Now that services have ended at the First National Church of Crawford, Texas, it’s clear America needs a new religion. Not to nitpick, but it could be argued that rule by the most loudly born-again or, as scholars call it, Screechocracy, was not a success.
That’s not to say we can hope for an improvement by veering leftward, into one or another version of softcore Buddhism, as recovering Christians tend to do. Let’s face it: Buddhism has some nice statues and incense, but it’s no fun at all. Indeed, adopting that most dismally mature of religions means giving up forever on the idea of getting any fun out of existence. That’s the whole message of Buddhism.
And a fun pantheon is what America wants right now, to get everyone’s mind off that Visa envelope sitting like an anthrax package on the hall table. That’s why it’s time to drop the whole grim monotheism narrative and go back to polytheism—because if you want fun, you need a bigger, wackier cast of characters. When Bill Murray said, in Groundhog Day, “I’m A God; I’m not THE God,” he was on the right track. We need to stop fooling with the singular, upper-case God and shop for a nice set of lower-case gods. And goddesses, because the first benefit of polytheism is, as they say, diversity.
Luckily, the one thing the monstrous corpse-dump of human history has generated in profusion is weird, interesting gods. We may as well recycle the bastards, because they’re already paid for in blood, ignorance and misery. We’ll never know how many goats, birthmark-free children, twins, clubfeet, cattle, slaves, prisoners and other surplus beings have been killed in their names, but you can be sure it’s a number big enough to ensure some good old Lord of the Flies creepiness to any god-gang you choose. They’ll do the job. It’s just a matter of picking the right crew. So here is a quick survey of some enticing, unemployed, desirable pantheons, with quick summaries of their strong points and defects as future objects of urban worship:
The Egyptian Zoo
All we really have in a cold universe are our fellow critters. The Egyptians understood this better than anyone—before they, along with many another promising civilization, were bulldozed by monotheist hicks, first Christian and then Muslim.
Just compare Greek and Egyptian art. The Greeks were good with people, in fact they were so good with male musculature you can tell they spent their lives studying up—but they couldn’t do animals. Nobody can do animals like the Egyptians. Egyptian cat statues look like they just finished grooming themselves and are about to jump off the pedestal. Egyptian dog statues are so smart they seem to criticize your wardrobe as you stare at them. They even did good baboons—beady-eyed hunched muggers waiting for the moment to spring.
The Egyptians took that delight in all life into their religion and made a pantheon that’s warmer, bigger, and more versatile than any other. Not only did they make every beast from croc to cat into a god, but they did it with remarkable range, even deifying a beetle that pushes little balls of dung across the fields, and the jackal, a beautiful beast unjustly despised by lesser critics for the sin of making a tough living by its wits.
Better still, they foresaw the possibilities of recombination, mixing jackal and man, falcon and woman. You want inclusive? The Egyptian pantheon makes Oprah look like a Boston Brahmin. Their war god, Sekhmet, is a nubile maiden in a linen dress who has the head of a lion—and the body to make it work for her. That’s another plus here: the Egyptian goddesses are by far the hottest.
This is the top of the line in pantheons: seductive, biosphere-friendly, morally ambivalent. They play hard to get, but they’re willing to listen to mortal petitioners. Polytheism we can believe in.
Disadvantages: homeland swamped by filthy monotheists. Many magnificent deified species of the pantheon, such as crocodiles and hippos, now wiped out in Egypt. Third Mummy film said to be godawful.
The Greek Landlords
Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, and the rest have built-in appeal for tweedsters who like to think they support “classical civilization,” , though the fogies would would all file stress lawsuits if they had to spend even a minute in a crowded elevator this tribe of randy, moody, vengeful and obsessive gamblers. This is a pantheon that bores easy, and when they’re bored—uh-oh!
One advantage for the contemporary market is that they’re totally gender-balanced. Athena, the brilliant, beautiful goddess of wisdom, may well be the single coolest god ever invented. She’s got a pet owl and carries a big spear, for Gods’ sake—what more do you want? For the GBLT consumer, the possibilities are endless, starting with Artemis—you didn’t know about Artemis? Jeez, she wasn’t exactly hiding it. And Zeus is a man of flexible tastes. No stickler he. No speciesist even. If it moves, he’ll descend on it in some gaudy disguise.
Disadvantages: It’s going to be tough to keep “sexual harassment” on the books if we elevate a bunch of Greeks to Olympia. That’s all we’re going to say. Oh, also that whole justice thing, forget it—they’d laugh if you mentioned . But that reminds us of the great thing about these guys vs. most gods: they actually have a sense of humor. Whether that’s a good thing in a god or not depends on who’s the punch line.
The Hindu Crowd
Many distinct advantages, starting with Ganesha, the god of wealth, who makes this pantheon a natural for urban capitalists, and a clear leader over god crews designed for warrior tribes alone. There’s no denying that these are the gods you want for your startup shrine or office. Ganesha even has the right look: a fat many-armed multitasker with an elephant’s head, complete with trunk for handling your Blackberry. And there’s something for the kiddies too: Shiva, the primal deity of pre-Aryan India, who is devoted to pure destruction.
The other great advantage of the Hindu pantheon is that there’s no snooty members-only rule on this ride. This isn’t so much a stable pantheon as an overcrowded train to Delhi that picks up new passengers, ticketed and otherwise, at every stop. You can add or subtract a god or so, or 30, at any stop without outraging your fellow believers. Anything goes, and a bigger pantheon means more business for the idolmakers. In fact, Hinduism is the only major world religion that had no record of slaughtering unbelievers or heretics. Of course that proud record was broken when rural India was besieged by American evangelicals, but that has to be considered unbearable provocation.
Disadvantages: doesn’t seem to travel very well. Need to reconstruct an artificial Ganges wherever established (though this can lead to wonderful dreamscapes, as at Angkor). Certain modern, squeamish “reform” Hindus maintain that the various gods are not actually gods, the sort of dangerous talk that leads straight back to the monotheist ghetto. This leads to the greatest disadvantage of all: unlike our other contenders, the Hindu pantheon is currently worshipped by several hundred million actual people, taking most of the romance out of it and cutting way down on our room for reinventing these gods. Nothing ruins a pantheon like contemporary adherents.
Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.
Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.
Twitter twerps can follow us at twitter.com/exiledonline