Polytheism Essay

2739 words - 11 pages

Polytheism

Reproduced, with permission, from THE FUTURIST, Published by the World Future Society, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, Maryland 20814 Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a fictional account of a madman who went about the town proclaiming that "God is dead." Nietzsche's story is illustrative of a wave of atheism that spread through the intellectual circles of Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but that never caught on in society at large. The idea of the divine demise, however, did not die: A movement by theologians resurrected Nietzsche's thesis in the 1960s, amidst the other forms of radical thinking that characterized that decade. The cover of Time magazine for April 8, 1966, summarized it best with the boldfaced headline, "Is God Dead?" Despite the theologians' doubts, the next few decades marked a rise of religious fundamentalism among many Christians and Muslims and a return to traditionalist thinking among many Jews. Today, 96% of the U.S. population say they believe in God, a slight increase compared with surveys done half a century earlier. If he were to appear today, Nietzsche's madman would still find that he had come too early. What is the future of God? Will He ever truly die? One difficulty in answering these questions is the word "God." It may seem like a simple word, but "God" doesn't mean the same thing to everybody: Various images and ideas of the deity appear throughout different times and cultures. So the first issue we need to look at is semantic. We need to study the way people have understood God in the past and what they believe today. Then we can address what concept of God is emerging for future believers. MANY GODS OR ONE GOD? One common theory about the Western image of a single, distinct God is that He arose out of a more ancient era of polytheism. Indeed, the first books of the Bible tell how the Israelite God Yahweh forbids his people to bow down before other gods, suggesting the existence of parallel deities. In many cultures today, God is not singular: A tribe of deities perform their individual tasks and attract their own followings. Hindus, for example, have never found reason to abandon their pantheon. While polytheism may seem primitive to Westerners, who have been reared with the idea that there can be only one God, it does have certain advantages and may not be merely a less sophisticated predecessor of monotheism. For one thing, if there are many gods, it may be easier to find one whose job description best fits your needs. If you are an artist or an expectant mother, you might be able to seek the assistance of a god specially attuned to your situation and more comforting to you than a god who controls the weather (who might be favored by farmers). More importantly, having a variety of gods who specialize in different aspects of life relieves the single great deity of attending to a multitude of specific...

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