Evangelical Polytheism
May 20, 2010

Yesterday I noticed that Matt Duss of Wonk Room had tweeted approvingly a link to an argument you sometimes hear from opponents of right-wing evangelicalism.

Hussein Rashid writes:

As was pointed out at that time by multiple religious thinkers, by arguing that there were at least two Gods, Christian and Muslim, Christianists were following a belief system that was not monotheistic and was not in accord with the Gospels. Now the chairman of the Tea Party Express, Mark Williams, seems to have forgotten this basic point, writing that the Muslim God is a “monkey-god” and that Muslims are “animals of allah,” reports Zachary Roth at TPMMuckraker.

It seems that Christianists and Islamists share a bad theology in this regard. I want to extend Reza Aslan’s suggestion in How to Win a Cosmic War that what these groups share is the belief that all issues are inherently theological. To me, the logical conclusion is if their side is not winning, it’s because their God is being challenged by another God. If their God was truly all-powerful, their enemies should have fallen by now. The only rational recourse, then, is to break with the idea of monotheism and allow for other gods.

It’s no secret that the Judeo-Christian-Islamo cosmology can be traced back to its influences in various polytheistic and henotheistic faiths (notably Zoroastrianism and late-empire Roman mythology), but I don’t think what we see here is genuine henotheism. It’s more of a rhetorical stance, an attempt to get a rise out of Muslims through racially-charged mockery of their most basic beliefs. If pressed, Williams would likely argue that Allah isn’t really a god, but instead one of the countless masks that Satan wears.

Of course, the evangelical conception of Satan is suspiciously omnipresent, to the extent that I’d call the question of whether or not he’s a god a semantic distinction; he’s at least as powerful, if not more so, than many of Olympians. But within the internal logic of evangelical Christianity, it’s a distinction that matters enough for the right-wing evangelical to be unphased by the argument.

This is why I tend to be pretty skeptical of attempts to refute the claims of the more hateful strains of Christian fundamentalism by playing their rhetorical games. It’s not specific smears on other faiths like this that are the real problem; it’s the first principles of the people making them. That’s what we should be going after.

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