Highway to Hel
Interview with P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Founder of Ekklesia Antinoou
To Muslims, Christians are erroneous polytheists! And yet, the fact remains that in 6th century B.C.E. Carthage, you could take a shower, whereas in 6th century C.E. Gaul under Christianity, bathing was infrequent even for monks and nobles, and running water was unheard of in most places. Think of the plagues that could have been prevented with a bit more hygiene in people's lives; but, all of that opulent and sensual bathing that the lascivious Romans did had to go, lest people be constantly tempted by lust in seeing all of those uncovered bodies on a regular basis. But it was those darn polytheists with their nonsensical plethora of deities that was wrong and backward and uncivilized, whereas Christianity was not and is not, even if putting up with widespread death and disease occurred along the way. The small bits of science available in late antique Paganism that were lost to Europe until the Renaissance, though, getting credited not to where they came from originally, but instead to Christianity. Strange.
It's ironic, further, that the term "atheist" was originally applied by late antiquity's Greek and Roman Pagans to Christians, because the Christians did not take part in the public religious ceremonies. My, my, my, how the wheel has turned! But now, atheists have accepted every argument that Christianity has made against other religions, and then gone one further and rejected its parent. If people would understand that religion derives its truth not from the factuality of its myths, but instead from the meaning and direction it gives to people's lives, and therefore it does not conflict with the very excellent and ever-deepening view of the physical universe provided by the best insights of science, there would be a lot less difficulty in accepting some of these alternate, non-monotheist ideas, practices, and beliefs.
Shinto, for example, gets treated as if it is this weird aberration and this strange local custom, and the Japanese themselves do not understand nor define Shinto as a "religion" in the way that Buddhism and Christianity are; and yet, there are more people who are active practitioners of Shinto than there are Jews, and probably modern Pagans worldwide, combined! Though Shinto never had the creedal development that these other religions did, or the scriptural primacy that many have adopted, nonetheless it is a religion based in practice, and in the human experience of nature and of humanity as a part of nature. But, because of the excesses of State Shinto in World War II, and the Christian insistence on suppression of indigenous beliefs that are polytheist or animist in orientation, there is a kind of embarrassment I've observed in some Japanese people about Shinto, and in some Japanese writers on Shinto, because it seems so "strange" in comparison to Christianity.
Some Shinto kami started out as Christian saints, and were simply absorbed into the religion when Christianity first came in contact with Japan; and while I'm sure the Japanese thought this was wonderful, the Christians were not pleased at all! And yet, the resemblances of Shinto to many forms of ancient European Paganism are striking, not only in theology but in practice: the importance of the sounds of certain words for the effectiveness of prayers and ritual, the use of sound and chanting as a transmission of power or as vehicles for the divine powers to employ, ancestor veneration and divine rulers (as well as hero-cultus of sorts in terms of many important individuals becoming enshrined kami after death), and even the timing and significance of some of the festivals (e.g., Setsubun and Imbolc both at the beginning of February, and the similarities of Imbolc to the Roman Lupercalia further, and the importance of purification in all of these festivals), are astounding. Theurgists and Shinto practitioners would get along very well, I'm sure, and some modern ones do exactly that!
The author of several books on the Northern Tradition, Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, shaman, and devotee of Odin. She blogs at Gangleri's Grove.