Posted by: aediculaantinoi | November 8, 2013

New “Queer I Stand”: Polytheism Is Not Relativism

My latest “Queer I Stand” column has gone up at’s Pagan Channel, and it’s called Polytheism Is Not Relativism.

I admit, there are parts of the piece (which was running long as it was) that maybe could have been written better, fleshed out more, or further clarified; however, I think the underlying point is a valid one, and a good one, and was done well enough for that particular moment and context.

Not surprisingly, though, the majority of comments thus far are by monists who are mad at me for invalidating their viewpoint, despite thinking they are polytheists, and are arguing that I’m trying to redefine terms to exclude them (when in fact the tendency has been the exact reverse–”polytheist monism” being one such recent re-definition that has been done to define actual polytheists out of the picture).

If you choose to comment on it, try to be polite; but at the same time, say what you mean and feel, and don’t try to defend anything I’ve said or further explain it, because I don’t think I need to…


  1. I’m unsurprised that monists want to not let hard polytheists define polytheism for themselves. *shrug*

    • Oh, of course–because there must be ONLY ONE way to understand anything and everything: the monist way, even when it’s in something like polytheism and isn’t at all compatible with monism…

      (Also: it took me a moment to realize who this was–love the new handles and e-mail prefixes!)

  2. […] Sufenas Virius Lupus made this thoughtful and intelligent post on polytheism and relativism and so of course he’s getting pounded by the monists, because that’s what they do any […]

  3. It is no coincidence that Plato himself has Socrates, on more than one occasion, report encountering a great deal of vapid, childish argumentation around “the one and the many” (Philebus 14de, 15d-16a; Sophist 251a-c). Plato distinguishes clearly between this sort of sophistical nonsense and the *serious* problems around unity and multiplicity (Philebus 15bc; 16c-17a), which start, however, from the basic recognition that there are many different *types* of unity. The arguments for “monism” which we encounter on the internet are always of the former kind, however, rather than the latter, and therefore are not worth engaging as though they were serious. The question to ask the “monist”, and the one with which they never consent to engage, is always, “One in what respect?” For my part, not only do I not consent to recognize these “monists” as polytheists, I always put the term “monist” as used in these internet debates in scare quotes, because as a Platonist I am a monist in the proper, dues-paying technical sense: I recognize a single first principle, namely the principle of *individuation*, the One—which itself, however, neither *is*, nor is *one* (Parmenides 141e). But the so-called “monist” will never accept this, because while such a first principle does the logical work in which they usually purport to be interested, it doesn’t accomplish the reductionism and homogenization which is their genuine goal.

    • Sadly, true…

      If you have a moment to read what the “arguments” have been over at Patheos, and perhaps comment yourself, it would be most appreciated. But, I’d totally understand just ignoring it and doing much more useful things–because why not? ;)

      • I did write a little something, strictly on the Platonic question.

        Ultimately, I believe, the way in which the thinking on these matters is going to evolve is by polytheists demonstrating the positive power of their own use of the core ideas, e.g., not by telling people “That’s not Plato,” but by making more compelling *use* of Platonic ideas. And the same goes for Aristotle, or Vedanta, or Taoism, et al., or for talk about substance, or values, or truth, or community, or whatever is supposed to fall on the other side of the issue. Because there really is no “other side”, it’s all *ours*. Polytheism does not require the failure of unity, it’s not about limitation, it embodies the multiplicity and diversity of *unities*—the good news of cosmogony.

  4. “…reductionism and homogenization which is their genuine goal.”

    This. Exactly this.

    I am finding this continuing online discussion of polytheism versus monism completely fascinating because I spent about five years forced to argue over this very topic within a particular international Neopagan organization. And as far as I could tell, I was alone in speaking up, even if others experienced the Gods as I did. It was exhausting.

    Like many of you, I didn’t want to argue or disprove the monist’s point of view, merely wanted the freedom to state my opinion without continually being hassled over how I experience the Gods, what I believe, and how I define polytheism and my practice of polytheism. I wanted to be able to say, without being disrespected, that it truly *does makes a difference* in how the Gods are worshipped within ritual. And it even makes a difference to the actual fabric of our religion itself. I experienced their arguing as slowing down, even disrespecting, my own important work and spiritual journey while giving themselves, the monists and pantheists, a platform for their own aggressive proselytizing within the Neopagan community to reduce and homogenize.

    When I left the organization after a long membership, honestly: *not one single* other person, even my very closest friends in that organization, *got why* I had to leave. Even now they don’t, although I’ve tried to explain several times (since I’m often asked to come back — I remain friendly and still love them).

    I had no idea a similar discussions was taking place on polytheist blogs and online news publications that I had no idea even existed. (Yeah, I didn’t get out much in the internet-o-sphere).

    Over time I’ve had to conclude that the monists are so completely convinced that their point of view is actual reality that they honestly cannot consider our point of view, even within their own imaginations. At all. To them, orthopraxy by definition includes *everyone.*

    And yeah, theoretically, it should. But in reality, it doesn’t. It is like working with a color blind person on a website or a scenery backdrop to a play. That person sees certain colors as one. End of story. He can’t see any more colors. And if everyone in the group is colorblind and you’re the only one who isn’t, well, they will tell you are wrong for seeing more colors just because there is one of you and more of them. And that just makes a huge difference when working on that big “canvas.” Do you see where I’m heading with this? If they start painting with orange which they see as green, the painting is just going to look *wrong.* An imperfect analogy, I know, but it is the best I can do at the moment. Sigh.

    Sadly, the Monists and Pantheists misunderstood that they thought I was saying that my view was right and theirs was wrong. I don’t believe my view is necessarily “right.” But I do I believe my view is my perception which is not wrong, and is only part of the reality. I do not know for sure if their view is wrong or not.

    They cannot prove their view any more than I can prove mine. Unlike color, we do not have a scientific test to demonstrate that the Gods are even “real.” So, in a way, the whole argument is moot really. This all reminds me so much of the early Christians arguing over whether or not Jesus was of God or was God. Why did they spend all that time arguing and assassinating each other, both metaphorically and literally, instead of just getting on with being the very best Christians they could be?

    Because, in reality, none of us has a complete view. Again, let us consider the color blind man. He cannot see all the colors, but neither can I. I can see more than he, but I cannot see infra-red. I cannot see ultra-violet.

    Incidentally, one of the commenters on your original column made an analogy which is false, saying that everything in the universe is made up of atoms. But it is not. Only *matter* is made up of atoms. There is an awful lot of space between those atoms. In fact, most of matter is space, not atoms. And last I heard, no one is sure of what “dark matter” is or if their are other things in the universe we haven’t perceived yet.

    So I am using this as an analogy of physics to say that I think it hubris for any of us — monist or non-monist — to claim we completely understand or know the nature of the Gods and of the numinous. How can we? They are great and mighty beyond anything we could possibly know, at least here and now. We just don’t have the equipment, just as I and the color blind man simply cannot see all the colors. At best, all each of us can do is define for ourselves the numinous and how we best relate to it in a way that enhances our experience of life and helps the lives of us, the Gods, and our loved ones.

    And then, we must prove ourselves noble and honorable by tolerating the beliefs of each other, respecting each other’s view points. And, most of all, we must be kind to one another because it is the right thing to do and because, if we don’t, we won’t get anything worth doing done.

    Okay, you told me to say what I really feel. And that is my two cents, aediculaantinoi. ;-)

    I LOVE your blog!

    • I agree completely.

      (I wish I had more to say after you spent so much effort writing out your thoughts, but I don’t have anything useful to add…so, there we are!)

      I do wish we’d be let alone on this matter more than we are from many proselytizing monists. (And see the comments on the “Sorry, I Can’t Approve of This…” post I did in December as well for more of this discussion…!?!) But, you can’t “opt out” of monism, which is one of the things I find so pernicious about it–it completely bulldozes individual consent, and condescends to those who don’t agree with the assumption that one day, after many more incarnations and being “properly enlightened,” we’ll get it like they do already, which is nonsense, I think…

      Anyway, much to think about. ;)

  5. Indeed! Thanks for your reply here. I know I wrote a long post above, maybe too long. But I hoped what I said will be worth it to your readers. :-D

    • I do not believe in the idea of “too much,” especially where writing is concerned! ;)

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