Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The similarity between polytheism and atheism

 A famous quote from Stephen Roberts says "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” If you look at that quotation, it would appear that monotheism is more similar to atheism than polytheism. But in another important sense, atheism and polytheism are similar. Both polytheists and atheists believe that what controls events in the universe, what will determine everyone’s ultimate destiny, has not interest in right or wrong. The causal structure of the world is morally indifferent, in the case of polytheism because there are many deities but none with ultimate power or moral authority, and in the case of atheism because events in the universe are ultimately purposeless, and once again no being is morally authoritative. The monotheistic religions and philosophies maintain, by contrast, that events in the universe are aimed at a moral purpose, moving toward a final triumph of righteousness.


Starhopper said...

I've often laughed at that particular atheist argument ("I just believe in one less God than you do."). Why? Because I, as a monotheistic Christian, have no problem in believing in Zeus, Odin, Isis, Ra, Vishnu, or Ishtar... as long as they are regarded as humanity's imperfect understanding of the one true deity in the absence of explicit revelation.

I've told this story more than once before, but I still recall the moment like it was 5 minutes ago, when I was standing in front of a 2000+ year old statue of the goddess Aphrodite in the British Museum in London. It hit me like a thunderclap. Here was not just a statue of a beautiful woman, but a depiction of GOD. I could hardly stand, I was so overwhelmed by the implications of this.

Now truth to tell, I have never come across this particular argument outside of the internet. But if I ever did, I have my answer ready, which is "You believe in thousands of less Gods than I do, because to me they are all one. I believe in them all."

C.S. Lewis (This is a website about Lewis, right?) dealt with this in one of his Narnia books (I can't remember which one), where a worshiper of a false God realized after his encounter with Aslan that he had unknowingly been worshipping the one true God all along - in ignorance.

Sogn said...

You're thinking of The Last Battle, the final book of the series, and the character was a Calormene soldier named Emeth, if memory serves. A lovely inclusivist understanding of salvation, far from the harsh soteriology of most of the evangelicals who held Lewis in such high esteem.