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Article by Assi Meshullam

Introduction - The Paradoxes of Reality and the Divine

 

For thousands of years, humanity has grappled with questions probing the very nature of reality and that which seems to reside beyond it - the sublime/the divine. Despite the significant contribution of these philosophical efforts to the development of human thought, they have often encountered paradoxes and deep contradictions, especially when trying to venture beyond the familiar territory of consciousness. Limited by the cognitive frameworks and logical structures inherent to it, human awareness struggles to come to terms with a universe that appears to operate according to principles different from those we know and understand. The present text seeks to peek into the complex interplay between human perception and the reality that transcends it, and to suggest that the true essence of existence and the sublime may lie in a realm beyond our conventional understanding.

The initial station of this inquiry will be the recognition that reality, as it exists beyond the boundaries of consciousness, is likely replete with paradoxes and logical contradictions. Traditional ontological debates often reach an impasse, for instance, when we attempt to grapple with a question such as whether 'being' is fundamentally one or many. Philosophical discourse in this area oscillates between a monistic view, which posits one unified reality, and pluralism, which advocates for the existence of multiple, distinct beings. Both viewpoints, rooted in logical and rational arguments, appear equally valid and convincing, yet they stand in direct contradiction to one another. This dichotomy highlights a limitation in our understanding, and suggests that the true nature of existence is unlikely to fully conform to the binary frameworks to which we have become accustomed. 

Parallel to these ontological discussions are the theological polemics pondering the nature of the divine. Here, the discourse is divided between monotheism, the belief in a single, omnipotent God, and polytheism, the belief in multiple deities. Each of these theological perspectives provides rational justifications for its beliefs, employing logic and philosophical arguments to support its claims. However, it appears that the theological arguments also reach an impasse, as each perspective offers valid yet contradictory viewpoints. This issue, too, points to the possibility that the nature of divinity (if such exists), much like the nature of reality itself, may be far more complex and multifaceted than our current conceptual models allow.

This essay seeks to present the concept of 'heterotheism' as a potential solution to the paradoxicality embodied in the tension between the two main forms of belief. Emerging from heterosophic thought, heterotheism aims to offer a possibility for the 'coexistence' of monotheism and polytheism, yet one that is folded into a single, synthetic theological perspective. This stems from an understanding that in a reality capable of containing and tolerating contradictions and paradoxes, both concepts could potentially coexist simultaneously. This idea is not intended to undermine or diminish the uniqueness of each belief system in its own right. Rather, it suggests that the sublime domain, the divine, much like the broader reality, may encompass a range of possibilities beyond the traditional dichotomies to which our consciousness has become accustomed. Delving into the intricacies of the heterotheistic idea is not merely a theoretical exercise but an invitation to expand our intellectual and spiritual horizons and to reconsider our approach to understanding the universe and divinity. All this while urging us to acknowledge the limitations of human perception and to embrace the contradictory and paradoxical nature of existence. The concept of 'heterotheism' thus offers a holistic and inclusive framework for understanding the profound mysteries that have captivated human thought for thousands of years.

 

The Paradoxical Nature of Reality

 

The journey of discovery into reality, which humanity began thousands of years ago and has undoubtedly not yet reached its conclusion, reveals a landscape replete with paradoxes and contradictions. These anomalies challenge our very understanding of reality and hint at an existence far more complex and enigmatic than what human logic and reason allow. Western philosophy has long grappled with paradoxes that challenge our conceptions of existence, truth, time, and the like. From Zeno's paradoxes to the Ship of Theseus, philosophical discourse presents a rich array of intellectual challenges that have always served as a gateway to the exploration of fundamental existential questions, reflecting the ongoing struggle to reconcile intuitive beliefs with logical thinking. When examining these paradoxes—those arguments that cannot be resolved by the rational subject—and trying to transcend the habit of suppressing them, one can easily reach the conclusion that existence as we know it is, in fact, impossible.

For instance, the well-known paradoxes of Zeno, the pre-Socratic philosopher of the 5th century BCE, challenge the concept of motion and argue that, mathematically, it cannot exist at all; we can clearly see motion all around us—a bird flapping its wings, a child running in the yard, clouds drifting across the sky—yet Zeno's paradox suggests that such motion is fundamentally impossible according to logic and mathematics. This is a direct contradiction between what we perceive as obvious reality and what reason argues must be true. Another example of such a paradox is the tension between the two philosophical approaches to the origin of 'being': one assumes that 'being' was created, and thus did not exist before, meaning that something arose from nothing, while the other assumes that 'being' has always existed, meaning there was never a beginning, and the past of material existence extends backwards into infinity. These two explanations are the only possible ones, they contradict each other, and in fact, each one is itself an absurdity, at least according to the human perception of time and space (the religious explanation that God created 'being' does not actually solve anything and leaves the issue unresolved). Other contradictions and paradoxes from the field of philosophy touch on consciousness, identity, causality, free will, and more. These challenge our most fundamental human conceptions and raise the possibility that existence as we know it is logically incoherent.

The fact that there is an 'I' currently contemplating these lines, who chose to put them into writing, perhaps for someone to read soon, is based on countless circumstances, contexts, and connections, in a paradoxical existence that seemingly should not allow it at all. The parable of the Ship of Theseus teaches us that such an 'I' may not exist at all; paradoxes from the realm of causality teach us that even if there is such an 'I', it could not have chosen to write this essay in the first place; and the 'hard problem of consciousness' tells us that the very fact that there are recipients for this essay is itself an absurdity. Paradoxes are also not foreign to the exact sciences such as physics (e.g. in quantum mechanics) and mathematics, where not only the limitations of scientific inquiry are exposed, but also the limitations of perception itself.

The paradoxes emphasize the multifaceted nature of the reality that exists beyond human consciousness. They reveal an existence in which our conventional tools of logic encounter their own boundaries, and where different truths can contradict each other yet coexist simultaneously. Within the heterosophic thought, this existence is referred to as the 'bubbling', referring to that inaccessible layer of reality that lies beyond the categories of consciousness and our cultural and linguistic distinctions. The 'bubbling' does not recognize human orders and concepts, and thus categories and logical rules that seem self-evident to us simply do not apply there. This realization forces us to expand our cognitive and philosophical horizons and adopt a more complex approach to understanding reality. It invites us to ponder the possibility that the immanent nature of the universe, that heterosophic 'bubbling', is not bound by our established paradigms, but is rather a tapestry woven with paradoxes, mysteries, and enigmas that transcend human understanding, and may forever remain so.

 

Ontology at an Impasse: Multiplicity and Unity

 

As mentioned above, one of the fundamental questions for understanding the basic nature of reality is the question of multiplicity and unity, which ultimately also gets stuck in a conceptual wall. The two conventional perspectives that attempt to grapple with this issue are monism and pluralism. Monistic ontology argues that reality is fundamentally unified, composed of one substance or principle. Philosophers like Baruch Spinoza argued for the existence of a single substance (for Spinoza this was "God or Nature") expressed in different modes, pointing to a unified source for all existence. This view, while simple and elegant, faces some significant challenges when it comes to explaining the diversity and complexity of the observed world; how can the existence of distinct entities, sometimes contradicting one another's existence, be explained in a reality that is fundamentally "one"? Attempts to resolve the tension between the monistic argument and the phenomenon of complexity often lead to paradoxical conclusions or unsatisfying explanations. For example, the problem of evil poses one of the deepest contradictions to the monistic idea; for if reality is one, how can the existence of suffering, evil, or conflict be explained? Similarly, the monistic idea grapples with the problem of consciousness, for if everything is one, how can subjective experiences and an objective reality arise from the same substance? How can thoughts, feelings, and other subjective qualities emerge from the same material that rocks and rivers are made of?

The pluralistic view, on the other hand, holds that reality encompasses multiple, distinct entities or substances. This perspective aligns more with empirical observations of diversity and multiplicity in the natural world, but it faces issues such as the problem of interaction and connection between these multiple entities. How can fundamentally separate and distinct entities interact with one another? If each entity is truly independent and different from the others, what mechanisms or principles govern the interaction between them and where does the boundary between one entity and another lie? Are the familiar categories and distinctions 'natural', 'true' distinctions that exist independently, or merely conceptual constructs imposed on the unified reality by the unique structure of human consciousness?

The ontological inquiry into the nature of being, as unity or multiplicity, inevitably runs into a philosophical dead end that challenges us to reconsider our approach to understanding reality. In grappling with these dilemmas, we confront the limitations of human understanding and the possible existence of a reality that transcends conventional categories. The search for a coherent ontology, then, becomes not just a pursuit of final answers, but a journey into the heart of these paradoxes and contradictions, which may reshape our understanding of the universe and our place within it.

 

The Theological Parallels: Monotheism and Polytheism

 

Similar to the ontological discussion of unity and multiplicity, the theological discourse on the nature of the divine oscillates between the concepts of monotheism and polytheism, i.e., the unity or multiplicity of deities. This dichotomy reflects diverse cultural and historical viewpoints and represents a profound philosophical polemic on the nature of the divine. Monotheism, the belief in one, all-encompassing God, is rooted in the search for a unified source of creation and order. Philosophers and theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Maimonides argued for monotheism from a perspective of simplicity and perfection, proposing that the existence of a single supreme being provides a coherent explanation for the universe's existence and its laws. Monotheistic views range from mythical approaches depicting the one God as an omnipotent entity controlling and overseeing all that occurs in existence, to more philosophical approaches that see the divine as an entity whose perfection precludes motion (since if God is present everywhere, movement from one place to another cannot occur), will (since will implies a lack), and any attribute associated with the human entity. Each of these views encounters its own logical problems, ultimately leading to an impasse. The paradox inherent in the view of God as an omnipotent being is well expressed in the cliché "Can God create a stone so heavy that he himself cannot lift it?", while the view of God as a static and indifferent entity denies the divine various abilities (such as motion), thereby rendering it a limited and imperfect being. At both extremes described here, and similar to the issue of monistic ontology, monotheism grapples with additional significant challenges, such as the problem of evil mentioned above, which raises the question of how a benevolent, omnipotent God allows suffering and injustice in a world under His dominion.

Polytheism, on the other hand, embraces the diversity and multiplicity of phenomena observed in the world by recognizing a multitude of deities, each responsible for different aspects of the natural and human experience. This approach allows for a richer and more diverse understanding of the divine, aligning with the multifaceted nature of existence and the (observed) complexity of the world. At times, the polytheistic view may seem more apt for a conflictual world like ours, where the various elements appear to be struggling against one another or engaging in systems of reciprocal relationships in ways that create distinctions between them. However, polytheism is often criticized for its lack of philosophical elegance compared to monotheism, and can be seen as leading to a fragmented view of the universe, at odds with experiences of harmony and coherence. The polytheistic approach is often perceived as a primitive one that anthropomorphizes the forces of nature and likens them to individual figures whose character is taken directly from human experience.

Other religious traditions have attempted to bridge the gap between these two viewpoints in various ways: the henotheistic approach posits a supreme deity alongside lesser ones; syncretism creates a merger of monotheistic and polytheistic elements, or views multiple deities as expressions or aspects of a single ultimate reality. In any case, the paradoxical gap between monotheism and polytheism highlights the complex nature of theological inquiry and the difficulty of fully comprehending the sublime. This discussion reflects deeper existential questions about the relationship between the divine and the world, and highlights the diverse ways in which humanity has sought to understand and connect with the transcendent. Whether through monotheism, polytheism, or some synthesis of the two, these inquiries are part of the human search for meaning and connection with a form of existence greater than itself. They challenge us to consider the possibility that the nature of the divine, like the nature of reality itself, may transcend our conventional categories and understandings, and invite us to embrace a broader range of possibilities than those we are traditionally familiar with.

 

Towards a Heterogenic Theology

 

In the theological discourse, where the ideas of monotheism and polytheism represent a dichotomous understanding of the divine, this essay proposes the concept of 'heterotheism' as one that maintains a more meaningful synthesis than henotheism and syncretism. Heterotheism points out that the divine realm is not limited to the binary options of one god or many gods, but rather encompasses a broader and more inclusive spectrum. A multiplicity of deities and a singular divine essence can coexist simultaneously within a harmonious and coherent framework that transcends traditional theological dichotomies, by proposing that the sublime can manifest in different and contradictory forms while being rooted in a fluid and 'bubbling' essence. This approach does not involve merging or diluting the uniqueness of monotheistic and polytheistic beliefs, but rather recognizes the possibility of their coexistence within a more complex divine reality. The rationale behind the idea of a heterogenic divinity draws from the philosophical parallel of paradoxes in reality, similar to the challenges that quantum mechanics poses to our conventional understanding of the physical world. In theology, this idea invites us to consider a divine realm that encompasses both unity and diversity - the one and the many. Similar to understandings from the field of physics, where seemingly contradictory phenomena coexist (as in the case of wave-particle duality), heterotheism suggests that monotheistic and polytheistic views may offer complementary perspectives of the same divine reality.

Heterotheism stems from the recognition that traditional theological models may miss or fail to fully grasp the multifaceted nature of the divine. Acknowledging the limitations of human perception, heterotheism offers a paradoxical approach to theology. It allows for the coexistence of a supreme, singular divinity alongside the valid presence of multiple divine entities or manifestations, thereby providing a platform where monotheism and polytheism are not seen as opposing each other, but rather as complementary aspects of the divine, which is both one and many (just as in certain traditions it may be perceived as both masculine and feminine at the same time). This is somewhat akin to the familiar Christian concept of the Holy Trinity, in which the three components of the divine - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - simultaneously constitute the one Godhead. In the heterotheistic view, this 'Holy Trinity' is expanded to the potential of infinite divine entities, simultaneously constituting multiplicity and unity, and transcending the conventional logic of human awareness and belief.

Adopting the idea of a heterogenic divinity undoubtedly requires an expansion of theological thought beyond established doctrines, in order to allow for a more fluid and dynamic understanding of the divine. This shift presents both intellectual and spiritual challenges, calls for a reassessment of deeply held beliefs, and serves as a catalyst for inter-religious dialogue. By emphasizing the commonalities between different faiths alongside the multifaceted nature of the divine, and by recognizing the validity of diverse religious experiences, heterotheism paves the way for more harmonious coexistence among different communities. Ultimately, the "rationality" of the heterogenic divinity lies in its ability to synthetically combine (in an irrational way) the seemingly contradictory aspects of monotheism and polytheism into a coherent theological framework. It is a model that acknowledges the limitations of human awareness in fully comprehending the divine nature, and offers an inclusive and flexible approach that reflects the complex reality of the divine.

Heterotheism also seeks to offer practical applications and spiritual insights, and to enrich personal spiritual journeys by providing a more comprehensive view of the divine and the sublime. It may allow individuals to embrace a spirituality that is simultaneously rooted in tradition and open to diverse and innovative expressions of holiness, sometimes imposed by reality and sometimes organically emerging from the various faiths. In education and theological discourse, heterotheism aims to encourage critical thinking and novel approaches to understanding the divine, and to challenge scholars of theology to engage with the complexities and paradoxes of divinity in a more holistic way.

By virtue of the conceptual foundation from which it grows, the heterogenic divinity may simultaneously reside at different points along the spectrum between one and many, but also across the range between metaphor and concrete reality. Heterosophic thought views god(s) as conceptual entities, where the question of their concrete existence is irrelevant to their impact on the world and human culture. A divinity exists in the way an idea exists, and its practical impact on the world is a derivative of the breadth of agreement around it. The heterotheistic idea seeks to offer the possibility of the existence and non-existence of such a divinity at the same time, for it pertains to a layer of reality that transcends any category of consciousness, and is therefore able to contain contradictions and paradoxes.

 

Conclusion

 

The verse from 1 Kings (18:39) in the Hebrew bible, "And all the people saw it, and fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God" (And in a more literal translation: “And the people saw it, and fell on their faces: and they said, YHWH is the Elohim, YHWH is the Elohim” while Elohim in Hebrew is a plural form), contains a deep and elusive truth that slips through one's fingers the moment it is read from a historical perspective. In a simple reading, this is a verse that embodies a moment of collision between two traditions, and the replacement of one by the other: the people see and understand that the LORD is the one and only God, and as such, He now replaces all other gods. This is a historical moment in which the one replaces the many, and the monotheistic belief seeks to supplant polytheism. This essay sought to hold onto the truth embodied in this verse for a moment longer before it "escapes" into history, and to examine it in a synchronic rather than diachronic manner. As it emphasizes twice - "The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God" - and as already hinted at in its first part - "And all the people saw it, and fell on their faces" (In Hebrew it sounds as if the people are one and many) - the verse can be read as presenting the philosophical-theological claim that the one is many, and the many is one.

This essay sought to present a new theological model capable of serving as a synthesis that can peacefully coexist with the contradictions inherent in traditional understandings of the concept of divinity. The heterotheistic model offers a framework in which the binary views of monotheism and polytheism are not seen as contradicting one another, but rather as complementary components of a broader and more complex 'divine', rooted in the understanding that the binary pattern originates from the limitations of human perception, and not from the nature of things themselves. Heterotheism envisions a reality in which the divine realm simultaneously encompasses the unity of a singular divinity and the diversity of multiple deities (“YHWH is the Elohim”). This perspective stems from the recognition that traditional monotheistic and polytheistic models, while offering meaningful insights, fail to fully grasp the multifaceted nature of the sublime and the sacred. Inspired by the heterosophic inclusiveness of paradoxes in reality (through the concept of the 'bubbling'), heterotheism embraces the view that the divine, like existence itself, can embody logical contradictions, and can be perceived as both one and many, in a way that transcends simplistic categories.

In addition to drawing from the Christian Holy Trinity (and to the reading suggested here, of 1 Kings 18:39), the heterotheistic idea may find particularly fertile ground within Hindu traditions, as these already maintain some pluralistic understanding of the divine concept. The notion of 'Brahman' as the eternal, unifying over-divinity, alongside the multitude of anthropomorphic 'Devas', aligns with the paradoxicality of a unified and multiple divinity simultaneously. Historic Indian philosophies like Advaita Vedanta have already grappled with similar paradoxes – arguing that the fundamental reality of Brahman both contains and transcends phenomena and forms of expression. The heterotheistic model thus echoes Hinduism's embrace of seemingly contradictory truths – the one and the many, the formless and the pantheon of deities, and so forth. Just as the god Shiva is understood as both destroyer and renewer simultaneously, heterotheism posits that the 'one' and the 'many' of the divine are complementary aspects of a paradoxical reality that is ultimately indescribable.

That said, there are also significant differences between heterotheism and Hindu theological frameworks. While Hinduism is a specific religious tradition rooted in the Indian subcontinent, heterotheism aspires to be a more open philosophical model, non-communal and non-sectarian, spanning beyond any particular cultural or mythological context. It does not place unity and multiplicity in a hierarchical order (the one is not superior to the many, nor vice versa), but rather posits that both the unitary and the multiple expressions are valid expressions of a source that is ultimately indescribable, unquantifiable, and ungraspable. While finding resonance in Indian traditions, heterotheism emerges from a distinctly postmodern, cross-cultural context, and seeks to embrace paradox for what it truly is – a paradox, no more and no less.

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