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Monotheism

Monotheism

VARIETIES OF MONOTHEISM

ORIGINS OF MONOTHEISM

THE ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS

MONOTHEISM IN THE NON-ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD

CONCLUSION

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The term monotheism derives from the Greek words monos (single, only) and theos (god). It refers to the belief that there is only one God. Although various forms of monotheism can be traced to ancient times, the term itself is relatively modern. After the Irish freethinker John Toland (16701722) published Christianity Not Mysterious (1696), the term pantheism was applied to his concept of the divine. Eventually, it became necessary to distinguish traditional monotheism, which understands God as transcendent or distinct from the universe, from pantheism and other forms of theism.

VARIETIES OF MONOTHEISM

As the study of religions developed in the 1800s and 1900s, further distinctions were made between traditional monotheism (belief in a single, transcendent God who communicates by revelation), polytheism (belief in multiple or many gods), deism (belief in God as a transcendent being or power who does not intervene in history), henotheism (exclusive adherence to one God without denying the existence of other gods), and pantheism/monism (affirmation of an identity between the universe and God or the affirmation of a single, ultimate reality of which the multiple existing things are only parts or extensions).

Traditional monotheism, as developed principally within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, understands the one divine being not only as transcendent but also as the almighty creator and sustainer of all things, and, therefore, as distinct from and exalted above the created universe. Because everything that exists has been created by and depends on the one God, human beings owe this sublime being complete obedience, submission, and adoration. Moreover, God is understood as infinite, omnipotent, and endowed with all perfections. Although God is transcendent and mysterious, human beings know the divine will by means of supernatural revelation, mediated variously through Gods interventions in human history (e.g., sacred covenants, inspired writings, prophets, and, in the case of Christianity, the incarnation of Gods Word). Traditional monotheism, therefore, looks upon God as a personal being who oversees and guides human affairs.

Various types of monotheism can be found in the world. Deism, as developed during the 1600s to 1700s, understands God within the bounds of reason rather than revelation. Deists see the divine as the ultimate source of creation and order in the universe rather than a personal God who intervenes in history with prophecies and miracles. Many scholars consider pantheism, insofar as it affirms one divine reality, to be a form of monotheismeven though it does not distinguish God from the universe. Pan-en-theism which believes God is both above the universe and within it (as a dynamic principle or life-force)is another type of monotheism. Some even believe that monotheism can incorporate polytheism when the multiple gods are conceived as manifestations of an underlying divine unity (as in many forms of Hinduism).

ORIGINS OF MONOTHEISM

Scholars differ as to when monotheism first emerged. The German anthropologist and Catholic priest Wilhelm Schmidt (18681954) maintained that monotheism was the primordial belief of human beings. In his twelve-volume work Ursprung der Gottesidee (Origin of the Idea of God, 19121954), Schmidt argued that the High God found in many primitive cultures pointed to an original monotheism (subsequently obscured by devotions to lower spirits and gods). Many anthropologists, however, believe polytheism is more primordial and monotheism the result of a higher cultural development.

The origins of monotheism often have been linked to Judaism and the biblical tradition. Abraham (c. 1800 BCE) is understood as the unifying figure of the three monotheistic or Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Some scholars, however, believe Abraham was not a full-fledged monotheist but a henotheist (i.e., one who pledges exclusive devotion to one God without denying the existence of other gods; from the Greek, heis [one] theos [god]). Exegetes point to the use of the plural, gods (elohim ; see Gen. 1:26; Exod. 12:12), and to several biblical names (e.g., el-elyon, Gen. 14:19; el shaddai, Gen. 17:1) that might have referred to distinct gods worshipped by the early Hebrews.

Some, however, argue that the plural, elohim, is used in a royal sense or as an intensive use of the plural to show that the one God embodies all the qualities of the divine. These same scholars maintain that names such as el shaddai refer exclusively to the one God; thus, for them, there is no evidence of biblical polytheism or henotheism.

Other biblical exegetes find layers of tradition in the Pentateuch or Torah (the first five biblical books), which manifest a gradual move from henotheism to true monotheism. By the time the Pentateuch acquired its final edited form (c. fifth century BCE), authentic monotheism was certainly in force (see Deut. 32:39: See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me). In chapter 45 of Isaiah (c. 539 BCE), the God of Israel proclaims: I am the Lord, and there is no other (Isa. 45:6) and: There is no other god besides me (Isa. 45:21).

Many scholars, though, find evidence for early forms of monotheism not influenced by the Hebrew biblical tradition. The consensus, therefore, is that monotheism cannot be traced, in a unilinear manner, to a single historic source. Instead, the concept of a single God emerges from an underlying perception of unity or the postulation of an original cause of the cosmos. Monotheism, therefore, is understood as a natural structuring of reality by the human mind rather than a concept demanding supernatural revelation.

THE ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS

The monotheism of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) requires the exclusive worship of the one God. Thus, the Jewish sage Maimonides (c. 11351204 CE) numbered among the basic articles of Judaism the necessity of worshiping God alone who is the one, eternal, and incorporeal Creator.

Although some contemporary Jewish scholars acknowledge strands of early biblical polytheism, Judaism, as a whole, has been tenacious in affirming authentic monotheism. Thus, references to the Lords dominion over the gods (see, for example, Prov. 58:12 and 82:1) are rarely interpreted in a polytheistic manner. Instead, such passages are read either as a statement of Gods power over all pretenders to divinity or as an affirmation of the Lords authority over created spirits or angels. Similarly, the Angel of the Lord (see Gen. 16:7 and 22:11 and Exod. 3:2,6, and 13) is perceived as a manifestation of Gods own self and not a separate divinity. The other angels mentioned in the Bible are understood as messengers and servants of God; they are not in any way thought of as separate gods.

Christianity emerged out of Jewish monotheism, but its belief in the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit led to the doctrine of the Trinity: three eternal Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as hypostases or subsistences of the one divine essence. Although some see the Trinity as a compromise of authentic monotheism, Christian creeds and councils reject the view of the Trinity as three gods and affirm the unity of the divine essence. The Christian councils of the fourth and fifth centuries proclaimed Jesus as the eternal Word of God who assumed a human nature and not a creature to whom divinity was subsequently ascribed.

Some people regard the devotion to the saints in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity as a form of functional polytheism. In Catholic and Orthodox theology, however, the saints are not considered deities; instead, they are sanctified human beings who pray for the living from heaven (see, for example, Rev. 5:8). The saints are divinized in the sense that they come to share in the divine nature (see 2 Pet. 1:4). They are sometimes called gods (John 10:34; Prov. 82:6)not because they are uncreated deitiesbut because they participate in the grace of divine life bestowed upon them by God.

Various Protestant Christians likewise consider devotion to images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels, and saints as a form of idolatry. Catholics and Orthodox, howeverfollowing the teaching of the Second Council of Nicea (787 CE)distinguish between the worship (latreia or latria ) due to God alone and the veneration (dulia, proskunesis ) given to the holy images (ikons) of Mary, the angels, and the saints.

There is, though, evidence of crypto-polytheism in Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santeria that blend the Yoruba deities of Africa with the Catholic saints. Also, the Mormons (the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) are sometimes considered polytheists because of their understanding of the Trinity and other doctrines. In spite of these examples, Christianity, as a whole, has been strictly monotheistic.

Islam claims to be the primordial religion of humankind, because all the prophets, since the time of Adam, have taught the same doctrine of Gods unity proclaimed by Muhammad (570632 CE). The Quran, revealed through Muhammad, is seen as the final revelation of God (Allah), which corrects the corruptions that had entered into earlier revelations (such as the Torah, revealed through Moses, and the Gospel, revealed through Jesus).

Islam rejects the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. Allah is the one and only God, who begets not, nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him (Quran 112:34). For Muslims, the greatest sin is shirk, the idolatry of associating something other than Allah with Allah.

Islamic monotheism influenced the religion of Sikhism, which emerged in India under the guru, Nanak (14691538). The Sikhs incorporate certain Hindu teachings, but their concept of God is completely monotheistic. Bahai, which originated in Iran in the nineteenth century, likewise grew out of Islam, and is entirely monotheistic.

MONOTHEISM IN THE NON-ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD

The religion of ancient Egypt was polytheistic, but in the fourteenth century BCE the pharaoh, Amenhotep IV (reigned c. 13641347 BCE), changed his name to Akhenaten (servant of Aten) and affirmed Aten (or Aton) as the one true God, symbolized by the solar disk. Akhenaten suppressed the cults of other Egyptian gods, and he referred to Aten as the sole God, other than whom there is no other.

Akhenatens endorsement of monotheism, though, did not persist. After his death, devotion to the other Egyptian gods was restored. In his 1939 book Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud (18561939) theorized that Moses (c. 13001200 BCE) borrowed his monotheism from Akhenaten. Most scholars, though, dispute this claim.

The religions of ancient Greece and Rome were polytheistic, but some signs of monotheism emerged. Plato (427347 BCE) referred to a supreme spirit (psyche ) as the source of motion and order in the universe (see Book 10 of the Laws ), but he seemed to believe that universal Ideas, like the Good, actually transcend the cosmos governed by the supreme Spirit. Aristotle (384322 BCE) affirmed the existence of an eternal and immutable unmoved or prime mover who is self-thinking thought and pure act. This concept of the divine, however, was closer to deism than traditional monotheism because the prime mover is completely transcendent and not concerned with the affairs of human beings or the universe.

The Greek and Roman Stoics affirmed a supreme ordering principle in the universe known as Reason (Logos ). For the most part, however, this Reason was not distinct from the material universe but an active principle within it. This was a form of pan-en-theism or pantheism rather than traditional monotheism.

Plotinus (c. 205269 CE) developed a mystical-philosophical form of monotheism. He believed in a supreme, transcendent reality known as the One out of which all other things emanate in descending, hierarchical order: from the Intellect (nous ), to the Soul (psyche ), and finally to matter.

The Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, named after the prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra; c. 900s800s BCE), was monotheistic in its original form. Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, is the supreme Creator of the material world, and from him came forth the twin spirits: Spenta Mainyu (the Holy Spirit who chose the good) and Angra Mainyu (the Evil Spirit who chose the lie). The Holy Immortals (e.g., Good Thought, Immortality, etc.) are not other gods but eternal forms or attributes of Ahura Mazda.

The original monotheism of Zoroastrianism, however, was obscured by the rise of the cult of Mithra (c. second century BCE) and by the later tendency to depict Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu as competing gods. Zoroastrianism, however, completely rejected the matter/spirit dualism taught by Mani (c. 216276 CE).

Hinduism originated as a polytheistic religion with virtually millions of gods (devas ). As the tradition developed, some hints of monotheism or monism emerged. Even in the early Hindu scriptures known as the Vedas (c. 1200900 BCE), there was the recognition that: The real is one, though the sages name it variously (Rig-Veda I, 169). By the time of the mystical writings called the Upanishads (c. 800500 BCE), some Hindu thinkers began to understand the many gods as expressions or manifestations of the one supreme reality known as Brahman. When the Hindu sage Yājñavalkya (c. 800s BCE) was asked how many gods there really are, he answered, One.

Hindu monotheism, however, sometimes lapsed into monism when Brahman was considered the only true and permanent reality. By contrast, devotional Hinduism tended to concentrate all the attributes of the divine into one personal manifestation of Brahman. Thus, in the Bhagavad Gita (c. 200s BCE), Krishna states: By me, un-manifest in form, this whole universe was spun: in me subsist all beings, I do not subsist in them (IX, 4).

Although differing forms of monotheism or monism can be found in Hinduism, the many gods mentioned in the Vedas could never be denied without repudiating the authority of the Vedas themselves. Thus, in Hinduism, polytheism on a popular and mythological level has continued to coexist with various forms of mystical monism and philosophical monotheism.

In original Buddhism, the focus was on achieving detachment from craving in order to reach a state of liberation called nirvāna. In later Mahayana Buddhism, the ultimate reality was identified variously as emptiness (śūnyatā ), consciousness, or the Buddha-nature. There was, therefore, a single absolute reality.

In some forms of devotional Buddhism, the Buddha became deified, and there emerged the doctrine of the three bodies or aspects of the Buddha: (1) the Transformation Body, which was the body of the Buddha on earth; (2) the Bliss or Enjoyment Body assumed by the various celestial Buddhas; and, (3) the Truth-Body, which is the ultimate reality of the Buddha-essence. Devotional Buddhism, therefore, developed a belief in a unified supreme reality behind all things, which can be understood, at least analogously, as a form of monotheism.

Ancient China was originally polytheistic, but aspects of monotheism emerged in the concept of Heaven (Tien ), taught by Confucius (c. 551479 BCE), and in the Tao of the Tao Te Ching, the mystical treatise attributed to Lao-Tzu (c. sixthfifth century, BCE). In his Analects, Confucius speaks of Heaven as the transcendent source of order and morality, a reality somewhat analogous to a personal God.

The Tao also is analogous to God, because it is the mother of the myriad creatures (I, 2) and the genesis of all things (I, 4). As the all-pervasive source of things, the Tao is like a divine principle guiding the universe (i.e., a type of pan-en-theism).

Native American religion is multifaceted, and various gods or spirits are acknowledged. There is, however, a deep sense of a Great Spirit who pervades nature and is expressed in the numerous powers of animal and human life. In a certain sense, the universe is the dwelling place or body of the Great Spirit, and, therefore, a form of pan-entheism is present.

CONCLUSION

The religions of the world incorporate different forms of monotheism: from the strict monotheism of Islam to the mystical monotheism of Hinduism (coexisting with popular polytheism). Because Christians and Muslims combine to make up over half of the worlds population, a case can be made that monotheism resonates well with basic human needs for order, meaning, and direction.

SEE ALSO Atheism; Christianity; Church, The; Hinduism; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Judaism; Polytheism; Religion; Roman Catholic Church; Theism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Armstrong, Karen. 1993. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Ballantine Books.

Ellwood, Robert S., Jr. 1977. Words of the Worlds Religions: An Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kramer, Kenneth. 1986. World Scriptures: An Introduction to Comparative Religion. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Ludwig, Theodore M. 2005. In The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed., Vol. 9, ed. Lindsay Jones, 61556163. Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale.

Pereira, José, ed. 1991. Hindu Theology: Themes, Texts, and Structures. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Smart, Ninian. 1989. The Worlds Religions. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Smart, Ninian. 1991. The Religious Experience. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.

Smith, Huston. 1991. The Worlds Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Smith, Mark S. 2002. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Robert Fastiggi

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Monotheism

Monotheism


Monotheism is the belief in a single personal God who is the creator of the cosmos and continues to exercise some influence on it. Monotheism is the core tenet of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as a basic belief about reality for many outside these traditions. God is often, but not always, held to be of unlimited power (omnipotence), unlimited knowledge (omniscience), unlimited extension (omnipresence), and unlimited goodness (omnibenevolence). Further beliefsGod is three persons in one, is self-revealing, is salvifically involved with human beingsare advanced by specific religious traditions; their beliefs about God share important commonalities and exhibit important contrasts.


See also God; Panentheism; Pantheism; Theism

philip clayton

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monotheism

monotheism (mŏn´əthēĬzəm) [Gr.,=belief in one God], in religion, a belief in one personal god. In practice, monotheistic religion tends to stress the existence of one personal god that unifies the universe. The term is applied particularly to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Zoroastrianism. Some eastern religions, notably Vaishava, Saiva, Sikhism, and some Hindu sects, tend to promote the omnipotence of one particular god within the pantheon, and thus display some monotheistic characteristics. Monotheism arose in opposition to polytheism, the belief in many gods. Monism, or nondualism between the physical and the spiritual, presupposes unity but deemphasizes personal monotheism. See also God.

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monotheism

monotheism This is the belief in a single, transcendental God, who is revealed to human beings through events occurring in history. It is contrasted with polytheism or the belief in many gods. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are the classical illustrations of religions based on the idea of a single, omnipotent, and omniscient Creator. Examples of polytheism include the supernatural beliefs of classical Greece and Rome, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, and numerous indigenous religions of Africa and the Americas. Polytheism is particularly condemned in Islam, where shirk (or associating another deity with Allah) is regarded as a form of atheism. See also THEISM.

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monotheism

mon·o·the·ism / ˈmänəˌ[unvoicedth]ēˌizəm/ • n. the doctrine or belief that there is only one God. DERIVATIVES: mon·o·the·ist n. & adj. mon·o·the·is·tic / ˌmänə[unvoicedth]ēˈistik/ adj. mon·o·the·is·ti·cal·ly / ˌmänə[unvoicedth]ēˈistik(ə)lē/ adv.

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Monotheism

Monotheism (Gk., ‘only’ + ‘God’). Belief that there is one God (and only one), in contrast to henotheism or polytheism.

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monotheism

monotheism Belief in the existence of a single God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the three major monotheistic religions.

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