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Theism

Theism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Greek word theos means god or divine power. Hence, theism is the belief in a god, or the view that there is a god. Generally, theists think of god as a very powerful, personlike being who has control over some or all of the natural universe. To say that a god is personlike is to say that god is capable of thinking, acting, and communicating with other persons, especially human beings. Hence, theists typically refer to god by using pronouns such as he or she rather than it. Theists believe that god has a personality, that is, a set of character attributes or traits in accord with which god acts. To varying degrees, theists think of god as interested in some or all of the affairs of human beings.

Theism may be contrasted with atheism, deism, and agnosticism. Atheism is the belief that there is no god. Deism is the belief in a very powerful being who created or designed the world but who is not concerned with the affairs of human beings. Deists tend to conceive of this being as an impersonal force. Agnosticism is the view that one cannot know whether there is a god. Some agnostics hold that it is in principle impossible ever to know whether or not there is a god; others hold more provisionally that it is currently impossible to tell whether there is a god.

There are various forms of theism. Polytheism is the belief in more than one or many gods. Monotheism is the belief in one god, usually capitalized as God and used as proper noun to refer to this one being. This convention is used in the discussion that follows.

Many people in the ancient world were polytheists. Polytheists developed elaborate belief systems according to which there are many gods who rule over different parts of nature. Often, one god is thought to be the supreme ruler, such as Zeus for the ancient Greeks or Jupiter for the Romans. In some cases, a human king or emperor could be identified as a god himself. Polytheists tend to understand the gods as imperfect in both their power and moral qualities. The gods are not in complete control of nature or themselves, and they do not always act with moral consistency. They are not interested in all the affairs of mankind, but they do intervene on occasion, especially if propitiated by worship and devotion. A hallmark of polytheism is the practice of representing the gods in the form of idols or graven images, which are then used in the context of ritual worship.

The most populous form of polytheism in the world is a certain form of Hinduism. However, at least one form of Hinduism (articulated by Ramanuja in the eleventh century) is monotheistic. If the traditional Hindu gods are viewed as ultimate and independent entities, Hinduism is polytheistic; if the gods are viewed as outward manifestations of one underlying, personlike reality, Hinduism is monotheistic. Buddhism is generally polytheistic, but some forms of Buddhism, such as Zen Buddhism, are usually understood to be atheistic. If the gods are viewed as ultimate powers, Buddhism is polytheistic; if the gods are considered illusory or unreal, Buddhism is atheistic. Aside from Hinduism and Buddhism, many other forms of polytheism are still found elsewhere, such as in sub-Saharan Africa and among Native Americans.

While polytheists tend to understand the gods as limited and imperfect, monotheists tend to understand the one God as unlimited and perfect. Many monotheists think of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all good. God is thought to be the creator, king, and judge of the universe. Generally, monotheists believe that God has made certain demands on all humans, and that God directs human history with providence toward some great cosmic end.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the most well known forms of monotheism. In Judaism and Islam, God is conceived as not having bodily form. Linked with this view is a strict ban on any representation of God in the form of an idol and a ban on any form of idol worship. Although the sacred scriptures in these two traditions use bodily language to describe God, these are generally interpreted as metaphors. In Christianity, the oneness and nonmateriality of God is complicated by the belief in the divinity of Jesus, who is understood by traditional Christians to be both divine and human. Traditional Christians maintain that in some sense God is a nonmaterial being who became incarnate in the person of Jesus. Others tend to view the incarnation less literally.

For theists, the highest purpose in life is for humans to develop an interpersonal relationship with God. Precisely what form that relationship takes and how one goes about attaining that relationship differ from one tradition to another. In Judaism, the most intimate relationship with God is found through the observance of the commandments of the Torah, which Jews believe to be Gods revealed teaching to the people of Israel. In Christianity, the most intimate relationship is found through good works and through faith in Jesus as the manifestation of God. In Islam, the best relationship is found through submission to God and obedience to divine law as expressed in the Quran, which Muslims believe to be the revelation of Gods word to the prophet Muhammad. All three forms of theism teach that respect or love for ones fellows is part and parcel of respect and love for God. At the same time, these forms of theism traditionally teach that those who reject God or his commandments are in some sense deserving of punishment.

Over the centuries, philosophers, theologians, and others have debated whether it is rational to believe in God. Some insist that belief in God is not supposed to be rational; it is a matter of faith. Others argue that it is rational to believe in God. The most popular arguments for monotheism are based on the existence and orderly nature of the cosmos, on the phenomenon of religious experience or revelation, and on purported miracles. Some have argued that it is rational to believe in God because of the potential value of living the life of a believer. Still other philosophers have argued that belief in God is not rational. They argue that the cosmos can be sufficiently explained without belief in God and that religious experience is not a valid source of truth. They point to the existence of evil and suffering in the effort to show there is no God, and they argue that life is meaningful enough without a belief in God. The question of whether it is rational to believe in God remains a contested question to this day.

SEE ALSO Atheism; Buddhism; Christianity; Hinduism; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Judaism; Lay Theories; Monotheism; Polytheism; Religion; Supreme Being

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Armstrong, Karen. 2004. A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Gramercy.

Fenn, William W. 1969. Theism: The Implication of Experience. Ed. Dan Huntington Fenn. Peterborough, NH: Noone House.

Mascall, L. E. 1970. He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

Monson, C. H., Jr., ed. 1965. Great Issues Concerning Theism. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Joshua L. Golding

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Theism

Theism


Theism is the belief in the existence of a supernatural force or forces, understood to have a personal nature. The term is often used synonymously with monotheism. Taken generically, however, theism should include a broad variety of metaphysical positions that are opposed to atheism: polytheism (the belief in many gods), monotheism (the belief in a single God), deism (the belief in a creator God who does not have any subsequent influence upon the world), and panentheism (the belief that the world is within God, although God is also more than the world). Theism contrasts with nonpersonal understandings of ultimate reality, such as the law of karma or the principle of emptiness in Buddhism. Theistic beliefs can set the stage for the science-religion dialogue because these beliefs are not contained within contemporary scientific theories and may stand in prima facie tension with them.

See also Deism; God; Monotheism; Panentheism

philip clayton

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Theism

Theism. The doctrine that there is one transcendent, personal God who freely created all that exists out of nothing, and who preserves and governs it. He is believed to be self-existent, present everywhere, all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good, and therefore worthy of human worship. Theism is nowadays distinguished from Deism: the latter denies God's personal governance of the world, usually by ruling out the possibility of providence, miracles, and revelation.

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theism

theism (thē´Ĭzəm), in theology and philosophy, the belief in a personal God. It is opposed to atheism and agnosticism and is to be distinguished from pantheism and deism (see deists). Unlike pantheists, theists do not hold God to be identical to the universe. Like deists, they believe that God created the universe and transcends it; unlike the deists, they hold that God involves himself in human affairs. For a summary of the arguments that support theism, see God.

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theism

theism A term which refers to the belief in the existence of a divine being, especially in the existence of a single God, who is thought to be personal and who is the Creator of the universe. Theism involves the idea of divine revelation, and consequently is contrasted with deism, the rational belief in divinity independently of faith in a revealed truth. See also MONOTHEISM; RELIGION.

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theism

the·ism / ˈ[unvoicedth]ēˌizəm/ • n. belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures.Compare with deism. DERIVATIVES: the·ist n. the·is·tic / [unvoicedth]ēˈistik/ adj.

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theism

theism Any of various philosophical and theological systems that profess belief in the existence of one supreme being, who is the creator of the universe. In most theistic systems, human beings have free will, and religious doctrines are usually based on divine revelation. See also monotheism; polytheism

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theism

theism belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures. The word is recorded from the late 17th century, and comes from Greek theos ‘god’.

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theism

theism belief in one God, esp. as creator and supreme ruler. XVII. f. Gr. theós god.
So theist XVII, theistic XVIII, theistical XVII.

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theism

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