Published on 4th March, 2023, in Economic Times.
Monotheism propagates the idea of one God. This very easily telescopes into the idea of one all-powerful leader of all people, which enables dictatorship. In polytheism, by contrast, there is no all-powerful God, so no all-powerful king. There are many gods who are constantly competing, collaborating and negotiating for power. This allows for democracy. Atheism – popular amongst liberals – has no gods, so no one has power, and so inspires anarchy. Between polytheism and monotheism is monolatry: where one god dominates while others are not denied. Here dictatorship prevails in the pretence of democracy.
Empires to Nation-states
Democracy is traditionally traced to Greeks. In 19th century Europe, Greeks were seen as originators of rational and scientific thought. Europeans ignored the fact that Greeks were polytheists, and every city-state had its one favoured god. This is why they were fiercely independent, but collaborative against foreign enemies – like the legendary Troy or the historical Persia. Persia had monotheism – the emperor or Shehenshah (king of kings) was the absolute ruler thanks to the blessings of the one true God, Ahura Mazda, revealed through the Aryan prophet, Zarathrusta. Later, Persian Zoroastrianism would be replaced by Arabic Islam, the Shehenshah with the Caliph.
Greeks inspired Rome. But Rome functioned like a jealous god of monotheism, destroying rival city-states like Carthage, and asking others to bow before its might. The Roman elite originally chose democracy in peacetime and dictatorship in war-time. But as the Empire grew in size, ambitious emperors sidelined the senate, eventually leveraging Christian monotheism to hold on to power. The many gods of Greeks, Celts, Vikings, Goths, Gauls, Phoenicians, even Egyptians were all wiped out. The march of monotheistic Christianity, led by the Pope, was eventually blocked by equally monotheistic Islam, led by the Caliph.
After the Crusades, the old tribal polytheism fought back in Europe in the form of nation-states. Kingdoms emerged in Europe based on old tribal groupings – French Gauls, German Goths, British Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavian Vikings. The Church was divided along nationalistic lines: Church of England, Church of Sweden, Greek Church, Russian Church, for example. This was nationalistic polytheism that challenged religion with patriotism.
Science and Atheism
Science rose in monotheistic Europe and served the ambitions of the Church and the emperors. Race science justified slavery. Industrialisation justified the spread of Western civilisational ideals. But science also challenged the existence of God, hence autocracy and aristocracy. The law of God seemed to serve the elite and seemed at odds with the will of people. Democracy rose not from Christianity, or Islam, but from opposition to the idea of one God, one God-king, and one-power centre.