Saturday, March 29, 2008

Democracy and Monotheism: A Match Made in Tartarus

For most of human history, we've been polytheistic, or at least animistic. Many archaeologists believe that monotheism makes its first appearance in Egypt in the 18th dynasty under Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (who changed his name to Akhenaten in deference to his exclusive worship of Aten). Sigmund Freud even argued in his book Moses and Monotheism that the exposure to the cult of Aten was what inspired the worshipers of Yahweh in Mosaic ancient Israel to struggle to elevate their tribal god to the same stature. They were successful at it a bit later, but Akhenaten was not. Egypt reverted to its polytheistic ways and Akhenaten got all of his cartouches chipped off his monuments for his trouble.

Monarchy, in one form or another, is a method of social organization that far predates our emergence into sentience. Any random pack of dogs thrown together will select an alpha dog and proceed about their canine business quite happily. Given that, we can safely assume that as world-organizing concepts go, polytheism and monarchy were the norm for many thousands of years. They probably jostled each others shoulders from time to time, but that was likely about it.

Long about 500 BCE, the lovely city of Athens in Greece came up with a new idea for organizing society called democracy. Athenian democrats (yes, I decided to phrase it that way to poke any Republicans reading this blog) were fairly extreme in their application of the concept. They didn't elect representatives to vote for them, all eligible voters voted on everything! One of my favorite things to point out to patriotic Christian Americans is that their beloved democracy was invented by people who worshipped Zeus, Athena, Apollo, etc. I'm just mean that way.

Anyhoo. While all this was going on in Attica, over in ancient Israel, the followers of Yahweh were doing a pretty fair job of elevating their deity to a supreme position. I suppose I ought to mention that there is extensive documentation of the fact that the pre-Mosaic (and some post) Israelites were polytheistic. That's where most of the exotic-sounding demon names in the Bible come from. Ba'al was the deity of the Yahwist's chief political rivals, so a special place in demonology is reserved for his name.
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So now in a human society that was comfortably used to being organized by polytheism and monarchy, we now have competing models. Polytheism versus monotheism, and monarchy versus democracy.

I smell trouble


lcdseattle said...

The possible connection between political and religious forms makes me wonder if Anarchists and Atheists might go together too, but seeing as I don't care about either of those groups I doubt I'll do any research.

Thanks for making us think,


Peter V. said...

There is more recent scholarship that persues the concept of monotheistic monarchy. That is there is a a one God that is worshipped (ie God the Father, El or Elyan or Eloheim) who has given divinity to others but more particularly his Son (Jesus Christ, Ywhw). But despite all things going through and by the son by whom all things werre created and made, we still worship the one God (the Father) in the name of the Son. This takes nothing from the Father at all. This also breaks down the creation ex nihilo, because the son was with the Father (God) in the beginning and was also God but not the one God (see John chapter one).
Attempts at reconciling the worship of one God the Church fathers got all worked up to the point where the council of Nicea came up with the most confusing, contradictory gobbeldy goop of a definition for god including the concept of creation ex nihilo. Neither of which was believed by the Jews or the early Christians. Unfortunately many who read the texts (that are included in scripture and some that are not) read with the Nicean concepts a priori.
Creation ex nihilo cannot be found in the bible and in fact the waters are NEVER created in Genesis but are already there, part of the already existant chaos that God with helpers used to create (organize) the earth.
Just a few thoughts to explore.