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I'm going to do my usual OT hijacking and mention the upcoming novel of a friend. Her premise was: how would an industrialised, polytheistic society cope with monotheistic terrorism?

It's an alternate history; the point of departure being that Archimedes of Syracuse was captured, taken to Rome and then funded (because the Romans were nothing if not practical). In her setting, the Romans are well into an industrial revolution.

The blurb she wrote for an agent:

    Pontius Pilate is a successful corporate lawyer 
    headhunted by the Roman Senate to run a difficult 
    province in need of a gentler, civilian touch. He’s 
    been in the job five years — and is starting to get 
    the hang of it — when the Yeshua Ben Yusuf file 
    lands on his desk. This is not ideal right now. 
    Judaea is in the midst of a major terrorism crisis, 
    his wife keeps threatening to go back to Caesarea (
    she can’t stand Jerusalem), his son is becoming far 
    too friendly with the High Priest’s son, and his 
    boss keeps forgetting that he isn’t actually in the 
    army. Even worse, his closest friend and greatest 
    rival from law school is Ben Yusuf’s lawyer. A 
    Jerusalem courtroom is the setting for the first 
    clash of civilisations, where people from a 
    fundamentally different tradition are forced to 
    engage with religious ideas that in many respects 
    they do not want to understand.

    What is most distinctive about the book is my 
    imagining of what a technologically advanced pagan 
    civilisation would look like. That is, what if the 
    Romans won much of their empire under conditions 
    that we associate with the Industrial Revolution? 
    What if — with their distinctive, non-Christian 
    moral values — they were gifted with all that 
    immense fire-power and confronted with monotheistic 
    I do not think the Romans were secular in the 
    modern sense, and I haven’t portrayed them as such. 
    They were, however, very different from the 
    monotheistic peoples they confronted in Judaea. My 
    Roman characters are still religious, but 
    differently religious. Unlike many authors of a 
    skeptical bent, I do not seek to score cheap shots 
    by denigrating religion per se. Rather, Bring Laws 
    & Gods recognises the persistent vitality of 
    religious traditions, especially when their 
    practitioners are confronted with overwhelming 
    military power and physical occupation by non-
It should be published this year and I am very much looking forward to reading it, based on the introduction and samples she's dropped:


http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2010/09/24/the-angel-bring-laws-... (NSFW)


http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2010/11/25/patria-patria/ (NSFW)

"how would an industrialised, polytheistic society cope with monotheistic terrorism?"

Add to this a side plot about creating sentient machines and you basically summed up the storyline of Caprica, Battlestar Galactica's prequel.

That may be the case (I never watched BSG), but I'm not sure if that precludes her from writing a story in what is ultimately a very different setting.

I'd also note that sometimes plots occur more than once in literature and entertainment by mere chance. Shocking, I know!

Edit: having looked up the Caprica plot on Wikipedia, really, they have nothing in common.

> Shocking, I know!

I didn't want to sound dismissive or snarky in any way. If I did, then I apologize. I was just providing an example of other story based on "industrialised, polytheistic society with monotheistic terrorism" :).

I hope strongly that your friend will publish her novel successfully; I'm eager to read it.

BTW. If you never watched BSG, I recommend it strongly (the new one). It's a masterpiece.

I was snarky too.

I mean to get around to lots of things, but there's so much other stuff to do, read, watch or play.

At the end of the Western Roman Empire in 300AD they became monotheistic. The interesting piece is, what if they had been able to eliminate all the civil wars? In that case their would have been a unified force to resist the rise and spread of Islam. Islam filled a void left by the collapse of the Roman Empire even though the Western Empire still existed.

Not exactly. When the Western Empire fell, the Eastern Empire retained Constantinople as its capital, from which it engaged in a protracted series of increasingly expensive wars with the Sassanid Empire (modern-day Iran). These conflicts peaked in the early 7th century, at which point the Sassanids suffered an astonishing implosion.


That was the vacuum that Islam (then nascent) filled. Only after seizing the remnants of Persia (and, critically, control of the silk routes running through it) could the first Caliphate move into territory once controlled by Constantinople. By the time the second Caliphate had extended Islam's control into Spain, more than four centuries had passed since the abandonment of Rome as a capital city (330 CE), after which the city persevered for another century before being sacked entirely. However the Western Empire was long gone by the time Islam appeared in the territory it once controlled.


The thing is that a lot of what we associate today with Islamism is really a property of monotheistic zealotry in general.

In fact, the very word "Zealot" originally referred to a particular religio-political movement that sometimes dabbled in what we might in today's terms call "terrorism".

I'm not sure that would have helped that much really. The Eastern Empire had been propping up the West for years with trade and money. By splitting off, the East was able to keep all that funding for itself. However, internal/external struggles, the Forth Crusade[1] and political intrigue ended up being the downfalls. I do think there is some "what if?" factor in all that. Such as what if the unified empire had not wasted all those resources on the civil wars.

In some ways, the Western Empire was sort of doomed from the time of Augustus onward when their embedded fear of the German tribes was established[0]. The defeat at Teutoburg Forest and the loss of around 20,000 Roman legionaries stopped all expansion into Germany and most likely lead the the eventual confrontation with the Goths. There's also a "what if" due to the Huns and pushing the Goths across the Danube, but if it were not the Huns, it could have been other factors as well (famines or another barbarian tribe).

The Eastern Empire almost reconquered the Western half in the 6th century under Justinian[2] and Belisarius[3]. However, internal bickering and mistrust led to squandering much of the gains that were won.

The Islamic forces were also able to capitalize on the chaos brought on by the perpetual wars between the Eastern Empire and the Sassanids[4] as well as the various barbarian tribes (such as the Bulgars and the various Gothic tribes that filled the vacuum of the former Western Empire) that still preyed on the Constantinople and other areas. There was just too many fires to contain them all at once and when one was put out, another was started in another region.

Honestly, I think it was for the best the Roman Empire ended for the sake of renewal (as much as I love Roman History). It had started to stagnate by the forth century and the more Greek side in the Eastern Empire was far from being the intellectual and cultural epicenter that it was during Classical Greek times. Sure, they built great things such as the Hippodrome and the Hagia Sofia, but those were just reincarnations of similar things done under the unified empire.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Crusade

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belisarius

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justinian

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sassanid_Empire

One thing that's a bit confusing about "The Roman Empire" is that it bifurcates into the Western and Eastern empires, which were two wildly different polities with a shared name.

If you thought the gcc/egcs fork was a big deal ...

Yeah, very true. The Germanic Tribes were probably as much, if not more Roman by the 6th Century than the Eastern Empire (Byzantines) were. From my understanding, the Germanic tribes did not exactly want to destroy the empire, they just wanted to be a part of the Roman Empire and share in its protection--to be Roman and share in their luxuries and technology. However, the Romans were too distrusting of them and treated them as second or third class citizens and isolating them on worthless lands far away from the core empire[1]. It was also business as usual for the Romans and how they treated many of the civilizations they saw as inferior--sucker them out of whatever you can and assume they're too dumb to know. They even traded the Goths dog meat in return for their children[1]. However, the Germans were smarter than the Romans gave them credit for and realized what was going on. When the Germanic tribes saw how weak the Romans were and after years of mistreatment, they decided they had enough.

Byzantines with a more Greek Culture (and spoken language) and different religious practices in some ways, despite being part of the same Catholic Church. I'd imagine that many in the West by the time of Justinian viewed them as invaders as much as any of the other groups.

Mistrust of foreign cultures still plagues us today in most countries throughout the world. It's too bad we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, such as those of the Romans and Gothic tribes. Isolating your fellow man because he speaks a different language or has a different culture/religion ends up making a country less safe instead of more safe.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_War_(376-382)#Outbreak

Sort of reminds me of India (the polytheistic "industrialized" society).

She mentioned somewhere that she sees India and Japan as good case studies in how modernist polytheistic societies works.

Not exact models of what a modernist Rome would look like, though. For one thing the Roman legal system, in its various forms, was a different creature. They had slavery ... but also very liberal marriage and divorce laws compared to most societies in history.

They're also one of only two legal systems which developed torts -- in Roman law, delicts. As an innovation torts/delicts take a lot of pressure off the state to provide regulation of commercial and personal behaviour, because a lot of it is then handled at the lower level by individuals and companies.

Many Christian societies are also polytheistic. The trinity is nothing if not an expression of polytheism.

A lot of the Roman impatience with early Christians was due to their energetic ... disagreements ... about your statement that "the trinity is nothing if not an expression of polytheism".


Right, however the Pauline creed places Jesus as divine alongside God. This is polytheistic as it has assigned divinity to something/someone other than God alone. And predates the period you describe. Of course, Christianity has become more and more polytheistic over time and now resembles, particularly in the third world where saint worship and veneration of bones is common practice, a belief system that is only marginally more monotheistic than Hinduism.

Nowadays, the only two major religions that one can say are even remotely monotheistic are Judaism and Islam. The Islamic notion of "tawheed" (unity of God) being a good example of a belief system that is genuinely monotheistic.

The actual question of whether Jesus is "alongside" God or whether he is God (and whether God is one being with three aspects or three independent aspects that combine like a divine Voltron) is literally the root of most of the nasty bustups of the first few centuries of Christianity. Those early bongpipe debate clubs really got out of hand.

In terms of veneration of saints etc; that's mostly because the early church deliberately went out of its way to absorb existing customs and beliefs. Many of the dates in the Christian calendar are pretty much stuff scribbled over the top of an existing pagan festival. Christmas pretty much replaces the Saturnalia, for instance.

>* This is polytheistic as it has assigned divinity to something/someone other than God alone.* //

It sounds like you're outside your comfort zone. Jesus is not other than God [the Father or God the Spirit] in orthodox [little-o] Christian belief. It's confusing for sure.

Catholicism includes the veneration of saints but they are categorically not gods, nor are relics gods, so how can the inclusion of such elements indicate polytheism.

Interesting that you mention Islam as one of the criticisms of Islam is that many supposed adherents appear to worship Mohammed as a god, certainly as much as Catholics "worship" the beatified. There is also the notion, warned against in the Quran IIRC, of worship of the djinn which could be considered analogous in some ways with veneration of the saints.

The orthodox belief you state that Jesus is the same as God is basically equivalent to the Hindu belief that their various gods are just different facets or aspects of God (with a capital G). If Christianity is monotheistic then, by this definition, so is Hinduism.

As for veneration of saints and relics, then anything that worshipped is a god and asking for blessings, intervention in worldly affairs, etc are all acts of worship. So when someone prays to a particular saint seeking something they are engaging a polytheistic act just as one who prays to an idol is engaging in polytheism.

I am not sure about Muslims worshipping Muhammad. Maybe in some polytheistic branches of Islam such as sufism and so forth which were themselves influenced by hindu/christian/etc ideas.

Some Hindu thought tends towards monotheism in considering the Brahman to be personal but that's certainly not true across the board. Personally I don't know enough hinduism, or hindus, to comment properly.

For those that don't consider the Brahman to be personal, and some that do, then within their philosophy [or practise] there are certainly distinct gods with distinct beings.

Not everything that is worshipped is a god. You can certainly worship something which is not divine - one of Jehovah's big beefs (!) with the early Hebrew tribes was their tendency to make things to worship.

When Catholics appeal to dead "Saints" (quite contradictory to NT use of saints to mean those who believe in Christ Jesus and so are saved) they ask for them to intercede before God for them. The thought is that the Saints are in heaven and so have the ear of God in a way that mortals do not - that is not deifying the Saints. It is not polytheism in practise or reality.

Poly + mono-terror: look to India

Isn't that what Battestar Galactica and especially Caprica detail? Not that they're a research or high-brow look at that question, but all the same.

I honestly don't know, I never watched BSG.

Was it set in early imperial Rome with particular reference to a fairly famous Jewish rabbi?

It takes a lot of cues from Mormon dogma, actually. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_mythological_refe...

The show's premise is an space-faring, industrialized, polytheistic society are surprised-attacked (and devastated, only a small band of humans survive) by Cylons, a sentient, monotheistic 'terrorist' group.

Ah, I see.

I think it's a different premise though. The novel is about an uncontested superpower dealing with asymmetric conflict.

BSG seems to be more of a classic symmetric war to me.

Caprica is more on the terrorist end of things where the BSG reboot is more of a normal war/in fighting/search and destroy premise.

Now that you mention it, it matches up exactly with Caprica's plotline!

I decided to look it up on Wikipedia. As best as I can make out they have basically nothing in common except the polytheist/monotheist division between characters.

wrt. the Adamas and the Greystones

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