue in the mosque, not the appropriation of a site of Hindu reverence. The way a story is told matters.

The community involved is currently involved in a legal battle over their sacred site, and that battle is in its third generation. They are fighting to defend their tradition, and they are fighting to protect their sacred spaces. I think we could learn a lot from them especially in the type of perseverance required in this work.

Nor am I suggesting, as much as I sometimes think it might be a good idea, that we have any type of litmus test for polytheists. Sacrifice is our most sacred rite, but there are those who are not permitted to do it, by will of their Gods. I respect that. What I do not respect are attempts by otherwise sensible people to attack and discredit the practice of sacrifice, which is so integral to polytheistic practice.

I posted this with the video because we’ve been having discussions of rhetoric over the past week, and it gave such a dramatic example of how even someone we assume to be unbiased (a news commentator) can speak from a specific agenda, one that has its biases, and one that is willing to cast a foul light on people fighting for their own religion. We have a lot of buzzwords today that get our backs up. All it takes really to raise people’s ire is to use language that makes readers think one is on the wrong side of certain ideological debates (doesn’t matter if a person actually is or not, that’s the point of effective rhetoric). All it takes is fashioning a public persona for oneself that oozes tolerance and conciliation, and subtly positioning the other side of that debate as radical (note how so many of us were demonized about a year and a half ago as ‘radical polytheists’, specifically to make people assume and then to think that our positions were untenable and extraordinary if not dangerous). Rhetoric is powerful. Words have a life of their own. It pays to be aware of that. (3)

 

Notes:

  1. Hinduism is not monolithic, with its many sects representing a radical diversity of viewpoints which managed for millennia to more or less peacefully co-exist before the arrival of militant Islam and Christianity. Even so, they managed to incorporate elements of these traditions, especially on the folk level. It is those who declare there is one god and one way to worship that god who are inherently divisive. For every Hindu who says they are monotheistic, there is one who says polytheistic and even again those who argue that the push to define the polytheism out of Hinduism is in fact, pandering to the West.
  2. And as if these were all the same things, which is rather insulting, I think, to those who hold these diverse beliefs.
  3. Not that I support censorship either. Only the cowardly are afraid to engage directly with unfriendly words.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted on March 13, 2016, in Polytheism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Edward P. Butler

    I agree with everything here; just wanted to point out, however, that the Greek word thuein, which we translate “sacrifice”, never referred to animal sacrifice alone, but right from the beginning encompassed drink offerings, non-flesh food offerings, and incense offerings.

    Liked by 2 people

    • ganglerisgrove

      that’s true, but we’ve even seen that attacked in the past couple of years. granted, most of the push back is for animal sacrifice, but if you recall, there was quite a to-do about two years ago at the idea that one could be expected to offer water.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Edward P. Butler

        I do indeed recall those debates, vividly, and that’s why recognizing the broader sense of the term is important, aside from simple correctness.

        Liked by 2 people

      • dharma19881988

        Even Hindu yagya is attacked by these people who translate it as ‘sacrifice’.

        Like

    • True…and while the anti-animal sacrifice arguments are the loudest, I’ve even heard some others say “But the Gods don’t need these things [physically], so why should I give them to them?” But anyway…

      Liked by 3 people

      • Edward P. Butler

        Yes, and that’s precisely why the issue has to be joined on this broader plane by recognizing the broad scope of the term “sacrifice” in ancient Hellenic discourse.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. I certainly agree with all you’ve mentioned here, Galina.

    I’m not surprised, though, that the video you linked to was biased in the ways it is. First off, it’s the Wall Street Journal; second, it’s a Northern Irish reporter, and while I don’t know if he comes from a Catholic or Protestant background himself, at least both of those are “monotheists,” and thus the sympathy will be with what has been increasingly called (though totally erroneously) the “Judeo-Christian-Islamic” tradition over the last 20+ years. The “time immemorial” nature of indigenous peoples and their religions tends to get glossed over and brushed aside for definitely datable things that are far younger, unfortunately…which basically means one can’t win where such dating criteria are concerned when arguing with monotheists.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That reporter’s comments were so fucking infuriating I wanted to smack him.

    As for who should have the right to that site? Hindus. Unconditionally. Other mosques (and Churches!) built upon Hindu holy sites should also be torn down – as a sign of good faith perhaps dismantled and rebuilt at another place where there are no Hindu (or other native religious) sacred sites. I believe that should be done in Europe as well, though it would be even more difficult to do as our culture is overwhelmingly monotheist or monotheist-based. But any Greek-Orthodox Church built on an ancient temple? Torn down and replaced with at least an altar. Any structural elements from the old temple used in the church’s construction? Removed, purified, and re-placed at the site of the temple it came from. Same for the rest of Europe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • At least raising that question would result in some interesting things, I think, for the monotheists and what their actual agendas are. They would probably say “Well, we have a history here,” which dismisses the longer history of pre-monotheistic peoples and the destruction they often endured. If the matter of “why is THIS specific spot that was already holy to someone else necessary for you? Why not some place across the street/hill/town where there isn’t anything, especially since your deities are supposed to be everywhere and all-accessible?” were to be raised and they hemmed and hawed about it, it would demonstrate that they don’t really take their theological premises as seriously as they might have thought, and that there is an active and continuous agenda on their parts to suppress and overwrite polytheism.

      [Which is exactly what Daesh is also doing, but anyway…]

      Liked by 4 people

      • ganglerisgrove

        now think about this exact thing in relation to the constant attacks from humanist pagans, non theists and the like on polytheism.

        why THIS space already sacred to someone else? That IS the question now isn’t it.

        (and while the destruction of a temple and what Hinduism has endured is a thousand times worse than ideological bickering, I maintain that the same poison is at the root of it all: a desire to destroy these traditions. The difference is a matter of trajectory and power).

        Liked by 3 people

      • Yes…and important and excellent point.

        Why *our* religions, religious traditions, Deities, terminology (the “you don’t own the word ‘polytheism'” bullshit…which, if true, equally applies to them!), and practices?

        The obvious reasons is that Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, and others wouldn’t tolerate such behavior from atheo-humanist appropriators, and certainly wouldn’t give them a voice and a platform within the tradition. (And if they want it, they can build it themselves.) But the modern pagan movement is different, I suppose, in this and so many other ways, in that tolerance (even for things that amount to intolerance) must be absolute or else.

        [Though, in fairness, the atheo-humanist brigade has pretty much demanded they be included in religious things–including an interfaith website like Patheos, and the World Parliament of Religions–while simultaneously saying that they’re against religion, their ways are not a religion, and that it is offensive and dismissive of them to characterize them as a religion…but then why do you keep butting into religious spaces and places and occasions? They don’t let a psychologist on a book tour have three booths at the Boat Show or the R/V show…and while I don’t want to suggest that religions collectively or individually are a boat or R/V show, nonetheless, I think the point stands.]

        Liked by 3 people

    • dharma19881988

      Islam is inherently iconoclastic. Remember the Bamiyan Buddha destruction by Taliban?
      Muslims have persistently destroyed Hindu temples. The entire kutub minar at Delhi was made of the stones from demolishing Hindu temples.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My “litmus test” for Polytheism is this: do you believe the Gods are Many, the Gods are Real, the Gods are Here?

    [b]The Gods are Many[/b]: if you believe in One God, you are a Monotheist. This is true even if you believe all Gods are merely masks for One God/dess and all religions are part of One Truth. Because the Gods are Many, their goals are divergent and sometimes conflicting. We can and should honor our Gods over others — but we should never forget those other Gods are also deserving of honor.

    [b]The Gods are Real[/b]: if you believe the Gods are symbols, myths, archetypes, etc. you are an Atheist. Disbelieving in many Gods whilst using Their trappings for your personal gain is not Poytheism: it is psychodrama at best and blasphemy at worst.

    [b]The Gods are Here[/b]: The Gods are immanent in the world around us and are actively involved in its daily affairs, It is fitting to serve Them by prayer, by worship and by working to fulfill Their goals. Polytheism isn’t something you believe, it’s something you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Americans are pumping billions of dollars into India to convert Hindus. See some of the new converts going to temples and talking about converting the heathens in darkness with devil mentality.

    Watch some videos
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfsFDP3OV-AZYx-_8k8Xnjw

    Liked by 2 people

    • ganglerisgrove

      i hate it. it makes me ashamed of my country. Proselytizing like that ought to be classed as a human rights violation and prosecuted accordingly. it’s despicable. that garbage is all over the US: evangelicals trying to shame, cajole, convince, and sometimes violently force conversion. it’s a disgrace and I will fight that to my dying breath. anything to break the back of the Christian right.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. There is a blog explaining how foreign countries(especially Americans) are funding conversions in India. It explains using a case study. Check other posts in the blog(explaining mission trips by Americans, American MSM is also playing role etc.,)

    http://trackingevangelism.blogspot.com/2014/08/onsite-offshore-model-of-soul.html

    Liked by 1 person

  7. For the people who wants to know the operations of evil cult organizations from Abrahamic religions playing in India. Please read the book called “Breaking India” by Mr.Rajiv Malhotra & Mr.Arvindan Neelakandan.
    Book ISBN-13: 9788191067378

    Like

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