Holey temple

The Pantheon, Rome
The Pantheon.

I have wanted to visit the Pantheon in Rome ever since I saw some slides of the place in an archaeology lecture in 1985. Remember slides? As domes go—proper domes, that is, not silly tents in Greenwich—the Pantheon's is the daddy. I am delighted to report that it was every bit as fantastic as I'd hoped it would be. The Romans knew a thing or two about domes—and about concrete, from which it is made.

The Romans also knew a thing or two about ecumenism and diversity: as its name implies, the Pantheon was originally a temple to all the gods. Then the Christians came along, nailed up a few crosses, and converted the place into a church. Don't you just hate it when they do stuff like that?

As an atheist, I have rejected all gods as being a silly idea. Compare this with Christians, Moslems and Jews, who have rejected all gods except one. It's that last step that's the hardest, apparently. Come on in, chaps, the water's lovely!

But it seems to me that, if we aren't all going to see the light and become atheists, pantheism has got quite a lot going for it. If you accept, as the Romans did before Constantine sold out, that there are literally hundreds of gods, all of which/whom/whatever deserve some element of respect, then you are far less likely to cause a ruckus by claiming that your particular favourite god is the one true god. Panthism is bound to make you a tad more tolerant. Even more tolerant than us liberal atheists, who think everyone else is totally fucking nuts, but fully respect their right to be stupid.

When they invaded Britain, for example, the Romans heard about the local goddess Sul who was supposed to inhabit a water spring in the South West. Rather than say pish and tush, they adopted Sul, saying she sounded a bit like Minerva to them, and named the spring Aquae Sulis in her honour. We now call the city that grew up around the spring Bath. The Romans were particularly good at assimilating other religions into their theology.

The Christian/Moslem/Jewish god (if He is indeed the same chap), on the other hand, is a jealous god: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," He said. But note the implication of the one true god's Commandment Numero Uno to Moses: no other gods… The Lord in His infinite wisdom was clearly acknowledging that other gods did exist. Furthermore, He was not saying that you shouldn't respect other gods; just that you shouldn't rate them higher than Him.

Which kind of makes you wonder why on earth people make such a big deal about monotheism.


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