Among the hot theological debates of all time are
those about God. Some say
there is only one, while others argue that there are many, and still
others are absolutely convinced there is none.
Others have strong beliefs about their deity, but they are not
able to accurately define their concept of their deity.
In this article we are going to touch on three of the major
"concepts of deities" - polytheism, monotheism,
Polytheism is the belief in the existence of many different
gods. The gods are not
under the control of, or definitively inferior to, a supreme deity. They
are all, so-to-speak, on a level playing field.
The Vikings had such a system, with gods in control of the
various elements, but no god was strong enough to take complete control.1 The
ancient Greeks had something very close to a supreme deity in Zeus,
however, their concept allowed them to conveniently move him off to the
side, and then the other gods could do as they pleased.2
Over time the Greek city states moved slightly away from a pure form of
polytheism by having a supreme deity over a city. However,
the Greek system was probably as good an example as any of a
sophisticated concept of polytheism as may be found.
Monotheism is considered the polar opposite of polytheism - one
deity vs. many deities. However,
defining monotheism isn't as easy as one may think. Three of the modern major religions claim to be monotheistic
- Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Rabbinic
Judaism and Islam both define monotheism according to the classic model
- the existence of a single deity with universal power, without
modifications or exceptions. However, Christianity declares
itself to be monotheistic, but instead of following the classic model of
monotheism, it offers the concept of Trinitarianism - one deity, but
manifested in three forms - God the Father, God the Son, and God the
Holy Spirit. Volumes have
been written about this Christian concept, but any attempt to logically
explain the Trinity usually ends up in a convoluted maze of doctrines.
Judaism rejects the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is
really a monotheistic concept:
cannot be made up of parts, even if those parts are mysteriously united.
The Christian notion of trinitarianism is that God is made up of God the
Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Such a view, even if
called monotheistic because the three parts are, by divine mystery, only
one God, is incompatible with the Jewish view that such a division is
not possible. Indeed, many
Jews see an attempt to divide God as a partial throwback, or compromise
with, the pagan conception of many gods." 3
As always, it is important to understand the
chronological relationship of each of these religions.
Rabbinic Judaism (second century CE), Christianity (fourth
century CE), and Islam (seventh century CE).
It should also be noted that Christianity and Islam are allied in
that both are "religions of a canonized book" and base their
concepts of Trinity and monotheism on their interpretations of their
Henotheism fills in the gap between the polytheism and
monotheism. Imagine the concepts placed in a line, with
polytheism on the left and monotheism on the right (no political
connotations), placing henotheism in the middle. In its
purest form, henotheism is the idea that even though more than one deity
may exist; there is one deity who is supreme. The challenge
of defining a henotheistic system is to determine just how far one may
progress from polytheism toward the center before the concept becomes
henotheism. Probably the initial development of henotheism is
in the idea of a patron deity for a city or country. This
deity may be viewed as supreme in his or her territory with all other
deities occupying a subordinate position. Examples would be
Athena of Athens and Bel or Marduk of Babylon.
Many scholars now believe that the early Israelites also held a
henotheistic deity concept with Yahweh being the supreme deity and other
deities being his subordinates in the Land of Israel.
They conclude that between the seventh and fifth centuries BCE
the people of Israel moved from henotheism to monotheism.
There is a growing body of archaeological evidence that supports
Below are other concepts that are related to this
study. They are listed in
alphabetical order. If you
are not familiar with them or would like to know more about any of them,
please take the time to find a good dictionary or encyclopedia and get
Truth is "unknowable."
is no God.
We must rethink and adapt our concept of God and truth to fit
with modern culture and modes of thinking.
Everything is an undifferentiated oneness or unity.
Everything is god and god is in everything.
Focused more on "what works" than on "what's
Sees all of nature as rational and that the making of proper
deductions is essential to achieving knowledge.
When you finish, take time to write down your concept
of deity and see which category best describes it.
I know a lot of people who say they are monotheists, but when
asked to explain what they mean by monotheism they describe a