Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Myth of Judeo-Christian Monotheism and Indian Polytheism

Interesting reply to my previous posting from a friend who's a religious scholar:
The conversation around the old Religious Studies coffee pot usually gets around to blaming monotheism for most religious violence, although our Hindu friends have often provided many counterexamples. It's fine to say that there's only one God, and any Gods you worship are really that God (a belief that characterizes the Hellenistic period, 3rd C BC- ?), but the worshippers of the one God in any particular form are usually pretty grumpy about people who worship the one God in a different form, or, horrors, not at all. Bahai tried to create a structure for multiple-monotheism, with some success, as well as some good architecture, whole-grain bakeries, and an unfortunate ban on alcohol.
I've got to laugh at Judeo-Christianity being considered monotheistic, while Indian religion is considered polytheistic.

Mankind has never devised a more unity-based view than the ancient Indians did. To them, God isn't a one-off thing "out there" among things. God is awareness, consciousness, and love. It's the underlying, all-encompassing everything, and the world arises within that, as a capricious entertainment that's never a separate thing. All the rest - including you and I - is a mere show of separation, mounted for shits and giggles. There's nothing but God, so the idea of "multiple gods" would be patently ridiculous.

It's true that some of the more reverential Hindu sects use different manifestations to help remember the indivisible godhead of which we're all a part via image/reminders to suit different facets of life. Driving to work? GOD! Experiencing loss? GOD! It's hard to remember we're in a show unfolding within unceasing unity, so customized signposts are created to remind us in every circumstance; to draw us back to the unceasing unity that's so difficult for human beings to unceasingly bear in mind.

The notion that Indians worship a panoply of different-gods-for-different-purposes is the sort of ridiculous, uncomprehending conclusion only a clueless medieval western academic would reach. Indian religion is about oneness. It's so devoted to this, in fact, that it's concocted the phrase "one without a second" to undermine any impulse to make all-encompassing-unity just another "thing" in a world of things. There's nothing "poly" about Indian religion (Polly is the cracker!).

Meanwhile, Judeo-Christianity deems itself monotheistic against all evidence. We offhandedly traffic in the very same contradiction the swami pointed out, a la:
"The worshippers of the one God in any particular form are usually pretty grumpy about people who worship the one God in a different form"
The cheat, of course, is stashed in the phrase "different form." But I don't buy it. If God is God and there's only one, and form is a trivial distinction, then the "grumpiness" (euphemism, I suppose, for persecution, hegemony, and murder) makes little sense. The "grumpiness" between the supposedly monotheistic religions certainly hasn't seemed like collegial squabbling between fine shades of interpretations. To everyone but scholars (who tread carefully to avoid intellectual self-contradiction), all three of the major "monotheistic" religions obviously assume they're worshipping Someone else. And hating other gods is every bit as polytheistic as worshipping multiple ones! Remember the point where the pretext unravels: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Monotheism isn't about choosing a favorite!

We've got it backwards. Judeo-Christianity is polytheistic, and Indian religion is monotheistic. So long as some of us conceive of "god as dude" - as just another (albeit higher-powered) thing among things, there will always be alternative powerful things to swap in to (or defend against slipping in to) the God role. To transcend this quagmire (the splintering of unity into thingness), the time-honored means of transcendence - of re-experiencing unity - is Indian spirituality. And that's the stuff we deem polytheist? Seriously??

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