Monday, September 27, 2004
It is the beliefs which are so much a matter of course that they are rather tacitly presupposed than formally expressed and argued for, the ways of thinking which seem so natural and inevitable that they are not scrutinized with the eye of logical self-consciousness, that often are most decisive of the character of a philosopher's doctrine, and still oftener of the dominant intellectual tendencies of an age. (Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being 7)
Lovejoy wrote this back in 1950 as an exercise in studying what he called "the history of an idea".
What he is saying is that there are implicit or incompletely explicit assumptions, many of which are unconscious, operating in the thought patterns of individuals and even, of course, generations. What we assume to be a valid mode of thinking, shared universally, may in fact be something this is unique to oneself and even to the culture one is living in. In archetypal psychology, James Hillman and David Miller, and a host of others, have identified a dialectic between what they call a *monotheistic psyche* and a *polytheistic psyche*. For the most part, they are using these terms to apply to a form of psychological structure, but as they have worked with it, it becomes apparent that this psychological structure is more than an individual's mode or psychological organization, it also represents a set of cultural biases, a lens through which we view the world.
Over the weekend, my friend Stephanie Pope and I, had several interesting conversations regarding Monotheism and Polytheism - not as religions, but as a cultural and psychological bias - a way of viewing the world. Let me take a moment to define what I mean by these two terms.
Monotheism - One god. As a cultural or psychological way of thinking, this refers not only to the monotheistic religions of our time (Judaism, Islam, Christianity), but primarily to a way of thinking that honors the notion of The One, from which all other things derive. In this notion of the One, ideas like unity, wholeness, and integration are preferred and see as a dominate way of being. The psychological preference is toward things of the Father, the notion of the Father ruling supreme with a subordinate host of children who are dependent on the Father, not only for their continued well-being, but also for their existence. The One is the ground of the many, the ultimate source. The many come from the One.
Monotheistic thinking must, as the nature of what it is, set up a hierarchy in which The One, has to sit on the top and a sense of superiority establishes itself. Thus you can begin to see the world in terms of who (or what) is superior and who (or what) is inferior in the great schema of life. This results in a dominate world view that incorporates notions such as the Great Chain of Being into the implicit thought patterns of its inhabitants. As part of that idea also, there is an idea that superiority in recognizing and promoting The One is a more evolved status than a worldview that seems more chaotic, multiple, and multivalent.
A Polytheistic world view, on the other hand, does not have a center, does not require a sense of unity, and does not insist on a superiority of one aspect to another. Instead, each unique idea, entity, archetype, god, has its own place, its own ideas, its own energy. The words associated with a polytheistic world view are multiplicity, diversity, complex. In polytheistic thinking, there is no hierarchy, no sense of superiority and inferiority. There is no Great Chain of Being. There is only a diversity of ideas held together by what I call a "holy tension".
Why is this important to think about this morning? For two reasons. The first is to recognize that each of us, has our own lens, our own biases, our own world view and that everything we see and react to is filtered through that psychological lens. That holds true for countries also. To assume that everyone sees the world they way we do (both individually and collectively) is a monotheistic world view.
The second is to see that just because an idea is Dominant, doesn't mean it is the only idea. Americans can't seem to understand why the rest of the world hates us. Perhaps, part of the problem is that we presume to believe that the entire world sees through the same lens that we do. Or worse yet, that those who we struggle against, share the same world view, we share in which the One is not the One we picture.