In a lot of contemporary theology, and the discussions of philosophy therein, deity is often conceived of in terms that are highly dependent on not only Abrahamic monotheism, but the many variations and responses to those traditional perspectives – whether from ostensibly spiritual, esoteric or secular philosophies. But of particular note in western theological discussion, is the role of deity in human affairs – as well as their role in nature itself. In much of the history of western theology, as well as in Eastern Orthodox and Islamic philosophies – sometimes deemed as oriental by theologians centuries ago, the universe was conceived of in Aristotelean terms; All of the cosmos was thought of as neatly conforming to well-defined, finely articulated natural laws – as formed by an external, omnipotent creator, who intercedes into nature for the purposes of guiding human destiny and creating miracles in creation.
In the centuries following the initial adoption of Christianity in the western world – particularly during the Renaissance and The Enlightenment, various alternative philosophies were posited in contrast to this core theological doctrine. Some philosophies, such as Pantheism, argued that deity is integrated within the cosmos, while others, such as Deism, argued that their creator, as they saw them, was either partially or entirely divorced from human affairs. This is why, understandably, deistic thought is particularly compatible with humanistic ideas – which hold human agency as the most important ethical concern, and laid the ground work for both Secular Humanism and Atheism as a whole. Unsurprisingly, Deism was highly influential in western thought, and has often been considered to be a middle ground between Christian religiosity and the naturalism of contemporary Atheism. In reality, these ideologies ultimately exist on one side of the theological spectrum – arguing that deity is unattached to the affairs of men to varying degrees. Christians and other Abrahamic monotheists, by in large, argue that miracles exist, including the miracle of creation, whereas Atheists essentially believe that existence itself is a naturalistic miracle without meaning. Deists try to reconcile these two positions with different approaches, but they are ultimately more like Atheists metaphysically.
On the other side of the theological spectrum are all the various worldviews which run contrary to the exoteric, Aristotelean ideologies that have dominated western thinking – even in the present era. In many eastern religions – especially traditions like Shintoism or certain sects of Hinduism, deity is not only involved in the affairs of men but is so integrated into nature that the behaviors of both men, flora, fauna and natural forces themselves are regarded as manifestations of various gods and goddesses. This concept is best understood as immanence, and is present in most religions that have existed throughout time – including the aforementioned eastern religions, as well as surviving indigenous traditions, esoteric orders, and the polytheistic reconstructionist religions that I have explored for decades. Though the immanence of the gods is conceived of in often different ways across cultures, the core idea of the relationship between gods and men is ultimately the same: mortals contribute to the sacred balance of the world with the genuine, meaningful contributions of civilization – in harmony with nature and the will of the gods and goddesses.
In practical terms, the difference between polytheism and both monotheism and atheism become quite clear. Whereas monotheists and atheists argue for a world where meaning exists hermeneutically from natural phenomenon – something that can only be parsed through the linear, orthodox dogma of either holy scripture or scientism, the world of traditional polytheism is a richly diverse, non-linear exploration of the inherent sanctity of not only natural cycles, but also transcendent, multifarious expressions of gods and goddesses through ancient mythological cycles. It is this rigorousness and flexibility that makes polytheism ideally suited for people who have become tired of the rigidity and absolutism of both monotheism and atheism and are looking for alternatives that express the granular, complex spiritual ideals embodied through ancient theological immanence; This is why I feel very hopeful for the future of spirituality. In time, I think more and more people will just abandon the farce of “the great debate” and seek out meaningful spirituality that suits the diverse temperaments of people living today – as much as they did in the past. Much like the gods and goddesses themselves, these spiritual truths will outlast the petty dogmas that have contaminated western thinking for centuries. Polytheism will continue to grow and flourish in a world where the ugliness of cancel culture has strengthened our resolve, and taught even the meekest of us that it is worth standing up for our right to do and believe as we wish.