Saturday, July 25, 2009

Just Say No to Polytheism: Why it is Important to Believe in a Singular Non-Physical Deity (Part II)

Part I

What should be clear from what I said previously is that the struggle between monotheism and polytheism is more than just about how many gods you believe in. This is about whether God is simply some super powerful being who will punish us if we do not obey his arbitrary commands or whether God is the righteous being whom all ethical beings should seek to align their actions with. Without this, we are left making abstract distinctions that are incomprehensible to anyone not well versed in theology. For example what is the difference between the pagan who believes in minor gods and the one God who is above all and the monotheist who believes in angels and one God? Particularly when one of the most common Hebrew words for God, “Elohim,” is used in the Bible to refer to both angels and God. Nor is it much help to talk about idolatry. It is hardly obvious what the difference is between Christians kissing a crucifix, Jews kissing a Torah scroll and the ancient Israelites bowing to the Golden Calf. (This issue of the Golden Calf received a modern twist during the recent economic downturn when a group of Christians went to pray at the Wall Street Bronze Bull.)

When judging people or ideologies we need to ask ourselves not just whether they call themselves monotheists or whether they fulfill some abstract theological qualification but whether what they say furthers or hinders the monotheist understanding of God as a righteous being. This creates a third category of people, those who, while they themselves may not be pagans, preach doctrines that only serve to further belief in the pagan model. While such people are not guilty of paganism, they are guilty of lacking the proper zeal for monotheism. Furthermore this lack of zeal can be taken as grounds to suspect covert pagan belief.

I strongly object to the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity not just because it crosses some highly technical theological line but because it can only serve the interests of the pagan model. Christianity from its own perspective is meant as an improvement of the Old Testament. This means that Christianity should have fewer problematic statements than the Old Testament and get rid of anthropomorphic statements about God’s hand or body. Christianity, as exemplified in the Nicene Creed, takes a step backward by introducing such concepts as God in a human body or there being “three” parts to God. This view of God can only serve to further a pagan model. For example, at a popular level, medieval Catholicism was a magical religion that was supposed to grant power to those who practiced its rituals. Admittedly medieval Judaism had its magical elements too, but it had nothing to compare to the adoration of the Eucharist and tales of Eucharist miracles.

Nothing that I say here should be taken as an attack on non-Trinitarian Christians. So, if any Unitarians, Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons are reading this, you are in the clear. I also have no problem with Christians like C. S. Lewis, for whom the Trinity was a passing issue to be explained when challenged in monotheistic terms. I admit that it is possible to have a monotheist Incarnation and Trinity. One could say that God is one, but that from a human perspective there is sometimes a misapprehension that he is three and that when talking about God it is sometimes useful to play to this human misapprehension and talk about God as if he were, heaven forbid, three persons. From a monotheistic perspective it is theoretically possible that a human being could reach such an understanding of the divine and be so successful in helping other people to live according to God’s intention that we could say, after a manner of speaking, that people saw God when they looked at this person. Christians believe that Jesus was such a person and I have no theological objections to such a claim.

The Christians I would have a problem with would be those who took the Trinity in a pagan direction. Those who operate with the pagan model are pagans and should be treated as such. I would even object, though, to a Christian who insisted on elaborating on the Trinity and making it the focus of his religion even if this Christian, when pressed, would claim that they believed in the monotheist understanding of the Trinity that I suggested. Such a person is clearly lacking in zeal for true monotheism in that, not only does he not try to stamp out ideas that could lead to people following paganism, he actively spreads them. In the end I would not even be certain that I could believe him; it is possible that he is lying about what he truly believes in order to make himself acceptable in the eyes of monotheists. This would particularly be a concern because if he really was a monotheist in his heart he would have no purpose in pushing Trinitarian ideas in the first place.

1 comment:

James Pate said...

Hi Izgad,

I think it's possible to believe in a Trinity of God as three persons, and still to believe in an ethical God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in harmony, so we really can't play one against the other.