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Religions and the elephant



Rob Gaudet retorts: "You seem to believe in some form of social Darwinism for religion--ie that all religions should "progress" to some higher form that centers upon monotheism. This view was prominent about 100 years ago and, since, it has fallen from grace. Nowadays, enlightened scholars in religion assume that there is no upward progression. To assume that there is progress towards monotheism is a form of cultural imperialism and religious myopia. There is no evidence that monotheism is any better, more progressive, or more intelligent than polytheism. I happen to be monotheistic. However, I respect the right of others to believe in polytheism.

If you ever travel to Delphi in Greece or, even, Nepenthe in the Big Sur part of California you'll see wondrous nature. Pagan gods of nature (like the Pan worshipped by the Greeks) have brought people closer to this beautiful nature than has an abstract God. That's sad but true. Perhaps that's why today's Nepenthe has a somewhat pagan feel despite the fact that it's in a God-fearing country.

Anyhow, my point is that there is no 'progress' from polytheism to monotheism. That was the assumption of Sir James George Frazier in The Golden Bough but he and other like-minded British scholars have been discredited. Their theory of "progress" in religion involved more fantasy than fact".

My retort: These are strong words. Instead of saying "discredited", say unpopular in our multicultural society, which believes that any culture is as good as another. This brings me back to my old complaint about Jewish anthropologists who, having escaped from the horrors of Nazism, shout, when talking about Aztec human sacrifices, "DON'T BE JUDGMENTAL!" Well, judgment is an important human quality, and I condemn both the Nazis and Aztec human sacrifices. The Judeo Christian tradition proclaims the beauty of nature. "The Heavens proclaim the glory of God...", "Consider the lilies of the field...". etc. However, it also warns against nature. "Nature red in tooth and claw" is essentially a Christian warning. Frazier and like-minded scholars have not been discredited. They may not be fashionable. Incidentally, I was a reader for Frazier; He was not a nice man, but he was a great scholar. I wish there were more like him today. Unfortunately the species is virtually extinct. My view is Hegelian. A religion has a weak point, which is discovered and corrected in its successor, and so on indefinitely. That is progress, but not straight-line progress. The main problem today is to reconcile religion and science.

Ronald Hilton - 5/27/02


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