On Gods and Men

Asclepius, son of Apollo, help me understand. Guide my thoughts, call me to those things you wish for me to see. I acknowledge my biases and ulterior motives, my ignorance, my stupidity. I move my will to counter these dispositions, these structures, as best I can. I look with fresh eyes, cleared from the fog by your gentle light. Give me the words to paint what you show me.

Asklipiós Dóreios, you know that I will follow you anywhere, as I always have, if but only you lead me.

What is it I see?

A distinction; one you often bring to my mind, though as yet without the words I need.

It occurs to me in contexts which concern the difference of scale and focus between Pagan and Monotheist orientation.

I am told true religion ought to be universal, unbroken, and stamped for all to see with divine approval. But, Paganism, I am told, is nothing like this. Its traditions are cultural, not global; extinct, not continuous, and primitive, not reasonable.

So I am told.

I am told that you are not real, Divine Physician. They say you came and went with the people who first spoke your name; like a character whose stories stopped being told. And it is only stories you left behind, Paián. No footprints in the sand, no signatures in the sky.

I am told your stories make of you a man. Mortal in every way, and subordinate to better candidates of divinity.

So I am told.

You should have entered time and space, some will say, and allowed us to see what we long to know: that you are real, that you are here, that we can turn to you.

But in these conditions placed on things for them to be considered real, or concrete, I see what it is they are looking for and calling ‘divine’. An idealized version of ourselves; an ultimate moral agent, whose silhouette is traced by the longings of our deepest desires.

They search the heavens for signs of life; and strain to hear if anything answers to the name they call, blinding themselves to anything outside the tunnel of their vision.

But what order of things do they see us within, Healer? Does the world stop turning whenever we suffer tragedy? Are our lives marked with regular interventions from on high; shielding us from every wickedness and disaster, especially those that would otherwise make it seem our lives are no longer worth living?

Or are we rather left, in some sense, to our own devices; permitted, as it were, to face reality ourselves?

I say to them that we come and go, and the world keeps turning. Nothing spares us from the overwhelming, terrifying, horrors some of us actually face.

I say to them that we are obviously not central figures here, whatever one thinks of Gods. We are but one of innumerable others, scattered across Being and time, hierarchically ordered on a grand, cosmic-scaled ecosystem.

These expectations of you are too small, Kyros; you are so much greater. Whether or not there is an ideal, anthropomorphized version of ourselves out there; all things will still have at least this much in common: that they are each one thing, so that there is something it is to be one thing. They search the heavens for anything to answer the name they call; meanwhile, the One-ness common to all things continues to make each thing count as one.

You are that in each and every single thing which makes it to be one; that in them which is real. You are the whole of all things. All encompassing, ever present.

A God should not be that big, they must say. Such a thing would be too impersonal, and unrelatable…less a God than a mindless force.

But I look not for an idealized version of ourselves, I look for what is. And You are.

You reside in all things by being the one-ness in them whereby they are one thing. All things thus have their unity by being made of you. We are only ‘selves’ because you are our form of Self.

All things subsist in you. You give to each thing its unity: existence to the existing, necessity to the necessary, time to the temporal. And so I touch you everywhere I go, and see you wherever I look. Everything is made of your divine character.

There is nothing more personal.

The distinction returns to my mind: Paganism is about the big picture from a cosmic perspective, and our corresponding position therein. It is grand in each of its foci. But Monotheism is not. It is about us, and about things from our perspective. And so, true religion is defined by it in relation to us.

I say that what it is looking for is not what is true religion, or divine, but what is human.


An Open Letter to the Midwesterner on “Gender”

I grew up in a small town in South Dakota. Yes, people live there. My entire county had 1,500 people in it. My high school graduating class size? 50 something. I’ve lived in small towns most of my life. Not all of it. I got to see the world as an Army brat. But most of it.

If you’re anything like me, you probably first heard the word ‘transgender’ around 2013. And your first encounter with it probably wasn’t very positive. A video of some blue-haired college kid foaming at the mouth, calling someone every name under the sun because they dared to believe that boys are boys and girls are girls. That impression may not have changed much over the years. Especially if the extent of your exposure to transgendered people was just that same character, played by different personalities, blasted on social media for doing the same thing. Reinforcing the image, reinforcing the narrative.

And maybe you were like me and went on to find yourself in a social or religious community that was, to your surprise, loudly supportive of this new view about “gender.” Again, you may have found people being called a bigot, a fascist, a …God knows what, simply because they believed now what everyone believed not even 10 years ago. And maybe experiences like this pressured you into looking into the matter. But what you ran into was a mess of conflicting information, contradictory or circular definitions, and it all just made you think…let them figure their lives out while you get on with yours.

Now, with discussions about gender affirming care for adolescents all over the news, the topic has become even more divisive than ever before.

When I look out at the population right now, what I’m seeing is people digging trenches. I’m seeing division manifesting in tangible ways. More than I ever have. And that worries me. I have a family to take care of. Children to raise. I don’t want to see families torn apart or communities split down the middle. I’m also a curious person. I like to know things. And I want to know, maybe even once and for all, what is the truth about all of this.

Y’all are my people, you’re like me. And I’ve spent enough time with you to know what you think about this, and how you feel about it. I see what you’re going through. I’m going through it too. So, I wanna do this for you.

I’m deep diving into gender studies and searching for the truth. I want the facts to speak for themselves, I want the chips to fall where they may. And when the dust settles, you’ll be the first to see my findings.

But before all that, I wanted to lay some things on the table. How things seem to stand as of now. It’s not exhaustive, but I already know you’re unlikely to read all this. So, I picked some big ones. Maybe it’ll still be there by the end. Maybe it won’t.

In some ways, I want to defend you. And I’m going to call them out for how you’ve been treated. In other ways, I need to call you out too. Don’t act surprised. Not all of this will apply to you, but some of it needs saying anyway.

So, there’s gonna be some hard truths here and some tough love. But that’s the sort of guy I am, and I know you’re like that too. We need to have more real talks.

I’ve got a lot to learn about this area. But the logic isn’t anything new. And that’s what I’m really, really good at. Logic (formal and informal). That’s what I can bring to the table. My mind cuts through the bullshit all the time (especially my own). I just need to start saying these things out loud more often.

We’re in this one together. So, let’s finally get to the bottom of all this.

As of now, here’s where I think you’re right:

  1. I think you were right to not drop everything you’ve ever believed and were taught when you heard a whole new way of looking at gender for the first time. You’d be crazy if you did. It’s entirely reasonable to be skeptical of new concepts that don’t mesh at all with everything else you believe. Everyone knows that, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And while the information on this has exploded over the last few decades, I wouldn’t fault you for looking into it and seeing nothing but a mess. A jumble of conflicting and circular definitions, and rapidly evolving terminology. You might be thinking, just let them figure all this out, and I’ll just get along with my life. I get it.
  2. You are not a bigot or a “fascist” simply because you didn’t jump on a bandwagon. And that’s all it would have been to you at the time. It’s not like the scales fell from your eyes the moment you heard it because it’s just so self-evident and obvious it evaded us until now. Look, it’s gonna take some re-wiring. But that’s an epistemic right of yours, not a moral failure. What happens is you have epistemic standards, which are healthy and good to have, and the idea simply did not meet those when you heard it. Moreover, it never developed a sense of plausibility that would have merited reconsideration or further research into: if something sounds super far-fetched, you don’t have to immerse yourself in trying to figure out whether it’s true, especially just because it’s important or obvious to other people. They don’t act like that for all sorts of things, and it’s not fair to demand it of you. Again, everyone knows that, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But keep in mind that the reason this concept of gender may have struck you as so far-fetched is because of how it’s been consistently presented to you.
  3. I think you’re right that there are only two sexes. By that I mean there are quite literally only two types of gametes for humans: eggs and sperm. Moreover, our bodies develop and organize in those corresponding directions: sperm producers, or egg producers. While there may be only two overarching directions, because we “travel” to get to them in our bodily ‘blueprint’ and construction, this means that we don’t always reach those destinations: sometimes at all, but not ever in exactly the same ways. That means there is tons of biological diversity in our bodily composition, structure, and function. And I’m talking about everything from a bigger sized level of organs to the microscopic level of cells. But outliers accounted for, the norm for our species is males and females.

Here’s where I think you need a little talking to:

  1. Gender identity is real. It may very well be that a man is an adult human male, and a woman is an adult human female. But you know damn well there is more to being, say, a ‘man’ than there is to being an adult human male. You raise your boys to be men, don’t you? What do you teach them? How to be masculine? So, look, societies do associate rules with perceived sex. What was permissible for men to do in 15th century China may not be the same as what is permissible for men to do in 21st century America. Societies have a vision, made up of associations, of what men and women are supposed to be like. We each take ourselves to either conform or not conform to this vision. Guys, if you’d be uncomfortable wearing a mini skirt and high heels in public, it might be because you don’t identify with the sex that those behaviors are normal or socially permissible for. That means you have a gender identity. It’s not a choice for you, it’s what you look like to yourself; what it feels like in your own skin.
  2. While you’re worried about something called ‘transgenderism’ and getting triggered by random, crazy personalities on social media, there are actual trans people out there just trying to find happiness and to make a living in this life, just like you. They didn’t choose to have their gender identity any more than you did. And they have to face realities that I hope you never have to know; like social exclusion, depression, bullying and even disgust. Some of these people are children, kids who may not have the words yet for what they see when they look in a mirror, but nevertheless have a correspondingly developed gender identity for their age, as do we all. Think about that. We’re talking about their whole way of seeing themselves; the only ways in which they feel comfortable to live. You’re talking about turning their whole world upside down. You have no right to take that lightly, or to even do so at all without overwhelming, significant reason–as we in fact do with other forms of self-identities that we agree are mistaken. Transgendered people have been dehumanized by a political narrative, and the damage this has wrought is…hard to even comprehend, but heartbreaking. We are talking about people, human beings. They deserve every ounce of dignity, respect, compassion, empathy and protection. They are not an idea awaiting your verdict. If it turns out our original understanding of trans self-identification was correct, you should think of them no differently or less. And it’s hard to believe that needs saying, but just in case.
  3. Finally, and maybe even most importantly, search your soul for why you react to the “new” idea of gender the way you do. Because I know you do. Why is it so upsetting? Almost, personally offensive? Why does your mind go straight to dismissing their claims about science as politically charged or manipulated? Why jump straight for conspiracy? You know what all these symptoms are. You’d call it a spade if it were in anyone else. So, why is it happening to you? Be honest, it’s okay.

Like I said, there’s more. But I hope this is enough to get the cogs turning. If you take nothing else away from this, let it be that each of us is afflicted with knee-jerk reactions and judgements that breed division and conflict for no good reason. See them for what they are. They do you no favors, and you’ll be lighter without them.

In my studies so far, I have realized the science and philosophy of gender studies is riddled with cross purposes, confusing jargon, and conflicting claims. To my mind, this is a sign of decentralization, competing usages, and so, in a way, of life. It means things are happening, people are forging their way.

In any highly contested area, your first course of action should be to abstract the realities away from the labels to see what is truly being disagreed about. A problem well stated is a problem half solved. So, I recommend first dropping the labels, especially ‘gender’, and instead talking about the phenomena themselves. The question should be what is real, not, e.g., what thing do we call ‘sex’? I think you’ll find that a depressing amount of fighting and disagreement is purely semantic, and that we all agree on much, much more than anyone is comfortable admitting.

I am not even far into my studies yet, and I can already feel it changing me. I want to humanize what has been made to be about ideology. I want to empathize in places I once only analyzed. I hope you similarly experience some transformation. The actual treatment of transgendered people is more important than forming a view on ‘gender’.

I hope good comes of this. Until next time.

Classical Theism: The Other Side of the Story

I. Introduction

Feel free to skip to Sections II-III if you’re just here for the arguments. This section introduces the topic and some key terms, especially for those who may be new to this.

If you’re still here, welcome to the debut of this series!

I often hear in law enforcement that every story has three sides to it: what he said, what she said, and what really happened. By this logic, you’d think there’d be a fourth side as well – what it sounds like happened to the officer. Whatever lesson there is in that, one thing is for sure, there’s at least two sides to every story!

In this installment we will be looking at a story that classical theists tell about polytheism. Specifically, the story they tell about its philosophical integrity.

One could undoubtedly devote entire pieces to other such stories, such as those about the history of polytheism, its ethical impact on society or even its soteriological value. And work like that is needed, for how often is polytheism represented as a primitive or regressive stage in the evolution of religion; or as permissive and even encouraging of the most appalling forms of hedonism, or as being so concerned with this life that it utterly fails to prepare anyone for the next?

But defining a position should come before defending it, and so, should one focus on constructing a positive account of polytheism, as opposed to merely denying such allegations as these, then alternate stories to those mentioned above eagerly present themselves. For another time, perhaps. These and other such topics will not be our focus here.

To begin, then, let’s get a handle on what classical theism is.

By classical theism, I shall mean that allegedly historical form of monotheism according to which God is understood in terms of being metaphysically ultimate reality. I say allegedly historical because sometimes thinkers are listed as belonging to this tradition who were not, even remotely, monotheists. 1  Be that as it may, the point, I suppose, is that ‘classically’ minded thinkers of every religious background tended to look for and understand the divine in terms of metaphysical ultimacy rather than in terms of a more contemporary conception, like a hypothesized explanation of more localized phenomena.

Accordingly, this whole way of looking at God involves its own way of conducting philosophy of religion and natural theology. One does not posit metaphysically ultimate reality as a hypothesis, nor amass evidence on its behalf. It matters not how propositionally simple its description can be articulated, let alone how it fares in explanatory competition with alternatives: there are no alternatives; no more, at least, than non-being is an alternative to being. Instead, classical theism boasts of having captured in theory, and with the full force of necessity and certainty that comes through metaphysical demonstrations, what must be true of the world, no matter what else we go on to discover about it.

Classical theism contrasts sharply with approaches that do not view God as ultimate, but as more of a (privileged) constituent of reality.

I have variously and semi-humorously characterized this latter approach as having become a kind of cryptozoology wherein a God is like a supernatural creature roaming the universe, whom the philosopher tracks by finding her cosmological footprints. At some point, I shall have need to address this newer paradigm in relation to polytheism.

But, unlike these latter thinkers, classical theists had far more to say about polytheism, and so we shall begin with them.

My purpose here is to let the classical theist tell her side of the story about the philosophical integrity of polytheism, and then, perhaps for the first time for many, tell another side.

II. One Side of the Story

To the classical theist, a polytheism posited at the level of metaphysically ultimate reality is absurd. It’s not that it’s unnecessarily complicated, or that the evidence just isn’t strong enough for it, or even that it is simply hard to believe in today’s day and age. It’s that polytheism involves a contradiction.

They take themselves to have reasoned to a metaphysically reality that is ‘ultimate’ in the sense that everything else is premised upon it. That there is an ‘it’ here, or something that answers to these descriptions, in whatever appropriately analogous sense, will turn out to be one of the most important things to remember for our purposes. They take themselves to have discovered ‘someone’ specific, so to speak, though they may not be able to say much at all about ‘him’ without special revelation—or indeed, be able to know his essence at all. They only know of him, as one knows a cause from its effects.

It is not that he is a constituent of reality, or one being among others, any more than any principle can be one of the things it is a principle of. It’s just that there is something to which these attributes are made, something these descriptions refer to. There is an ‘it’, in some perhaps analogous or exemplary sense, which has the integrity of being that upon which all things depend; it’s a real ‘thing’, with its own unity or identity. They take themselves to be affirming something which atheists deny.

Having arrived at this singular unity, they go on to deduce the absurdity of trying to multiply it.

By introducing plurality into this ultimate reality, it is thought, polytheism makes it so that there no longer is an ‘it’ around for all things to be premised upon, but rather several or more ‘its’ which reality will variously depend upon in different ways, so that no single principle of being remains. Any attempt to plurify ultimate reality, or to divvy its unity out to a multitude will contradictorily involve saying of one that it is not-one, but many.

Classical theists find a number of contradictory implications in positing a polytheism at the level of ultimate reality. One popular thread of reasoning finds it impossible to distinguish one God from another:

“Should we say, then, that there are many Gods, we must recognize difference among the many. For if there is no difference among them, they are one rather than many. But if there is difference among them, what becomes of the perfectness?,” (John Damascus, 1.5)

“If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong (conveniret) to one that did not belong to another. And if this were a privation, one of them would not be absolutely perfect; but if a perfection, one of them would be without it. So it is impossible for many gods to exist,” (ST. I.11.3)

Another widespread line of thought finds it impossible for two Gods to both be Supreme:

“Suppose that two Supreme Beings exist. If one depends on the other he who depends cannot be supreme. If both are independent neither is the Supreme Being, for each has no power over the other,” (Ward, 109) 2

But whether we limit ourselves to the popular forms or not, it is surprising just how many numbers of ways classical theists (particularly in the Scholastic tradition) deduce a contradiction in polytheism at the level of ultimate reality. So many, in fact, that it would be impossible to address all of them in any respectful way short of a tome, and certainly not in a blog post. 3

To take only two better known scholastics as an example, I count no less than 20 arguments that John Duns Scotus has with polytheism in his Ordinatio, Second Distinction, First Part, Question 3., and nearly the same amount that Thomas Aquinas has with polytheism in just his Summa Contra Gentiles, I.42. That isn’t to count those given in the latter’s Summa Theologiae, De Ente et Essentia, or any given others of his many works. The sheer number of independent arguments against polytheism given by classical theists from all religious stripes and generations will understandably strike polytheists as daunting and intimidating.

Indeed, the impression is that if classical theists made anything abundantly clear it is that polytheism at the level of ultimate reality is absurd.

But appearances can be deceiving.

III. Another Side to the Story

It’s absurd, classical theists will argue, to plurify what is singular. This singular thing could be Being, Infinite Power, Goodness, Necessary Existence, Divinity, etc. etc. Whatever they have reasoned their way to and found to be ‘there’, or true of what is ‘there’.

But…who told them this is what polytheism does? Who said that it would plurify one thing, as if its members would be unified by some singular external principle?

Indeed, given what they tell us about the divine, such as that it is utterly simple, we should not be plurifying something that isn’t itself a God, lest we instead speak of composite beings and so not about ‘Gods’ after all, or even in the first place!

The assumption behind all these classical theist objections to polytheism is that polytheism would plurify the unity of some one thing. But not only is this assumption gratuitous (and bizarrely so!) but it’s mistaken on even their own grounds!

We should not think of Gods as instantiating some property, feature or ‘thing’. That’s not what they have in common. Otherwise, they aren’t Gods after all.

For all this, we have classical theists regularly talking like this:

“for there to be more than one thing of a kind requires that that thing have metaphysical parts like genus and specific difference, or matter together with the species essence that the matter instantiates, and that in turn entails having potentiality. But God, being purely actual, is devoid of potentiality. Hence, he cannot have parts of the sort in question, and therefore, he does not belong to a kind of which there could be more than one instance. He is, accordingly, unique, so that the theism to which the arguments defended in chapters 1 through 5 lead us is a monotheism,” (Feser, 187)

“A being, however, is said to be unique, when there cannot be or at least are not other beings of the same species or genus,” (Garrigou-Lagrange, 300-01)

And so they get things exactly backwards! You can’t start by assuming there would a ‘kind’ to which many Gods belong, and then deduce the absurdity of transcendent reality belonging to a kind! That’s a manufactured problem. They’re deducing that polytheism is absurd by assuming that monotheism is true! We never say the transcendent is categorizable. They did!

But only when they have polytheism in mind. Otherwise, they say God cannot belong to any category, genus or species.

Even in that case, though, as I have argued, it follows a fortiori that he cannot belong to any category, genus or species as its only member! So, he cannot be ‘the only’ God.

In either case, then, monotheism is in dire straits.

The classical theist’s failure to really consider a plurality of what is divine here is symptomatic of a wider tendency to do the same across the board. For example, objections that two Gods could not differ lest one lack some perfection the other has; or that two Gods cannot both be infinite, lest one lack what the other has; or that…etc. All such pieces of reasoning say they are talking about Gods, but then go on to talk about things that are subject to deriving their identities from their properties, or which are composite, or in any number of ways not divine after all.

They will devote trees worth of pages pouring over complicated philosophical matters, but not one moment on what if each God were First. What if each God preceded all relation. What if each God were differentiated by her identity. What if…etc.

I recall asking Feser this:

“Monotheism asserts the proposition that “Only one God exists.” In quantifying the amount of Gods that exist, this proposition treats of a plurality of “Gods.” In denying existence of all but one in this plurality, monotheism separates Gods from “existence”, and thus treats of a plurality of abstractions, or “essences” as Thomists may say. It would seem, therefore, that monotheism is committed to a view on which a God’s essence is separable from his “existence.” But, for Aquinas, the essence of God just is his existence. Was Aquinas thus not a monotheist? If not, what was he?”

He took this to be me confusing grammar with reality. But it’s the monotheist proposition that is quantifying the number of Gods that exist. So, if he was right about confusing grammar with reality, so much the worse for monotheism!

In any case, he says in response that “[s]ince these notions don’t apply to God, it follows that there is no way for him to be merely one instance of a kind of thing. There is no genus or general class to which he belongs. He is of his nature unique.”

So, as I said, because there cannot be anything for God to be the only one of, he cannot be the only one of anything.

Monotheism is bunk, people.

Indeed, Aquinas recognized that we cannot say the number of Gods is one: “’One’ which is the principle of number is not predicated of God, but only of material things,” (ST I.11.3) All he can say is that God is/has unified or undivided being. That is, that he is metaphysically one.

But, of course, just because, say, YHWH is one does not mean that Poseidon isn’t. So, they can either try to oppose polytheism and invoke numerical unity, thus sacrificing divine transcendence, or they can be in harmony with polytheism and merely say of their God that he is undivided.

That is, monotheism can either be materially equivalent to atheism or trivially compatible with polytheism.

Now, the classical theists might ask at this point what the principle of plurality is supposed to be then? If it’s not some singular thing which unifies the Gods as a group, such as a divine nature or property they all have in common, then what is it?

But what a striking admission this would be. To acknowledge that the prolific literature they produced on polytheism never once entertained this question. That they never held the idea of different Gods to the standards of divinity they proposed, and so never actually considered the philosophical integrity of polytheism. Instead, they spent this entire time burning straw men and asking everyone to go along with it.

As my readers will know, I have a whole account of polytheism waiting to step into this conversation. But let this suffice for now.

I will leave you with one argument in closing, hopefully to peak your curiosity. Consider this as a way of modelling divine plurality which, unlike the classical theist’s model, isn’t intrinsically at odds with the very notion of divinity:

Let a plurality =df. what forms when individuals have something in common. (D)

Assume Divine Simplicity; that God is a way of being whatever it has. (A)

  1. If there is a plurality of Gods, they have something in common. (From D)
  2. If they have something in common, they are each a way of being it. (From A)
  3. If they are each a way of being it, then they are each a way of being one another. (Ex hypothesi)
  4. Therefore, if there is a plurality of Gods, they are each a way of being one another. (1-3, H.S.)

IV. Conclusion

We have covered a lot of ground in a little amount of space. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast with posts such as these. However, I hope to have accomplished at least two things. First, I hope that I represented classical theism as accurately as possible. There will always be summarizations, and unmentioned subtleties. Moreover, ‘classical theism’ is an academic category; a recognition of a broad pattern across diverse thinkers. It’s not really a demographic. Descriptions of classical theists as a group, then, come with the appropriate grains of salt. However, I was a classical theist for years myself, a Thomist in fact, and I know the pains of being misunderstood. Second, I hope that I have helped the reader to see that there is another side to this story. It’s not the only other side, nor even the whole of the side I have brought up. I’ve only but cracked the door ajar, and positive accounts of polytheism will fill in all the blanks you may be wondering about.

For those of you who are wondering what I think that positive account looks like, I’d recommend checking my book out, as well as this summary post. Perhaps even more so, I recommend the works on polytheism of Dr. Edward Butler.

But whether one pursues this any further or not, I believe it is sufficiently clear by any fair standards that the objections of classical theists to polytheism are not anywhere near as obvious as they may otherwise have seemed. Not one of them, I contend, is dialectically successful.

I once again would like to extend an invitation for thinkers to reconsider polytheism, as well as to bring their insights and creativity to the table.

Thank you for reading!


[1]: For whatever reason, Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus are regularly identified as ‘classical theists’ and even as ‘proto-monotheists’. On Plato’s polytheism, see Gerd Van Riel’s 2013 ‘Plato’s Gods‘. For Aristotle’s polytheism, check out Richard Bodeus’ 2000 ‘Aristotle and the Theology of the Living Immortals‘. On Plotinus’ polytheism, see Edward Butler’s 2016 ‘Plotinian Henadology‘.

[2]: Call incoherent or logically impossible actions ‘asdlkfjasd;’. Ward humorously assumes that if a supreme being cannot asdlkfjasd;, such as having power over one who is supreme, then she is not herself supreme. I wonder if he endorsed the ‘rock-too-heavy-to-life’ objection to omnipotence as well.

[3]: In addition to these, there are related sorts of arguments which are less metaphysical, but still go for absurdity. Augustine, for example, argues that the tendency in polytheism to increasingly posit more Gods over time is an indictment against their status as truly divine, (City of God, I.2)

Some Thoughts on Religious Experience

For as long as we’ve been around, human beings have had experiences which cause them to believe that a God is doing something to them — like consoling, watching over or guiding, etc. — or that a God has some property — like being loving, powerful or even great, etc.

It has often been remarked that there is a difference between having these experiences and hearing about them. It’s one thing to have an experience that causes you to believe in a God and another to hear someone say that they had such an experience.

It is alleged that while someone may have reason to hold theistic beliefs after having such an experience, someone who merely hears another claim to have had such an experience does not.

The distinction being drawn here is an important one. There is a difference between your experience directly causing your beliefs, and indirectly causing mine.

Suppose we’re on the phone. I ask you what it’s like outside where you are. You look outside and have a visual experience that directly causes you to think it’s snowing. You tell me “it’s snowing,” and I believe you.

In this case, your experience causes us both to hold the same belief, but it does so directly for you and indirectly for me. (For our purposes, you didn’t lie about having that experience).

However, because I am not having your experience directly, it may not affect me the same way as it does you.

Like if you told me the snow was rainbow colored, and I didn’t think you were just messing around or high, I’d probably say ‘pic or it didn’t happen’. That is, your visual experience caused you to believe, involuntarily and immediately, that the snow was rainbow colored; but the belief itself strikes me as so implausible that I actually doubt that you’re having that experience.

Think about what this means.

Why don’t I just accept that you are having that experience but dismiss the belief it’s causing in you? Why do I automatically doubt that you’re really seeing that?

I think it’s because we recognize that experience implies reality. Or that, reality causes experience.

The only times we have no problem accepting that someone is having an experience even though the belief it’s causing in them is bananas is when we know that it isn’t reality which is causing the experience, but something like hallucinogenics.

Given that there really are religious experiences happening, and that experience implies reality, they should be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

There’s nothing crazy about believing that a God is doing something to you — like consoling you or watching over you, etc. or about believing that a God is loving, powerful or even great, etc. Moreover, there is downright no reason whatsoever to think all or even most religious experiences are caused by perceptually distorting factors.

Gods just aren’t anything like rainbow colored snow: they’re not bizarre transgressive variants of a regularity. In fact, people have been having experiences of seeing them forever now.

So, it takes a lot more to write off religious experiences than just not having had one. Either the idea of Gods must be crazy or it must be clear that the causes of religious experiences do not track truth, and neither one of these has much going for it.

The Emperor has no Clothes

As I stated in the last post, I began this blog in part to confront the spirit of hegemony that’s wormed its way into Pagan and Polytheist circles. This isn’t my favorite thing in the world to do. My passion has always been to bring the tools and insights of philosophy to bear on Pagan and Polytheist beliefs. I want to follow these beliefs to their logical conclusions, discover their hidden assumptions, and defend them from common and academic-level objections. To that end, I spend my time researching Pagan and Polytheist beliefs, studying and practicing different logics, and keeping up to date with academic philosophy of religion. I see this type of work as providing a sort of meta-level service to the Pagan and Polytheist communities in that while I’m not Hindu, or Kemetic, or Druid, or Hellenic, or etc. I work for the sake of all of them. I believe in all of the Gods, I worship many of them, and I hope each of their traditions and communities flourish one day.

So, what am I doing wandering out of my niche little pasture and getting into American politics for?

Because American Paganism is not well, and someone has to say something. Before the movement gets completely hijacked by political elitism and the silent majority become entirely alienated. It’s on the verge of becoming the next victim of the American political mentality that it’s your way or the highway, and everyone else can go to hell.

Now, look. I’m not going to get all this right. I know I’m going to make mistakes. But enough is enough.

So what the hell happened? We can’t commune with one another to study or worship the Gods and pray or sacrifice for justice, or the common good. No. Our common principle isn’t religion anymore! It’s politics. Rituals are now town hall meetings where you can’t participate unless you fling yourself on to the latest, bizarrely specific bandwagon.

If you have no considered view on one of those positions or, Gods forbid, don’t find yourself convinced of them, well…then you’re not a real Pagan! You’re a Christian in disguise. Or some Puritan nonsense.

Folks…why did you even leave Christianity? You clearly weren’t ready. You still want the orthodoxy, the purity, the control. This Paganism stuff ain’t for you!

Let me illustrate this by bringing up one of the Forbidden Subjects.

Take abortion. Did you know that in order to be a Real Pagan ™, you have to have figured the abortion debate out? Yep. And not only that, but you better hope you figured it out…correctly. Otherwise. Ya know. You’re a fake Pagan. In fact, you’re in league with the Devil – or ‘Christianity’, close enough. So, suppose it seems to you that the human fetus is a child in its earliest stage of development and that children, no matter their stage of development, generally deserve to be protected by their parents – even if there are justified exceptions (a popular flavor of ‘pro-life’). Well, then, shame on you. End of discussion. The Gods don’t love you.

Haven’t you read Judith Jarvis Thompson’s A Defense of Abortion!?

As if no one had anything interesting to say in reply to her…in 51 years. I’m so serious. I know it sounds like sarcasm. Gods I wish it was.

You thought when Pagans said things like they revered Nature, cherished Life and harmed none, that this meant human fetuses at least mattered? That if all things are full of Gods, taking a life should be a sober and considered decision? Bigot.

They’re just a clump of cells (somehow, in a way that you aren’t too), and clumps of cells are entirely worthless and disposable.

The truth is your perspective doesn’t matter. They don’t care how things seem to you. It’s their way or the highway. They’ll graciously allow you to hold an opinion, such as that abortions involve dismembering children and for that reason require some moral justification beyond sheer fiat. But they will not allow you to “impose” that opinion on them. By contrast, they forbid you from reciprocating that dynamic: not only are they going to hold an opinion on the matter no matter what you say, but they’re going to shove it down your throat and you’d better say “thank you” when they’re finished. It’s okay for them to trivialize what strikes you as a morally shocking procedure, but it is not okay for you to…be…morally shocked…at child dismemberment. Because that’s forcing births! Your perspective doesn’t matter. You don’t matter.

At least unless you could be useful. You could support The Cause, which is an almost completely undefined political outlook that has more to do with emotional satisfaction than with anything in real life. But if you don’t agree with The Cause? Well, then you’re illiterate, uneducated, unintelligent, or immoral.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have considered views on these extremely complicated matters. We’re too busy with life to figure them out. But roger. Shame on us. Got it. And those of us who have dared to involuntarily form alternative beliefs? We’re the worst.

I wish I did, but I don’t know what to make of abortion: I’ve been reading the best defenders of both sides for too long, and my views have flip flopped over the years (I even defended abortion in a public debate with a Catholic speaker and apologist several years ago). But I’ll be damned if someone is going to condemn me for taking it seriously enough to let the evidence speak for itself, especially when they are lightyears behind me in research.

And the same goes for many of the Forbidden Subjects. Like, transgenderism. I tried to keep up with the literature on gender, but I don’t even know what the hell it’s supposed to be anymore.

By the way, I probably just committed career suicide by mentioning that. It doesn’t matter what I actually said; or that I am bi-sexual, or fairly socially and politically liberal myself. I spoke on not just one, but two Forbidden Subjects!

And it’s not about whether these propositions are true, but whether anything less than absolute certitude or blind faith in them is even morally permissible.

Most of us are not going to have considered views on these dogmas. It’s not even clear what we’re supposed to believe in half the time, and when someone graces us with an explanation, they’re downright aloof and unrelatable.

What started out as a well-intended fight for equality across the spectrum, and a sharp rejection of such things as racism and bigotry has turned into an imperialist bid for power and control over Paganism. The spirit of hegemony was easy to spot on the “right” side of the spectrum, especially in the form of white supremacy. And it continues to be confronted and cut out to this day. But what happens when that same spirit infects the “left” side as well? Do we accommodate it, because it’s on the “left”?

Or do we call it out for its “fascism?” – a term you’d think meant some kind of authoritarian nationalism, but which actually just refers to anything that’s…coercive?

We’re in the overcorrection stage.

So, look. Don’t worry about trying to keep up with them, you couldn’t if you tried. This is not about a list of facts, it’s about their supposed authority to declare things as factual; it’s about deferring to whatever The Cause happens to be today.

American Paganism is turning into political Catholicism at this point, and any failure to celebrate whatever its commitments happen to be right now is an indictment against you on basically every level.

Disagreement is no longer respectable. We are not peers, or equals. If you’re not on board, it’s because something is wrong with you.

It’s not enough, anymore, to protest, donate, vote, publish, pray, or make noise. Now you have to do that with the official name brand Pagan, otherwise…well you’re obviously not Pagan!

This isn’t about tolerating disagreement or playing “nice” with each other; it’s about fundamentally transforming an orthopraxy into an orthodoxy.

But once a Pagan Always a Pagan, I guess. No separation between Grove and State.

Oh, you thought you’d left Christianity? I did too. I imagine a lot of us did.

So, what about the rest of us, floundering about in our unedumacated state of sin? How do we restore sanity? How do we save Paganism from Americanization? How do we stop this spirit of hegemony?

Well, I don’t know, to be frank. But I think speaking freely is a good start. Normalize speaking your mind and take their power away. Despite what they think, this is not a damned Cathedral, it’s a Big Tent. Remind them of the fact of plurality, diversity and complexity. Maybe with time we can restore good sense and will to our communities, and even begin to repair the damages these fanatics have caused between American Paganism and other Pagan or Polytheist communities, like Hinduism.

In the end, maybe this won’t reach many of you, and for those it does, maybe it won’t embolden you. You now have reason to not associate with me, I just painted a big ol’ target on my back, and it’s risky to disagree with the Pagan Magisterium right now; or, really, to do anything but shout their pronouncements from the roof tops. But the Emperor is butt ass naked, and I hope you know that you aren’t the only seeing it.

Trends come and go, but Gods are forever.