I had a conversation with a Christian today that didn’t devolve into an argument. I understand enough about Christianity and monotheism in general that I understand that the gods within those systems tend to work with a supremacy clause – either:I am the only god in existence” or “I am the only god worthy of worship” or a combination of the two. For all the Abrahamic faiths, I’d say it’s generally a combination.
Anyway, she was attempting to understand my views and beliefs – after telling me that she didn’t view my religion as a religion at all – which is such a knee-jerk, commonplace reaction that I no longer get angry, but I still roll my eyes at it (if I got angry every time it happened, I’d be perpetually angry, and, as I said to a friend recently, I refuse to invest in anger). She said that she understood that people used to believe in there being gods for everything, that they saw the moon as a god, the sun as a god, the wind as a god, etc. And I give her credit – she was trying so hard to understand, but she was doing so from a monotheistic worldview.
Polytheism is difficult, at best, for even us, as polytheists, to articulate. Because it comes in so many flavors, so many varieties – for some polytheists, maybe the moon is a god. For some of us, there are multiple gods who are associated and/or responsible for the moon. For others, there may only be a single moon god – who knows? The possibilities, the varieties, are endless. To explain those varieties to a monotheist who clings to the Bible as the literal truth (that was expressed during the conversation) is virtually impossible.
The most interesting part of the conversation, however, happened when she asked about the concept of sin. And I tried to explain that sin doesn’t really exist – I mean, there are technically two “sins” in the Norse framework (oath-breaking and kin-killing), but there is no concept of humanity being inherently flawed. I’m not sure that there is a concept of sin at all in the Hellenistic world – I think the closest one comes is in accumulating an overabundance of miasma, but that can be cleansed. And I honestly just don’t know if the concept of sin exists outside of Abrahamic religions at all – which made that a difficult topic. I guess it’s an area I need to do more research in, so that when Christians ask that question, I can properly answer it. I just wasn’t expecting such an in-depth inquiry.
And then we got to a question that illustrates one of the fundamental differences between Abrahamic faiths and polytheistic faiths. She asked, “So what do your gods tell you to do?” Like she expected me to list out a set of edicts and commands that the gods had set forth to be followed. Maybe the gods of monotheism want their followers to do everything to the letter, to be perfect little soldiers, but those aren’t the gods I know. And I wouldn’t – and don’t – follow gods that demand perfect obedience from me.
The gods I honor have never demanded perfect obedience from me. In fact, they have never demanded my loyalty, my friendship, or the sacrifices I make for them. Everything I have done for the gods – and continue to do for them – is done because I made a choice. Odin didn’t ask me to swear an oath to him, to become one of his warriors – he made an offer, and I accepted it. I swore fealty to him on my own, bound myself to him of my own volition. It was never a command.
I didn’t become Loki’s priest because he commanded me to do so. He asked me if I wanted to do it, and I chose. I stepped into the opportunity he offered – I made the decision on my own. I was never forced into the position. Loki would never force anyone into anything – that’s just not who he is.
I have never done anything for the gods I call friends, whom I honor with my offerings, prayers, libations, and rituals, against my will. I have never been presented with an ultimatum from any of them. I have been offered hard choices, and I have always been told that the path I choose to walk is my own.
Perhaps, in this, my Celtic ancestry shows through. I am loyal to the gods who have never attempted to command it, in the same way Celtic warriors were loyal only to the men who proved themselves worthy of the title of warlord. Those men never demanded loyalty from their warriors – they simply earned it. That reflects the way that I have come to know the Norse gods. I’m not loyal to them because they demand it – I am loyal to them because they have inspired me to it.
But to explain that to a Christian who views the Bible as the literal truth, other religions (and therefore other gods) as falsehoods, and cannot envision a god who doesn’t command – well, there’s the crux of the problem. We don’t have gods who lead us through our lives with laid-out commands or promise us impossible rewards. We have gods who will throw us out of nests to teach us to fly and show us that the benefits in life can be reaped only after the ordeals we endure.
To be a polytheist is to embrace a multitude of experience, of perspectives, and of the way life itself is lived. Monotheists can’t think that way – their religions promote a singular truth, a single perspective, a single experience. Tunnel vision is a problem only monotheists have – there’s truth to the statement that polytheism can easily incorporate monotheism, but monotheism leaves no room for anything but itself. Because of that, finding acceptance in the monotheistic society we live within may prove to be close to impossible, but that’s one battle I refuse to stop fighting. That’s the mistake the polytheists of old made, and it’s one I won’t repeat – our polytheistic religions are valid. And I will not back down from any monotheist who tries to convince me that I am somehow less human than them because I’m not like them. If there’s any cause in the world I’ll raise a banner for, it’s for polytheists.