I just came across another opportunity to apply Terry Pratchett’s provocative observation:
“YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME?”
I’ve recently been involved in on-line discussions of polytheism (the belief in multiple gods), primarily among a Wiccan and pagan community for whom such deliberations are routine. We got into differentiating between “soft polytheism” (the concept that multiple deities are in fact diverse aspects of a single God or Goddess) and “hard polytheism” (each one is a separate being in its own right and can be invoked as such).
This question really got me thinking! Before reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, I considered myself “spiritual but not religious.” Afterward, I identified more as a pantheist – not Spinozan because he still kept some of the orthodox concepts and terminology – but more along the lines of panpsychism or panvitalism. From Wikipedia:
“Panpsychism is the philosophical view held by many pantheists that consciousness, mind, or soul is a universal feature of all things. Some pantheists also subscribe to the distinct philosophical views of hylozoism (or panvitalism), the view that everything is alive, and its close neighbor animism, the view that everything has a soul or spirit.”
This viewpoint closely mirrors the scientific hypothesis that all apparently unique forms of matter are expressions of a single vibratory energy oscillating at different frequencies, as reflected in the relative density of each across the entire spectrum of manifest reality. Thus, a molecule of air and a molecule of stone have more in common than it would at first seem. This has been assumed for centuries by alchemists intent on turning lead into gold; the difference between the two is just a matter of degree.
I see no reason why an immanent god-force could not have multiple faces that show themselves as discrete aspects of the One God or One Goddess for the purpose of interacting with humankind in constructive ways (sounds like “soft polytheism” to me). Where I get off the bus is in anthropomorphizing them as individual entities to any great extent. I can accept these powers as mainly impersonal “forces of nature” that accrue a unique identity through the reinforcement of belief (this at least facilitates talking about them with the devout), but not as entirely self-willed agents of divinity. If I happen to encounter them during astral work, I will treat them as no more than equals until proven otherwise. Indiscriminately embracing an astral presence who purports to be a benevolent “god” is never a wise idea. (After all, Pan is a “trickster.”)
Just call me a “moderate Pratchettarian.” As potent as it is, belief should be a closely-held commodity and not traded away at the first hint of divine intercession. As US President Ronald Reagan once said during nuclear disarmament talks with the Soviet Union, “Trust but verify.”