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Polytheistic Theology and Ethics

By Dan McCoy

As the astute Christian theologian Paul Tillich noted, “polytheism is a qualitative and not a quantitative concept.” In other words, polytheistic religions don’t hold the same view of divinity and the sacred as monotheistic religions do, as if the only difference were a mere multiplication of the number of deities. Rather, the concepts of “divinity” and “the sacred” mean very, very different things to polytheists and monotheists. And, accordingly, the two worldviews involve very different conceptions of morality or values.

The Sacred and the Profane

In monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the sacred and the profane are dichotomous – that is, they form a pair of mutually exclusive, black-and-white, dualistic opposites that never, ever intersect or overlap. In fact, the entire theology of monotheism can be properly understood as an outgrowth of viewing the sacred and the profane as a dichotomy that corresponds to the other closely related dichotomies at the heart of monotheistic theology: God vs. the world, spirit vs. matter, the soul vs. the body, good vs. evil, being vs. becoming, etc. In all of these other dichotomies, the first element corresponds to the sacred, and the second element corresponds to the profane.

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