The Other Side of the Story

I think for a lot of people, polytheism is like Mariah Carey: it only comes up around Christmas time. When the holiday’s Christian origins have been secured, paganism is carefully placed back into its cryogenic sleep.

But no matter the time of year, polytheism does not figure much at all into today’s philosophy of religion. I mean, every now and then, philosophers will publish the odd argument on polytheism. For example, Harwood explored ‘Polytheism, Pantheism, and the Ontological Argument’ in 1999. Eric Steinhart proposed ordinal polytheism no less than twice in 2012 and 2013, insisting that it merits serious study. 2017 saw Raphael Lataster and Herman Philipse publish ‘The problem of polytheisms: a serious challenge to theism’. And in 2022, Carl-Johan Palmqvist joined the ranks and published ‘The old gods as a live possibility: on the rational feasibility of non-doxastic paganism’. And of course, there are the occasional references to polytheism as a position, but which do not treat it in a focused way – e.g. Swinburne, 145-47; Oppy, 2-4.

But what today’s analytic thinkers have yet to do is consider polytheism in relation to all the evidence or treat it with the same rigor, courtesy and creativity afforded to serious worldview contenders. In other words, today’s thinkers dismiss polytheism rather than refute it. Perhaps this is because polytheism is associated with pagan Gods and at least when it comes to them, for whatever reason, their mythic depictions are taken literally. In this vein, perhaps it just seems incredible that a pagan world could strike anyone as realistic in the 21st century. After all, ideas like reincarnation and divination smack of primitivity or superstition, whereas ideas like resurrection and intercessory prayer are, of course, sophisticated. Aren’t they? Then again, maybe it has nothing to do with such things as inherited impressions. It could simply be a matter of thinking that our time is better spent considering whether any God exists in the first place prior to even getting into how many there are. Indeed, since the difference between polytheism, monotheism, and atheism is just over how many Gods there are, the cards just are stacked in such a way that polytheism is the most initially complicated view on offer. Right? And whether it is, we are nevertheless living in the wake of classical theism, which showed that polytheism is not only impossible but absurd…didn’t it?

What’s interesting is that between the odd philosophers publishing on polytheism nowadays and the philosophers of religion who never notice it, no one seems to be aware of the intricate polytheist philosophical worldviews and takes that already exist, some of which were developed over the course of centuries and even longer. The idea of having to start from scratch in our articulations of polytheism, or of being content with its almost parodic descriptions persists despite the fact that one of the greatest expositors of the metaphysics of polytheism, Proclus, is among the top 5 best of preserved ancient authors.

How can that be? How can readymade alternatives to the ‘start-from-scratch’ method, or to unphilosophical dismissals go unnoticed? The answer, quite simply, is that they are not available. At least, in the West, and mostly for self-inflicted reasons.

And that is why this could be your first-time hearing about any of this.

That’s where I come in. I’m hoping to wake people from their dogmatic slumbers; get them to see the paradigms and narratives that have hegemonically filtered what can be acceptably considered a ‘live possibility’ for an informed, 21st century thinker.

I want you to wonder at the marriage of reason and enchantment; to imagine if our powerhouses in the philosophy of religion turned their exacting minds to the world’s oldest, widespread and longest lasting view of theism? Imagine.

I may sound like the Beatles, but I do sincerely wonder. Would we still think that polytheism is just a mathematically complicated form of theism? Or that it concerns only lower-case ‘g’ gods, and so is secondary in importance to whether there is God? I reckon, if the polytheists are even remotely right, that there would be shifts in paradigm.

But no matter what the results turned out to be, at least we would have done our due diligence prior to reinventing any wheels like there are not living polytheist traditions already around to listen to, or in opposition to any uncritically inherited dispositions toward articulating polytheism in deeply uncharitable and unimaginative ways.

I would like to extend an invitation to all of you, to give pause and thought to this matter, and to introduce all of you to this new series: The Other Side of the Story. Here you will find interviews, dialogues, reviews, guest posts, and presentations of polytheist views that you may otherwise never hear — living as we do in the shadow of hegemony. I intend this to become a reservoir of polytheist history and philosophy.

So, stay tuned for a side of history you’ve probably never heard of; for a side of philosophy that’ll turn everything on its head. Stay tuned for the other side of the story.


Harwood, R. (1999). Polytheism, pantheism, and the ontological argument. Religious Studies 35 (4):477-491.

Lataster, Raphael & Philipse, Herman (2017). The problem of polytheisms: a serious challenge to theism. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 81 (3):233-246.

Oppy, Graham Robert. Describing Gods: An Investigation of Divine Attributes. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Palmqvist, C. (2022). The old gods as a live possibility: On the rational feasibility of non-doxastic paganism. Religious Studies, 1-14

Steinhart, Eric

  • (2012). On the number of gods. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 72 (2):75-83.
  • (2013). On the plurality of gods. Religious Studies 49 (3):289-312.

Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. Clarendon Press, 2014.