Monotheism, part 1
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Monotheism, part 1 

The First Commandment mandates that the Hebrews were to worship only one God, which was a radical departure from the polytheism that characterized other ancient religions. For one thing, monotheism made it more difficult for the ancient Hebrews to project their own desires and conflicts onto God. People believing in polytheism could envision their own rivalries and conflicts as having parallels in the rivalries and conflicts among the gods. With only one God, it was harder for the ancient Hebrews to defend bitter rivalries or vengeful sentiments by pointing to analogous squabbles among deities.
The ancient Hebrewsí monotheistic outlook did not guarantee an end to scapegoating, however, because they still saw God as multifaceted. God could still be angry and jealous, as well as loving and compassionate. Consequently, the ancient Hebrews feared Godís anger just as they took comfort in Godís general sentiment of love and concern for the Hebrew people.
Despite numerous regressions, the Bible gradually reveals an image of God as loving all creation, from the early Hebrew accounts of Godís concern for the ďchosen people,Ē to the later prophets who often described Godís concern for all victims, to the New Testament stories about Jesus reflecting a God of boundless love. Benefiting from the Judeo-Christian revelation, and perhaps aided by the Holy Spirit, today we have opportunities for a broader understanding of Godís love than did most people in the past. It is possible that future generations will have an even greater grasp of Godís love.
People have always tended to envision their gods in anthropomorphic terms. In other words, people have created gods in their own image, believing that their gods have human attributes and human desires. In contrast, I think that monotheism favors seeing God as having only one essence. Perhaps one reason that the ancient Hebrews were repeatedly drawn to worship pagan gods was that they had difficulty seeing God as having but one essence.

Polytheism makes it easier to regard the gods as having diverse and conflicting attributes and desires, because each god can manifest a distinctive personality trait. However, I think the common practice of seeing God as a single person somewhat misses the point of monotheism, because this view permits people to regard God as having many personality traits. Such a god somewhat resembles polytheistic deities, with the varied personalities of polytheistic gods melded into the multiple attributes of one deity.
Belief in multiple gods or in one God with multiple personality traits can facilitate scapegoating, because there are no absolute standards to guide values and behavior. People may pick and choose among a range of deities or divine attributes to admire and worship. One day, people can admire a god known for compassion and mercy, and they may attend to the needs of weak and vulnerable individuals. The next day, agitated by a crisis, they crowds can convince each other that they should admire a god known for wrathful vengeance, and proceed to scapegoat those same weak and vulnerable individuals. Monotheism undermines, but does not eliminate, such fickleness.
Next essay, I will reflect on what might be the single essence of God in a truly monotheistic faith. 

Go on to: Monotheism, part 2
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