In our inaugural episode of the Project Asterism podcast, your hosts Julian and Mallory introduce themselves and the Project, discuss some polytheistic basics, and move into a discussion of polytheism on the alt-right and the alt-right’s relationship with Donald Trump.
In I Believe that Polytheism Is Important Right Now, Julian offers a big-picture philosophical answer to this question: why does polytheism matter, in the grand scheme of things? It may not appear to be an important question, particularly if you don’t identify as a polytheist. It may seem backwards, or like you’re splitting hairs, to insist that polytheism has a role to play on the global stage of ideas, right alongside it’s little siblings of monotheism and atheism. Julian certainly speaks for me on this topic, and I think he does a good job of first explaining to you why this question matters (and it matters more than a little). It would be a waste of time to try to add more examples to an already-comprehensive piece.
So instead I’m going to try to answer a slightly different question in the same vein: why does polytheism matter, in the scheme of everyday things? Why does polytheism matter in my life, or in yours?
I believe that Polytheism is important right now because contemporary life presents us with unique challenges that traditional monotheistic worldviews are incapable of addressing. Our world grows ever more interconnected. Every day we are confronted with the struggles and triumphs of people living on the other side of the globe, and we ourselves now feel the aftershocks of those events. We are faced with increasing globalization, and both political and economic power is shifting from its established, centralized hubs to new and complex structures. Further, we are experiencing greater and greater demographic shift, as people move across the world, fleeing war, seeking refuge, or hoping for greater economic and social mobility.
We are struggling with increasing factionalism and ideological rigidity in the face of the rapid transformations that our world, that our societies, are undergoing. Many of us are frightened by these changes and are desperately clinging to ideas of the ways things should be and memories of the way things were. The world reveals itself to us to be a stranger and more complicated thing than we could have imagined.
The binary choice offered by traditional monotheistic worldviews simply is not elastic enough to cope with the changes we face. We can no longer afford the simplicity of yes/no, right/wrong, on/off. As long as we cling to a single, universalizing approach to truth, we will be simply incapable of understanding the world that we are living in. As long as we insist on asserting our allegiance to a single transcendental authority that is maintained as the sole arbiter of truth, we are eliminating the potential for an infinite number of other truths, of other ways of being, experiencing, and understanding. We are dooming ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict, destruction, and war.
If we are to move forward productively into this new and alien world, then we must be willing to engage meaningfully in dialogue with the myriad and distinct beings that we encounter. We must allow these dialogues to be transformative. We must allow ourselves to be changed by the viewpoints of others. We must be willing to work together to move forward, rather than rigidly and repetitively cleaving to our own preconceptions. An honest engaging with other truth claims requires the acceptance that our own understanding of truth is flawed or incomplete. To open ourselves to the other requires us to accept that we ourselves are only units contained within a larger system, not ourselves arbiters of that system. We live in a world amongst others of increasing difference. We deny the difference that we face at our own peril.
I assert that only Polytheism, only a polytheistic worldview, is capable of carrying us forward. Within Polytheism as I see it, truth becomes unmoored from singulars and spread across the entire system, into a complex network of truth production. Truth no longer originates from any single transcendent source, but is lived, experienced, and built by the manifold beings who compose our world. A polytheistic worldview is premised on incompleteness. It assumes that there is always more yet to be learned, that truth is an ever expanding set, rather than a singular preordained program. Truth is a process.
Polytheism allows us to engage with the other in a way that does not threaten our own identity because our own identities are engaged in the world as a whole. We are who we are in relation to the others we encounter. They change us as we change them. However, neither identity is lost in this process; we remain unique and irreducible.
Our particular embodiments condition our experiences of the world. Our histories are unique and inextricably ours. We grow and change as the world grows and changes, yet we remain ourselves, together. The particular being of others remains distinct from us, and ever inaccessible. We must admit, then, that there are sorts of truth that are forever locked away from us, ways of being that must remain mysterious and vague to our senses. We must be willing to accept that our limitations to do not place limits on the world, and that we ourselves may also be capable of transcending the truths that we have taken for granted.
We experience the world together. We become entangled in the world. Being embodied in the world, we incorporate the world into ourselves as we are made flesh in the world. We are in the world with others, and as our experience incorporates the world into us, we incorporate others into ourselves, as we are also incorporated into them. Our experience of the world is then co-created with the other beings we share our world with. We make truth together, living it with each other. We ourselves are forced to recognize our own otherness in the face of the others who surround us.
So a polytheistic relationship to truth forces us to see plurality as a fundamental feature of the world. We produce truth through a process of living and engaging with the beings that surround us. Truth becomes participatory. The tension between competing truths is recognized as powerful and real, and our choices, adjudicating between these truths, have real and meaningful consequences. The world is full of complexities, and as we move through it, we only produce more and more. We make the world a stranger place with every passing day.
Polytheism frees us from the hegemony of monotheistic truth. Our choices are invested with deep meaning, as we navigate the truth claims that surround us. The decisions we make speak of our own unique relationship to truth, and our actions become expressions of our own unique being. We ourselves become centers of truth production scattered amidst and entangled with other productive centers. Polytheism presents us with a world that is decentralized, fluctuating, and expanding. In short, it presents us with just the sort of world that we are moving toward.