So recently I’ve been reading a book by John Michael Greer called “A World Full Of Gods.” I found this book fascinating. Its essential premise is that being a polytheist i.e. believing in multiple gods rather than one (monotheism) or none (atheism) is just as logical and intellectually defensible as other forms of belief.
The author outlines the arguments in favour of the monotheist god who is “all powerful, all knowing and benevolent” e.g. the teleological argument, the cosmological argument and so on and points out quite convincingly that all these arguments (except the easily disprovable ontological argument), if valid, could support a belief in multiple gods.
He then considers the other side of the equation and looks at the atheist arguments against the existence of god. Here he shows that really, while they are very effective reasons for not believing in monotheism, none of them really can be used to counter polytheism.
He then raises the crux of the argument – that millions of people throughout history, in many different places, from many different religions, have had many different religious experiences. That is something no one can deny. Now some religions will claim that only the experiences of those in their religion are true experiences and everyone else’s are “from the devil” but that really is just special pleading. Greer argues that it makes much more logical sense that these people are experiencing many different gods than one god because the experiences are so different and there are so many different gods believed in because of them.
Now the clear atheist argument to this is simple – you cannot trust personal experience i.e people delude themselves. I have to be honest, despite being a fundamentalist Christian for 10 years, I never once had an unexplainable religious experience, though people within my own family have. I have no way to judge for myself whether people’s experiences are real….and that is something I need to be more humble in admitting to myself. Yesterday, I was reading the blog of Druid Priest John Beckett and his post said “Religious experiences are plainly real – the question is how we interpret them.”
And that has got me thinking. Greer’s book makes a very good argument why polytheism is a much more logical fit with reason and evidence than monotheism is, but he doesn’t really address the atheist arguments for why religious experiences might just all be “in our heads.” That said, suppose these experiences aren’t just “in our heads,” suppose they are real, just suppose that the many millions of people around the world really have had true religious experiences and encounters with something more and aren’t just deluding themselves. What if their “interpretations” of their experiences are more correct than my “interpretations” of their experiences? There’s so much we still don’t know about the universe. Where does that leave things???
What are your thoughts?