"If one accepts that there are many gods, there is less reason to claim that others' are false gods or demons... Within our societies the adoption of polytheistic mental frameworks would certainly reduce the incidence of conflict among monotheistic religions and their internal divisions".
Two thousand years of monotheism have led us to grow accustomed to the idea of God's unique, exclusive, and authentic nature. Ancient polytheism, on the other hand, allowed for the recognition of divinities across cultures (the Greeks' Artemis and the Romans' Diana, the Egyptians' Isis and the Greek's Athena) and the co-optation of foreigners' gods in national pantheons. This open-mindedness contributed to explaining the absence, in the ancient world, of religious violence that would later plague, and continues to cause bloodshed, in monotheistic cultures. Is it possible to draw on polytheism's resources to promote a less exacting and more peaceful relationship among religions in today's world?
Maurizio Bettini teaches Anthropology of the Ancient World at the University of Siena.