C stands for ‘Cat’: a tool for explaining polytheism

This blog post isn’t about cats. It is also not about the link between the gods and our furry feline friends. For more of that I refer you to Ruadhán McElroy’s writing on Of Thespiae. This blog post center’s on ‘Cat’,  a conceptual construction which John Micheal Greer uses in A World Full of Gods to explain the differences between various theological standpoints, including monotheism, traditional polytheism and atheism.

I like cats in all shapes and sizes, and colours.
I like cats in all shapes and sizes, and colours.

The Cat-analogy, in which Cat is analogous for God, is set in a village with five houses, the inhabitants of which have singular beliefs on cats – or rather, in four out of five cases about a single entity called ‘Cat’. As people – this could be fellow Pagans,  but I am thinking mainly of Christian in-laws) – often get really worked up in theological debates, the replacement of gods by cats (or God by Cat) is helpful to bring the tension down. Your friends or family members may be very touchy on the topic of religion, as their notions of what God/god is, are very personal to them. Especially for those among you who do not take this debates so very personally themselves and who enjoy a bit verbal sparring, this instrument might help you to do without setting other people’s teeth on edge. It helps if your people are cat lovers, if not, you might want to consider replacing ‘Cat’ with ‘Dog’.

A folklore researcher comes to the village one day, knocks at the door of the first house, and asks the householder about his belief in feline entities.  “Of course I believe in Cat”, comes the answer. ” There is one Cat, who is a tabby with blue eyes. I was taught about Cat by my parents. Every morning I go out onto the porch, call out ‘here, kitty-kitty-kitty!’ and leave a bowl of kibble and there Cat was, gazing up at me with those big blue eyes. I couldn’t say a word. I managed to set the bowl down without dropping it, and Cat came right over and started eating.

Householder #1 knows that his neighbours have different opinions on the nature of Cat, but believes they are mistaken and that the cats they describe simply donot exist. “It’s rather sad, really”, he says. “They don’t know any better, and go on making the wrong kind of calls and leaving out the wrong kind of food for cats that aren’t there.” He insists that the food they leave out is eaten by wondering hoboes.

You see? Funny huh?
The analogy can be used to make fun of monotheists, granted. Of course, the polytheists come out looking for more sensible as, unlike the gods, multiple cats have been proven to exist. Yet talking about cats instead of gods, can still lift the spirit. Your friends may claim that gods are entirely different from gods, and they would largely be right. They may say that you are mocking their God, but you could address this complaint by pointing out that you are comparing your own gods to cats too! And the same goes for afelist – who in this analogy claims that Cat cannot possibly be a tabby and a black shorthair at the same time.

In the end, the analogy does a pretty good job at explaining the different views in a light-hearted manner, and it shows that theology should be based on religious experience. (Mind you, this doesn’t mean that agree with Greer on everything)

And how could any cat-lover be against more cats?


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