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How does monotheism differ from polytheism?

Discussion in 'Monotheism' started by bartdanr, Nov 6, 2006.

  1. bartdanr

    bartdanr Member

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    The answer may seem obvious at first--polytheists believe in more than one God, and monotheists believe in only one God. But I think that on another level the answer isn't nearly so cut-and-dried.

    Consider the concept of "God" in some classic polytheistic systems--say, for example, the ancient Greek Pantheon. The gods were little different than mortals--more powerful, to be sure, but quite limited in power. Yes, they are spiritual beings--but they are not considered omnipresent, omnipotent or omniscient.

    This is a totally different concept of "God" then the "big three" Monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). God is generally believed in these faiths to be all-powerful and of a different order of being than the Greek Gods.

    However, even in these monotheistic faiths, there are other spiritual beings who are very similar to the Greek Gods--angels or genii. Angels are not all-powerful, but more powerful than mortals, they are spiritual, and they are immortal.

    Would it be more accurate to call the classic polytheistic systems as atheistic, because there is no overall supreme being? Or perhaps call monotheism as henotheism (acknowledging other spiritual beings but only worshipping one)?

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.
     
  2. Katzpur

    Katzpur Not your average Mormon

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    I don't really think the answer is clear-cut at all.

    I can't really go along with that, because if multiple beings are all revered, worshipped or prayed to, I don't see how we can classify such a belief system as atheistic.

    Well, most Muslims probably don't consider Christianity to be monotheistic anyway, since Christians -- for the most part -- believe in the Trinity. And whether those Christians are comfortable acknowledging it or not, if the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Ghost is God, qualifying that statement by saying that there is only one God makes it nothing more than a contradiction.

    As for my own beliefs, I've always considered myself to be monotheistic, but I guess honotheistic would describe me more accurately.
     
  3. FerventGodSeeker

    FerventGodSeeker Believer

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    Actually it's really interesting, because in most polytheistic traditions there is one over-arching, supreme, "first" Divine Being, greater than all others...in Greek mythology, one might say that Father Heaven (Ouranos), or even Erebus or Chaos before that would qualify. The classic Greek gods that we all think of (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, etc) emerge much later in the Greek conception of how the universe got going.
     
  4. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    Some polytheistic systems are atheistic with repsect to an overall supreme "Being," and some actually have a such a concept. I remember Druidus (where is Druidus btw??) telling me about "the Source" in his system of belief.

    As for monotheism, I don't think that you can completely equate a belief in angels with a belief in gods. While they are attributed to have superhuman abilities angels are never thought of as deities; neither are genii. They are created beings as we are and in some schools of thought angels bow to us. And in other interpretations angels are nothing more than aspects of the one supreme being.
     
  5. Simon Gnosis

    Simon Gnosis Active Member

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    Christianity isnt monotheistic...you have the Trinity (3 Gods) lol.

    God the Father God the Holy Ghost and God the Son...absurd huh?

    I am sure some christian will point out that this isnt what the trinity symbolises, but I couldnt care less...christianity is not a monotheism or a polytheism, it is a cult.
     
  6. Rejected

    Rejected Under Reconstruction

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    I guess henotheism would be more accurate in reference to the big 3, but I don't see how you could classify the classic polytheistic faiths as atheistic, as athieists by definition do not acknowledge the existance of supernatural beings.
     
  7. angellous_evangellous

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    :cover: :rolleyes:
     
  8. angellous_evangellous

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    No. Atheist means belief in no gods, be they multiple or One - or of any degree of power. Therefore, a polytheist, no matter how many gods she believes in or how much power they have is not an atheist, but a theist - a poly-theist.


    A strict monotheism does not recognize any other gods of any degree of power other than One, which would not be henotheism. Some people argue that Christianity is henotheistic because of belief in angels and saints who have god-like power, like the Greek pantheon - but they only worship One.

    It's better to know the meanings of terms and use them appropriately rather than sophomorically redefine them on a whim.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theism
     
  9. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    :cover: :rolleyes:
    Well *I* thought that bartdanr asked some interesting and thought provoking questions.

    btw AE, your wiki reference says that atheism is a disbelief in deities, not a belief in no gods. I think that leaves plenty of room for the argument that everyone is atheistic with respect to the gods they don't believe in, an argument that several atheists have made in these forums. Perhaps you should reflect more on what the term means before you denigrate others.
     
  10. angellous_evangellous

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    Think about that.
     
  11. sojourner

    sojourner Annoyingly Progressive Since 2006

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    A basic difference between monotheism and polytheism is in the way the mortal is seen to relate to the divine. In most polytheistic systems, the gods are seen as more immanent than transcendent. In monotheism, it is usually the other way round.
     
  12. Pipes13

    Pipes13 New Member

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    "Or perhaps call monotheism as henotheism (acknowledging other spiritual beings but only worshipping one)?"

    I am suprised I have not seen talk of the 10 Commandments here. Particulary the one that talks about "having no other gods before me". That right there is, to me, God admitting there are other gods; whether they are the one true god, or not, is a different story. Is the Judeo-Christian god saying that "yes, there are other gods, but unless you believe in them, they aren't true gods"? What part does active worship have in the metaphysics of these religions, or religions in general?
    Anyways...got off on a tangent there...With God admitting there are other gods, that says to me that the Judeo-Christians religions are henotheistic. Hold on :sarcastic ...Is this from the worshiper's POV or from the diety's POV.
     
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  13. Katzpur

    Katzpur Not your average Mormon

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    Good point! There would have been no need for the commandment had there not been some sort of divine beings that some people were worshipping. God is referred to in several places in the Bible as the "God of gods." In Exodus 18:11, He is described as "greater than all gods." There are nearly 300 instances in the Bible where the word "gods" (lower-case 'g') is mentioned. Pretty odd, I'd say, if they don't exist.
     
  14. Rejected

    Rejected Under Reconstruction

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    Excellent point.
    And welcome to the board.



    Took you long enough.
     
  15. KPereira

    KPereira Member

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    I think what that commandment means is that people shouldn't believe in another God, not necessarily that there are other Gods. I see where you are trying to get at and it is a really good point to bring up, though.

    For example, if I worship the chair I am sitting on as a God, I would be breaking that commandment because I am putting another god before God. However, is my chair necessarily a real deity, though? Not at all. It is wood and fabric. I might as well be worshipping a scarecrow.

    However, about Katzpur's excellent comment about the Bible referring to 'gods' (lower case 'g' and plural), the Bible was written at a time where there were lots of polytheistic religions around. Perhaps that particular verse and any other one referring to 'gods' were trying to convince those of the polytheistic faiths to convert to Christianity, illustrating that this one God is more powerful than all the gods that they worship?
     
  16. Mestemia

    Mestemia Advocatus Diaboli
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    Henotheism. belief in many deities of which only one is the supreme deity. This may involve:
    One chief God and multiple gods and goddesses of lesser power and importance. Ancient Greek and Roman religions were of this type.

    One supreme God, and multiple gods and goddesses who are all simply manifestations or aspects of the supreme God. Hinduism is one example; they recognize Brahman as the single deity. Some Wiccans believe in a single deity about which they know little. They call the deity "The One" or "The All." They recognize the God and Goddess as the male and female aspects of that supreme deity.

    One supreme God who rules over a country, and many other gods and goddesses who have similar jurisdiction over other territories. Liberal theologians believe that the ancient Israelites were henotheists; they worshipped Jehovah as the supreme God over Israel, but recognized the existence of Baal and other deities who ruled over other tribes.
     
  17. Kay

    Kay Towards the Sun

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  18. mohamedhassan

    mohamedhassan Member

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    i don't see what your leading to. Monothesim is the belief in one diety. And quite frankly the only relgion i can find that is wholy monthestic is islam. Just because of the existance of other beings doesn't reudced the relgion to polythesim. Look at it like this. If you created a hundred robots and a hundred cars, can the robot say that your not the one god because you also created the car? (okay i guess thats a lame example but it makes the point i guess). Just because god created other beings doesn't mean he isn't the one and only god. Plus (in islam ) we beleive in the other creation but don't worship them thus monothestic
     
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  19. des

    des Active Member

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    I think it is a good point because it occurred to me as well. :)
    But then I read Karen Armstrong's excellent (and long) book "The History
    of God". I suppose you'd expect this history would be long! Anyway,
    she makes the point that the concept of God has evolved over time and that the early Jews (probably shouldn't call them that) were NOT true monotheists. They were constantly flirting with other gods. In fact there was the well known experiment that some prophet (can't think of the name) performed to see who's god was better and could burn something. Over the best God won. So everyone says "yes, this is the true (or maybe truest) God". At the time of the ten commandments (recall several have to do with other gods), these ancients were still struggling with the concepts. The "no other gods before me", really was quite literal. I have heard it described as being about money or any other kind of idolatry. This is pretty much not substantiated by what was being discussed at the time. I think most of these folks were true polytheists who might have been eventually won over by Moses' determination.

    --des

     
  20. lilithu

    lilithu The Devil's Advocate

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    The prophet was Elijah. And the contest was between the Yahweh, the God of Abraham and the Israelites, and Baal, the god of the Caananites.

    It also explains why God is a jealous god, doesn't it? Hard to be jealous if you're the only god. Basically, Yahweh picked Abraham and said, "You. I need followers - all those other gods have followers - and you are going to be the one I stake my fortunes on. Promise to worship only me, circumcize yourself and all the males in your household as a sign of your allegiance - and in return I will give you as many descendants are there are stars in the sky."

    Of course, it's hard to reconcile this god with the one who created heaven and earth in Genesis I. ;)
     
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