Monotheists, mostly followers of the desert gods of the barbarian Middle East, are horrified at any effort to state the obvious: There are many gods. Usually, that horror is accompanied by decrying idols and idol worship. Although the plain text of the Old Testament clearly points to many gods with an election or restriction of the Jews to one god, the commandment that forbids the worship of another god assumes that there are many gods. The Medieval effort to purify away the idols as we find in Maimonides and others actually rewrites the plain text into a rationalized structure of what Maimonides wanted, an Aristotelian cosmos governed and created by a single theos. Nevertheless, Maimonides tortures the plain text of the Bible to get there. The other barbarian gods from the Middle East are also repelled by many gods, and consider that to be pagan. Pagan apparently is derived from the Latin pax, peace. The pagans are people who live peacefully as opposed to the onward Christian soldiers marching as to war and to the jihadists of the Muslims (and the world is so much happier with the work of these warriors that we might as well worship the nuclear bomb in the form of an IED). Pagans live and let live when it comes to the gods and goddesses. Although the polytheistic approach to worship and ritual is peaceful, nevertheless, the monotheists consider monotheism superior to polytheism, which today is considered to something exceptionally primitive as well as unholy. The more intellectually inclined rarely ever speak of the gods, but of a god, and they hardly ever appeal to the various reincarnations of the divine.
The problem of monotheism and polytheism is not a political one, which is resolved usually by which religious organization has brachial superiority to impose it on others. The problem is metaphysical. The first problem with monotheism is that what the monotheist worships is a particularized form of the god, not its unmanifest formless reality. The formless, ineffable reality out of which all things emerge is seen in being that is multi-modal in its manifestations. And it is here where the problem truly takes hold. That being has many modes means that the multiplicity of being is denied by the monotheist who worships only one aspect of manifestation. That means that the monotheist also denies that what is divine can only come in one manifestation. In the alternative, the monotheist might argue that because god is eternal and does not come to be, god is the only reality. Yet, if that is the case, then god is not truly an object of worship, simply the principle of manifestation, the ground of all that is, both transitory and permanent.
The problem gets more knotted, however, if we consider that god as pure being is the only reality. Is there non-being? We go back to Parmenides where, of course, we cannot say anything that is not and hence we cannot lie—nay, a lie is inconceivable. That all monotheists insist that they are true and others are false, we clearly can have things that have no being. Thus, what constitutes the whole of things does include something that is not. What is is beyond a single god. Ultimately, the whole of all wholes is beyond all words, form and forms, is a non-numerical infinite which contains all possibilities of things that can come to be and that which cannot come to be.
The committed monotheist is caught in a bind metaphysically. He worships only one aspect of a whole reality that is well beyond and more than one. That the ultimate is an unmanifested non-numerical infinite means that there is at least two aspects of the same one reality: a determined form, like a god, conscious, and the unconscious forms that are yet to be determined. Thus, what is divine is both one and many, a limit and an unlimited as an indefinite multiplicity.
The polytheist usually chooses a personal god or single god to worship. There is a god that he feels more close to than other gods. A saturnine tempered man may choose Shiva, for example, while a person who likes to write might choose Genesha, the elephant-headed god. What is critical here, however, is that the worshipper acknowledges all the other gods, because all the gods are equivalent in the sense that all gods represent an aspect of reality that arises out of the immensity of what is beyond all the beings. The actual metaphysical reality of things, because it is so immaterial, cannot be worshipped. Man needs a sensory linking to what is non-material for worship. While complete non-dualism is the goal of understanding, the worship of many gods imitates the many modes of being and the shadow that is non-being in this world that forms the variety by which the worshipper can ascend to higher understanding. The deities and their rites and rituals are a journey from the mere physical to the ultimate identification with what is the one that is a non-numerical infinite.
In India, as it was in the ancient Mediterranean world, people made pilgrimages to holy sites, adopting the gods, rites, and rituals of other local deities. All gods are local. These pilgrimages are different modes of self-development. Polytheism is a constant education by experience of different approached to divinity. This kind of approach is much more difficult with monotheism, although I will admit that the variety of Medieval Christianity and its various saints was an effort to copy the pagan or polytheistic way of self-development through a variety of worship. With the reduction of Christianity into a simple morality as we find in Protestantism, there is very little opportunity for spiritual self-development.
Monotheism is generally a political movement. It is associated with a particular group of people and the political realm it is associated with. Monotheism is actually a form of anthropomorphism where there is a projection of human attainment to the cosmic sphere. The monotheistic god is so tied to the political that it makes religion not a spiritual self-development, but a glorification of the political regime’s habits and laws and the way of to god is envisioned to be associated with the expansion of the god’s political realm, not through the spiritual development of the individual. Monotheism is a kind of imperialism that exalts one god over all other forms of divinity. But how can a god be false? If divinity is all-powerful and all-pervading, then any manifestations of this divinity will be true.
Polytheism, then, is the most obvious condition of the divine. It is the prima facie case.