This review never got published because someone else got one in before mine did! But I thought it might be fun to publish it here, anyway.
A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism
by John Michael Greer
John Michael Greer is the Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) and a member of many other druidic groups, including ADF. He also is the author of twelve published or upcoming books on alternative spirituality and magic and has wide experience in the Masonic, hermetic and ritual magic traditions that are primary sources of magical practice today. In this book, Greer reaches out to the theologians and philosophers of today who have scarcely taken polytheism seriously or even given it much thought, answering their arguments given for and against theism, atheism and polytheism using their own methods, proving that polytheism is a valid way of looking at the world.
For the last two thousand years or so, Western religious thought has been dominated by the theology of Christianity, while alternatives to this paradigm have been ignored. Classical theism (which Greer feels should rather be called classical monotheism), the idea that there is only one, omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent god in the Universe, is currently the basic assumption of almost all discussion of religion and the nature of divinity, and Greer has decided to tackle this assumption head on.
His first few chapters lay out the foundations of his arguments. He challenges the claims for religious authority, fideism (the idea that the rules of reason don't apply to religion), the idea that science has disproved religion, or at least religious experience as chemical workings of the brain, the cosmological argument (the fact that the universe exists at all proves that an omnipotent god created it), etc. I personally found the first few chapters a bit heavy going, but they were necessary and prepared the stage for the jewels to come.
Later chapters concentrate on religious experience and how the logic of polytheism is at least, if not more, rational than those of the monotheists and atheists. He gives a wonderful analogy of people in a small village who know of an entity called “Cat” that prowls the neighborhood, with each person experiencing it in only one way, convinced that their perception is the only correct one. There's one person that believes that “Cat” doesn't even exist, while another person has experience of them all. This analogy goes a long way in demonstrating polytheistic logic.
His chapters on polytheistic worship and spirituality concentrate on how Pagans view the universe, and how reciprocity is the basis of their transactions with the divine. He even says at one point that if Pagan gods are verbs (like the Christian god is often seen), then that verb would be, “to give.” He counters claims that Paganism is inadequate due to not having a salvation theology, and how this is totally unfounded. His chapter on ethics is particularly good, countering claims that since Pagans have no texts revealed by their gods, there is no possible way they can have a coherent, detailed and humane system of philosophy. He also points out that televangelists and Priests prove that Pagans certainly don't have a monopoly on sexual depravity. Moral thought in the monotheistic traditions concentrates on what is excluded and can be renounced, while Pagan thought is directed towards wholeness of body, mind and spirit.
John Michael Greer's researched and well reasoned arguments are a must-read for the modern Pagan community, and as Diana Paxton says in her review of this book on the Amazon.com web site, “John Michael Greer has provided a primer on the kinds of ideas and themes that must be included in any discussion of the theology and philosophy of Neo-pagan religions.” This book gives Pagans the ammunition they need when confronted by people who either can't or won't understand how Paganism could possibly be valid or real.
Review by Kirk Thomas