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Augustine
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« on: October 06, 2004, 12:36:12 PM »

mon-+o-+the-+ism - The doctrine or belief that there is only one God.

Often a big distinction is made between supposedly "monotheistic" and "polytheistic" religions.  Yet from my reading/study on the subject, it would seem to be a useless distinction, or at least an inaccurate one, when you press the terms to their logical end.

While a religion like say, Hinduism (which is more a collection of religions than a single "religion" per se) worships a multitude of personal entities, Vedantic philosophy in it's various forms seems to be pretty agreed on one thing - the basic, essential unity of the Godhead.  I've found the same can be said of practically every pagan religion I've read about - that the "absolute" is in fact one, a unity.

Now, what about all of those "gods" that pagans worship?  Well I've found that in most of their creation myths, what you find is that these gods are perceived as being personal manifestations of the "divinity", which began at a particular time.  Many creation stories (like those of the ancient Egyptians) speak of the "birth of the gods" or things like this, and in turn other gods being birthed or created by them.

While the particulars are disputable, fundamentally how is this much different than the cosmology of so called "monotheistic" religions (typically listed as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam)?  Do not all three believe in the existance of angels, demons, jinn, etc?  These would seem to be ancient beings, with potencies greater than those of men, who have even been given power over certain spheres of the government of the creation (at least this is true of angels.)

It would seem two things alone separate the "monotheistic" faiths from "polytheistic" religions - the limiting of worship to the divine essence, and the belief that the divinity is essentially distinct from the created order (where as most "higher" forms of paganism are pantheistic - the belief that all things are somehow parts of the divinity).  However, that is not really "monotheism" as per the standard dictionary definition, is it?  That is a philosphical stand, joined to what has been called "henotheism"...

hen-+o-+the-+ism - Belief in one god without denying the existence of others.

Interestingly enough, a comparison of the extant Hebrew Old Testament with the Septuagint would give creedence to this position.   The New Tesament typically makes reference to the Septuagint version of the OT, and this is the rendering of Psalm 8:5, which speaks of mankind.

Septuagint Psalm 8:5 - For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Yet the Hebrew version of this, instead of reading angelos (angel), reads elohim, which strictly speaking means "gods".  What the Septuagint/NT rendering makes clear, is that the Jewish translators of the OT into Greek, saw an equivelence between the two, at least in the context of this passage.

Psalm 82 would seem to bare out the same notion - with YHWH being the Father and King of the "gods"...

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.

3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.

4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

Or other passages like Pslam 95:3 - For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.  There are many other passages like this.

It is obvious in some places that the "gods" being spoken of are either earthly powers, spiritual powers, or both.   For example, the following is an interesting passage from the book of Exodus...

And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. (Exodus 7:1)

I think the problem we have in examining this issue accuratly, is that we have a lot of baggage associated with the word "god", and not all of it bad obviously.  We have been so thoroughly formed by the Biblical consciousness of the uniqueness of the worship paid to the Lord, and that He is essentially different than anything else that exists, that we customarily limit the word "god" to Him alone.  And this is accurate.  But it would seem that the word itself is used much more loosely in the Bible, particularly it's more archaic portions (though this usage is still found to a limited degree in the New Testament.)

A further problem for Christians, is that we do not believe that the worship of the LORD alone equals "unitarianism".  In this respect, there is a passing similarity to certain pagan religions, in that we believe the Divinity, while unfathomably one, does exist in plural Persons.

Why these thoughts on "monotheism" you may be asking?  Well, beside having way too much time on my hands, I realized that from an apologetical point of view, these terms are worthy of some de-construction.  On one hand, it shows where one must REALLY engage the various pantheistic/"polytheistic" religions of the far east.  On the other hand, such deconstruction actually does a service to the Gospel, since Christianity is often accused of being "polytheistic" by both Muslims and Jews (but using that term strictly, it would appear then that they too are "polytheistic.")  Taking apart these terms, I think, lets us get closer to the roots of the disagreements that keep people away from the Church.

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Elisha
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« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2004, 07:06:00 PM »

Augustine,
Just to let you know that you're not being completely ignored, I'll say at the very least that I think you raise an interesting point for discussion, even if someone totally disagrees with many of your premises.

Also, I cross posted it here as well, but don't expect to get a whole lot theological discussion there.  There are a few RC posters that I think could post something thoughtful and some Protestants as well, why I posted it there.  The comment by carrot is probably the best you could hope for out of him.  Posts some funny goofball comments.

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Augustine
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« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2004, 08:28:21 AM »

Greetings Elisha,

When I wrote the message, I really wasn't expecting much in the way of a response.  I find sometimes just articulating something (whether to another person, or putting it into writing) helps me put my thoughts in order, and arrive at a (often tentative) position.

"Lower" forms of paganism tend not to have a coherant metaphysical explanation regarding their gods or their cosmology, so such religions/cults are beyond the scope of what I'm talking about (though I'd argue that if one takes these myths at face value, a metaphysical outlook is inferred by them.)

However, I have noticed that when pagan religions do develop a philosophical tradition which tries to make some account of their gods/cosmology, what seems to happen is that the totality of all things (including mankind) are either explicitly or implicitly reduced to a single, eternal essence.  The most conspicuous modern example of this is Hinduism, which in a nutshell (at least in it's explicitly theistic forms) falls either into dualism, qualified-dualism (like Rama-Nuja, who is basically considered the "godfather" of Vaisnava Hindu philosophy), or monism (the main proponent of this being Shankarah.)  Whatever the qualifications, one thing these basic ideals have in common is the belief that everything is part and parcel of the divinity.  This is the source of much "new age" belief, which teaches the essential divinity of human beings.  This also gives a "justification" of sorts, to the worship of practically anything (which is why India is often called the land of 330,000,000 gods).

However, it is not simply grotesquely "pagan" religions which suffer from this tendency.  I've found that the mysticism of both Judaism and Islam (Kabbalah and Sufism respectively) also tend to fall into this trap, of refusing to assert  the complete "creatureliness" of everything besides the Deity.  Kabbalah is emmanationist, to the point that one is forced to conclude (if they take Kabbalistic premises seriously) that the "personality" or "personhood" of YHWH at some point had a "beginning", even if it was simultaneous with the begining of the unfolding of the manifest/"created" order.  Sufism to varying degrees flirts with monism (how far this goes depends on which sufi mystic one is talking about, and what they actually disclosed publically), often on the basis of Qur'anic passages like "Allah is closer to men than their own juglar vein" or the exoteric Islamic doctrine of strict predestination (which I'm sure sufi mystics would argue is a step away from saying that Allah is ultimatly the "do-er" of everything, including our own apparent free-will.)  This is actually why Sufi-ism has had a mixed reception in Islamic societies - Sufi mystics exclaiming that they were Allah, did not tend to go over well with adherants to the more conventional, puritanical Islam of the masses.

OTOH, Christian "mysticism" is quite clear on the sharp distinction between the Uncreated and the created (God, and everything else.)  Though ultimatly this insistance is present because it is true, I think that a safeguard against vereering away from this sharp distinction has been the Church's Christological doctrines.  Simply put, if a Christian were to flirt with any form of pantheism, monism, etc. there would really not be anything radically unique about the Incarnation.  At best, a so called "pantheist Christian" would only be able to say that Christ was a "more self-realized" being than others, and not qualitatively different than other men or creatures - since the fact would be, that not only would Christ Himself be Divine, but so would everyone and everything else (it's just that they're not aware of it, or truly conscious of it.)  Interestingly (and unfortunately) enough, if you dissect many of the "modernist theologies" of the late 19th century/early 20th century, you'll find they are essentially a betrayal of Christianity to pantheism of one form or another (like the blasphemy of the Jesuit "theologian" Teilhard de Chardin.)

Pantheism is a great boon for the more extreme parts of the ecumenist movement (which is really syncretism), and I don't think it's a coincidence that "ecumenism" and pan-religious movements were born and grew parallel to the creation/dissemination of modernist theologies (and oddly enough, this seems to have been a pan-Christian problem - there are examples of such oddities in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant spheres.)

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Elisha
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« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2004, 02:04:07 PM »

Augustine,
There have been a couple more posts where I linked to if you're interested.  Unlike you, I'm surprised this thread hasn't gotten more thought.
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