These days practically everyone on the planet is literate, at least to minimal level. This is, in part, due to religion as most religions today possess a book which they go by and which adherents are generally expected to read. Now, whereas this literacy is generally a good thing because it is good that most people are literate, this can also have inherent drawbacks too as demonstrated by history and even modern experience.
Now, whereas, historically, religions based on books or scriptures or other sacred writings have tended to only grudgingly disseminate those sacred writings to the general populace, which they generally preferred to keep illiterate so they could not read the sacred writings themselves and, thus, had to be dictated to in that regard, this was not the case with ancient Greece and, perhaps to a lesser extent, ancient Roma. So whereas the populace was kept generally illiterate in places such as Egypt (before the conquest of Alexander the Great) and in areas ruled by the Kelts and the Druids, as well as the Near East to some degree, these two brights spots of humanity (Greece and Roma) allowed and even encouraged free thought and expression, to a surprising extent, fueled by literacy. And they did so without the modem of a holy book or set of holy scriptures. Instead, this was accomplished mainly by way of written myth. And the myths were taught in schools so that children could develop understanding as well as literacy.
All of that changed in the West with the influence, centuries later, of the Protestant Reformation. Europe, having gone through several hundred years of virtual illiteracy, mainly perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church which wanted to keep the populace illiterate, had become literate anyway as a result of the Enlightenment. Thus, once Martin Luther effectively opened the door to varying religious opinions and doctrines, mainly promulgated and espoused by the uneducated populace, the door was opened to a myriad of doctrines, many not well based in sound theology. This was the natural result of giving the general populace, who were barely literate and generally uneducated, the idea that the individual should be capable of reading and interpreting holy scripture for themselves.
This, I submit, is exactly the issue that leads to extremist religious views because the unlearned or the barely educated tend to read anything, including scripture, in a literal fashion. And this illustrates the whole problem with monotheistic book-based religion in a nutshell. The danger is in allowing just anyone to read and interpret scripture which is deemed holy and god-breathed and, to some therefore, must be read and interpreted literally. This is the very reason that there has been and continues to be so much hatred and strife based upon religious beliefs.
I believe that the greater truth here, however, is that such generally cannot be done with reference to the polytheistic religions. They are simply not suited to literalist, extremist, viewpoints. That said, even with them there is a danger, as I have recently observed, that some could take their preferred polytheistic belief system a bit too “religiously”, if you will, and seek to exclude anything and anyone they deem to be “outside” of their articular belief system, not really understanding their error in so doing.
But all strict literalist interpretations are by definition errors because they fail the test of logic and reason by basically accepting the premise that there is only one way. This sort of idea is even today being espoused by some in the polytheistic community who refer to themselves as “hard polytheists”, not recognizing that others within the polytheistic community hold to belief systems that are just as valid as theirs are. So they have a natural tendency to exclude others who don’t hold exactly to their own views. These people are making a tragic mistake based upon their overall lack of understanding due, more often than not, on their own lack of solid theological training.
This expose, therefore, is meant to serve the purpose, at least in part, of bringing the polytheistic community the understanding that as many persons within the community as possible need to endeavor to be educated theologically. It is, in my view, imperative, that our community be educated about what they don’t believe just as much as what they do believe. Otherwise, they could easily fall into the trap of misunderstanding and literalism that has so divided, tainted and, therefore, ruined the monotheistic religions. A formally educated clergy is a must if polytheism is to accomplish its necessary goal of being recognized as legitimate by the wider religious community.