Can you be both a polytheist and monotheist at the same time?

Alternative title: how deeply buried in layers of nonsense am I right now?

So, the previous Debarkle chapter was Comicsgate, the next one is Qanon and specifically Vox Day’s promotion of Qanon because Qanon itself is too big a topic. Unfortunately, before getting onto how the two forms of toxic nonsense (Comicsgate and Qanon) meet up, I’ve got sidetracked into Vox Day’s theology. This is mainly to show how Day’s pre-existing (and I don’t doubt sincerely held) religious beliefs tied directly to his Qanon beliefs.

Anyway…I described Day’s beliefs as “polytheistic” because he literally does believe there are multiple gods. But then…I don’t like to misrepresent people and calling an avowed Christian “polytheistic” isn’t a neutral description — it is the sort of insult that warring Christian denominations hurl at each other to attempt to delegitimise them. So, I thought I’d better check to see if Day describes himself as a monotheist…and also how he does that given he does quite literally believe there is more than one god.

Luckily for me (but not for you dear readers who came here for either fan history or cat ramblings) there are a couple of posts where he explains himself. It all comes down to the conventions of proper nouns.

The first is in response to a basic atheist argument that presents atheism as just the natural next step for a monotheist who has already accepted that a range of gods do not exist:

“I’ve noticed that those who are taking exception to my point are very free with confusing the concept of god and God. But the atheist quote refers only to gods, and as I have demonstrated, the Bible refers to many sorts of gods who are not God, from false gods made by man to the mighty gods of the assembly to the evil god of this world.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20160112215906/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2005/11/mailvox-some-christians-dont.html

Lower case-g gods and upper case-g God.

In the next, he explains himself a bit further by explaining what he means by “gods”

1. god = a powerful supernatural being that is capable of interacting with the natural realm and is worshipped by humans or other supernatural beings. Examples: Satan, Moloch, Quetzalcoatl etc.
2. God = the Creator God of the Bible. Also known as Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel and numerous other appellations. At war with some of the aforementioned gods, worshipped by others.
3. false god = an imaginary being that may or may not be worshipped by human beings; while it may have a natural manifestation, it has no supernatural existence. Examples: The Great Spaghetti Monster, wooden idols, Shub-Niggurath, thunder.
4. mythical god = a being of historical legend which may or may not exist on the supernatural level. It is either a god or a false god, but as they are unworshipped and are not known to manifest today it is difficult to have an opinion on their existence. Examples: Zeus, Tyr, Morrigan.

https://web.archive.org/web/20160112215905/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2005/11/mailvox-deitic-definitions.html

So, yes, he believes that beings of type 1 exist (i.e. n[gods]>1). However…

“Interestingly enough, it is difficult to condemn the atheist too harshly for his inability to understand the difference between belief and worship, especially given that in this case it appears to be built around the concept of monotheism. My two favorite online dictionaries give two similar, but significantly different definitions:

Oxford Online: Monotheism – the belief that there is a single god.
Dictionary.com: Monotheism – The doctrine or belief that there is only one God.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20160112215905/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2005/11/mailvox-deitic-definitions.html

So Day is a “monotheist” because he believes there is only one being with the proper name “God”. However, that doesn’t answer my question: is Vox Day a polytheist? For that, we have to look at what the definition of a polytheist is and to avoid being accused of dictionary definition shopping, I’ll rely on Dictionary.com:

“the doctrine of or belief in more than one god or in many gods.”

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/polytheism

Lower case-g “god” and even if I did go dictionary shopping, I’d be unlikely to find a definition that asserted that polytheism was the belief in more than one upper case-G “God”. So if we grant Day the two dictionary.com definitions, he is reasonably both a monotheist and polytheist and all before breakfast.

A better word to clarify matters is monolatry: the worship of one god. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monolatry

To cut a long story short, I removed the word “polytheist” because it would require unpacking and used “multiple gods” instead because I’m not the theology police.

78 thoughts on “Can you be both a polytheist and monotheist at the same time?

    1. Just the word I was coming in to mention.

      Robert Charles Wilson’s novel “Mysterium” features an alternate Earth in which Christianity syncreted with various pagan cultures, resulting in a hierarchy of gods; the alternate worlders consider our Christianity to be bizarrely monotheistic (virtually Jewish!).*

      *One of my favorite Worldcon moments featured Wilson and Richard Garfinkle on an alternate history panel – Wilson mentions that he’d recently been researching Gnosticism – and Garfinkle geeked out about varieties of Gnosticism.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thing is, in our world, Christianity did engage in syncretism with various other pagan cultures. Or at least Roman Catholicism did, which is unsurprising because the Romans were masters at it while expanding their empire. A non-zero number of the early Saints were basically local figures of legend repurposed so that they were just middlemen taking the prayers and wishes to God and interceding on the worshipper’s behalf.

        And that’s even before we get into how many of the trappings of older celebrations were brought ‘in-house’, most obviously the Christmas Tree.

        All of which led me and many others to wonder what Cardinal Ratinger/Pope Benedict XVI was thinking when he complained about syncretism, because he was either ignorant of history or hoping his audience was. Probably a combination of the latter, and being incensed that the syncretism was going the other way. (Some of his complaints were specifically about Vodun/’voodoo’, some branches of which have rather Catholic overtones and inspirations.)

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        1. “Thing is, in our world, Christianity did engage in syncretism with various other pagan cultures. Or at least Roman Catholicism did, which is unsurprising because the Romans were masters at it while expanding their empire. A non-zero number of the early Saints were basically local figures of legend repurposed so that they were just middlemen taking the prayers and wishes to God and interceding on the worshipper’s behalf.”

          True. In our world there was some anti-syncretial effort – while in Wilson’s alternate world, the syncretism went further (and/or in directions that would be foreign to folks in our world)

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      1. How’s about “dystheist”? That fits too.

        Also the Wiki article on dystheism mentions everyone from Loki to Thomas Paine, to Bakunin, to Lt. Cmdr. Worf.

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  1. Two unrelated thoughts:

    1. I seem to recall that The Arabian Nights refers to Christians as polytheists, presumably in reference to the Trinity—which, to be fair, I’ve never understood either.

    2. It’s been many years since I read the Bible cover to cover, but my recollection is that the first unambiguous commitment to monotheism, as opposed to monolatry, comes surprisingly late: pre-New Testament, but not by much.

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    1. That really really depends too on how you define figures like Sophia. I’ve found I conflate her with the Holy Ghost, but that’s a me thing and definitely not part of her actual Old Testament description.

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    2. One Sunday in the liturgical year is designated “Trinity Sunday” when one is supposed to explore this concept. The traditional joke is that this is the perfect Sunday to invite the Bishop to preach because anyone else with an ounce of sanity would run away very fast.

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    1. I think most Trinitarians – myself included – would argue that point fairly strenuously; the general consensus is that there is only one God, Who is revealed in three different aspects. It’s been a while since I read up on the theological wrangling that attended the early church – the Council of Nicaea was only the start of it – but the main problem is that in the accepted canonical texts, Jesus sometimes talks of Himself as God, and sometimes as if He and the Father are two separate beings, and then there are the activities of the Holy Spirit to contend with… and, well, the Trinity is an attempt to square all this with the concept (basic to all the Abrahamic religions) that there is only one God.

      To quote a theologian much wiser than myself:-

      “Look at it like this: once upon a time there were three little bunnies called Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. One day a nasty man caught them and put them all in a rabbit pie They were still three rabbits, but only one pie. (Athough the pie got cut into many pieces, admittedly.) To put it in plain language that even a complete dur-brain could understand, the three persons of the Triune Godhead are one in substance, but in three hypostases. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask someone else.” – The Rev. Gerald Ambulance, in “My Ministry Manual”,

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      1. As an atheist ex-catholic with an interest in mathematical foundations, if I was forced to defend the trinity then I would point to the number 1 the integer, the number 1 the rational number and the number 1 the real number. Each one (1) is fundamentally different and the same.

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            1. I do appreciate that elegance, it’s just that I get worried what the nature of “+” is in this circumstance. What is an operation on the domain of god?

              Now, having gone away and checked https://groupprops.subwiki.org/wiki/Cyclic_group:Z2 Bits with XOR is a group of order 2 and while “XOR” isn’t a bit of Christian/Catholic symbolism it sort of looks like it because of the X. I’m sure somebody could mangle O and R into meaning The Father and the Holy Ghost

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        1. Oooh, I like that. Also, somehow I always knew you were an ex-catholic. Don’t ask me how I knew, it’s just something about the way you argue things.

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      2. Fandom is a great help in this issue – “The Doctor” is one person, with more than a dozen forms, who expresses various aspects of their personality to different extents depending on the Regeneration.

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        1. That doesn’t work, unless Jesus has multiple personality disorder. Jesus asks “Why have you forsken me?” — which means he is psychologically distinct from God. And of course there all those references to him being the SON of God, which would make him his own son. And that’s just gross.😉

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          1. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it does give a certain familiarity to the idea of one entity with multiple aspects

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            1. But it’s misleading to frame Father/Son/Holy Ghost in those terms. Sure, a single entity can have multiple aspects — just look at caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. But that’s not what the Bible itself has written. Unless Christians are cool with having a schizophrenic Messiah. 😉

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  2. While I am not personally a Pastafarian, I believe you meant to say Flying (rather than Great) Spaghetti Monster.

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  3. Monolatry is presumably the need to buy at least two more Gene Wolfe books. And still not get an ending.

    Note also his reference to “the evil god of this world”, which as a belief is seriously out of line for any even vaguely mainstream Christian denomination.

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    1. “The evil god of this world” is probably a reference to the belief that Satan has been given “dominion” over this world. It is also a popular concept in pop-gnoticism, where the god who created the world is not the true god but something known as “the Demiurge” and the true god is greater and unknown.

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      1. Yes, he’s a step away from that more overt gnosticism as he regards capital-G God as the creator but it is definitely gnostic flavoured. But gnosticism is always attractive to writers I think (eg Blake, Dick) because it is easy for them to see themselves in the form of a demiurge

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    2. Yes, he’s definitely into a sort of gnostic/manichean/something here but it fits very neatly with the Qanon lore and also with the World Net Daily mix of conspiracy theories and Christian dominionism…so I doubt it is unique or original to Vox

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    3. Maybe, but there is a whole mish-mash of various Protestant sects in the U.S. that consider themselves ‘non-denominational’, which includes most of the ‘evangelical’ groups. It’s their way of claiming that they don’t have any hierarchy like the Catholics, while studiously ignoring that so much of what these groups all have in common is all from the same media sources and politics.

      This then gets back to the whole ‘quiverfull’ movement where they believe that the world is irredeemably corrupt, and so on… it’s all a toxic mess that’s far more about keeping people in the fold in a cult-like manner than it is about making sense from the outside.

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  4. I suppose you could square this with Christianity by simply saying that he’s using the word “god” to describe very powerful alien intelligences. He talks about them having “supernatural” powers, but if you take that to mean “powers we don’t understand yet” then they’re still no different in kind from people or animals–they’re just different in degree.

    God, on the other hand, is different in kind, not just degree.

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  5. Cam, how do you know to post intellectual catnip for Nancys on the nights that I have the most to do and should be staying off the internet?

    Anyone who enjoys trying to unknot the ideas of gods/powers and God Almighty should read the Divine Comedy, where Dante uses the classical gods throughout hell, has Virgil explain that Dame Fortune is one of God’s angels, and then, in the 6th canto of Pugatory, drops this little gem:

    O Supreme Jove, for mankind crucified,
    if you permit the question, I must ask it:
    are the eyes of your clear Justice turned aside?

    (John Ciardi’s translation, naturally.)

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    1. I have a theory that The Divine Comedy is actually the first work of science fiction: a narrative work set in a secondary world rigorously worked out according to the principles of the highest prestige intellectual project of its day.

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    2. Medieval literature is full of that sort of thing— people who were actually writing on behalf of the Church had to be more careful about orthodoxy, but otherwise, the general tendency was to try to fit absolutely everything they’d ever heard of into the cosmology somewhere. I should say that most of what I know about this is from C.S. Lewis’s study The Discarded Image; I don’t know how well it holds up these days as medieval scholarship but it’s fascinating and vividly written.

      That was further complicated once you got into the Renaissance by the idea that in order to have a proper Renaissance, you should reference as many classical Greek and Roman things as possible, because that’s what culture is. So when for instance Ariosto or Shakespeare off-handedly references Jove or Apollo while simultaneously espousing Christianity, it’s often unclear if they’re saying anything in particular about how those things go together (as in your Dante lines) or about the belief system of their characters; sometimes it’s just a way of speaking in a certain register.

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      1. At least some medieval Christian writers thought that Muslims had a trinity of their own, one aspect of which was “Apollyon”. (It shows up in Boiardo, to which Ariosto is the sequel.)

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      2. At some point some Elizabethan censor disallowed the word “God,” so playwrights used the word “Jove” instead. They also substituted the word “heaven,” which you would think would throw off the meter, but apparently they pronounced it with one syllable, “heav’n.” If you were clever, like Christopher Marlowe, you could say some pretty unorthodox things and then argue, “What? I was just talking about Roman gods.”

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  6. Theological terminology is like linguistic terminology: an attempt to describe and categorize human systems that don’t necessarily fit neatly into categories, because they developed as culture develops, messily. Questions like “are Trinitarian Christians polytheists” are sort of like asking whether “hella” is an adverb or a quantifier.

    However, just as it’s possible to acknowledge there’s no single right way to do grammar and yet feel that certain ways of writing are more in line with common understandings of what makes sense and is readable… it’s fair to say that VD is just using language in an idiosyncratic way, and (characteristically) deciding that since he is the only logical man, everyone should understand him. Virtually no one would describe the beliefs of someone who holds the Biblical God to be the all-powerful singular creator, but thinks there are also powerful demons running around in the world, as polytheism. Virtually no Christian would describe Satan as a god. VD has basically just decided to use the word “god” for the same things that Christians generally would call devils or demons or angels. The choice of names is less important than the function these things have in the belief system, which he hasn’t really changed. (Similarly, I would say that the best answer to “are Trinitarian Christians polytheists” is that saying so would not be a very useful idea, because the elements of the Trinity don’t share many of the same functions as gods in what we generally call polytheistic religions; you can’t be a devotee of just the Holy Spirit, for instance.)

    As far as I can tell, he has not gotten into some kind of Manichaeaenish thing where Satan is a co-creator or a remotely equal opponent. The “god of this world” stuff certainly has a Gnostic air, but I’d be surprised if Day really understands what any of that is about, or cares. It’s just a thing that sounds cool, just as his attitude of “well ACTUALLY, monotheism and polytheism are the same thing if you look at it correctly” is a way to make it sound like VD is some kind of innovative free-thinker even though there’s no real difference between his point of view and other right-wing extremists who pay lip service to Christianity because that’s a basic part of being a reactionary in Europe or the US.

    (Also, vague gestures toward pseudo-Gnosticism tend to bounce around a lot in conspiracy-minded extremist circles because “there’s an evil god of this world” is a way to mythologize the idea that [pick a group of people you hate] are in charge and keeping you down. Similarly, the idea that the world is in some sense an illusion fits with the idea that you and your gang are the only ones who see clearly, unlike the blue-pilled normies. So even people who don’t really subscribe to those ideas in a religious sense may still like the sound of them, and find them useful as a way to talk to other conspiracy creeps who might or might not take them literally. David Icke in particular has done a lot to spread that stuff into creepy fringe circles.)

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    1. The substance of Day’s view is that Satan is the one wielding supernatural power in the world to the extent that what we might call an act of god (Eg a tornado killing somebody) is an act of Satan.

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      1. That’s not a super significant thing to say though. I mean, different Christian traditions do differ on whether they think a devil guy can actually cause physical problems versus just bad ideas, and if so, is that a common thing or only on very special occasions. But none of them think that that is the threshold for calling something a *god*. If Day is just saying he’s decided that anything with supernatural power is a god, well he’s free to make up the rules of his own RPG and use words as he pleases, but that doesn’t mean he’s had an insight.

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      2. What phrases like “god of this world” generally convey, for people who are actually using them to describe something fundamental to their belief system and not just being trolls, is one of two things. In Gnostic-type belief systems it means that the bad guy actually *made* the world or at least everything that we perceive as reality; it is all his scam, one must get past it. That’s anathema to basically all Christian denominations, because not only is it a no-no to say the devil can *create*, but the existence of the world is supposed to be fundamentally a good thing even if it’s been corrupted and/or is fated to go away; you’re supposed to perceive the world and make decisions about it, not call it an illusion.

        The other very different sense is more metaphorical and refers to the devil being the god of this world in the sense of a false idol – the world itself may not be a bad thing but it’s full of bad people and bad ideas that are popular, so if you are too influenced by all that, and you’re not on the right path, then you’re in effect worshiping the god of the current crappy status quo and its enticements.

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    2. Everyone knows “hella” is an adverb, an adjective, and a quantifier. It is both One and Three.

      Also, anyone who gives God and Satan equal billing and responsibilities is a dualist Gnostic and should probably be burned at the stake.

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  7. I am very tempted to start quoting Thomas Jefferson’s views on Christianity and the Trinity (he was one of the first Unitarians).

    As for me, if I were to be anything I would be UU. So I’ll just say “Yeah, sure, believe whatever makes sense to you” — but under my breath, I’ll be muttering git off my lawn, ya damn polytheists!

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      1. Dammit, now you’ve done it. 😉 Apologies to the uninterested multitudes, I can resist no longer —

        “[N]o one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in it’s advances towards rational Christianity. when we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus, when, in short, we shall have unlearned every thing which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples[….][T]he religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconcievable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce it’s founder an imposter. [….]I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the Unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.”– letter from Jefferson to Thomas Pickering, 1821

        “no historical fact is better established than that the doctrine of one god, pure and uncompounded was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the antients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. nor was the unity of the supreme being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a god like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads had it’s birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.[….]in fact the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one is so incomprehensible to the human mind that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea. he who thinks he does only decieves himself. he proves also that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder is the sport of every wind. with such persons gullability which they call faith takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.” — letter from Jefferson to James Smith, 1822

        “[T]he truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. and the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. “– letter from Jefferson to John Adams, 1823

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  8. The First Commandment says “Thou shall have no other gods before me,” which plainly means not that God is the only god, but that YHWH is the only god the Israelites should be worshipping. No Golden Calf.

    Thus, henotheism tending towards monolatry. Only later is it monotheism. Where angels come into that, I dunno — God’s assistants?

    Considering his nom de plume, I’m pretty sure Teddy thinks he’s also some kind of god, which makes him a polytheist or at least a henotheist. He certainly has a high enough opinion of himself.

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  9. Hinduism incorporates both monotheism and polytheism to varying degrees depending on the particular school of it that you follow, or so I understand. I am far from an expert. But I don’t imagine Vox Day considers himself a Hindu.

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  10. Overall, I have to say that the list with definitions of “god” makes more sense than most other things the writer has written. But I am a little amused by his distinction between real gods, false gods and mythical gods, and in particular the implicaton of this sentence describing mythical gods: “It is either a god or a false god, but as they are unworshipped and are not known to manifest today it is difficult to have an opinion on their existence. ” (Emphasis mine.)
    Yeah, because it’s not difficult to determine that Moloch really exists as a supernatural while Shub-Niggurath does not.

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  11. Honestly, I think he’s just an ignorant, malicious, malignant, and noisily posturing clown who says or vows whatever he imagines suits him in the moment, with no consistent underlying creed or set of values or firm beliefs, and on expectation that he might ever have to reconcile his various contradictory statements, let alone reconcile his statements with his deeds.

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      1. And what’s more, he clearly ENJOYS people trying to pin him down about what he has said, asserted, opined, vowed, etc., and then self-contradicted. One invariably sees the delusional glee in his online responses, where he clearly believes he’s being nimble and clever and dancing verbal rings around people who challenge him… when he is, in fact, just being a mendacious jackass.

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  12. Contrarius:

    “But it’s misleading to frame Father/Son/Holy Ghost in those terms. Sure, a single entity can have multiple aspects — just look at caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. But that’s not what the Bible itself has written. Unless Christians are cool with having a schizophrenic Messiah. ”

    Sorry the analogy doesn’t work for you. Perhaps it has to do with my conception of the Doctor (an entity with so much personality that it can’t be expressed all at once) which to me seems to be at least a somewhat helpful way to conceptualize the way that God can express Fatherness, Son-ness and Spiritness in different Persons while retaining unity. But if it doesn’t seem apt to you, I won’t press the subject (I don’t expect any analogy for a transcendent concept to work for everyone).

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  13. Beale’s theology is what an American fundamentalist with raw intelligence and a closed mind produces by bouncing off his own skull too often. So far as I can tell, he’s a monolatrist, an anti-Trinitarian, and (though this one I’m a bit unsure of) a monophysite who applies what I like to call ‘the idiot’s version of Calvin’s absolute depravity’ to his thinking about the world. Which really shows how American “fundamentalism” is an intellectual mischmasch that falls to pieces whenever anyone thinks about it.

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      1. It’s not really gnosticism, though–Beale doesn’t deny the essential reality of this world nor does he insist that it was all created by a corrupt demiurge. He just insists that it’s presently run by the God of Evil. And indeed, this idea is pretty widespread among American fundamentalists. It’s closest to a sort of simplified Manichaeism or perhaps Zoroastrian dualism–the God of Evil is more or less an independent operator (even if he wasn’t always), in active conflict with the God of Good. The God of Good is more powerful, but is presently constrained from using his full power against his opponent for… reasons, and thus the God of Evil is running much of things in this world. American “fundamentalism” stumbled into this vaguely heretical frame over the course of the 20th century, and is now so firmly lodged in it that I don’t think it’s possible for it to get out. I’d argue there’s a lot of moral dangers with this sort of worldview on its own–and yes, the “fundies” have managed to stumble headfirst into every one of them–but the added incoherence has managed to make it worse. Most American “fundamentalists” believe this without realizing they believe it, and so they will insist they’re monotheists with the great but unknowable Supreme God of traditional monotheism, whose will we cannot hope to understand but whose dictates must be obeyed.

        And what this produces is what I like to call a sort of hypocritical, genteel Satanism, where a nasty, sneaky, hedonistic devil wages a war against a vicious, cruel, self-righteous devil who is bigger, and good is obeying the bigger devil because he is bigger, will ultimately thump the smaller devil and therefore is right.

        And this isn’t really an odd belief of Beale’s. This is normal for his milieu. The odd bits–the anti-Trinitarianism, monolatrism, and monophysitism as well as some other odd bits–are basically Beale trying on some level to try and make the spiritual universe this all suggests make sense.

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