A Hellenic response to Mr. Jordan Peterson regarding polytheism and monotheism

Mr. Jordan Peterson,

It has come to my attention that in a lecture which you gave some years ago, you stated that you like the idea of a relationship «between polytheism and psychological confusion» and «monotheism and psychological unification,» an idea you ascribed to Carl Jung. I don’t know about you, but the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians don’t appear confused to me. Or would you say that the creation of science, administration, philosophy and democracy are symptoms of confusion? And what about the Bible or the Christians? Is genocide at the command of a god a sign of «psychological unification» to you?

What in your opinion is psychological balance? Hearing the voice of god? Or creating the institutions of freedom, i.e. self-government? Personally, I find myself unable to associate sanity with the enslavement to a questionable book, with illiterates from the desert being proud of being unwashed or with so-called holy men preaching hate against the Greek, Roman, Egyptian and all the other people who were «different,» meaning themselves. I would like to remind you that it was monotheism, not polytheism, that set the ancient world on fire, destroyed the temples and altars of the gods, burned down whole libraries, pathologized sexuality and massacred the European ethnicities. Genocide is interwoven with the mindset and dogma of monotheism, because the monotheistic doctrine is intrinsically unable to accept or at least tolerate alterity.

Mr. Peterson, I think I understand why you deny the existing phenomenon of cultural appropriation, or praise orthodox Christianity and, of course, individualism. Nevertheless I find it very concerning that you ignore the criminal history of Christianity, its totalitarian attitude towards collective otherness, its immanent devaluation of the objective world in favour of an incoherent fantasy, the countless genocides it committed through the ages and the plans for new genocides in the «Revelation to John,» the last book of the so-called New Testament. Not many centuries passed since civilization put a stop to Christianity’s barbarity. But Christianity didn’t change, the world did, it changed due to the Enlightenment and the French revolution, which would not have taken place without the rediscovery of classical literature for which the humanists were responsible the majority of whom were anti-Christian. It was the enlightenment and French revolution that to some degree civilized the Western world. Not Christianity.

As an advocate for individualism, which by the way was regarded by Carl Jung — who is mentioned very often in your lectures — as a «cheap substitute» for the relationship with «das Selbst» (the self) that is lacking, you are opposed to collectivism which is the essential characteristic of indigenous or «polytheistic» cultures, but also the basis of democracy, since the idea of humans as «persons» was and is foreign to Hellenism. The «individual» is the central idea of the West, as you rightly said. The central idea of Hellenism, on the other side, is «political man,» and this idea is the logical consequence of collectivism, because politics is all about the polis, state, community. As a term «politics» means «dealing with the affairs of the polis [state].» But the polis is the expression of a well ordered and thus free i.e. autonomous collective. Without the polis there is no polites (citizen), no politismos (administration) and no politeia, which is the «condition and rights of a citizen,» the collective «body of citizens» (Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott: A Greek-English Lexicon, entry: πολιτεία). Isegoria (equality in freedom of speech), isonomia (equal application of the laws to all) and isokratia (equality of power) are the collective fundaments on which freedom is based and without which democracy cannot exist, for democracy is nothing more nor less than the self governed society, free of tyranny, heavenly dictators, parties and parliaments.

Hellenism sees man as a social being defined by his relationships to his family, clan, tribe and state, as member of a group, a limb of the political order of his polis. Against this backdrop, individualism isolates man, counteracts his political nature and, more importantly, places all collective needs under the primacy of individual desires, wishes and likes, cementing the atomization and depolitization of man. When individual choices or desires rise above collective necessities, tyranny is not far away. The immaturity of individualism is the very antithesis of Jung’s concept of individuation, which he thought was a natural process «by which individual beings are formed and differentiated.» Its goal is «the development of the individual personality» (Collected Works 6, 757), to «achieve wholeness» (Collected Works 17, 307). Individualism, on the other hand, is not natural at all. It’s a modern ideology. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines individualism as a «political and social philosophy that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual … According to the individualist, all values are human-centred, the individual is of supreme importance, and all individuals are morally equal» (Encyclopaedia Britannica, entry: individualism), whereas the definition given by Analytical psychology looks somewhat different: «Individualism. A belief in the supremacy of individual interests over those of the collective, not to be confused with individuality or individuation» (Daryl Sharp, C. G. Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms and Concepts, entry: individualism).

Jung himself was very careful to differentiate individualism from individuation: «Individualism has nothing to do with individuation; individualism is an inflation of the ego of man» (The Seminaries, Vol. 2, Part 1. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939, London/New York, 2014, p. 348); «relationship to the self is at once relationship to our fellow man, and no one can be related to the latter until he is related to himself» (Collected Works 16, 445). But this is not surprising, since Jung wasn’t very keen on individualism: «the development of personality is an ideal … the cry of individualism is an insult» (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 17: Development of Personality, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954/1981, p. 175). In his Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (London: Routledge, 1992, 2nd ed., p. 173-174), Jung goes into more detail about the true meaning of individuation:

«Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligations. But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfilment of the collective qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social performance than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed. The idiosyncrasy of an individual is not to be understood as any strangeness in his substance or in his components, but rather as a unique combination, or gradual differentiation, of functions and faculties which in themselves are universal. Every human face has a nose, two eyes, etc., but these universal factors are variable, and it is this variability which makes individual peculiarities possible. Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given; in other words, it is a process by which a man becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is. In so doing he does not become ‹selfish› in the ordinary sense of the word, but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this, as we have said, is vastly different from egotism or individualism.»

In this light, it is understandable that you hold onto a notion of «polytheism» (which is part of one’s collective ethos) that allows you to draw a conclusion that confirms your thesis. It’s a logical fallacy, and therefore maybe also human nature I guess. But I certainly don’t understand why you seem to confuse the archetypal images with the archetypes themselves, since you are a clinical psychologist. The archetypal images are «only» the «externalization» of inherited neuropsychological dispositions called archetypes. They are not the archetypes themselves nor the gods worshipped by indigenous people, especially given that the gods are external forces. Returning to the issue at hand, I would like to clear up one misunderstanding that dominates not only your thinking, but the entire Western imagination, and is often used to justify the disregard of ethnic religions. The gods of my ancestors, the gods of the Greeks, are not «archetypes.» They are not personalities and not even personal gods, but multiplications of the True Being (ontos on), and thus impersonal, asexual beings (onta), since they are connected to the first cause «in the same manner as intellections are not separated from intellect» (Sallustios, On the Gods and the World, Ch. II.). This idea seems strange to many people because they were taught to confuse the myths with the actual cult. However, the reality is very different from the notions that were established as «common knowledge» in the Western world. «Greek religion, religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Hellenes. Greek religion is not the same as Greek mythology, which is concerned with traditional tales, though the two are closely interlinked. Curiously, for a people so religiously minded, the Greeks had no word for religion itself; the nearest terms were eusebeia (‹piety›) and threskeia (‹cult›)» (Encyclopaedia Britannica, entry: Greek religion).

In Hellenic religion, the sacred is diversity in unity, the gods multiplicity of oneness. Besides the strange stereotypes surrounding the terms «monotheism» and «polytheism,» the core of Hellenic religion lies in its cosmotheism. i.e. the relationship between the gods and the cosmos. The term «cosmotheism» is a recent construction. It describes a religious conception or notion of the universe as an eternal wholeness. According to this view, the cosmos is beginningless or arose out of itself. Its laws come from within. However, the cosmos is permeated by a principle that is superior to the will of the gods. This principle is called in Hellenismos moira (fate), ananke (necessity) or heimarmene (causal determinism). Consequently, in cosmotheism, the cosmos itself takes on the central role and also ranks above the gods in importance. The gods did not create the universe, they just gave order to the world, united the various primordial substances into the cosmos.

The god of monotheism, on the other side, is a person or, to be more precisely, a personal god. He creates the cosmos by will and is not subjected to any law. The universe is his to do with as he pleases. He is not accountable to anyone, and is the source, not the divine «pillar» of ethics. While in Hellenic religion justice is the «sister» of the seasons, in other words an objective reality, in monotheism, justice is solely the will and work of god. This makes him the «archetype» of authoritarianism. Religion is only one part of what we call monotheism. Monotheism is not limited to theology or the apotheosis of the individual, because it is also culture and politics. This is what makes monotheism so dangerous for the body and mind of people. However, the really tragic thing is: monotheism passed the previously described deified arbitrariness and its eschatology onto its political derivations: conservatism, liberalism, nationalism, internationalism. Fascism and bolshevism, however, are undoubtedly the worst and most deadly emanations of political monotheism that humanity has had to face since the genocide of the Indigenous populations of the Americas. Now, while the former endeavor to present themselves as more secular and rational ideologies that promise bliss to the world, for the most part the latter two make no secret of their «world-correcting» agendas and totalitarian will to assert their particular fetish, be it the triumph of the «white race» or the realization of the «classless society.» It is this sense of mission and the transformation of the Western religious habitus into what is euphemistically called today «politics» that makes political monotheism so dangerous, not to mention so irrational. Western exceptionalism for instance is nothing other than the secularized self-image of Christianity.

Within two centuries, political monotheism managed to colonize almost all of humanity’s mental landscapes, with a lot of help from Western empires. But then again, this is the actual recipe of success of the Occidental cultural imperialism: it assails religion as well as culture and politics. Political monotheism is now dominating «politics,» all on a worldwide basis, turning history itself into a nightmarish epiphany of an imprudent god whose insecurity turns into aggression in the face of the natural polymorphy of the ethnosphere. Both religious as well as political monotheism is deeply imbued with the spirit of intransigent intolerance. Hence, it is not surprising that the religious wing of the Western cultural imperialism, or to be precise, the various by-products of Western Christianity are characterized by a similar intolerance towards heterogeneity and otherness, even though some of them deny their derivation from monotheism and genuinely consider themselves to be tolerant. Nonetheless they use the same core methods to «correct,» alienate or assimilate otherness into themselves. They use the violence embedded within the capitalist way of thinking to possess, own, consume, dissipate and ultimately dispose of the once desired object whatever that object might be: an ethnonym, a culture, its religion or even its history. This can be observed especially in occultism, neopaganism and the New Age movement, where cultural appropriation is well documented. Less extreme examples appear to depend on the same mechanisms. However, it was the exorbitant exploitation and distortion of Native American religious traditions that lead to the «Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality» that was ratified in June 1993 by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

Besides turning the sacred into a «product,» cultural appropriation has opened the way for cultural occupation, alienation and expropriation. For the cultures concerned, it’s an ethnocide by installments, though the occentocentric perspective resists this reality. What is expressed here is the imbalance of power acquired through military, technological and economic resources, that is so characteristic of cultural appropriation. Western Christian esotericism, commonly known as occultism, drives the homogenization of the ethnosphere by forcing ethnic religions into western concepts, under the spell of Western universalism, which is poisoning the much touted dialogue of cultures. This concerns in particular indigenous cultures as they are in a weaker, marginalized position. But this disrespectful, exploitative relationship to the world is not limited to occultism. For although it’s secondary products such as neopaganism and the New Age may appear more tolerant due to their syncretism and pluralistic rhetoric, they maintain a similar attitude toward alterity, have the same impact on the ethnosphere. One just needs to take a closer look at their actual interaction with the outside world and shouldn’t be dazzled by the bright colours and advertising texts. Their aggressive commercialization of foreign cultures and their ancestral cults, the market-conform distortion of indigenous practices and, above all, the active reproduction of Christianity’s false and derogatory stereotypes of ethnic religions are sabotaging the revitalization and re-Indigenization efforts undertaken by indigenous people in order to heal their communities. There are even cases where pagans claim to be members of the culture or tradition they exploit for their own private gain, or where they pretend to speak on behalf of a community of people they are not related to, while in other cases some of them attempted to define indigenous Hellenic culture from the outside (which means to decide what Hellenism is or should be) and presented themselves to the public as «Hellenic priests.» Unfortunately, the internet especially social media makes it easy for scammers and con artists to scam people and take their money: it provides a market where fraudsters can operate unhindered by borders. But such an activity is not just fraud. It is an outright attack on the self-determination and sovereignty of peoples. And this situation is further aggravated because self-staging and the priority of the subjective over the objective are intrinsic to Angloamerican paganism. Therefore a permanent solution to the problem outlined above seems unrealistic at this time.

Given these considerations, it should come as no surprise that pagans, but also nationalists who show a curious obsession with ancient Greece, call the Hellenes‘ right to define their own culture into question, masking cultural continuities in favour of a fetishized version of «ancient Greece» — a substitute for a lively connection to a culture that remains completely alien to them. However, a closer look at this self-staging reveals that some of these people are not just interested in personal gain, they also seek social feedback and admiration that they believe will confirm their self-conceptions and thus raise their self-esteem. Their unnecessary conflicts with reality are rooted in their inability to cope with their need for validation and appreciation appropriately. Their lack of awareness about what is going on in their mind, caused by their ignorance and infantility, is preventing them from understanding the reactions of the people whose culture they abuse. That they are crossing a line. Indigenous cultures are not consumer goods, their ancestral cults are not RPGs, their identity is not a plaything.

But this postmodern peculiarity is not only to be found in Angloamerican paganism, in fact it permeates the entire Western world. The German psychoanalyst Rainer Funke describes this kind of self-staging as follows: «Nobody has the right to say what is good or bad, right or wrong, healthy or sick, genuine or false, real or illusionary. What counts is the self-determined self-staging — that you are yourself» (Rainer Funk [ed.]: Einleitung: Das Leben selbst ist eine Kunst, in: Erich Fromm: Die Antwort der Liebe: Die Kunst des richtigen Lebens, Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 2003, 2nd ed., p. 9). Cultural appropriation, however, is only one facet of creeping modernization — a popular euphemism for Westernization, which is in turn, a euphemism for cultural alienation. The approximation to the West is also accomplished by the occupation or «change» of the language, institutions and customs of the people concerned from the outside, often accompanied by rationalization of exploitation or denial and trivialisation of acts of genocide, in an effort to make this occupation of one’s cultural imagination appear less uncivilized. But that is another issue, which deserves its own paper.

The link below will take you to a 18-minute long video that provides more details on the nature of the gods and how my people perceive them. I’m sure it can remedy your misunderstanding and provide you with new insights that counteract the stories spread by Christianity during the last twenty centuries, which have now become «general knowledge» and reproduce one another, for instance in occultism or paganism. This «general knowledge» affects everyone of us, it affected even Carl Jung, since Christianity permeates the whole Western world, even the imagination of its atheists, because every imagination is culturally determined, and members of the Western world breathe and live inside the Christian categories, inside Christianity’s metalanguage and stereotypes, religious and secular. But it is not only the perspective, words are also culturally determined or rather permeated by the dominant culture (which is currently the «Western civilization» established by Charlemagne) – and language in turn shapes our cognitive realities and via that route our behavioural responses.

As a Hellene, I don’t expect you agree with me about this. As someone who believes in Jesus, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to acknowledge the ethnic gods as something other than «mythological gods.» Therefore, my intention is not to change your mind, after all we both belong to different cultures and represent different worlds. But that’s actually a good thing. After two thousand years of forceful homogenization and universalism of the ethnosphere, the last thing we need is more homogenization.

My motivation for this article was to try to communicate the Hellenic perspective and to contrast your public praise of «monotheism» or statement on «polytheism» with a more differentiated view regarding the differences between these two systems which generate fundamentally different values, cultures and thus types of man.

Yours sincerely,

Stilian Korovilas