I agree with Nettle's statement on the previous post, that "one god" versus "many gods" is not just a disagreement about number, but indicates a fundamentally different way of defining "deity." I suspect this distinction is why I found Greer's book so very frustrating--he treated it as exactly that: merely a disagreement about number, and nothing more.
The most telling example is Greer's "Many Cats" analogy for deity. In this inventive tale, several neighbors all endeavor to cultivate relationships with a mysterious being they call Cat. The "monofelists" believe there is only one Cat, and because they disagree about its appearance (sometimes black, sometimes tabby, for instance) and its food preferences (one neighbor leaves out milk, another kibble, yet another canned food), each accuses the others of merely imagining things, feeding rats by mistake, or simply having a less than perfect understanding of how Cat truly looks and behaves. The "afelist" of the neighborhood doesn't think there's any such thing as a Cat at all, while the "polyfelist," who is portrayed as clearly the most reasonable and knowledgeable of the group, laughs and says there are actually several cats in the neighborhood, each with its own territory, food preferences and personality.
Now, this allegory is, indeed, very helpful in illustrating Greer's personal conception of what deity is (or, in this case, what deities are), but rather than exploring the difference between monotheism and polytheism, it takes for granted a polytheistic worldview. What Greer fails to address is the possibility that, as he himself has pointed out earlier in the book, people actually experience deity in vastly different ways; in other words, the "monofelists" are assumed to be experiencing a limited or singular example of something that is inherently multiple and, furthermore, could easily be known as such with minimal effort. There is no way of illustrating from within his imaginary world, for instance, what an experience of deistic unity or transcendence might be like, and so the reader is left to assume (most likely without even realizing the bias) that such things cannot be aspects of deity, but are instead something else.
Greer's Many Cats analogy immediately strikes me as a very different version of the Blind Men & the Elephant metaphor, and perhaps a fairer comparison between monotheism and polytheism might be found in comparing these two different stories and how they conceive of the nature of deity as fundamentally different. In both situations, the foolishness of supposing that one person knows everything is apparent, but the nature of what is unknown and/or not personally experienced is vastly different. In the Cats story, there is nothing all that mysterious about the Cats themselves, and each person's ignorance lies in their unwillingness to listen to others. Greer seems to suggest that if "monofelists" simply treated others' experiences as being as valuable as their own, they would naturally reach the "polyfelist" conclusion. In the Blind Men story, however, our very ability to experience the Divine in its Fullness is what is limited. Our own limitations--not just those imagined of others, but those we ourselves experience and recognize--gives rise to our ignorance, so that even when we do listen to each other and give one another as much credence as we give ourselves, we can still only guess at what it is we think we know. Even if the Blind Men worked together to run their hands over the entire elephant, in other words, they would still be missing a certain kind of experience: in this case, the visual experience of seeing the elephant as a whole.
The difference between the two stories is in the supposed limitations, or lack of limitations, of human experience of Spirit. In the Many Cats example, the "polyfelist" is just as sure of her definitive knowledge of what Cats really are as Greer accuses "monofelists" as being. But it is still rather easy to imagine such a "polyfelist" having a moment of heightened experience in which she catches the briefest glimpse of the unity and interconnection of all beings--including Cats-- that transcends her previous understanding of each Cat as a separate being (and in fact, both Greer and Jordan Paper, author of The Deities Are Many, say that polytheists can and do have such "mystic" experiences). What if, upon mentioning such an experience to her "inclusive monofelist" neighbor, the "polyfelist" discovers that this kind of transcendence is precisely what the "monofelist" has been referring to all along?
So what kind of experience is this unity and transcendence, then, and what is being experienced? Does it not point to a kind of relationship to Spirit that belies the certainty of both the "monofelists" and the "polyfelist" as Greer portrays them? Is it not possible that unity and transcendence are just as likely to be attributes of deity as any other attribute of power, personality or presence? Greer describes the "retreat to a ground-of-being definition of God" as the result of monotheists backing themselves into a corner, but in my personal, direct experiences of this kind, it is precisely the opposite: it is a moment in which a new kind of experience transcends and unites the multifaceted and varied nature of previous experiences of deity, without denying or replacing them.
(Another, specifically Christian example of such a phenomenon is the experience that "everyone is Christ." This does not mean that people do not have unique personalities, individual and autonomous wills, or conflicts of interest, and that we should instead paste the "Face of Jesus" on top of everyone's true face and ignore all differences. Instead, it means just the opposite: recognizing the sacred uniqueness of every being, including ourselves, and as a corollary, respecting that uniqueness and individuality as itself a manifestation of a common, deeply-rooted Spirit. This might seem, again, to be mere dissembling or, even worse, to be downright illogical. Yet I have had personal, direct experiences of "seeing Christ" in other people.)
If Greer claims to respect such experiences as essential, even foundational, to one's religious life, then I do not see how he can so easily dismiss them as mere doctrinal semantics. He may, of course, have polytheistic explanations for these experiences--or even go so far as to claim that these experiences are themselves essentially polytheistic--but to me, this is as underhanded a strategy under the guise of "open dialogue" as that of monotheists who claim there's no such thing as a true polytheist.
I find it amusing when Greer, towards the end of his book, accuses monotheists of digging their own graves, setting up the potential for disbelief in other gods so thoroughly that it was only a matter of time before their own deity came under fire as well. I have already written in this blog about my understanding of atheism as part of the process of the spiritual life, and I hold to my assertion that to challenge simplistic, overly-anthropomorphic views of Spirit is entirely healthy, even if one must tread dangerously close to utter nihilism or reductionist materialism. I am also reminded of several scholars of Christianity's early development, who note that, for polytheists of that time as well, monotheism was effectively a form of atheism, denying the existence of the gods and goddesses so poignantly loved and worshipped in polytheistic traditions. But then, according to most monotheists today, polytheism itself is a form of atheism in rejecting the underlying unity and coherence of the animating Spirit in favor of "disjointed" and fragmentary forms. Funny, that after millennia, we are all still wrestling around in Square One.
It seems clear to me that neither monotheists nor polytheists are atheists. especially now that, thanks to philosophical systems like materialism and humanism, we have such clear, self-proclaimed examples of what atheism and non-theism look like. Rather, monotheists and polytheists simply disagree about the definition of deity itself, what it should include and how it can be experienced by human beings. Any exploration of either view, in particular an exploration which seeks to compare one against the other, must recognize this most basic difference. Only then can we begin to approach these religious worldviews on their own terms, rather than in the terms of those imposed upon them from the outside.
And now, for your viewing pleasure
(because you stuck with me this far, dear reader),
I give you: