Polytheism and Monotheism Christianity and Term Paper

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They believed the gods could manifest themselves, as seen in Aristides and Asclepius. Another important aspect of polytheistic worship was honoring dead ancestors through household shrines and rituals. However, the concern in paganism was not focused on death and immortality. Rather it focused on the present life. In addition to this, there were voluntary associations such as mystery cults where people shared religious rituals more personally and gained a sense of group identity through rites, deity worship, communal dinners, and sacrifices. In all this there is a clear polytheism still prevalent. The Romans, like the Greeks before them, did not experience any discomfort with the idea of multiple gods. Mattingly sees this as an inclusive type of belief: "Paganism was inclined to be tolerant because it was essentially inclusive" (Mattingly 22). This form was destined to decline under the influence of monotheism.

Science may have played some part in critiquing polytheism and lending support for Christian monotheism, but it does not seem too important. For one thing, studies of the universe were an attempt to find some means of human escape from Fate. Dampier writes, "As a means of escape from Fate, men looked first to the heavens themselves, where incalculable bodies like comets suggested room for freedom" (Dampier 38). The more typical method was using religion, especially the mystery religions. These gave men hope, Dampier says, of controlling nature, the gods, and the stars -- whether magically, through personal union with a savior, or through rediscovery of one soul that leads to freedom through knowledge over fate. Both the Stoics and the Epicurean atomistic doctrines suggested that man could be free by withdrawal from troubles and entering solemn peace, whereas
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the scientific advances did not contribute significantly toward a critique of polytheism. According to Dampier, the great scientists and natural historians in both the Greek and Roman times -- Archimedes, Ptolemy, Lucretius, Pliny, and Galen -- could not overcome the superstitious spirit of the times that dominated and "coincides with a decline in ancient science" (Dampier 52). The geocentric view of the universe, technology, and the principle of causation were influential but did not topple pantheism.

The important thing in Roman religion was its stress on the emperor cult. This continued the attachment of religion to the state, but intensified it. Rives says that rituals "functioned to define and reinforce the civic and religious identity of the populace" (Rives 114). The public cults articulated social hierarchies. The elite presided over ceremonies and festivals, which the people did not necessarily experience enthusiastically. They were mediators between humans and gods. This was not just during festivals, but also in elections, war assemblies, and the census. North and others are certain as well that the central ritual for piety was animal sacrifice (North 44). This is important for setting up the conflict with monotheism.

The emperor cult demanded shows of allegiance through oath-taking and sacrifices. The typical polytheist had no problem with these. Pagan cults were mainstream and not in conflict with civic authority. However, the Christians refused to offer sacrifices to the emperor of take vows. This refusal was based on the view that sacrifices had been eliminated as a necessary part of religious practice. Christ had made the ultimate sacrifice to do away with them. Further, they believed the sacrifices were done to idols or demons. Idols had no power

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