In need of distraction late last night, I watched the start of the science fiction drama series Caprica and was struck by a wonderful conceit. On planet Caprica, right thinking people follow the Hellenic gods and monotheism is regarded as a strange and extreme religious sect. Quizzing the mistress of a religiously tolerant school, an agent investigating a terrorist attack carried out by members of the sect One True God says:
And how many of your students are practising monotheists? It doesn’t concern you, Sister: that kind of absolutist view of the universe? Right and wrong determined solely by a single all knowing, all powerful being whose judgement cannot be questioned and in whose name the most horrendous of acts can be sanctioned without appeal?
It had not occurred to me to think that an argument for polytheism might be that in an ethics based on theology the moral value-determining judgement of a single god might be thought to be totalitarian. (This seems not quite to be the Euthyphro paradox: working out which way the determination works between being good and being loved by the gods.)
But my colleague Bill Fulford, who champions the idea of a rational ‘dissensus’ about values over what he sees as the potentially abusive absolute standards of quasi legal bioethics, would surely love this. In the skies above Caprica, the many gods try to sort out what is good through free debate in a heavenly ‘values based practice’.
For a more serious view of values based practice see this.