I was listening to this song while driving to work a couple of days ago and one line from the song stuck out a lot more than it usually does for some reason: “No more war for your god…“. It struck me because a line further along in that song says “live and let live, true freedom“. Is it really possible to live and let live while people believe in god(s)? No man is an island; every single thing that you do – that you are – affects a multitude of people. Do you have a job? That means that someone else does not. Are you in an exclusive relationship with someone? That means that everyone else who is interested in your significant other is excluded from their intimacy. And so on and so forth for every finite thing.
The concept of live and let live is an impossibility due to scarce resources. But were we always fighting about the wrong gods? Is “god” a resource?
(Amazon.com product review)
Before the fall of Judah and the elites' exile c. 597 BCE, the “Judaism” of the common person (not the literate elite) was a polytheistic religion. When the Judahite elites returned from the exile, they brought with them a more concrete, idealized version of their history which included an inflated version of henotheism (the precursor to monotheism); probably borrowed from their Persian Zoroastrian benefactors who allowed them to return. This inflated henotheism is the backbone of all of the conquest narratives in the “Primary History” of Israel/Judah (Genesis – 2 Kings) created and edited by the literate elite c. 500 BCE. This began the Jews' elitism and intolerance for other religions: The first true religious holy war was the Maccabean revolt of c. 160 BCE*. This only came about due to a “scarcity” of sacred space and group privilege. This same intolerance is also what lead to the destruction of their temple in 70 CE, one of the reasons being the refusal to worship Roman emperors as gods.
Modern Christianity, of course, inherited Jewish monotheism (there were multitude of early Christianities that were not monotheistic). Even going so far as to declare not only that they were not going to worship the gods of their pagan neighbors, but to actively declare that those gods were malevolent spirits. How's that for acceptance and tolerance? The first biggest turning point in the history of religious violence was when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The second biggest turning point in the history of religious violence was when Islam became the official religion of the (now unified) Arab tribes. Prior to the advent of Christianity, no entire empire the span of the Roman Empire would have declared war on another empire just because they had the wrong religion. That would be absurd in a polytheistic framework.
Prior to Christendom, the pagan Roman Empire simply practiced syncretism on conquered peoples. When the Romans conquered the Greeks, they did not kill anyone who believed in the “wrong god” or force everyone to follow the Roman pantheon. No, they just said “Oh, the chief god of the Greeks is Zeus? Well, that's just Jupiter.” or “The Greek god of wine is Dionysus? I guess that's what they call Bacchus.” or “The Greeks named their main city after their goddess Athena? But that's just Minerva” and so on and so forth. However, when Christians conquered other peoples, they actively said that the local gods were really demons and needed to be vanquished, or in later centuries (to their credit) they changed local pagan gods to human saints and angels.
But when Islam came around – a second monotheistic religion – then planes hit the towers, so to say. Instead of just one continent-spanning empire being monotheistic, you had two. Syncretism would be impossible. Something the scale of the Crusades, for the reasons that started them, would probably be unthinkable in a pre-Christian or pre-Muslim pagan world.
Similarly, something like this entire post would be almost impossible in pre-Christian Roman society. If the guy in that post's favorite god that he preferred to make sacrifices to was Ares, but his girlfriend called him Mars, there would be no relationship-ending type of conflict between them over their theology. It seems as though that post really is a microcosm of the inherent intolerance of monotheism; the Crusades being a large scale manifestation of that same intolerance.
Monotheism, due to its nature in the big three monotheistic religions, precludes syncretism. This preclusion of syncretism is also a preclusion to open-mindedness. This preclusion to open-mindedness is what creates tension, strife, division, and finally… violence and hatred.
“Monotheism leads to fear. Fear leads to hatred. Hatred is the path to the dark side…”