When did gods become immortal, infallable and immaterial?

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Discussion by: Nebelmann
When you look at the properties of gods you will soon notice that the more gods you have in a pantheon the more fallable they are, the more gods, the more human the gods. The stories of the polytheistic religions like Hinduism, Greek, Roman, and Norse Mythology are quite different from the monotheistic. The Norse (which I know most about) clearly states that the gods are greater than man, but they are not infallible (there is no objective evil, the most “evil” god is Loke and he is just a trickster) they are mortal, but can grow very old because they eat from the tree of life (comparable to greek and roman ambrosia) the god Balder is in fact killed via the trickery of his uncle Loke. When did people decide that they needed a god that had inhuman abilites and motives?

30 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe a better starting question: Why has monotheism out competed polytheism? I suppose that in societies where the ruler was a living god it prevented the priest class from putting forth alternative candidates as the meanest god on the block & usurping the current living god king. In other words the move to a monotheistic religion makes it easier to wield power & to hold onto it ~ no more squabbles between temples about whose idol out-idols the other idols.

    Once one has a singular supreme being & creator it follows naturally that it will be infallible etc etc.

  2. Not sure about an exact date on that one but I suspect it has something to do with when they had to start arguing rational thinking people as a way to shrug off responsibility and the expectation of evidence.

  3. All these perfections ascribed to deities only make sense given monotheism. After all, if two invincible people fight, who wins? Of course, people may not conceive of gods “fighting”, but they may conceive of them trying to create the world in accord with their own desires. (Christianity blames so much on the Devil I wonder whether they think his power is comparable to their god’s.) Of course, monotheism doesn’t require us to have such a high opinion of a god. The thing for me, personally, that’s most frustrating about the problem of theodicy isn’t that theists won’t admit it’s insoluble; it’s the fact that it only even arises because they insist on god being so super-duper fantastic. I’m not sure why they do that; maybe it’s to make their god seem so great compared with polytheist alternatives that people will favour monotheism, seeing polytheism as petty. But why did monotheism spread as much as it did?

    My understanding of history is that Christianity was violently forced on the Roman empire while Islam’s spread was similarly military, but perhaps someone could correct me. Hinduism is kinda sorta monotheistic (you could say the same of Christianity, actually). I don’t know why it became so widespread (maybe someone else does). It looks to me like the reason monotheism displaced polytheism was because of empires making sure of it, which in turn I suspect is because it’s a lot harder to tolerate other religions if you think only one god exists.

    Before Constantine’s conversion, the Roman Empire had a policy of religious tolerance, which kept their Empire stable. Most religions were polytheist, so, “hey, maybe all our gods are real” was a feasible attitude for people to take, at least in their words if not their heads. (Of course, the Romans focused on their gods not being denied.) Christians and Jews were persecuted, but were atypical in that respect, and it seems to be due to their pushing monotheism, which of course means they denied Roman gods. As for what happened later, in the space of about 1.5 centuries the Roman Empire became so much less popular with its territories that it struggled to find the support it needed to safeguard against enemies in 476. That’s part of why the WRE fell, as I understand it. Again, I’m not actually a historian.

    Polytheism does still have prevalence in places. Africa goes so far as to have animism; it even mixes it into Christianity, if you can imagine that. (I suppose it’s like Catholics praying to all the saints.) Although Christians and Muslims have invaded and conquered Africa in parts, the Christians did so in more recent, religiously calmer centuries. Shinto, and traditional Australian and Chinese religion, also haven’t been much maligned by invading monotheists; it’s an accident of geography. Then there’s the Americas; Christian theology at the time played a role in inspiring some of the genocide, so endemic people, never mind faiths, are rare.

  4. Monotheism didn’t out compete polytheism; polytheism was the norm before christian and muslim empires started to or became able to conquer other people. It is a case of might makes right, a case of military conquest instead of a competition between intellectual ideas.

  5. The way I read the bible, the hebrew god didn’t say that it was the only god, it just said that it was the only god that the jews should worship, in other words early judaism wasn’t monotheistic.

  6. How would mythological Gods survived science and progress? One by one, they would just disappear into ridicule and insignificance.

    Better to have one ethereal entity to embodies all the unknowns, fears and hopes. At least it has more staying power, by remaining elusive and unreachable. I used to find it funny that Muslims would be so offended by idolatry. Then it all made sense.

    Despite the bellowing of fundamentalist elements, literal interpretations are being abandoned en masse in favour of the intangibles and interpreted concepts of religions. On the whole, people exposed to science education don’t believe that shit any more, but the world, and death are still scary.

  7. In reply to #5 by jel:

    The way I read the bible, the hebrew god didn’t say that it was the only god, it just said that it was the only god that the jews should worship, in other words early judaism wasn’t monotheistic.

    Right, that was the henotheistic transition period.

    OP,

    Gods start out as explanations for natural events, then become a theater in which we explore the human condition, conceiving of human traits in divine hyperbole. This also mixes with the practice of storytelling for its own sake. The more abstract gods are law givers, society founders. I would say this corresponds with that trend in humanity, when we could use bronze tools to unify people through violence.

  8. In reply to #4 by Montwithin:

    Monotheism didn’t out compete polytheism; polytheism was the norm before christian and muslim empires started to or became able to conquer other people. It is a case of might makes right, a case of military conquest instead of a competition between intellectual ideas.

    That is true for most of the history of Christianity, once they turned the roman empire into the holy roman empire force was the dominant method of conversion. But in the very early days of Christianity it was an example of a meme spreading via the power of the idea (not saying it was true just that there was something there that resonated with people).

    In fact the very early days of Christianity are interesting, at least to me, and not all that well understood by most people due to the revision of the Catholic church. There were many alternative sects and cults of Christianity, some with ideas (that sex was something holy not sinful, that there should be no priests) very much at odds with what eventually became Catholic dogma. A great little book on the topic is The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.

  9. In reply to #5 by jel:

    The way I read the bible, the hebrew god didn’t say that it was the only god, it just said that it was the only god that the jews should worship, in other words early judaism wasn’t monotheistic.

    Exactly.

    1 – To Abraham (-1900) , Yahweh (The name means ‘hard to spell’ in Hebrew) is only one god among plenty.

    2- Moses (-1300) walks down with the 10 commandments. The first commandment reads “Thou shall have no other gods before me”. Therefore, there are other ones.

    3 – Jesus pretty much assumes there is only one because the locals have been worshipping the same one for 1300 years.

    4 – Muhammad (+600) dictates “There is no god but Allah”

    It took 2500 years.

  10. It is indicative of religion being a house of cards. See, if any one card is exposed, then the whole system falls to the ground.

    Claims of omnipotence and the like are ways to ensure that the person expounding on god cannot be wrong.

    Skeptics who pose questions that crumble the logic and dismantle religion are met with these claims and the person who espouses them feels the satisfaction of having an answer. It is a ridiculous and inane answer , but it is better for their continued faith to be able to offer something in return (even if that something is impossible).

    I had someone recently tell me that Jesus was 100% man and 100% god. When I pointed out the problem with this logic they said “Why are you trying to limit god?”. It is this type of reasoning and inability to see the flaws that leads people to assert that their faith is important and strong.

  11. The former nun Karen Armstrong wrote a great book called ‘A History of God’, which described the transition from Jehovah’s polytheistic roots to the modern incarnations we see today. I can’t do her whole work justice, but if you’re interested from a historical perspective, the book was well written.

    That being said, I think that there are really two different types of ‘religion’. On one hand, you have a body of parables and myths embodied by gods, meant to be instructive or historical or perhaps even just describing legends of powerful figures in antiquity blown out of proportion (the Greek gods didn’t seem all that great at all really, and most pantheons are rife with tales of the gods’ faults). On the other hand, you have a deep sense of mysticism, a journey of self-discovery and looking inward, peeling back layers of perception and discarding what roots your psyche firmly in the material and transient; elements of this can be seen in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Qabbalah, and Sufism, among others, and many of these stress that ‘gods’ or even God as some of us perceive it are just pale reflections of the ultimate reality underlying everything, something that is beyond the scope of most people to be aware of. That sublime understanding that comes to the most devoted scientists as flashes of insight that they have difficulty expressing in words or mathematical equations is a parallel to this (and though this may invite flaming, I highly recommend Dr. Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Tao of Physics’ as well).

    So now we have a priesthood that’s seeking power, and we have a process which is inherently an individual journey requiring work. You can’t simply read a book on getting fit and mysteriously lose weight and add muscle, you must APPLY the practices, and the same goes for spirituality. Sadly, organizations are more interested in retaining power. A rich priesthood that has whole populations under their sway wants to keep it that way (ever wonder why Jesus was freaking out all over the religious leaders of his time?), and so you begin to have exclusive knowledge, subdued or even condemned mystery rites (shortly after the Nicean Council formed the Bible, they started killing gnostics hither and thither), and a hierarchal organization that just wants you to do what you’re told to do by them. So they take this lingering idea of something greater, something underlying reality and they start slapping on all these old stories and myths to scare you and make you think its exclusive. Jehovah and Allah made the cut (and the two have different origins in the Sumerian pantheon, despite what some may say today).

    Odin is one of my favorite gods for this reason, because his stories involve suffering to gain wisdom (the trials on Yggdrasil for instance), a concept that resonates well with what many philosophers have later said about insight.

    So, that’s my two cents.

  12. In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

    That is true for most of the history of Christianity, once they turned the roman empire into the holy roman empire force was the dominant method of conversion. But in the very early days of Christianity it was an example of a meme spreading via the power of the idea (not saying it was true just that there was something there that resonated with people).

    In fact the very early days of Christianity are interesting, at least to me, and not all that well understood by most people due to the revision of the Catholic church. There were many alternative sects and cults of Christianity, some with ideas (that sex was something holy not sinful, that there should be no priests) very much at odds with what eventually became Catholic dogma. A great little book on the topic is The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.

    Well, I think one of the appeals of monotheistic thought is that with this kind of one god world view, you will need to spend a lot of efforts and thoughts into explaining how this one god can be account for everything in a consistent and believable manner. From then on you have theology, something polytheism does not require as you can always make up a new god to explain anything away in a fun way. Theology is dull, pretentious and pseudo-intellectual, so early Christian thoughts could just be the post-modernism of the day.

  13. Jos Gibbons 3

    My understanding of history is that Christianity was violently forced on the Roman empire

    Hi Jos. No, not so much violently. Christianity was only aboult 15% or less of the empire’s population at the turn of the fourth century. Whether it was more numerous than Manicheeism is subject to doubt. The Manichees were persecuted first in that era, but that may have been just because Diocletian wanted them out of the army–there weren’t many (if any) Christians in the army. But Constantine converted 28 Oct 312 CE and proclaimed tolerance of all religions. He probably encouraged the eastern emperor, Licinius, to issue the Edict of Milan in 312 CE, assuring tolerance within the empire. Constantine had been persuaded by a Christian scholar, Lactantius, to embrace religious tolerance. But, naturally, when the emperor became a Christian, his subjects would great incentive to follow. Tolerance was still the official policy of Rome until Constantine died in 337. Yet, within the century, Christianity would become the official religion of Rome (under Theodosius ?) and the Christians began to persecute all other creeds.

    Remember that the only other monotheistic religion , Judaism, did not spread at all. The Christian religion was the first to demand proselytizaton, but spread more by happenstance than theological superiority.

    Before Constantine’s conversion, the Roman Empire had a policy of religious tolerance, which kept their Empire stable. Most religions were polytheist, so, “hey, maybe all our gods are real” was a feasible attitude for people to take, at least in their words if not their heads. (Of course, the Romans focused on their gods not being denied.)

    No, the Great Persecution began in 303 under Diocletian and was essentially the only empire wide persecution in ancient times. Even though the Christian writers, especially Lactantius, effectively used the persecution for PR purposes, the number and stories of persecution were wildly exaggerated. The Persecution, already ignored, was officially ended by Galerius in 311 with the Edict of Toleration.

    Christians and Jews were persecuted, but were atypical in that respect, and it seems to be due to their pushing monotheism, which of course means they denied Roman gods.

    It’s true they were pushing monotheism, and undoubtably that angered some, but I think more critical are the factors shown below. As above, they were not persecuted as much as everyone thinks. The Jews would not have been persecuted at all had they not rebelled against their conquerors.

    Scholars argue about the reason for the Great Persecution. It could be that more than one factor contributed to it. Certainly the Christians (and Manichees and others) were allowed a place at the table as an outcome of the debates during the Feast of Terminalia (sp) in 302-303 CE. The problem Diocletian and his haruspices had with the Christians was that they would not sacrifice to the pagan gods. Diocletian had spent the empire into bankruptcy by buying the loyalty of his army. There were also several year of famine around that time and, for the first time in a long time, the people of Rome were hungry. The only thing that could cure a drought was the sacrifice of domestic animals, (See Rick Perry on this: he wrongfully thought prayer alone would be enough.) When the Christians refused, they were locked up until they changed their minds. But very few were actually put to death and the persecution varied according to geographical location.

  14. Footnote

    Actually Jos, I assumed you were talking about my era (3-4 cent CE). If you were referencing violently induced conversions after the fourth century you are certainly pretty right on that.

  15. When did gods become immortal, infallable and immaterial?

    Not to mention:- “infinite”, “ethereal”, “omnipotent”, “invisible”, “perfect”, and “all-knowing”!

    The answer is:-

    Whenever their posturing followers were stuck for an evidenced or rational answer, so were looking for impressive obfuscating semantics, to wrap-up and hide their magic god-of-gaps argument, – when they had absolutely no idea what they were talking about!

  16. JH,

    I’m always glad when you show up and restate what you know about the early christian church. I find it deeply informative. I knew you’d make an appearance here. One of the things I love about this site.

    Back to the topic heading, it seems like many gods were immortal (at least compared to us mortals). But infallible and immaterial? I’m deeply curious. Yahweh doesn’t look like that in the bible, nor does Jesus. It seem that they have engaged the services of a PR agent in the last few thousand years.

    I’m even more curious about when a god became omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. That’s more than PR. That’s propaganda on the level of Kim Jung Il or Stalin.

    I have only a foggy idea that it was theologians (including but not beginning with Aquinas) who spun Yahweh and Platonic ideals together. I’m not sure if that’s exactly accurate but the discussions with Abrahamic theists and the shape-shifting definitions make it seem that way.

    I’m not sure if anything I’ve typed makes any sense but I’ve never been able to figure out how the god who drowned the planet, hardened Pharaoh’s heart and whose nostrils relished the stench of the burnt offerings of terrified animals and created an eternal inferno for anyone who doesn’t believe that he had to sacrifice a god for a couple of days to save us from it is also omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

    How do they square that? When did they begin that strategy?

  17. Some kind of runaway theistic Inflation, caused by an interminably drawn out brag fest: My God’s Better Than Yours. My God can… (insert newly invented miracle here). Repeat. End up with a God that can do anything and everything, and – just to show who’s boss – there’s only one of It. And it made everything too. So there.

    Hey, when you make shit up, the sky’s the limit. Oh, no it isn’t. The Universe and Everything is.

    But back to why the monotheistic notion took hold: No idea really. I mean, local gods make more sense. They know the territory, they can take an interest. You wouldn’t try to phone up the president or the prime minister to get a pothole fixed in the road outside your house, you’d badger the guy with local responsibility, even though he’s not the absolute boss, at least you stand a chance of getting through to him.

    Catholics know this instinctively, that explains them praying to saints to “intercede” (meaning put in a word for you with Da Man). Which seems to be a kind of ancient folk wisdom. Certainly in the stories of the times where there was a powerful ruler, a Caliph or King, it was quite perilous to take a local dispute all the way to the ruler’s court.

    So how on earth does a religion take hold that suggests Da Ultimate Man, the One and Only Creator And Sustainer Of The Universe (!!!) gives a shit about any single individual? No idea.

  18. susanlatimer 17

    Thanks, Susan.

    Back to the topic heading, it seems like many gods were immortal (at least compared to us mortals). But infallible and immaterial? I’m deeply curious. Yahweh doesn’t look like that in the bible, nor does Jesus. It seem that they have engaged the services of a PR agent in the last few thousand years.

    Excellent point. The omniscience, etc., was the inevitable result of theology. But you are right, you cannot get that from the Bible. My favorite non-omniscient passage is Abraham under the Oaks. (Gn 8:16):

    16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.[c] 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

    20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

    22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.[d] 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare[e] the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

    26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

    27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

    “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

    29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

    He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

    30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

    He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

    31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

    He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

    32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

    He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

    33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

    Notice that god does not know what is going on in S&M. He “heard” about it. Someone snitched. And he is on his way to find out for himself. And he’s walking. He can’t decide whether he should tell Abraham of his plans (and note that the reason he gives when he makes the decision does not inform on the question–completely illogical). Finally, he allows Abe to bargain with him, indicating he is not sure what to do.

    This god cannot in any way be said to be omniscient. Blithering idiot is more like it. So it was left for the theologians to gradually attach omniscience to Yahweh. Some of the early Christian writers seem conflicted about this, but they all gradually came around (mostly before the advent of the fourth century).

    JHJ

  19. Because the image of god is created by people, as people become more sophisticated the idea of god becomes more sophisticated.
    Anselm defined god as ‘that than which no greater can be conceived.’ God is the greatest thing humans can imagine. The greatest idea of god imaginable is infallibility, immortality and non-material existence’ This is how god, who was once an uberhuman who walked among us, became a beyond-human to the point of being un-human, yet still somehow super-humane.
    This impossible contradiction created the ‘problem of evil’ which led to the theological problem of ‘theodicy’ which asks the question ‘if god is all knowing, all powerful and all loving why is there evil in the world?’
    This question has led many to modified doctrines of god, particularly modifications to the concepts of infallibility and omnipotence. You can read more about this if you look up the philosophy of ‘Process Theology’.
    It has also led many back to paganism, where gods and goddesses walk the earth once more.

  20. Jezabel 2

    Nice post. And welcome to the site. As you probably know, but maybe some here don’t, the oldest elucidation of theodicy was in the syllogism of Epicurus, destroyed by the early Christians, but perserved by my main man Lactantius in his “Divine Institutes.” (Does anyone here know how to italicize without going to Word and then copying and pasting?)

  21. I think it dates back to possibly the stone age when one tribe was at war with another, if for example tribe (a) narrowly defeated tribe (b) they may have wondered how they did it, now imagine if the one of the surviving fighters from tribe (a) happen to be carrying an item such as a carving or or some piece of craft that piece would then become an idol which in turn will be worshiped as the reason why tribe (b) lost. We can forgive early mans gullibility seen as how their skulls could only house a golf ball sized brain, but I cannot excuse todays believer.

  22. My knowledge of history is fragmented at best, but here is what I understand from my reading of The Faith Instinct by Nicholas Wade (this particular theory attributed by him to Finkelstein & Silberman).

    Prior to ~722 BC, the Israelites occupied 2 small kingdoms: Judah and Israel. Israel was invaded by the Assyrians ~722 BC, who relocated the local Israelites to Judah. ~640-630 BC, the Assyrians withdrew from Israel and the Israelites in Judah saw their chance to reclaim it. Coincidentally, Deuteronomy, the main theme of which was unification of the Israelites and deliverance to the Promised Land, was said to have been “discovered” by King Josiah during the reconstruction of a temple, ~622 BC. Indeed (according to Wade), there is no corroborating evidence for events purported in the bible prior to 622 BC, lending support to this date as the writing, rather than the discover, of Deuteronomy. For example, the bible states that Joseph was sold by his brothers to Ishamelites riding camels to Egypt between 1000-2000 BC, but camels were not domesticated until just before 1000 BC and were not in common use until well after that time. Additionally, trade with Arabia occured between 900-600 BC. Clearly, the exchange could not have occured as the biblical account says. However, to someone spinning this story circa 622 BC, camels and trading with Egypt would have seemed to have always existed and they would have incorporated this into their story, attributing the event to a time in which it could not have happened.

    So, approximately the time when the Israelites need a unifying force to reclaim Judah, Deuteronomy appears, chock full of nationalism. And what better way to unify people than under the banner of religion? But it can’t be under any of the polytheistic gods that dominated the religious landscape of the time; the Israelites needed their very own god to take their side and lead the charge. Worshipping any other god, as the God of the OT makes clear, would result in falling out of his divine favor and thus losing the quest for the Promised Land. However, even this new singular God seems to have been cobbled together from any number of the popular gods of the time (As in Genesis: “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness;” also, see Myths of the Bible). And stories common to older texts (creation story, flood story, etc.) run rampant through the bible, an obvious recycling of familiar stories.

    In short, geo-political motives may have driven the unification of multiple gods into a single entity for the purpose of unifying a people to a singular cause. Then, as O’Hooligan points out, could have escalated into “My god is better than your god and will help us reclaim our land.”

    In reply to #18 by OHooligan:

    Some kind of runaway theistic Inflation, caused by an interminably drawn out brag fest: My God’s Better Than Yours. My God can… (insert newly invented miracle here). Repeat. End up with a God that can do anything and everything, and – just to show who’s boss – there’s only one of It. And it made everything too. So there.

  23. I put up the same question, formulated a little differently but comes down to the same thing. What’s better for us, multiple gods or a singe god? Multiple personalities each one responsible for our human emotions. They definitly had human qualities, and that isn’t the case with the Christian faith and it’s mono god.

    Personally I prefer more then just one, and if possible a whole lot. That gives the whole think a little more democracy. If people really want to believe than they should get as many choices as possible. That should make it a little harder to start a fight over which one is the right one.

    Going mono god is in my opinion the worst thing that’s happened with most religions. At the hight of the Roman rule the idea of integrating the religions to keep the peace wasn’t a bad idea. The fact the the Christian faith was a mix of Roman and Christian faith, a political decision that did to some extent keep the peace for a while longer.

    Focusing all the strengths into one single god might prove a very powerful tool to manipulate people even more, but it also takes the democracy out of beliefs, making them dogmatic.

  24. if it is a maximal being, why would you need democraties? You miss the point with the democratic prosess. It is good because there is not something better. But surely you agree that a maximal being (all knowing, all powerful, perfect moral and all loving) would be better than “the majoraty rules”.
    In reply to #28 by Ricky:

    I put up the same question, formulated a little differently but comes down to the same thing. What’s better for us, multiple gods or a singe god? Multiple personalities each one responsible for our human emotions. They definitly had human qualities, and that isn’t the case with the Christian faith and it’s mono god.

    Personally I prefer more then just one, and if possible a whole lot. That gives the whole think a little more democracy. If people really want to believe than they should get as many choices as possible. That should make it a little harder to start a fight over which one is the right one.

    Going mono god is in my opinion the worst thing that’s happened with most religions. At the hight of the Roman rule the idea of integrating the religions to keep the peace wasn’t a bad idea. The fact the the Christian faith was a mix of Roman and Christian faith, a political decision that did to some extent keep the peace for a while longer.

    Focusing all the strengths into one single god might prove a very powerful tool to manipulate people even more, but it also takes the democracy out of beliefs, making them dogmatic.

  25. In reply to #29 by peder.holm.90:

    if it is a maximal being, why would you need democraties? You miss the point with the democratic prosess. It is good because there is not something better. But surely you agree that a maximal being (all knowing, all powerful, perfect moral and all loving) would be better than “the majoraty rules”.

    Well, I can’t answer for Ricky, but I for one do not “surely” agree to any such thing. Even the best possible dictator is still a dictator. Power should always be subject to the direct consent of the governed. And separation of power into spheres with the carefully defined ability to check and balance eachother is always an improvement over fully centralized and absolute power, no matter how “good” the wielder of absolute power is imagined to be.

    A “maximal being” is probably a logically inconsistent concept, depending on what characteristics one might attribute to it. Of course the whole point of such a hypothetical ideal is that it frees the person invoking it from actually defining “maximal” characteristics. He gets to simply assume that they are the best imaginable characteristics and dispense with all the difficulties and inconsistencies that arise from imagining perfection.

    Even if the defintion of “maximal” includes something to the effect of “having the best of all logically possible characteristics” one would still have a the probelm of deciding which perfect attribute is “better” than another when they come into conflict. Because such choices are beyond our supposedly “flawed” reasoning, any contradictions are simply assumed to be soluable and further assumed to be solved in the “maximal” possible way. In real life, there are some equations without answers and we don’t get to assume that an answer actually exists unless one is demonstrated to exist. In reality, there is no reason to assume that a “maximal” being is – or possibly could be – any better than a very good, but ordinary and flawed person. I see no reason that we should simply cede all rights and power to any being, real or imagined.

    The “maximal” hypothesis is not just a harmless philosophical ideal for intellectuals to wrangle over, it is a dangerous concept with real, harmful implications. Dictators in all ages have evoked the perfect ideal of leadership to justify their imperfect – and often opressive and tyrannical – reigns. From the medieval concept of ‘divine right of kings’ to the ‘Dear Leaders’ and Ayatollahs of today “maximal beings” have had a habit of proping up some pretty lothesome regimes. Imagining a perfect wielder of power without demonstrating such a thing is unhelpful at best, and destructive at worst.

    Democracy is indeed “good because there is not something better,” but you can’t circumvent that state of affairs by simply positing a hypothetical “something better” by fiat. Your “something better” is only actually “better” if it is possible, and demonstrably so. A flawed but actually possible system is better than any perfect but imaginary and impossible one.

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