(Exasperatingly, I can’t find the exact phrase again, but I believe it was somewhere in Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender’s Leviat Hachen on “The Simpleton and the Sophisticate.”)
It was that polytheism and atheism are essentially the same...
Polytheism is a rationalist belief.
This boggled my mind because I'd always thought of idol-/star-/nature-worship as mythology-based. In fact, Greek and Roman idol-worship is stuffed with action-packed stories.
On the other hand, atheism is cold and deals with hard facts and complex stiff science.
- Atheism deals with numbers, like carbon dating, light-years, temperatures, etc.
- Polytheism is rich with imagery and elaborate story plots
- Both are meant to explain the workings of the world.
The Bards of Science
And there you have a nifty mythological explanation for seasons.
Lesser known are the chaotic events popular in Welsh mythology.
Even fairy tales sometimes refer to European pagan mythology, such as Mother Holle and her magic feather pillow which, when shaken thoroughly enough, brings snow to the world.
As a child, I learned that people created these mythologies in place of science to explain the world around them. I did wonder who was the first to create these stories and didn’t that person realize he was creating a story from his own imagination? How did he convince others to believe these stories and why was that okay?
After all, these entities don’t actually exist, so it couldn’t have been that the story-weaver had any evidence of the events or even of the personages themselves. It made sense that the common masses trusted in these fantasies, but the people spinning these fantasies surely knew they weren’t true…right?
So how did it all develop?
Astrological Myths and Science
Although my initial response was to ignore this shocking new theory (polytheism is a rationalist belief system like atheism), I realized that in a conflict of opinion, Rav Bender (and before him, Rebbe Nachman) would be right and I would be wrong.
So I started thinking about how it could be so.
And I realized that polytheism is simply the right-brained side of left-brained atheism.
In fact, real astrology contains the hard science of astronomy. The ancient astrologers were expert astronomers. Star charts from ancient Babylonia and Maya and the like show extensive and impressive scientific knowledge of astronomy. The top minds of ancient times weren’t necessarily superstitious storytellers; in sheer brainpower they equaled (if not surpassed) Einstein and all the rest, applying their genius to the hard facts of cosmic orbits.
And controversial (for some) as it is to say, Judaism actually acknowledges the validity of astrology, but forbids its use as misleading and detrimental to one’s emuna.
Relying solely on charted orbits and the like ignores the reality of Hashem’s Orchestration of those very orbits. Furthermore, Hashem can change these orbits and constellations at will, changing one’s destiny on which the original astrological predictions were based. There are numerous examples of this in Torah, whether it was Avraham Avinu’s astrological fate to remain childless or Moshe Rabbeinu’s downfall via water, which top Egyptian scientists of that time assumed this meant death through drowning.
(Note: Moshe Rabbeinu met his downfall by hitting a rock improperly to draw forth water, which condemned him to only seeing Eretz Yisrael rather than entering into Eretz Yisrael. We all know he didn’t drown in the end, but passed on via what’s known as a “Divine Kiss”—the most painless way to die. This is just one of thousands of examples why relying on even the most expert astrology is forbidden and ultimately useless.)
However, astrology does have its basis in fact and people could and did draw parallels—but that doesn’t mean it’s always reliable. Likewise, ibuprofen will often (though not always) reduce pain and swelling. Meteorology often (though not always) will give you an accurate weather report for the next day. Ultrasounds often (though not always) portray what your unborn baby looks like.
And these above things can also cause harm. Some people suffer serious side effects from ibuprofen, even when taken properly. You may prepare for a promised sunny day only to get caught in a chilly downpour. Ultrasound predictions (that later proved false) of deformed babies have caused unnecessary anguish and poor decisions.
(These are maybe not the best examples because practicing astrology is forbidden, but pain killers, weather reports, and ultrasounds are permitted. My point is that they are all based on science which is often true, but not infallible and never override Hashem’s Mastery over the world.)
Harry Potter & The Deathly Greenhouse Gases
I mean NONE.
For example, I’d always heard that Venus is a hive of volcanic activity. I assumed that scientists had somehow discovered actual volcanoes or lava or clouds of volcanic ash.
The only reason why scientists decided that Venus is rife with volcanic activity is because radar imaging revealed the Venusian surface to be relatively smooth.
This actually indicates that Venus could be a young planet as older planets tend to be pocked with erosion and meteor craters.
But for some reason (cough, anti-Velikovsky sentiment? cough!), scientists leaped to the conclusion that Venus is actually an ancient planet that "renews" its surface. Yet how can a surface be renewed, geologically speaking? Lots o’ lava! From this completely evidence-less assumption, scores of art portraying a volcanic lava-flooded Venusian surface decorate science books and magazines reporting on Venus.
And one you have a completely imaginary image, you’re crossing the line into mythology. Yes, many times the art is captioned with the following: An artist’s perspective of what [fill-in-the-blank] might look like. But the image is considered based on fact. The image is in place of the photograph we don’t have…allegedly based on scientific knowledge.
At least, that’s the assumption.
Furthermore, celebrity scientists like to hypothesize that Venus once housed a lush, hospitable environment…until the evil greenhouse gases appeared and transformed Venus into the hostile deadly environment we see today! Muwahahahaha… Sort of like how the evil Dementors appeared and cast a gloomy chill mist across the UK (until Harry Potter and his pals managed repel them all with a really strong Patronus spells and destroyed all Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Forget about sending a space mission…how can we get an anti-greenhouse-gas Patronus to Venus, guys?).
But at least they admit it’s a hypothesis. Imagine how I felt when reading a science magazine in which the writer describes a formerly lush, verdant Venus as a statement of fact.
That is for sure crossing the boundary into mythology. Now you’ve got this whole imaginary backdrop with the basic story plot (“Once upon a time, the Land of Venus was a lush, verdant paradise until one day, evil greenhouse gases appeared and destroyed the Eden-like kingdom…”). Now all you need are dementors, centaurs, and goddesses, and you’re all set for a new tale of mythology.
Dinosaur, Evolution, and Climatology Myths
And look how many movies and “documentaries” we have that relate the mythologies of the dinosaurs, little of which is based on any verifiable evidence.
Knowledge through Torah
In a world without God, chas v’shalom, you need Persephone and Hades, Neanderthals and evolution embryos, a volcano-spewing old Venus that was once a lush paradise, imaginary horse evolution charts, and inescapable astrological determination.
But in a world with God, you can just have the Truth.
Also, if they DO find volcanoes on Venus, then fine with me. (And some scientists see stuff on Venus that they think indicates lava flows and other signs of volcanic activity.) But they've been saying there are volcanoes long before the 1991 Magellan radar mapping and presenting it as fact with absolutely no evidence of volcanoes. You can't present something as fact with no evidence.
Evolution is Not a Science by Matt
Yet Another Stunning Scientific Discovery: Heck, We Haven't Got a Clue!
The Venus Effect: Lots of Fun Insanity (Please scroll down to "Scientific Delusions" to read about the statement of Venus having once been "lush" and "verdant.")
The Kli Yakar on Parshat Bo (Please scroll down a bit to "How to Handle Threatening Stars and Planets" for an idea of how Judaism views astrology.)