Posted by: aediculaantinoi | August 27, 2013

Monism…Again…

The most popular recent post I’ve made here has been on monism. The spike in popularity it had was even before it was included in the Pagan Voices post on The Wild Hunt last week.

Unfortunately, the post was closed to further comments before I could read and respond to comments that were made on the excerpt from my post. I’d like to just briefly respond to one of those comments now (and the other person who responded to the comment in question, Nick Ritter, is most appreciated for what he said there!).

Someone called JB, first quoting my post, writes:

“Monism is a philosophical choice that is often adopted in order to relieve the necessity of getting the details on the differences between things correct, and doing adequate research on and accurate accounting of those differences.”

This argument is intellectually lazy. No two ice crystals are the same; and yet, they’re all made of water. There is no incompatibility between recognition of apparent differences between things and phenomena and the position that all are essentially comprised of one substance or essence.

There is, unfortunately, one very fatal flaw in this metaphor–though I won’t comment on how intellectually lazy it might be to have missed this flaw in the process of telling me that I’m intellectually lazy: the reason that all of those ice crystals that are made of the same substance are different is not because of anything inherent to the ice, it’s because ice crystals form around the most minute of dust particles and other microscopic debris. If one has water at a temperature of zero degrees, but it is entirely pure, no ice crystals will form. The thing which gives each ice crystal its uniqueness, therefore, is not an inherent property of the water or ice, but instead something else into which it comes into contact. We cannot talk about the purity of the water, therefore, and its oneness and sameness any longer, because it is not purely one thing; and no matter how minute that part of an ice crystal is which gives it its unique shape, nonetheless we’re no longer dealing with simply one thing.

Remember that part in my quote above about not doing adequate research into things when monism is assumed to be correct? Yeah…


Responses

  1. Quite true; moreover, even if there were some common substance to the Gods, a “God-stuff” of which they were all made, why would we prioritize that “stuff”, unless we had a preexisting reductionist bias? Even if there was an intellectual interest in determining the nature of “God-stuff”, how would this, without further argument, speak for our other, quite likely more important interests? There is no argument coming from the “monists”, just the recirculation of monotheistic apologetics worn smooth from unthinking repetition.

    • Indeed…

      Pretty much all life on earth that we’re currently aware of is “made of” water to some degree or another, and yet the variations between species, and between individuals in each species, is mind-bogglingly diverse. Biologists get absolutely nowhere with constantly coming back to “but it’s all water,” so why on Gaia’s green earth (or Geb’s, or Anu’s, or anyone else’s…!) would doing that in theology be anything other than a pipe-dream that is as useless as people trying to use computers concluding “Well, all of these are ultimately in binary code, so it’s all just 1 and 0″ rather than actually using Word to type a document, or playing World of Warcraft, or looking at the internet to find out more about monism…!?!

      I love how his second critique of me was that my generalizing was intellectually weak as well…as if that isn’t the first and only card that monists play at all times in all of their arguments. :/

  2. A further analogy that I would use to try get this notion through the thick skulls of monists is comparing the gods to people. You know, people are pretty much the same right? We all have bodies, with bones and blood and guts, with brains that think and stuff. We’re all the same! Therefore with our interactions with people, we should treat them all the same. And I’m not just saying with respect and kindness, but literally the same. Never mind that the person in front of you is your mother, your lover, your neighbor, your friend, or a complete stranger – we’re all people, therefore we’re all the same. Ignore all the differences between them and see them for the Oneness that they are – Humanity.

    In fact, don’t interact with individual people at all, just interact with Humanity, and see how far that gets ya…..

    • Indeed–as Laura Patsouris was saying on one of the Wyrd Ways Radio podcasts a while back, it’s like showing up to pick up your kid from school one afternoon and going “Child!” and just taking whichever one you want…or, worse yet, calling out for “carbon-based life-form!” and then taking home a grasshopper thinking it’s one’s child. Crikey…

  3. Hi, I’ve read your posts on monism with a lot of personal interest; the situation I find myself in is that I’m a polytheist whereas my mother is a monist. Usually I’d just say let’s agree to disagree. But the thing is, I used to be able to talk about spiritual things with my mother before my polytheism happened. And seeing how I don’t usually get the opportunity, being in a professional environment with basically materialists, atheists, antitheists and agnostics (the latter being the most accessible really)… I miss being able to talk.

    I don’t really have a better comment. The problem is: monism works for her, and polytheism works for me. But out of the two of us, she is the one who seems to think along the lines that her gnosis is somehow the better, “higher” gnosis. Not that she’s really said it or anything, but I listen to what she says and think… well, it’s a bit dismissive. Sometimes I really just don’t know how to handle that.

    Okay, this was a pointless comment. Sorry…

    • Not pointless at all–thanks for commenting!

      This problem of the haughtily derisive, arrogant, and condescendingly dismissive attitude polytheists get from monists is a very big problem, and just demonstrates how self-satisfied and flawed a monistic viewpoint is, in my opinion. If everything really is “all one,” then other people’s opinions on things don’t matter and shouldn’t be treated as anything to get mad over, or to be condescending about towards them–and yet, I don’t know a single monist who has argued for their viewpoint who hasn’t had that attitude.

      Because I’ve taken the hard line I have against monism, there are many terms one won’t hear in my vocabulary any longer: “the divine” is one of them, “deity-work” is another; “divinity” is my usual preference for the former, and “working with deities” the latter. Every acknowledgement of plurality–including acknowledgement of “pluralities”!–that can come into my thinking, both theologically and otherwise, is a good exercise in personal vigilance and in expansive thinking, I think/hope…

  4. This discussion of monism has interesting parallels to my own spiritual work lately. There’s something I’m unclear about though. Is monism a metaphysical position or a theological one? Or can it be both? Also, if it’s a metaphysical position and you’re not monist then are you pluralist or something else?

    • It can be both, and most often for those who are monists, it is both. The theological side of it is that gods don’t have individuality, or that ultimately it is human small-mindedness which sees gods as individual when they’re really a DIVINE ONENESS. (Let me puke a little for a moment.) But, the latter can also be a metaphysic, and the notion that therefore there is no need for devotion, worship, and so forth thus arises from that metaphysic, because one is not separate from nor different from the divine oneness either.

      • Interesting, thanks. There are a few additional bits I’ll email you about later pertaining to my spirits. I am still curious about your own metaphysical preferences however?

      • I don’t honestly know that I have any…which may be a bit surprising!

        Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy, of course, and I’m not that philosophically-inclined, personally. Theologically, very most certainly yes; but philosophically, not as much. I feel that theology is far more practical for what I wish to accomplish than philosophy tends to be. I’m not as concerned with how the mechanics of divine beings, worlds, and activities actually function–as I think metaphysicians are–and more with what human understandings of divine beings suggests are proper courses of action and modes of thinking in relation to them and to a harmonious engagement with the world. I know the latter sounds pretty philosophical, and I suspect for some it might be, but I don’t quite see it that way…

      • No, that makes sense. Thanks. You know, I used to think I knew a bit about philosophy and theology but I think my family uses a lot of the terminology rather differently from most folks. Maybe where a bit of my confusion comes from. Of course maybe I just don’t know as much as I’d like to think I do. ;)

        Incidentally, the mechanics of it all does seem rather fascinating to me but I definitely get the emphasis on more practical information. Thanks again.

  5. I blame the declining standards of our educational system for the rise in monism. i know it’s easier to count to one than five – and gets even harder when you run out of fingers and toes – but that don’t make it righter.

    • Hilarious! And, also, sadly, far too accurate, alas…

      I feel less and less able to hold my students’ lack of knowledge of anything and everything to them, and more to their slacker parents (many of whom are about my age now!) and lackluster teachers, working in a system that doesn’t actually teach effectively any longer.


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