Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Monotheism Ethical and Otherwise IV: for Dennis Prager

I | II | III | IV

In earlier installments, I've explored some of the problematic presuppositions underlying Dennis Prager's conception of "Ethical Monotheism." This post explores one of monotheism's greatest weaknesses, one which Prager avoids mentioning but which can clearly be seen in his first premise:
There is one God from whom emanates one morality for all humanity.
Polytheistic cultures may react to their neighbors' gods in a number of different ways. They may incorporate them into their native pantheons, as the Greeks did with the Thracean Ares and the Romans did with the Olympian deities. They may claim those gods are merely their own deities under a different name: Tacitus considered Odin to be a Germanic Mercury. They may travel to become initiated in the mysteries of a deity's worship, as the ancients did at Eleusis: they might bring those deities home and found new cults, like the Mithraic mysteries.  As the cultures incorporate foreign gods, so too do they incorporate foreign philosophy and science. 

A monotheist culture, by contrast, begins with the assumption that it honors the One God and follows the One Truth. Those who think otherwise are misguided at best and actively evil at worst. If they cannot be converted by reason or by force, they must be exterminated. 
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah. and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge.
No war ever undertaken by the Frank nation was carried on with such persistence and bitterness, or cost so much labour, because the Saxons, like almost all the tribes of Germany, were a fierce people, given to the worship of devils, and hostile to our religion, and did not consider it dishonourable to transgress and violate all law, human and divine.
This is not to say that the polytheistic worldview leads invariably to sunshine, rainbows and moral relativism. The Romans were horrified by the Carthaginian practice of child sacrifice:  Buddhists launched genocidal attacks against Mongolian shamans.  But there is far more room for commerce and cooperation amongst people who accept a multitude of deities than amongst people who divide the world into the faithful and the infidels.