A zero-sum game

About an hour ago, on a Portuguese news channel, a Catholic priest named Gonçalo Portocarrero de Almada was being interviewed. Eventually, the conversation came to the issue of Scripture, its sacred nature and how to interpret it, at which point the reporter asked the priest why didn’t he consider the Bhagavad Gita or the Rigveda equally sacred. The answer? Because Christ was divine and the only one to return from the dead. No, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes. Yes, you read it right.

Like so many other Catholic priests, he believes that Christ’s divinity automatically excludes that of others and he appears to be completely unaware of how common the myths of death and rebirth or ascension were in the ancient world: Osiris, Hercules, Dionysus, not to mention the gods and heroes who manage to move in and out of the world of the dead unharmed, like Hermes, Epona, or Orpheus.

This is traditional monotheistic thinking. Exclusivist to the extreme, in as much as the priest didn’t even have to add that Christ’s divinity is unique: he just said that Jesus is divine and the rest sort of went without saying, as if theology was obviously a game of all or nothing, with me or against me. Sadly, this is how a lot of people see religion, as something contrary to tolerance and inclusiveness, because people like Gonçalo Portocarrero dominate the public discourse on it. And then History is ignored and the resurrection of one god becomes the only known case of a returned deity, much like Christmas is claimed by some to be the true or only reason for the season. Either that or one myth is conveniently elevated to the category of historical event while all others are thrown into the pits of mythological fantasy. So many heroes and gods of so many cultures are said to have gone and returned from the world of the dead and yet father Gonçalo Portocarrero values only one to the absolute exclusion of all others. How poor can things be when you live religion as a zero-sum game.

Of course, this is why some monotheists have to resort to some form of monism (one god, many names) and ignore the elephant in the room in order to have an interfaith dialogue with non-monotheists: if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to hide the deeply rooted exclusivism that is just one short step away from intolerance. Not exactly the friendliest greeting card, is it?

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5 thoughts on “A zero-sum game

  1. It’s a lot more pleasant not to be constantly up at arms with religion…Unfortunately I’ve seen that some polytheists can be guilty of this as well, even though they should know better.

      • Sorry for not being clearer. I mean the polytheists who unknowingly replicate the exclusivism and intolerance of certain monotheists, demonizing others and/ or demanding absolute “purity”, which seems to have more to do with modern politics than anything any ancient people ever actually practiced.

      • Very true! To some extent, because those people were raised either as part of a monotheistic religion or in a predominately monotheistic culture. And it’s not easy to break with mental habits. I remember once meeting a heathen who claimed the Eddas were his Bible and that there were no other gods other than the ones mentioned in those texts. The fact that the general religious discourse is made according to the terms of the main three monotheistic faiths – which assume sacred scriptures and exclusivism – has something to do with such behaviour from the part of polytheists.

        And then there are political ideologies which creep into theological thinking.

        Still, I get the feeling it used to be worst and there has been some improvement in the last few years. Or maybe I’m just being optimistic :p

  2. Pingback: Why I Had Been on Hiatus « Sihathor's Scroll

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