The connection between Secularism and Polytheism

Hunter Baker quotes a letter to the Financial Timesfrom Dr. Gautam Pingle, the dean of the College of India:

Intolerance bred by the monotheism of the People of the Book — mostly Christian and Muslim — in their mutual and conflicting wars and quest for world domination embroiled mankind in hatred and maasacres of each other and "the other" over the past 1,700 years. Even today, we see the baleful effects of residual monotheism and its apocalyptic vision.

Fortunately, in some parts of this troubled planet, the polytheistic tendency, with its signal notion encouraging inclusion, seems to be gaining ground and legitimacy — after its long nightmare — in the guise of secularism.

So what is the connection between polytheism and secularism?

(After thinking about this and posting your opinion, read Hunter’s other post on the subject. Also, buy Hunter’s book: The End of Secularism.
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About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jonathan

    Many gods, many paths, many truths, total consciousness, god-in-everything/pantheism–it does all sound very much like our tolerant, inclusive, diversity-driven, anything-goes, relativist, do-what-feels-good, I’m-ok-you’re-ok secular society. Not to mention how that society also bashes Christianity every chance it gets.

  • Jonathan

    Many gods, many paths, many truths, total consciousness, god-in-everything/pantheism–it does all sound very much like our tolerant, inclusive, diversity-driven, anything-goes, relativist, do-what-feels-good, I’m-ok-you’re-ok secular society. Not to mention how that society also bashes Christianity every chance it gets.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    Dr. Pingle should go and take a look at Gujarat and its peace-loving polytheists burning Christian villages, churches and orphanages.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    Dr. Pingle should go and take a look at Gujarat and its peace-loving polytheists burning Christian villages, churches and orphanages.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    While not exactly disagreeing with the posited polytheism-secularism connection, I would point more – in Western society – to *henotheism*.

    Henotheism is having one god, for yourself, but not denying the existence or power of other gods that other people might have. An example of this would have been the Ephesians in Acts 19 – they worshipped Artemis and called her great, but they didn’t deny the existence of Zeus or Hera or Hermes, or other cities’ “rightness” in worshipping any or all those other gods; the reason Paul and his fellow missionaries were opposed by the Gentiles usually wasn’t so much that they were promoting a “foreign god” but that they were preaching a unique and only God to the exclusion of all others.

    Today many so-called Christians are functional henotheists, not monotheists. They believe in the God of the Bible (so they say/think), but they think of him as “their” god and don’t see a problem with Muslims, Hindus, etc. having gods of their own.

    This relativistic “whatever works for you” approach to spiritual matters ties in easily to secularistic policies, because when every religious perspective is equal, just an individual’s choice, then the way to make sure everyone’s happy, no one’s offended, and the peace is not disturbed is to take all religious content out of the public realm – or, at least, all exclusive religious content.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    While not exactly disagreeing with the posited polytheism-secularism connection, I would point more – in Western society – to *henotheism*.

    Henotheism is having one god, for yourself, but not denying the existence or power of other gods that other people might have. An example of this would have been the Ephesians in Acts 19 – they worshipped Artemis and called her great, but they didn’t deny the existence of Zeus or Hera or Hermes, or other cities’ “rightness” in worshipping any or all those other gods; the reason Paul and his fellow missionaries were opposed by the Gentiles usually wasn’t so much that they were promoting a “foreign god” but that they were preaching a unique and only God to the exclusion of all others.

    Today many so-called Christians are functional henotheists, not monotheists. They believe in the God of the Bible (so they say/think), but they think of him as “their” god and don’t see a problem with Muslims, Hindus, etc. having gods of their own.

    This relativistic “whatever works for you” approach to spiritual matters ties in easily to secularistic policies, because when every religious perspective is equal, just an individual’s choice, then the way to make sure everyone’s happy, no one’s offended, and the peace is not disturbed is to take all religious content out of the public realm – or, at least, all exclusive religious content.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    Sorry, I meant Orissa, not Gujarat.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    Sorry, I meant Orissa, not Gujarat.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The fundamental difference is that monotheism involves fundamental truth, however imperfectly discerned by fallen men, where polytheistic secularism involves plural truth [except for its own truth].

    Intolerance is a function of rigid extremism in truth telling and brutality. Hindu extremists to this day can be among the most brutal people on earth.

    Christianity has had a history of episodic bouts of brutal intolerance, though, compared to Muslims and Hindus today, we are far more tolerant and peaceful.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The fundamental difference is that monotheism involves fundamental truth, however imperfectly discerned by fallen men, where polytheistic secularism involves plural truth [except for its own truth].

    Intolerance is a function of rigid extremism in truth telling and brutality. Hindu extremists to this day can be among the most brutal people on earth.

    Christianity has had a history of episodic bouts of brutal intolerance, though, compared to Muslims and Hindus today, we are far more tolerant and peaceful.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I’ve some fundamental problems with this analysis. Number one, there is a substantial difference between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand, and Islam on the other: Islam is the only religion “of the book”, Christianity and Judaism are religions “with a Book”. The Jews predate the OT, and Christ predates the NT. This is what gives rise to the propensity of Islam to fundamentalism. It is also why Bible-onlyist Christianity tends to devolve to legalist cults and fundamentalsim.

    Second thing: Monotheistic Intolerance – just go see what the Nationalist Hindu’s do in India.

    Also, I have some experience with Animist Religions in Arica too. It ain’t so innocent and prisitne as folkis would like us to believe.

    Analyses like this above typically come from Ivory Tower pseudo-intellectuals, who really know very little about history beyong the “paty-line cliche’s”.

    But in the matter of monotheistic religions and their philosophies, here are three worthwhile links:

    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/070803.html

    http://www.clarionreview.org/main/article.php?article_id=38

    http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/4173

    H/T: http://notesfromacommonplacebook.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I’ve some fundamental problems with this analysis. Number one, there is a substantial difference between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand, and Islam on the other: Islam is the only religion “of the book”, Christianity and Judaism are religions “with a Book”. The Jews predate the OT, and Christ predates the NT. This is what gives rise to the propensity of Islam to fundamentalism. It is also why Bible-onlyist Christianity tends to devolve to legalist cults and fundamentalsim.

    Second thing: Monotheistic Intolerance – just go see what the Nationalist Hindu’s do in India.

    Also, I have some experience with Animist Religions in Arica too. It ain’t so innocent and prisitne as folkis would like us to believe.

    Analyses like this above typically come from Ivory Tower pseudo-intellectuals, who really know very little about history beyong the “paty-line cliche’s”.

    But in the matter of monotheistic religions and their philosophies, here are three worthwhile links:

    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/070803.html

    http://www.clarionreview.org/main/article.php?article_id=38

    http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/4173

    H/T: http://notesfromacommonplacebook.blogspot.com/

  • Jonathan

    #4 Snafu — that would be ironic (and irenic)!

  • Jonathan

    #4 Snafu — that would be ironic (and irenic)!

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Dr. Pingle’s premise is false. First, monotheism is not the cause of universal domination. In fact, it was pagan polytheism that drove the conquests of Nimrod, Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome, Attilla the Hun, etc., etc. The very framework of Pingle’s thought is flawed. Second, Pingle’s statement that secularism is more tolerant in the polytheistic vein is also false. In Switzerland the secularist population is supressing the monotheist by disallowing minarets on Muslim architecture. Some tolerance.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Dr. Pingle’s premise is false. First, monotheism is not the cause of universal domination. In fact, it was pagan polytheism that drove the conquests of Nimrod, Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome, Attilla the Hun, etc., etc. The very framework of Pingle’s thought is flawed. Second, Pingle’s statement that secularism is more tolerant in the polytheistic vein is also false. In Switzerland the secularist population is supressing the monotheist by disallowing minarets on Muslim architecture. Some tolerance.

  • Booklover

    Oprah

  • Booklover

    Oprah

  • Wyldeirishman

    Hmmm…I must have missed the memo on Christian ‘world domination.’

    Because, aside from some fringe groups that attempt to practice dominion theology (Christian?), I’m just not seeing it, either in doctrine or in practice.

    Islam, on the other hand, is REPLETE with this particular brand of theological toothache, and consistently causes whatever society that it manages to attach its tentacles to untold pain and misery.

  • Wyldeirishman

    Hmmm…I must have missed the memo on Christian ‘world domination.’

    Because, aside from some fringe groups that attempt to practice dominion theology (Christian?), I’m just not seeing it, either in doctrine or in practice.

    Islam, on the other hand, is REPLETE with this particular brand of theological toothache, and consistently causes whatever society that it manages to attach its tentacles to untold pain and misery.

  • John C

    Honestly Peter,you have got to think before you write. What are we to say about the brutality and intolerance of Australians and Americans in the Vietnam war? Christian countries launching crusades in foreign lands. Imagine the propaganda generated by Taliban, Shia and Sunni political officers using the words ‘Christian’ and ‘American’.

  • John C

    Honestly Peter,you have got to think before you write. What are we to say about the brutality and intolerance of Australians and Americans in the Vietnam war? Christian countries launching crusades in foreign lands. Imagine the propaganda generated by Taliban, Shia and Sunni political officers using the words ‘Christian’ and ‘American’.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John C, the few examples of American and Australian barbarism in the Vietnam war pale when compared to modern Muslim and Hindu barbarity in their wars.

    As to the Crusades, they were fought mainly to take back the Holy Lands from the Muslims who invaded and brutalized those lands.

    I couldn’t care less About Taliban, Shia, and Sunni propaganda.

    One grows weary of leftists and isolationists who disparage the West’s Judeo Civilization, however imperfect.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John C, the few examples of American and Australian barbarism in the Vietnam war pale when compared to modern Muslim and Hindu barbarity in their wars.

    As to the Crusades, they were fought mainly to take back the Holy Lands from the Muslims who invaded and brutalized those lands.

    I couldn’t care less About Taliban, Shia, and Sunni propaganda.

    One grows weary of leftists and isolationists who disparage the West’s Judeo Civilization, however imperfect.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John In Switzerland the secularist population is supressing the monotheist by disallowing minarets on Muslim architecture. Some tolerance.

    One of the reasons that the sensible Swiss people voted down minarets in their land is their awareness of the Turkish leader, Erdogan, who once publicly read from an Islamic poem as follows The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets</b? our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…

    Both the Swiss Christian and secularist populations have good reason to be concerned about Islamic minarets.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John In Switzerland the secularist population is supressing the monotheist by disallowing minarets on Muslim architecture. Some tolerance.

    One of the reasons that the sensible Swiss people voted down minarets in their land is their awareness of the Turkish leader, Erdogan, who once publicly read from an Islamic poem as follows The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets</b? our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…

    Both the Swiss Christian and secularist populations have good reason to be concerned about Islamic minarets.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Peter, I think that poem is a metaphor. You know, like “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I admit that I cannot make the connection between that poem and the banning of an historic architectural model. Perhaps you could explain how ou came to the conclusion that such an act is sensible.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Peter, I think that poem is a metaphor. You know, like “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I admit that I cannot make the connection between that poem and the banning of an historic architectural model. Perhaps you could explain how ou came to the conclusion that such an act is sensible.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John, in context of the modern reality of radical Islam that aspires to universal Sharia Law, it is quite reasonable for the Swiss people to vote against minarets. While lethally organized radical Muslims are involved in global religious warfare, there are no such organized Christian groups. Christians may spiritedly sing Onward Christian Soldiers, they don’t then go out and attack Muslims.

    The Islamic poet who regards the minaret as a bayonet is hardly just speaking metaphorically. He exults when Bin Laden et al savage Christians. That’s why Sam Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations claims that since Mohammed, the only warrior founder of major religion, the bloodiest borders in the world are Islamic.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John, in context of the modern reality of radical Islam that aspires to universal Sharia Law, it is quite reasonable for the Swiss people to vote against minarets. While lethally organized radical Muslims are involved in global religious warfare, there are no such organized Christian groups. Christians may spiritedly sing Onward Christian Soldiers, they don’t then go out and attack Muslims.

    The Islamic poet who regards the minaret as a bayonet is hardly just speaking metaphorically. He exults when Bin Laden et al savage Christians. That’s why Sam Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations claims that since Mohammed, the only warrior founder of major religion, the bloodiest borders in the world are Islamic.

  • John C

    My apologies for the testy and poorly expressed response to your post Peter.
    The point I was trying to make was that a lack of sectarian communal violence at home does not mean that brutality and intolerance does not exist within the Christian West. Not if the way we conduct war is to be the measure.
    It is difficult to imagine the horror of a village struck by a missile from 20 000 feet or understand why a naked man should be terrorised by a dog in an army prison.
    And whether you like or not it is generally propaganda that stirs and sustains the passion for war. When the Christian President of the US a few weeks after 9/11 said, “this crusade, this war on terror” there would have been convulsions in the Pentagon .
    And again when the fundamentalist President used the phrase “axis of evil” to describe Iran,Iraq and Nth Korea, nuclear weapons quickly became the currency of negotiation.
    Mormons may not be throttling Lutherans on the streets of Salt Lake City but the brutality of what is predominantly a christian nation is revealed in the way it conducts war in foreign lands,in cultures they do not understand, in languages they do not speak.

  • John C

    My apologies for the testy and poorly expressed response to your post Peter.
    The point I was trying to make was that a lack of sectarian communal violence at home does not mean that brutality and intolerance does not exist within the Christian West. Not if the way we conduct war is to be the measure.
    It is difficult to imagine the horror of a village struck by a missile from 20 000 feet or understand why a naked man should be terrorised by a dog in an army prison.
    And whether you like or not it is generally propaganda that stirs and sustains the passion for war. When the Christian President of the US a few weeks after 9/11 said, “this crusade, this war on terror” there would have been convulsions in the Pentagon .
    And again when the fundamentalist President used the phrase “axis of evil” to describe Iran,Iraq and Nth Korea, nuclear weapons quickly became the currency of negotiation.
    Mormons may not be throttling Lutherans on the streets of Salt Lake City but the brutality of what is predominantly a christian nation is revealed in the way it conducts war in foreign lands,in cultures they do not understand, in languages they do not speak.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John, America’s brutality and intolerance are much exaggerated by the Left. Bush’s description of Iran, Iraq,and North Korea was a rather accurate. Also, he made it clear that our war was against the Islamic terrorists, not against Islam as a religion.

    As to the cause of most wars, I should suggest that you read Donald Kagan’s, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace in which he argues that most wars are caused by a combination of vacillating leadership and a lack of credible strength. Kagan, Yale professor of Classics and military historian, based this on the Peloponesian, Carthaginian, world Wars I- II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Propaganda has little to do with the cause of war.

    You might, also, reflect on the fact that America, during the World Wars, the Cold War, the Korean War, Bosnia and kosovoian Wars, and the Iraq War has been a strong force against totalitarian powers. In all these wars we have not been interested in the slightest to add territory.

    Too bad that you view America in such negative terms.

  • Peter Leavitt

    John, America’s brutality and intolerance are much exaggerated by the Left. Bush’s description of Iran, Iraq,and North Korea was a rather accurate. Also, he made it clear that our war was against the Islamic terrorists, not against Islam as a religion.

    As to the cause of most wars, I should suggest that you read Donald Kagan’s, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace in which he argues that most wars are caused by a combination of vacillating leadership and a lack of credible strength. Kagan, Yale professor of Classics and military historian, based this on the Peloponesian, Carthaginian, world Wars I- II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Propaganda has little to do with the cause of war.

    You might, also, reflect on the fact that America, during the World Wars, the Cold War, the Korean War, Bosnia and kosovoian Wars, and the Iraq War has been a strong force against totalitarian powers. In all these wars we have not been interested in the slightest to add territory.

    Too bad that you view America in such negative terms.

  • Wyldeirishman

    #16)

    John, may I offer up another variable here? It seems that what is being left unspoken amidst all of the talk of foreign languages and cultures is the nagging notion of how vastly different life is viewed, quantitatively AND qualitatively speaking.

    Honestly, all of our societal insistence for ‘death on our own terms’ aside, life within the countries that we are often accused of raping and pillaging to the point of alleged extinction have a much harsher, cheaper take on the value of human life than do we on the whole.

    Granted, there are exceptions to this (as in every rule), but this cannot mean that those exceptions remain the highlight when speaking of the conduct of our armed forces during wartime, or that their aberrant behavior grants a free pass to those that seek to undermine the necessity of the conflict from the word ‘go.’

    Nor should our hand-wringing be derived from the enemy’s inability to appropriate words like ‘crusade’ in any other context than their Ottoman mindset. For God’s sake, they issued a fatwah against Pokemon! Let’s not be afraid to call ‘backwards’ what it is, because the Turks (like the dwarves in Narnia) are EVER for the Turks.

    Finally, I remain unconvinced that Mormons know how to throttle anything, except sound doctrine. :)

  • Wyldeirishman

    #16)

    John, may I offer up another variable here? It seems that what is being left unspoken amidst all of the talk of foreign languages and cultures is the nagging notion of how vastly different life is viewed, quantitatively AND qualitatively speaking.

    Honestly, all of our societal insistence for ‘death on our own terms’ aside, life within the countries that we are often accused of raping and pillaging to the point of alleged extinction have a much harsher, cheaper take on the value of human life than do we on the whole.

    Granted, there are exceptions to this (as in every rule), but this cannot mean that those exceptions remain the highlight when speaking of the conduct of our armed forces during wartime, or that their aberrant behavior grants a free pass to those that seek to undermine the necessity of the conflict from the word ‘go.’

    Nor should our hand-wringing be derived from the enemy’s inability to appropriate words like ‘crusade’ in any other context than their Ottoman mindset. For God’s sake, they issued a fatwah against Pokemon! Let’s not be afraid to call ‘backwards’ what it is, because the Turks (like the dwarves in Narnia) are EVER for the Turks.

    Finally, I remain unconvinced that Mormons know how to throttle anything, except sound doctrine. :)

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    In context of the modern reality of radical Islam that aspires to universal Sharia Law, it is quite reasonable for the Swiss people to vote against minarets.
    This is a restatement, not a reason. Perhaps you could explain why it is reasonable to vote against minarets – or what such a ban might accomplish.

    The Islamic poet who regards the minaret as a bayonet is hardly just speaking metaphorically. He exults when Bin Laden et al savage Christians.
    A minaret is tower. Physiological limitations generally negate their use as bayonets. I cannot see how banning a tower can in any way reduce any “savagery” against Christians.

    No thinking person can deny that Islam as a religion is violent and war-bound. Sharia also enforces horrible human rights abuses. However, I fail to see how this is connected with banning an historical archtictural symbol.

    I am interested to hear your logic behind this conclusion, if you have the time, perhaps you could explain this to me.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    In context of the modern reality of radical Islam that aspires to universal Sharia Law, it is quite reasonable for the Swiss people to vote against minarets.
    This is a restatement, not a reason. Perhaps you could explain why it is reasonable to vote against minarets – or what such a ban might accomplish.

    The Islamic poet who regards the minaret as a bayonet is hardly just speaking metaphorically. He exults when Bin Laden et al savage Christians.
    A minaret is tower. Physiological limitations generally negate their use as bayonets. I cannot see how banning a tower can in any way reduce any “savagery” against Christians.

    No thinking person can deny that Islam as a religion is violent and war-bound. Sharia also enforces horrible human rights abuses. However, I fail to see how this is connected with banning an historical archtictural symbol.

    I am interested to hear your logic behind this conclusion, if you have the time, perhaps you could explain this to me.


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