< Monotheism

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

Are these personal definitions, or do theology and philosophy texts use these terms? I have not seen these words used this way before. RK

Well, they are used by Encyclopedia Britannica, for one thing. -- SJK

Question: Christianity (and Islam?) believe in the existence a force that is opposed to God ("the Devil"). Doesn't this mean that these religions believe in "inclusive monotheism"?

I think the belief in two roughly equal but opposing forces is called dualism; this is clearly not what Jews, Christians and Muslims believe, as they generally agree that the Devil is a finite being created by God, not an equal or even near-equal "arch-enemy". But I think that that dualism at least comes close to describing Zoroastrianism. --Wesley
Many Jews, Unitarians and Muslims look at Christians as dualists. Christians believe in a supernatural being called God and in a similarly powerful supernatural being called Satan. True, one is the father of the other, and one is weaker, but nonetheless they both exist. They have nearly the same relationsip to each other as the two gods of Zoroastrianism (which everyone agrees is dualism). Despite the belief in both of these deities, and despite the belief that one of these deities is also a trinity with three distinct persons in it, its adherenets nonetheless claim to be monotheists. Many Jews, Unitarians, and Muslims find this claim of monotheism to be incomprehensible. In fact, that is one of the main reason that people left Christianity to create Unitarian-Universalism.

I have never met a Jew, Christian or Muslim with such a belief, nor have I ever read a book written that proposes such beliefs. The number of Jews, Chrisitians or Muslims who have such beliefs is likley very small. The only group I know of that had a widespread adoption of what the writer terms "inclusive monotheism" are Hindus. RK

A lot of (mostly Christian, though some may be Jewish) liberal theologians and philosphers of religion, especially those who study issues of religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue, support some kind of view similar to inclusive monotheism. It also occurs in some branches of Sufism, I believe. -- SJK
I doubt even half of one percent of Christian laity have such beliefs. I have never met a Chrisitian, Jew or Muslim in my life with such views. What you reder to is the province of academic ivory tower theoology, which is fine, but is not representative of real-world Christianity in any statistically meaningful sense. RK


Are you sure you really mean "God" and not "god"? In this article it doesn't refer to the god known as "God" by many people. It refers to any god.

I have a question about this sentence:

The Christian belief in the Trinity is traditionally considered a form of monotheism, although many Muslims and non-Trinitarian Christians (and a few Jews also) would question this classification.

I understand that Muslims and Jews may look at the doctrine of the trinity and see three separate gods, and therefor claim that Christianity is polytheistic. But wouldn't non-Trinitarian Christians deny the Trinity but continue to claim to be monotheistic and deny the Trinity, just like Jews and Muslims? Any specific examples of a Christian group that doesn't claim to be monotheistic? Maybe the Latter-Day Saints???? --Wesley

Both Jehovah's witnesses and Mormons explicitly deny trinitarianism. Jehovah's witnesses believe in one God, and believe that Jesus was a human being that was the son of God. Jesus, for them, was not part of God Himself. Mormons believe in millions of Gods, literally. (Their religion teaches that when a Mormon dies, he or she literally becomes a god of another planet in our galaxy.) However, Mormons only pray to one god, and thus they consider themselves monotheists. They draw a distinction between belief in millions of Gods, and their loyalty and service to one god. Many Jews and Muslims see Mormons as polytheists. The rule of thumb is this: Chrisitians always claim to be monotheists, no matter how many godlike heavenly supernatural deities they believe in. Jews and Muslims believe that any recognition of more than one godlike heavenly supernatural being is, by their definition, polytheism. RK

Your last sentence is fair enough. :-) Your description of Mormonism sounds a lot like henotheism: lots of gods, but one is better than all the others and therefore is the only one worshipped. How would Jews classify Hinduism, and I wonder how Hindus would classify themselves? In practice, you can observe that they seem to pray to lots of different gods, but I think they would say they're all part of one god, and further that all that exists is ultimately part of Brahman. From one angle it looks polytheistic, from another it might look vaguely monotheistic, and from another more pantheistic. Terminology is tricky. :-) --Wesley

I think Hindus (or at least most Hindus) are simultaneously polytheists, inclusive monotheists, and pantheists (or more accurately monists). A big problem with Hinduism though is that, historically at least, there are lots of different groups with lots of different views, especially on the relationship between God and the universe... (lookup a list of the main schools of Hindu philosophy and you will see what I mean.) -- SJK

I believe that there is a difference between saying "there is one god" and "there is one God", because in theory a single lower-case "god" could just be a finite immortal being with great powers, whereas a monotheistic "God" is frequently lly seen as (depending on the variant of monotheism you subscribe to, of course) an infinite source or ground of the universe. To me there is a fundamental qualitative difference between a lot of conceptions of a monotheistic God and polytheistics gods, rather than just a quantitative difference in the number of gods you believe in. So, to avoid the controversy in the opening sentence, I rewrote it slightly, avoiding the use of either god or God (and instead using "deity"), and trying to emphasize the qualitative aspects of the way monotheism frequently differs from polytheism.

Suggest the following concluding passage to replace the final two paragraphs.

The three main Western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are monotheistic. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is understood by Christians to represent a monotheistic view. Some others see the trinity as representing a polytheistic (three gods).Ed Poor
Most Jews and Muslims see the Trinity as a sincere attempt to be monotheistic. Thus, most Jewish and Muslim critics of the Trinity don't claim that it is the worship of three separate Gods; rather, they say that Chrisitians attempt to worship one god, but at the same time acknowledge three distinct persons within that god. Given Mulim and Jewish definitions of these terms, the resulting Christian worship has the appearance (to Muslims and Jews) of cognitive dissonance. The way that Jewish law deals with this is by saying that such worship is legally considered monotheism, as long as gentiles are doing it; however, this type of worship is forbidden by Jewish law to Jews. (The law itself is an example of cognative dissonance, but the rabbis were well aware of this. They are trying to legally find a way to hold onto their beliefs, without condemning Christianity. For this issue, they were not looking for philosophical clarity.) I am not sure how Muslims or other strict unitarian monotheists formally deal with this issue. RK
It's a very interesting question for me, because I was a Unitarian/Univeralist for a couple of years before becoming a Unificationist. Being obsessed with math puzzles, I set myself the task of counting (or taking a census of) the Christian Trinity. I found the answer of "one God in three persons" hard to quantify as an integer; this frustrated me, and I figured there had to be a mistake somewhere in the doctrine. However, as long as they are not worshiping three discrete beings (or even two), I can respect their desire to consider themselves monotheists. Ed Poor

Here's an analogy that may or may not help: picture three burning matches held with the burning match heads in close proximity, so that there is just one flame. You can't say that one match is burning and another is not, or that one is burning more than another. Yet the match sticks can still be identified as three distinct match sticks. This is very roughly comparable to the distinction drawn between one divine essence (homoousios) and one divine nature, existing in three Persons (hypostases) who are God. But be aware that any analogy breaks down if you push it too far. RK, I'm glad to learn how Jewish law deals with it, and appreciate the compassion and understanding shown. --Wesley

I agree with RK's earlier observation that few if any Jews today subscribe to "inclusive monotheism." But there is an argument that some Biblical Jews (really, Hebrews) did -- one passage in the Torah asks "Who among the gods is like you, Lord?" suggesting that there are other gods (i.e. that other nations have their own gods) but that those other gods are inferior to the God of Abraham. Some scholars have argued that within the book of Job is a creation myth that is strikingly different from the one that ended up in Genesis; in Genesis God is alone and creates the cosmos; in Job God battles with other gods. In other words, over time there was a shift from Hebrews who believed that each people had their own god, to the belief that there is one God who has different relationships with different nations. -- SR

Scholars agree that polytheism predated monotheism. Obviously, the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) is making oblique references to fact that some of the Israelite ancestors were indeed polytheistic (by today's definition of the word), and only later came to the modern concept of monotheism. Certain parts of the Midrash also imply this. Conservative and Reform rabbis have no problem with recognizing that the Bible has traces of the pre-historical belief of the earliest Jewish ancestors. But Judaism as faith from Biblical times onward was strictly monotheistic. As for Job, it is seems likely that just as Genesis is a midrash on one set of pagan creation stories, Job is also a midrash on a pagan creation story. Perhaps Genesis and Job both drew from the same original material, and emphasized different parts, or perhaps they were responses to different creation stories. In either case, that might be worth mentioning in an entry on detailed higher biblical criticism, and academic studies of how the Bible's text was created. But I just want to note that this wouldn't belong in an entry on Judaism and Jewish philosophy; it just isn't what Jews have ever believed from Biblical times to the present. RK

The following was removed - The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) traditionally subscribed to exclusive monotheism, though an increasing number of adherents of these religions today subscribe to the inclusive monotheist view.

The reason for removal was that this is just plain wrong. Jews, Christians and Muslims do not believe in the existence of multiple gods (i.e. "inclusive monotheism"). I would be shocked to see any studies which affirmed such a view. With the exception of a handful of university professors who have no following in any organized religion I have ever heard of, people in the Abrahamic faiths see this view as polytheism or paganism, and do not accept it. RK

Thanks for fixing that. --Wesley