You Say “Polytheistic Situations” Like It’s A Bad Thing

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 1, 2011 — 49 Comments

Talking Points Memo reports that Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, up for reelection next week, has come under attack from his opponent, Senate President David Williams, from a surprising angle: idolatry. You see, Beshear attended a a groundbreaking ceremony for Indian company FlexFilm, and during that ceremony a traditional Hindu blessing was performed.

Gov. Steve Beshear

Gov. Steve Beshear

“Gov. Steve Beshear sat cross legged on a white cushion for an hour in what may be the first bhoomi poojan ceremony held in Kentucky. He hopes it’s not the last, the governor said Friday at a celebration of the Flex Films (USA) Inc. investment in Elizabethtown. […]  For more than an hour, guests observed the traditional Indian blessing through a haze created by burning incense and a ceremonial fire. A handful of participants, including Beshear and Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker, sat cross legged and shoeless on cushions while a priest chanted Hindu prayers. At the end of the ground blessing, participants shoveled the newly blessed earth into a hole in the center of the pit.”

You can watch a video of the ceremony, here. It seems Williams isn’t happy with Beshear sitting in fellowship with the Hindus, intimating that a Christian Kentucky governor shouldn’t involve themselves in “polytheistic situations.”

“If I’m a Christian, I don’t participate in Jewish prayers. I’m glad they do that. I don’t participate in Hindu prayers. I don’t participate in Muslim prayers. I don’t do that. To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing.

Apparently being an honored guest a Hindu ritual makes you a polytheist by default. According to Williams you “disrespect other peoples’ religion when you go down there” (ie sit on a cushion during a blessing ceremony) and that Beshear’s Baptist grandfathers “wouldn’t be very pleased” with him. Beshear’s campaign spokesman responded saying the attack was “pathetic and desperate,” and that he is “proud that 250 new jobs are coming to Elizabethtown.”

If we’re going to split theological hairs, where exactly is the line between attendance and participation?  If a secular political leader is invited to sit with Hindus during a blessing ceremony, instead of at a theologically imprecise safe distance, does that mean he’s worshiping Hindu gods? Or does it simply mean that he’s showing support for job creation during a recession? Keep in mind that this is the same governor who obtained tax credits for a to-scale replica of Noah’s Ark (much to the derision of the left), so I doubt he’s suddenly gone polytheist on us. Williams says he isn’t showing disrespect to Hindus with his comments, but when you treat a religion like a contaminant that will tarnish you if you get too close I can’t see how one wouldn’t take some offense. Also, even if Williams is correct, and Gov. Beshear is now an idolator, why would that disqualify him in any way for political office? I thought the state of one’s soul is a personal matter, not a talking point during a campaign.

ADDENDUM: The Hindu American Foundation has released a statement.

“The words of Sen. Williams are not only an affront to Hindu Americans, but all Americans as he conjures up the lowest sentiments of exclusion and bigotry. ” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel. “He’s shown he’s ignorant and intolerant — two qualities that we hope Kentuckyians will reject at the polls.” […] “While it is necessary to condemn Senator Williams’ intolerant comments, it is equally important to congratulate Governor Beshear and Mayor Tim Walker for respecting America’s religious diversity by participating in the ceremony,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. “Their actions epitomize our nation’s great traditions of religious tolerance and pluralism, and they should be celebrated.”

It should be interesting to see if Sen. Williams will walk back his remarks, or double down.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Considering how many Hindu consider themselves to be monotheists with an extremely complex god, his remarks are even more evidence he’s a clueless individual with a serious set of biases.

    • Nicole Youngman

      Nice catch, you beat me to it. 🙂

    • Jews and Muslims…also apparently polytheists…hmm…

    • “Monotheism” is a completely (and literally) foreign concept to Hinduism.

      • Syna

        Can you elaborate on this? I’ve heard enough said about the monotheistic inclinations of many Hindus to be a bit skeptical, but I confess little in-depth knowledge of hte religion.

        • Syna: “Can you elaborate on this?”

          My favorite temple in the DC area is the magnificent Sri Siva Vishnu temple in Lanham, MD. One section of its website is simply titled “Deities”: There one can find links to separate pages for 16 different Goddesses and Gods who each have shrines at the temple.

          My second favorite temple in the area is the Washington Kali Temple. The Deities section of their website (link) lists ten Goddesses and Gods.

          I really don’t think further elaboration is necessary. Facts are facts. Anyone who worships more than one Deity is not a monotheist.

          If someone says “I’m very wealthy”, this does not make a person wealthy. Having lots of money makes a person wealthy. Just so, if someone says “I’m a monotheist” that does not make someone a monotheist. Worshipping one and only one God is the only thing that can make a person a monotheist.

          Mark Twain once quipped that “India has two million Gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.”

      • Nick Ritter

        I second Syna’s request for elaboration. I attended a Vaishnava ritual about a month ago, and towards the end of the ceremony, the pandit sermonized a bit on how there is really only one god; this despite that he had made offerings to at least five deities in the previous hour and a half.

        I did not get a chance to speak with the pandit, but I did want to ask about how *truly* monotheistic his interpretation of Hinduism was. What are your thoughts?

        • Ken Garner

          The monotheism of Hinduism should be an easy concept for any Trinitarian Christian. Father, Son, Holy Spirit — 3 forms, 3 separate functions, 3 personalities yet considered a single concept/entity. Multiply by more personages and there you go.

          • Trinitarianism is poppycock. The suggestion that Sanatana Dharma bears any resemblance to such nonsense is a grave insult to all Hindus.

          • Nick Ritter

            Except that trinitarianism is, in my opinion, a way of still being able to say “we are monotheists” while still bowing to the innate polytheistic tendencies of human religiosity: it’s doublespeak, in a way, or a manner of having one’s cake and eating it, too.

            Looked at from another view, the same sort of structure with multiple personalities belonging together and being part of the same whole is typical of a “Göttersystem” (“system of gods”) as opposed to a “Götterhaufe” (“heap of gods”). In many pantheons, gods exist together in a structure that defines and relates them: this doesn’t make the religion that worships such a pantheon any less polytheistic.

            So, I suppose I could state my question thus: When Hindus talk about “God” in a seemingly monotheistic sense, is this an abstract way of referring to all divinity whatsoever?

  • Anonymous

    To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing.”

    In other words, the governor must be a Christian. This is a pathetic attempt to discredit an opponent with dog whistles to Dominionists.

    I was raised Catholic, but I was always taught that when one found oneself in someone else’s place of worship (for example, when friends of a different religion invited you to their wedding) you should attend respectfully and not call attention to yourself by what you weren’t willing to do. But then, I’m old.

    Love the new hastag, BTW.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Let me be the first to say it: There you go again, Jason, stirring us up by informing us of adverse political winds. [/irony]

    I agree with Hecate, this is a stealth attempt to create a religious test for public office in Kentucky.

    • Harmonyfb

      this is a stealth attempt to create a religious test for public office in Kentucky.

      Baruch, I must disagree: I don’t think there’s anything stealthy about it.

  • Wow. That’s incredibly low to criticize a man for doing what we all should be trying to do–respectfully & peacefully coexist. No one said we all have to believe the same things or agree with everything someone else is doing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t show respect for one another. If we all thought/felt/worshiped the same way, not only would the world be an incredibly boring place, but there’d be no way of learning, growing, & evolving–spiritually or otherwise.

    Shame on Mr. Williams for attacking the very means by which peace could potentially be achieved. Most of my family are Christians (I was raised Christian) & I have serious doubts as to whether this is the way Jesus would want someone behaving or speaking in His name. This kind of behavior only serves to paint decent Christians in a poor light & one would hope those decent Christians would speak up about it, as well.

    • Anonymous

      I was a Christian once upon a time, also. I left “The Church” because far too many were not “Christ-like.” I was not seduced away by Paganism as some might judge, because I didn’t discover it as vibrant and viable spiritual paths until a decade later. My conscience has been clear for two decades now because I am not affiliated with those who “use the Lord’s name in vain.” However, I will still break bread with some Christians who are “exceptions to the rule.” Life is so much more wonderful when we add a little magic!

  • A. Pagan

    “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
    ~ Thomas Jefferson

    • Culler

      A. Pagan

      Thanks. I like that. I will use it – hopefully with your blessing.

      A. Theist

    • One of the best quotes from one of the best men in our nation’s history.

    • Veracity

      In the current political climate, it seems like I’m quoting Jefferson every day. Thanks for another great quote to add to my list.

  • My first choice is that elected officials stay completely away from religious events (excepting their own personal practices), so as to avoid even the appearance of endorsing one religion over others.

    My second choice is that elected officials support all religions inclusively. Governor Beshear appears to be taking this route, supporting both Hindus and creationists for the very relevant reason of creating jobs for his constituents. That’s a reasonable, sensible course of action.

    The governor’s spokesperson is right: his opponent is pathetic and desperate.

  • Y’know, I can sit through a Christian ceremony, hear prayers and songs, learn about their Ways, watch the ritual, eat food with them, be respectful, and not turn into a Christian.

    What the governor is doing is to be commended… not just sucking up because this company is bringing jobs, but being respectful, learning about another culture and religion, participating in something special to his neighbors.

    Way to go, Governor Beshear.

  • Christine

    I vote we spam his inbox with the following link and point out the first sentence of the first amendment…

  • Aryan

    Hinduism is not an organized religion, there is no one book Hindus can look up & come up with answers. But most religious Hindus IMHO have an understanding that there is only one God that can manifest in different forms I.e. Avatars. Therefore not all Hindus are polytheists. Hope this helps the good senator & good luck with the election, seems like he’ll need it.


    • And some religious Hindus are hard polytheists… So? Polytheists are supposed to have the same rights & privileges as anyone else in this country. The implication that the Senator can get out of this ridiculous smear campaign but saying “It’s all good, we’re all really worshiping the same being anyways” doesn’t solve anything.

      The idea that monotheism and/or monism is some sort of “superior” spiritual idea doesn’t help our cause for religious equality. We’re not all “really” worshiping the “same being” and we shouldn’t have to pretend we are to appease anyone.

    • What does having “one book ….come up with answers” have to do with whether a religion is organized? ADF doesn’t have such a book, and I dare say we’re an “organized religion”.

    • Aryan: “most religious Hindus IMHO have an understanding that there is only one God”

      That is totally bogus. Vanishingly few Hindus will deny that Lakshmi and Ganesh are each very real Deities in their own right.

      There is a strong monistic tendency in certain schools of Hindu thought, but it is a gross error of logic and theology to mistakenly think that such monism has anything to do with denying the independent reality of multiple Goddesses and Gods.

      There is no word in Sanskrit for either “monotheism” or “polytheism”. In fact, the Pagans of ancient Greece did not have those words either, even though they are Greek words! Most polytheists freely move back and forth between seeing the unity of the Divine and seeing the multiplicity of the Goddesses and Gods. Only fools insist that one must choose one or the other. But there is no shortage of fools.

      • Anna

        Spoken like a NON-HINDU WESTERNER who did some book learning and is grafting the western dualistic way of thinking onto a tradition he does not understand. Don’t feel bad, people have done that for centuries, but you’re actually wrong.

        It’s a bit more of a paradox than that. There are simultaneously multiple gods and they are all aspects of the Atman or great soul. Hindus are therefore simultaneously monotheistic and polytheistic …

        except …

        wait for it …

        When we’re not.

        Because Hinduism is very, very old, very diverse and has so many cults, branches and philosophies that you can say pretty much anything is true and you can also pretty much say the exact opposite is true and you can probably come up with evidence to support your position for both at once.

        But the one thing that IS true is that the exact nature of the divine is not an issue that bugs Hindus. We’re not like Christianity which has a schism every time someone has a tiny doctrinal difference of opinion. All paths are valid, including stupid ones. It’s entirely okay to be a Hindu and also be an atheist.

        Because what REALLY matters is how you live your life, not these intellectual niceties of what God is actually like. That’s a western thing.

        • Nick Ritter

          I posted a question to Apuleius above, but since you’re volunteering your understanding of Hinduism, I’d like to get your response as well.

          I attended part of a ritual for Sharada Navaratri last month, which was directed by a pandit from the local Vaishnava temple. The ritual included offerings made to Durga and Sarasvati and some others, as well as hymns to Hanuman, Ganesha and some others. Towards the end of the ceremony, the pandit addressed the gathered people and stated that there was really only one god, known to some as Vishnu, to others as Christ, to others as Allah.

          Now, this statement suggests certain questions to me. Foremost among them, monism/monotheism vs. poltheism aside: are the gods of the Hindu pantheon one with the god who says that all other gods are false? How can that be?

          • Actual monotheists do not address separate prayers to Durga, Sarasvati, Hanuman, Ganesha, etc. To insist that one can do so and still be a monotheist is to render monotheism utterly meaningless.

            Every Hindu Temple in the world has separate shrines and statues to many different Goddesses and Gods. Each Deity has it’s own rituals, traditions, mode of action, holidays, and so forth. To call this monotheism is worse than nonsensical.

        • Anonymous

          “I had an occasion to read the typescript of a book [Ram Swarup] had finished writing in 1973. It was a profound study of Monotheism, the central dogma of both Islam and Christianity, as well as a powerful presentation of what the monotheists denounce as Hindu Polytheism. I had never read anything like it. It was a revelation to me that Monotheism was not a religious concept but an imperialist idea. I must confess that I myself had been inclined towards Monotheism till this time. I had never thought that a multiplicity of Gods was the natural and spontaneous expression of an evolved consciousness.” — Sita Ram Goel (An Indian Hindu Philosopher)

  • Oh, well, you know those polytheistic situations. They start of all nice an innocent, but the next thing you know, everyone’s getting skyclad or you’re off pillaging a village, young maidens are deflowered, young men made more manly, churches and mosques are burned and looted, madness in the streets, dogs and cats living together, and then there’s gods everywhere.

    It’s even on the ceiling. How did it get on the ceiling, por que?!

    • Grimmorrigan

      Sorry, I got a little excited. Just be thankful I missed the fan.

    • Someone FromIndia

      Are you talking about slavery?

  • Obsidia

    There’s a quote from Anthony Bourdain that I really really like and agree with:

    “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”

    • Anonymous

      Amen to that, sista!

  • If attendence was the same as worship or participation then I’d better stop going to friends weddings when they have them in churches? And Christians better stop being at home when trick or treaters come to call!

  • Kilmrnock

    I am w/ jason and others here. Just b/c he attends a ground breaking cerimony w/ a Hindu blessing dosn’t make him Hindu, just a good Governor of his state . This Film company will employ 250 people in his state , plus stimulate other bussinesses around it ,restuarants , fast food, printers , etc.This is a good thing , quess his opponant can’t see it , so it goes. Quess he doesn’t attend a freinds Jewish wedding either , that would make him Jewish , then.This type of hipocracy amuses and angers me at the same time . That this kind of crap is acceptable to do . These people need some good old fashioned Pagan values, Code of honor , conduct that i as Sinnsreachd and many norse pagans follow.Kilm

  • Kilmrnock

    I like the Thomas Jeffferson quote as well. Kilm

  • From India

    Only educated and ‘comparative’ people have authority to turn worship of Hindu Deities into ‘idolatry’.

  • Caliban

    This was a generous and welcoming move from Kentucky’s governor, showing respect for the different beliefs of the commonwealth’s citizens. On the part of Senator Williams, it is a classic grab for the “no compromise” conservative Christian vote, which he may be surprised does not go as far in Kentucky as he might think. Indeed, I think as our society continues to become more multicultural, these die-hards are inevitably losing ground – and that is what fuels their desperate sense of persecution, which unfortunately only breeds more intolerance.

  • As others have said, this is basically a way of rallying the “Christian Troops” against this man who has the gall to call himself Christian while still paying respect to other religious beliefs. If these are the only talking points this person can come up with; I pray he didn’t pay too much in student loans for such lackluster skills in logic.

  • Pitch313

    Maybe Williams could not bring himself to say that Kentucky just did not need or want a high tech facility that produces materials used throughout the global economy and owned by Indians to locate in Kentucky and operate there. So he took agit-prop aim at the Governor’s presence at a ground-breaking ceremony that included Hindu elements.

    It could be kinda tough, after all, to see the financial rajas and sultans of Mumbai take over your state with their lakhs and lakhs of rupees and established role in the world’s packaging film market. Why such a thing could drive a Christian Kentuckian to drink–Old Tavern Indian Whisky!!! ;-p

  • Veracity

    There’s never any one way of doing things, and people like Senator Williams who like to make things black and white drive me nuts.

    My husband is Episcopalian, and he stands while others kneel because his opinion is that in sitting you are observing, in kneeling you are penitent, and when standing you are participating. I know many Episcopalians who view things this way, including one bishop. Some Christians believe they are co-creators with God, and signal this by standing. To each his own. So when I go to church with him, I do participate in parts of the service, but mainly I sit because I am observing. I can do this respectfully, even though my beliefs differ from those in the service.

    When my son first began to really realize that his mom’s Paganism was different from most of the family’s Christianity, he noticed at a famly Thanksgiving that when my uncle led a prayer of Thanksgiving, I bowed my head and closed my eyes. My son asked me about it later and since he knew I wasn’t a Christian, he wanted to know what I did when I everyone else prayed. I told him, “I prayed too, just to my gods. But even if I had not wanted to pray, I probably would have bowed my head just to same out of respect for the other’s beliefs. That’s not participating or pretending, that’s just respecting.” And that satisfied him.

    It gets harder when you are in a situation where you not only do not follow a group’s beliefs but actively are against them. I was invited to my nephew’s baptism at my brothers church. IMHO, no child of 8 can make the decision his baptism proclaimed – I just don’t think anyone is mature enough at that age to understand fully what they are proclaiming, and I say that as someone who proclaimed salvation at age 11 and later realized I had no idea what I was really doing – but I went as an observer because my brother and my sister-in-law and my parents celebrated this event and were happy about it. No harm done, and no one noticed that I did not congratulate my nephew. I simply didn’t speak out against it either. Even though I didn’t agree, I could observe.

    Elizabethtown KY is a lovely place and I’ve been there may times – for about 10 years I drove through E-town twice monthly when visiting family and we usually broke our journey there for lunch. I know many people who live in KY and even the most devout Christians that I know there would not be offended by this. To the contrary, Senator Williams pretty much had to go out of his way to find something to be offended about. I wonder where he draws the line? Should I stop using cash because it says “In God We Trust”? Should I walk out of a wedding because the minister offers a prayer of blessing to the Christian God? Should I take my kid out of public school because the school library keeps a copy of the Book of Mormon? Really!

    Why can’t diversity be a good thing? That’s my question to Senator Williams. You don’t burn down the local Wendy’s because you prefer Big Macs – you don’t picket the local Ford dealership because you drive a Toyota. They are all hamburgers, they are all cars, why can’t religions all be about enlightenment and spirit and let our differences rest there?

    Thank you Governor Beshear for having the guts to respect others.

  • As a pagan Kentucky resident, it pleases me to see that our governor is willing to show respect to other ways than those of the Christian mainstream. That Williams made an issue of this is unsurprising; negative campaigning is all he’s been doing.

  • Anonymous

    Gotta love that Authoritarian, Social Conservative, “love” for the First Amendment!

  • Hectuba Hestia

    Please allow me to describe a way of looking at polytheism as monotheism. Say you have a really large diamond, altogether the diamond is one beautiful gem. What makes this diamond so beautiful? It’s many faces which are beautiful on their own. So essentially it is the many faces of god/dess that creates the one faces that is worshiped as the whole.

  • Kilmrnock

    Anna, my Hindi friend , that type of thought is western monothiest . not us pagans . Altho some newbies , coming from a monothiest tradition , have that baggage . Most of us long term pagans have retrained our minds and thought processes past those ways of thinking .The old gealic and even norse ways of thinking , even most of our wiccans are more in line w/ hindi ways of thinking.And us Geals are of Indo-Europeans decent and share your way of thinking though a common heritage. Just a nuggget to think about . Kilm

  • Kilmrnock

    Hectuba , as a hard polythiest i can’t buy into your comparison . I’m celtic pagan , Sinnsreachd . Our frame of reference , religoius center is so different from the monthiestic , abrahiac systems we and most pagans are at odds w/ the monothiests , and generaly speaking the Christians aren’t that fond of pagans either . Possibly from a duothiest wiccan point of view this might work , but for the rest of us , not really. Kilm