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Co-existance between one-god worship and polytheism

Discussion in 'Research' started by Gurkhal, Sep 18, 2020.

  1. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    Just a question for a topic. Is it possible to have some form of one-god-only worship co-exist with polytheist traditions beyond mere individual level?

    I mean a monotheist and a polytheist person can certainly co-exist in peace, but when it comes to general society and institutions it usually does not become so easy.

    Historical examples would be very much appreciated.

    EDITED: Probably in the wrong sub-forum. Please, mods, move this to world building.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Historical monotheistic religions have all been pretty intolerant of polytheism, so just on that side alone I'd say there's no help on that front. Speaking *very* broadly, and restricting to pre-modern eras, monotheistic religions will tolerate a fair amount of divergence in beliefs and practices, but will insist that you honor the one god and not try to preach more than one god. That seems to be a line that cannot be crossed.

    Polytheistic religions have a more complicated history. They can absorb a great many "new" gods but at the same time won't hesitate to draw their own uncrossable lines. You'd have to look at specifics for more.

    But there's some gray here. What do you mean by "beyond ... individual level?" You're probably envisioning how the Roman Empire was tolerant of Christians (and others) so long as those people observed Roman religious traditions publicly while keeping their weird monotheism private. Someone else will have to lay out why Rome tolerated Judaism for generations before abruptly turning on them in the first century AD. But when religion gets to the institutional level, things get more difficult.

    I'll turn the question around. How do you picture co-existence working, regardless of historical precedent?
     
  3. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Henotheism is the belief in multiple gods, but veneration of one above all. Monolatry expands on it by claiming only one god is worthy of worship, while still accepting the existence of other gods.

    Google those terms and you will find examples, from dualist religions such as Zoroastrianism and forms of Gnosticism, to streams of thought within Hinduism and ancient Hellenism.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I had never encountered this word until now, and I'm sure I'll forget it, but I'm glad I know it exists.

    In the setting I've created, there are multiple gods. The pantheon is vast, and most of it hasn't been fleshed out.

    There are plenty of churches/religions (not sure that term applies) devoted to one or more of the gods in the pantheon, and there are churches devoted to gods that don't exist at all but which people believe in anyway. For the most part, and especially in the more civilised parts of the world, the various churches are able to coexist peacefully, but not everywhere.
     
  5. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    India springs to mind.
    Not an easy peace to be sure, but Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism and probably a dozen others rub along together. And have done for a very long time. There has to be a political [big P and small p] and societal will for it to happen.
     
  6. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    This would become a lot more complicated if those polytheist pantheons were 'real' and interacted with people. :)
     
  7. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    I agree. The whole notion of monotheism kind of falls if you allow or promote the worship of more than the one true god (excluding saints, ikons, angels and stuff directly connected to the one true god but not being gods themselves). Hence the importance of drawing a line there.

    I also agree with this. Someone once explained it to me that in polytheism there's a relation between two communities, gods and mortals, which needs to work for everyone's benefit. And from this I think that in terms of monotheism its more of a relation between the community of mortals to a distant mentor and leader. While in polytheism its more about a huge community with both mortals, spirits, gods etc. and we try to keep that society harmonious while understanding that some people have more power than others and everyone wants both the same and very different things.

    I mean that a monotheist and a polytheist can reasonably be friends and hang out, as two individuals. But relations between groups of monotheists and polytheists are usually not so friendly with each other. I am thinking of several instances where monotheists and polytheists have either been able to live together or not. Both in cases which have been celebrated and condemned.

    As a general live and let live attitude and finding a common ground in values to focus on.

    Being interested in religion I am aware of these concepts. Yet to me it seems like these are twists on a polytheistic framework and not actual monotheism. So I am was more looking for co-existance between an Abrahamitic religion and polytheism than say between Mithraism and general polytheism.

    I love it! I love messy settings with a ton of characters and stuff in them. Lean settings where nothing is added that won't be directly relevant in the story bores me and I grow detached as opposed to attracted to them. Hence my love for Westeros and Tolkien. :p

    I fear I know to little of India's history to comment on this. :(

    So it would. But I am afraid that's not the story I want to write. Religion being active in people's lives is something I like, if religion is added to the world, but gods actually walking around is something I don't like. I like to read about flawed people and actual active gods don't add much to this dimension in my opinion.
     
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm not a fan of Walking Gods (sequel to Walking Dead), either, but I know there are lots of people who love that. All are welcome.

    There's no co-existence in Altearth, but I've flipped it. Since I have the Roman Empire survive, I have Roman culture survive, which includes polytheism. This gets stretched in various directions but the old state religion of Rome is still there. The Abrahamic faiths never got off the ground in Altearth. Were you to go there, you'd find minor cults but that's all.

    I do have monotheists, though. They're orcs.

    The orcs arrive worshipping the one true god, the Sun. I haven't much developed the details, but there are dollops of Mithraism and Zoroastrianism, but the key is that the orc religion is intolerant. All other beliefs are beliefs in demons (not other gods; there are no other gods), emissaries of darkness, which must be eliminated.

    Once they arrived, the orcs looked around for the biggest dude on the block, which was Rome. They proceeded to copy just about everything, so they have formed their army into legions, they have an Imperator, but he rules in conjunction with the chief shaman (need a title for that one). Everything the orcs do is couched in terms of the religious enterprise of bringing light to a world in darkness.

    Polytheism is never so violent as when faced with monotheism. Rome wants all gods to coexist and all practices to coexist, at least so long as those gods and practices don't start calling for an end to Roman practice. When that happens, Rome has no problem squashing such nonsense. The Orc Imperium is the only thing too big for Rome to squash, at least for a good many centuries.
     
  9. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    I agree with this, in case something got the impression I menat something else.

    EDITED: And for the "Rosarian Empire" I am trying to decide if I want a full polytheist setting or a monotheist one (, spiced with additions of angels, saints and so on as part of the monotheist religion with a great many ways to express itself).
     
  10. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    If you want ideas for titles for a high priest of the sun, here are a few.

    Solarch
    Solarex
    Solarion
    Solax
     
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  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Solax sounds like a laxative. Solarex sounds like a watch. Solarion sounds like a villain in a 60s SF movie.

    But I like Solarch, for all that it's Greek. <g>
     
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  12. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    ;)
     
  13. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    ...or perhaps a raid boss in World of Warcraft. :p
    High Astromancer Solarian
     
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  14. There's a few things to dig into I think

    Is the god or are the gods real in your world? And if they are, do they directly influence the world or not? I think this will have an impact on how people view religion and their god(s).

    Which is the dominant religion? The impression I get is that peaceful coexistence is possible under a couple of circumstances:
    - the polytheistic religion is the dominant one: A polytheistic religion doesn't mind an extra deity too much, as long as they can fit it into their beliefs somewhere
    - the monotheistic religion is fairly peaceful: if it preaches intollerance and the subversion of all other religions then coexistence will be more difficult.

    How prosperous / stable is the society: what I remember from my history is that as long as countries or regions are prosperous then people are more tolerant of other religions and people will generally be left to their own idea's. However, if things are declining then the other religions are an easy target and things can get intollerant really fast.

    An example of this is early islam. I think for a decent time after the initial expansion the islam was fairly tolerant of other religions. People could go on pilgrimages to the holy land and they could practise whichever religion they wanted, as long as they didn't do it too openly. This changed when the fortunes of the islamic states changed and they had to deal with losses and economic troubles. They became a lot less tollerant of anything not islamic, with them making it harder for pilgrims to reach the holy land one of the causes for the crusades. Though, with skip.knoxskip.knox we have our resident expert on this piece of history, so I'm hesitant to make any claims to the accuracy of my memory regarding this...
     
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Honest disclaimer: I'm not at all an expert on Islam. I know a bit about it because I've studied and taught the Crusades, so learning about Islam is unavoidable, but it's from a certain perspective and over a comparatively limited time period. I do have some knowledge of general history of Islam in the Mediterranean and eastern Europe up to the later 17thc. All this means that a fer-reelz historian of Islam will have more to say than I will venture.

    Anyway. In the early phases of Islam, the religion was violently intolerant of paganism, specifically of the animism of the tribes of Arabia and North Africa. With them it was convert or die.

    As the faith encountered other powers such as Persia or Byzantium, it fell closer to straight power politics. Islam never, in the areas I know about, contented itself with being the minority subject to a different faith. So, there were lots of wars. Which Islam mostly won, for the first century plus a bit. Then internal splits complicated the steady expansion and I'll stop there.

    The tolerance mentioned is very likely the explicit toleration of Islam for Christianity and Judaism, the so-called People of the Book. That tolerance came from the foundation of the faith. Those people were allowed to have churches, practice their religion openly, and sometimes even keep their own laws. In exchange they paid a special tax and refrained from proselytizing. How Christians or Jews were treated in specific cases of course varied with time and circumstance.

    Why and how that early medieval tradition changed would take a whole book to discuss!
     
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  16. J.W. Golan

    J.W. Golan Scribe

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    I would add a slightly different interpretation to this subject: it’s not so much about whether monotheistic and polytheistic religions can coexist in the same society. They can and do in our modern world, and have done so successfully at various crossroads throughout history. It’s really a question about whether any religion can coexist once it becomes the political or state religion - tied to the keys to political power.

    If your ruler or ruling class claims political authority by means of “divine right,” then they cannot tolerate any religion that would deny that divine authority. The Seleucid Empire is a case in point, where a polytheistic state religion saw alternative, monotheistic religions as a threat - and attempted to suppress them.

    Tolerance is not about whether a society is monotheistic or polytheistic, so much as it’s about whether a religion holds political power, and whether that state religion sees other religious practices as a threat to its supremacy.
     
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  17. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I believe peoples will always find reasons to have friction with each other, and religion is sometimes a means to do so. I think there are plenty of examples where this happens, monotheistic and pantheistic believers getting along together, including in America and in much of western culture (there are also plenty of examples of where it did not....so...). Many humanist religions carry a message that hating on others is bad, and hurts the soul of a believer even if it is against unbelievers. While religion alone may become a cause of friction, there are usually a lot of contributing reasons as well.
     
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