Meta-pattern via Engendering and Navigating “Pantheons” of Belief?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 19 Apr 2021
Exploration of Three-Dimensional Patterns Inspired by Mathematical Experience of Interrelationship
Conventionally a pantheon is the particular set of all gods of any individual polytheistic religion, mythology, or tradition. There are an estimated 4,200 different religions in the world, although these may be variously clustered (Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: the eight rival religions that run the world — and why their differences matter, 2010). However, in an extensively secularized global civilization of considerable complexity, “pantheon” may in practice have other meanings — as with “religion” and “god”. Religion may then be extended to mean a pattern of fundamental beliefs. Any such religion may then be recognized as having one or more gods — and perhaps many.
Framed in this way, it could be asked whether science can be recognized as a pantheon — whether this is to be understood in terms of fundamental concepts or extends to the many specific disciplines which cultivate them. A similar question could be asked of the arts. Such a pattern is evident in relation to the media and its celebrities — and to sports. In each case the focus is on a pattern of belief, how it is cultivated, and the integrative focal points it engenders.
The question here is how a pattern of belief emerges and how some form of pantheon is then engendered within it or by it. The situation is obviously relatively dynamic in that the pattern for an individual or a group typically develops and evolves over time — most obviously in response to events and shifts in fashion. In the case of science this may be recognized in terms of paradigm shifts and revolutions (Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962/2012).
The focus here is however on what an individual cultivates as a pantheon of “gods” to be honoured in some way — whether as a child, an adolescent, or an adult. Clearly the pantheon at any particular time is susceptible to development. New gods are recognized or engendered and the pantheon as a whole may be reconfigured and transformed. There may then be a challenge to navigating from one pantheon to another — to the extent that the relation to the earlier gods can be easily abandoned, and especially if the emerging gods are only partially or dimly understood. As is only too obvious, pantheons and their gods may effectively compete for the belief of an individual — with each having a tendency to deprecate or demonise the other.
Following engagement with such a succession and variety of pantheons, the concern might then be framed as to whether the process offers insight into the nature of any “meta-pattern”, what form that might take, and how engagement with it might be cultivated. One insight in that regard is offered by Gregory Bateson:
The pattern which connects is a meta-pattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect. (Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, 1979)
And it is from this perspective that he warned in a much-cited phrase: Break the pattern which connects the items of learning and you necessarily destroy all quality. There is of course the irony that each pantheon has a natural tendency to cultivate the assumption that it is itself that meta-pattern — or that its array of (secondary and dependent) deities is indicative of its more fundamental and transcendent nature. All else is then necessarily illusion and potentially dangerous as such.
The difficulty in the current global civilization is that any such preoccupation is necessarily naive from the perspective of a given pantheon — other than that believed to be primary. Framing alternative worldviews as fundamentally irrelevant or problematic establishes the claim that there is no fundamental difficulty to be addressed. For each pantheon the truth is already at hand — or is a natural consequence of its further development, if not to its commitment to some form of global hegemony. In practice the situation gives rise to institutional arenas in which a degree of token discourse with “others” is tolerated at best. Most evident are legislative assemblies, but the dynamic is also evident in interdisciplinary, intersectoral and interfaith gatherings.
The situation is further complicated by the degree to which iconic figures in religion, science, and other domains may be experienced and labelled (if only nicknamed) as “gods” or having “god-like” attributes. Eminent professors may be known by such labels (Gods of Science: Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox discuss mind over matter, The Guardian, 11 September 2010; Jerry Klinger, The Coronavirus Hysteria and the Gods of Science, Times of Israel, 10 March 2020).
Leaders of countries may be referred to as deities, or may so consider themselves (Pierre Briançon, Macron’s ‘Jupiter’ model unlikely to stand test of time, Politico, 16 June 2017; William Drozdiak, After Decade in Power, Mitterrand still ‘Dieu’, The Washington Post, May 11, 1991):
Two-thirds of the French public consider him a superb statesman, and his reverential nickname, “Dieu” (God), attests to the imperial demeanor that many French voters admire in a head of state.
Comparable allusions are made regarding the heads of commercial enterprises and finance, notably through their presentation as “Masters of the Universe” (Davos as the “crowning experience” for the “Masters of the Universe”, “Mistresses of the Universe”? 2009). The relations between such deities — if any — may well recall those evident in myths regarding traditional pantheons.
The pantheons of religion have given rise to lists of the deities associated with them (List of deities; List of demigods). However Wikipedia also offers an extensive List of people who have been considered deities. Surprisingly this includes George Washington and Prince Philip — and more recently Prince Charles on the death, of the former.
Those acknowledged as the “gods” of other pantheons are not similarly recognized however, except through devices such as the many Lists of Celebrities, the Forbes Celebrities 100, and Orders of Precedence for purposes of protocol (List of heads of state by diplomatic precedence; Order of precedence in the Catholic Church). The Lists of academic ranks by country are naturally subject to interpretation in terms of the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Of some relevance to the following argument are references to a “personal pantheon”, namely one freely composed independently of any particular belief system. One example — My Personal Pantheon — has been extensively, but anonymously, developed. This bears comparison with that titled Pantheon of Atheists — again extensively developed, but with a degree of humour.
Conventionally a pantheon is typically the result of a degree of anthropomorphism and personification through which human characteristics are attributed to the deities arrayed — notably to facilitate memorable reference to them. A pantheon could however be understood more generally as an array of fundamental distinctions held to be separately meaningful — into which “supernatural” attributes are somehow imbued, as with values (irrespective of any secular bias). These can be more conventionally recognized as complex memes, or even as memeplexes, namely clusters of memes.
A reasonable summary of the controversial matter is offered by Sam Barnett-Cormac (Pantheons and Archetypes, Quaker Openings, 17 October 2017):
Some see the figures of the gods of their pantheon as literally existing, as having their own agendas, and as interacting with one another and with the world as we know it; in summary, that they behave as theistic deities. Others see them as embodiments of ideas, or ideals; as archetypes that are useful in their practice. For example, a pagan who believes in practical magic might invoke a deity appropriate to their current working; in doing so, they may literally believe there is a supernatural being that they are inviting to assist them, or they may believe that they better focus their mind and energies but dwelling on the figure – or perhaps both!…
Well, the example of modern pagans and other polytheists does show us a key form of conception and usage of pantheons beyond the literal… They are concepts, archetypes, ideas and ideals. In essence, they can fill the same role as stories. We use stories to shape our thoughts and to communicate… The figures of traditional pantheons are not simply a collection of characteristics and areas of dominion. They are also part of intertwined sets of stories
Framed in this way, there is then the paradox as to whether a pantheon is most appropriately experienced as a memeplex clustering “god-like” qualities distinguished as memes. For those preferring such conventionally secular terms, any exploration of such memes then evokes the question as to the nature of the experiential “pantheon” — given any deprecation of the pantheons engendered by religions.
This exploration exploits the conventional articulation of mathematics into 64 disciplines as indicative of a pantheon in its own right. So framed it focuses on the fundamental equations deemed by mathematicians to constitute a nexus of beauty and truth — and potentially to have changed the world, as argued by Ian Stewart (In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 equations that changed the world, 2012). These can be contrasted with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals by which it is currently hoped to change the world — namely through a pantheon of a different kind.
Tags: Belief, God, Religion
DISCLAIMER: The statements, views and opinions expressed in pieces republished here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of TMS. In accordance with title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. TMS has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is TMS endorsed or sponsored by the originator. “GO TO ORIGINAL” links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the “GO TO ORIGINAL” links. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article: