I learned a new word from Bill Edelen’s book “Earthrise” today: Henotheism. Understanding it may allow you to have a better Thanksgiving this year, especially if the relatives are coming to visit.
Henotheism means that you believe in your own God and worship him or her, but you accept that different cultures have other gods that are equally valid and sacred. No kidding. Look it up.
Can you imagine that? Imagine a preacher or rabbi or imam saying: “What I’m saying to you is only our teaching. Well, in truth, it is my teaching about our teaching. But there are other teachings. Feel free next Friday or Saturday or Sunday to go to another service and see what they believe. If you like them better, go with them.”
I can hear the screams, the shock, the horror, especially of some of the ministers of those houses of worship. Henotheism seems to contradict the fundamental belief of every religion: “Our religion is the true religion, the right one, the correct one, the only one.” This idea challenges the bedrock of some religious believers who believe their religion is the only one to be believed. That bedrock has led to hundreds of thousands of persecutions, wars, pogroms, crusades, tortures and killings over history.
There is a further, and perhaps more telling, underlying threat. If a preacher did make such an announcement as the one above, he or she might also have revealed a deeper, underlying fear: “You are my source of revenue. If you all disappear, I am out of a job. I would kind of like to put food on the table for myself and my family next week. So, please come back!” That certainly is a valid consideration. Most religion today doesn’t come for free.
By the way, it is in this very Voices section of the News-Press that I became familiar with Bill Edelen, whom I mentioned above, many years ago. His articles appeared here regularly. Bill passed away in 2015.
Getting back to Thanksgiving, I suggest applying the henotheism concept to politics, to the political conversations that might come up between you and Uncle Ralph this Thursday. Applying henotheism to politics, the goal of your conversation would be to allow him to totally explain his political party religion, without you saying anything about your own. Maybe we should name it “turkeyism” rather than henotheism, because it applies to politics, not to gods – and, in honor of the sacred bird of thanksgiving. The winner is the one who says nothing to explain or defend his or her own politico-religion. You don’t even have to let Uncle Ralph in on the rules. Just follow them yourself and you will be the winner!
What would be at stake? You wouldn’t lose anything. Your job and your money would not be at stake. Your next meal is already in front of you! Of course, the entire foundation of your politico-religion would be under threat, because you aren’t allowed to say anything to justify it. But that’s how the game is played. If you can do that, you win!
In the game of henotheism there doesn’t have to be only one winner. There can be two or more winners! So too, in the game of turkeyism. All you have to do is listen. In case uncle Ralph’s view doesn’t change at all, at least he may think, “Wow, that dummy finally listened to me!” That makes two winners.
If this sounds too threatening for you, don’t worry. Try it anyhow. If, afterwards, you are still feeling blue, or black and blue, there is still Black Friday! That is the day you can return to your standard favorite house of political worship – either Fox News or MSNBC – for solace. Everybody who watches them knows that they tell the truth.
The author lives in Santa Barbara.