Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.
Rosencrantz: Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too
narrow for your mind.
-- Wiliam Shakespeare
Today I want to discuss how to choose gods: amongst the endless possible gods, how to discriminate the best and most righteous for a situation. In polyscriptivism, this is the question of how to make moral decisions.
The universe has layers. At the base is nature, or reality, as it really is. We have no words to describe nature, and only an indirect experience of it. However, it is what both we and the gods are made of.
There is neither good nor evil in nature, right or wrong, justice or love. Nature is Being being being. Good and evil are created by the gods, and because all of our experience of nature is mediated through the gods, the world appears to be permeated with these values. In a very real sense, our world is filled with good and evil, even if nature is not. Although good and evil only exist in our experience, they are no less real than anything we've experienced, and in no way dispensable.
Of course, different gods define different goods and evils. If the god of capitalism defines good as sanctity of contract, and the god of Christianity includes usury amongst his evils, neither of them is any more "right", according to the laws of nature.
We choose our morality by the gods we associate with. Not only do we decide whether to do "right" or "wrong", but we decide what write and wrong mean to us. Further, these two decision are deeply connected. Our morality produces our actions-- we try to do what is good and avoid what is bad.
These efforts are not under our control the way they appear. They result from the interplay of the gods that define our lives. The realm of choice for us is in which gods we evoke.
But if there's no morality outside of the gods, by what criteria are we to choose them? The doctrine of polyscriptivism says, choose those gods that make you happy. But we can say more.
There are many different kinds of happiness. Each-- and our desire for it-- is important, from those that appear most instinctual or irrational to those that seem most cultivated or perceptive.
Human beings are beings in motion. Our grossest nature consists in a drive to be or act-- that is, in want. The gods mediate our experience of this drive, but they cannot define it.
Sometimes gods present our drive as a shadow-- as a thing to be denied and buried. It is then that we feel trapped, because we are trying to divorce our most fundamental nature and motive force. When we feel trapped, it's because we've chosen the wrong gods.
But the pure pursuit of happiness is difficult, because the nature and direction of our drives is easily mistaken. Drives also change quickly and unexpectedly. Fortunately, some gods are almost as flexible and help us to perceives our drives more clearly.
Once, two men sought to build houses of great quality. They both sought the finest materials and the most skilled of craftsmen. The first man built his house of stone, with doors of steel, and proudly said that it could stand a thousand years. The second made his house of cloth. Every room was pitched and arranged according to changing mood of its occupants. The houses were completed, and the men moved in.
One summer day, the house of stone got so hot that the man there didn't dare touch the doors, and he was trapped. On the same day, the man of the cloth house held a large party. The occupants moved between rooms in every direction, raising up the walls, until the whole structure collapsed, and the man was left without a house.
The second man heard the cries of the first, and broke through a stone wall to set him free. The two men decided to build a new house to live in together, this one with some walls of stone and some of cloth.
When we try to live our lives by following a single god, we find ourselves confined. When we try to live by trying to appease all gods equally, we find ourselves with without direction. The life of quality necessarily has both some strong gods and a changing cast.
In nature, there is no good or evil. Whether you live your life confined and ashamed, or righteous and celibate, or perverted and smelly, the universe welcomes you no less or more. You can live your whole life consumed by restrictions, and it will end the same way. The most horrible, self-mutilating experience of our lives, in the eyes of the universe, is nothing but an experience.
And so, in reality, we have no obligations to bear on our choice of gods. The polyscriptivist mandate to live well and help others to do the same comes from its adherents, because it is what we want for ourselves and the world.