1. Beloved of Assur

    Beloved of Assur Active Member

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    Co-existance between one-god worship and polytheism

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Beloved of Assur, Sep 18, 2020.

    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: Posted in the wrong sub-forum. Please, mods, move to setting development.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  2. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Member

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    Off the top of my head: The monotheist Sikh empire was highly tolerant and had Hindus in high office.

    (Tantric) Buddhism was legally recognized in the Orthodox Christian Russian Empire (along with Islam).

    The Muslim Mughals recognized Hindus as “people of the book” (with mixed results).

    The polytheist Mongol empire had no problem with Christians and Muslims as long as they submitted and prayed for the Khan. Many of the Mongol nobles converted to both religions.

    Where my family is from in Malaysia it is common to see mosques and Chinese polytheist temples next to each other and people are generally friends (in other parts of the country things are more sectarian though).

    Of course there are the countless cases of monotheistic views either emerging within polytheism or syncretizing elements of polytheistic religion.

    And nowadays in most secular societies monotheists and polytheists seem to get along fine.

    Usually tolerance is born of necessity or expedience rather than high ideals. If there are lots of people belonging to both groups or at least very important people it is often easier to live and let live.
     
  3. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Contributor Contributor

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    It depends how important the spreading of religion is in the society. Any form of worship, in zero or more gods, can co-exist with one another if the acquisition of followers is not of importance. Most polytheistic religions weren't all that bothered about making other people believe the way they did, and some monotheistic religions were the same.
     
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  4. Beloved of Assur

    Beloved of Assur Active Member

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    I think I agree in that lack of a dominant part and the relation to spreading the word, as one might say, could be the probabe chief factors if there's a societal conflict or not.

    Good, then I know a bit more about what I should aim to craft my setting to produce for the story.
     
  5. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Contributor

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    Classically speaking, the Jews were persecuted (partly) for being monotheistic by their polytheistic Roman and Egyptian neighbors. Their were other political and racial considerations, but they always taught us the god thing was the gateway in history class.
     
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  6. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Member

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    The place of Judaism in Hellenistic religion is interesting and maybe not very well explored in popular treatments. Yes, there was persecution but also a lot of religious interchange. Pagan philosophers began adopting Jewish ideas and vice versa. By the time of Christ, mainstream Judaism would probably have looked pretty strange compared to modern orthodox Judaism. There are references in the letters of Paul to some of these developments- for instance, the worship of angels referenced in Colossians, which was an example of Jewish-pagan syncretism. Paul's idea of archons ruling the world and blocking our communication with heaven is also very Hellenistic. His juxtaposition of the psychical body versus the spiritual body of the resurrection comes out of this milieu as well. Christianity as it developed very much carried on this inheritance, especially in the heavy reliance on Platonism and Stoicism in theology and spirituality. Some of the church fathers talk about the eucharist using language borrowed from pagan philosopher-magicians regarding theurgy.

    Gnosticism and hermeticism are also, to varying degrees, expressions of the interaction of Judaism and Hellenistic paganism.
     
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  7. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    Several factors would come into play. Much would depend on the teachings of the religions. Do they teach: 'This is the one and only true faith, the one true form of morality, etc'? All alternatives might then be viewed as evil and the work of the devil. Monotheist believers could easily adopt such a view whereas it would be more difficult for polytheist believers since alternatives would exist within their belief system.

    Another issue to consider is the enthusiasm with which the people believe. If their religion is little more than a tradition they pay lip-service to, they'd be likely unconcerned if their neighbours did something different. In contrast, enthusiastic believers may feel duty-bound to fight for good over evil and cleanse the country of what they believe to be the degenerate, immoral and polluting presence of the others.

    You might also consider how integrated the peoples are. Would a monotheist person be likely to have a polytheist person as a neighbour? Personal contact with the 'others' would certainly encourage tolerance. If, on the other hand, the others all live in their own area on the other side of the city, fear of the unknown comes into play.

    How integrated is the prevailing religion in society? Is it taught in schools as fact? Do local government meetings start with a time of prayer? Such issues can provoke disputes as they would be seen as unfair by those who do not believe in that way.
     
  8. Beloved of Assur

    Beloved of Assur Active Member

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    I'll start with saying that the setting for this is inspired by Antiquity. While I have considered a Bronze Age, Iron Age, Classical Antiquity, Hellenistic Age and Late Antiquity as main inspiration, I think that I am settling in on a Late Antiquity Western Roman Empire as the kind of inspirational basis for the setting I want to write in. Now, I am not writing historical fiction so there will be many elements taken from other places and times. Yet for the sake of the discussion it might be useful for others in the thread to know a little about what kind of context I am thinking about.

    The part I'm looking for is that I have three main scenarios in regards to religion; polytheism, co-existance and monotheism. I am not terribly interested in writing a story where the struggle between polytheism and monotheism is a major part. So I figure that its either that there's no monotheism, peace between the two or the conversion to monotheism has already taken place and is a done deal. Thus I am looking for if a peaceful co-existance between monotheism and polytheism is actually possible given the history of the world, or if I'm better off going fully in one direction or another.

    Otherwise you raise many good and interesting ideas and provoke thoughts. The only thing that I can comment on is that in the setting the religion will be an important aspect of life. Probably not as important as in RL historical periods but still a far shot from a secular setting.
     
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  9. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    In a fictional story, rather than think of what would work best, I'd be inclined to favor that which would work badly. You could have a range of ideas that seem good enough in theory for a society to adopt them but dysfunctional in practice so as to produce tensions and sub-plots. Universal monotheism may serve society well but might also lead to a dull story. With nothing to counter it, it might also come across as a bit preachy.

    You can certainly have a believable peaceful co-existence. I doubt that would be based on any formal agreement as there would be fundamental disagreement in the views. You could have a general tolerance of disagreement. Rather than be actively opposed to each other, you could have your characters petitioning their gods for the demise of the other religious system, and then wondering why nothing happens, making excuses, etc. In any society, there will be a variety of attitudes. Some people won't care much for their own religion, whilst others will be keen advocates. If the enthusiasts are viewed as crackpots whose views shouldn't be taken seriously, there won't be much of a problem. If the enthusiasts are the community leaders who could motivate a mob, there would. Personal context also comes into play. Some people will be keen on their faith when they are at their place of worship but not give it a second thought otherwise.
     
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  10. Lazaares

    Lazaares Senior Member

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    Understand that the line between Polytheism and Monotheism is not an either-or divide but a spectrum like any other. Christianity did not just came to be, Hellenism did not just disappear - the two morphed with eah other.

    Late hellenism featured a lot of monotheism in the form of Sol Invictus. The pantheon changed from almost-equal gods to become reflections of one supreme essence. This isn't all too far from early Christianity and their revered saints (saints that conveniently paralleled lesser hellenic gods and their spheres).

    This is further complicated when you consider the view still widely shared amongst Christians: that the gods of the New and Old testament are separate entities (they are rather contradictory in nature, after all). The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as a trinity reflect the Gnostic demiurge, archons and the Monad. This is the most prominent polytheistic thought still present in Christianity (although indirectly), as it opposes the all-creator with the physical creator.

    TL/DR it isn't only possible, but was very much the way religions developed. Monotheistic religions had polytheistic understanding to them and vice versa.
     
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  11. Beloved of Assur

    Beloved of Assur Active Member

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    Thanks you for your posts @Aled James Taylor and @Lazaares . Interesting perspectives and all which I shall retire with and so how I can potentially mend together something for my setting, or alternatively make a final choice. I will not say that I agree with everything you wrote but interesting posts nonetheless.

    Hopefully I shall return with how I handled this subject for my story.
     
  12. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Imagine a Christian who goes to Marvel movies and reads comics and is more inspired by Iron Man's sacrifice than Jesus Christ's ;)
     
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  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    lets stick to discussing facts about religions as is appropriate to the setting development forum, this here is not the debate room so we don't need to hear anyone's opinion about the merits or otherwise of specific religions in the real world

    The posts concerned have been deleted
     
  14. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Contributor Contributor

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    Keep in mind that whenever two religions co-exist, there will inevitably be syncretism between the two. Depending on which one came first, the culture will adopt some of the symbolism and practises of the later one and adapt them.

    A sort-of example of the two co-existing is Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan. Theravada Buddhism is technically a one-god religion but Mahayana (the type practised in Japan) Buddhism isn't. To the outsider, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two - in fact, the largest temple in Tokyo, the Sensou-ji in Asakusa has a Shinto shrine on its grounds.

    When Christianity arrived in Japan, at first, it con-existed. Christian narratives were framed in a Japanese context, with Jesus being likened to a Buddha. There were conversions, although a lot of these, at least amongst the ruling class, were driven by a desire to access Portuguese guns. Eventually, Christianity was outlawed by Hideyoshi, who didn't like the idea of his daimyo pledging allegiance to the Pope - he was strictly of the view that a man should only have one mater, i.e. him.
     
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  15. Beloved of Assur

    Beloved of Assur Active Member

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    This is of course very much true and certainly interesting points.
     
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  16. Le Panda Du Mal

    Le Panda Du Mal Member

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    Theravada Buddhism has actually picked up various protector deities and such on its own in Thailand, Cambodia, etc. There is even "tantric" Theravada with mantras, magick, etc. One thing I've learned is that there really is no point in trying to define what a "pure" version of a religion is.
     
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  17. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    A very very long time ago, Jews were polytheistic. They WORSHIPPED a single god. When they left Egypt, they did not believe that Yewah was real and Rah was not. Both very real to them, they simply only worshipped the one. The hardline that there is only one god came centuries later. In fact, you can see it fairly clearly in the commandments: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." It doesn't say false gods, I am the only god, simply, I'm the TOP god for you.
     

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