An essay donated by Dr. Darrel W. Ray
Why there are no monotheistic
religions. Educating believers.
There are no monotheistic religions:
In everyday life, we non-theists may find ourselves in discussions with
theists. Have you noticed that these discussions often go around in circles
and achieve nothing? Why is that? Let me suggest that one reason is because
we are using their framework in which to discuss and argue. In this article,
I will explore some practical ways to stay out of their framework. Who says
they have the sole right to define the terms of engagement? For this
discussion, we will focus on monotheism, but other areas might be just as
Many modern-day theists seem to consider the so-called monotheistic nature
of their religions as a sign of legitimacy, at least when compared to other
openly polytheistic religions. The gods of ancient Greece and Rome were
many, each with their own unique powers and niches in the nether world. It
is no problem to see these as polytheistic religions but interestingly it is
almost as easy to identify so-called monotheistic religions as polytheistic.
If we expose the propaganda of these religions by challenging this key
concept, we shift the frame, and open the door for a different kind of
discussion. We don?t have to acquiesce to their definitions of their
Let?s explore. To be a monotheistic religion, a religion must have only
one god in its lexicon. Zeus may have been the highest and most powerful god
in the Greek pantheon, but he was certainly joined by many other lesser
gods. In Christian mythology, the gods are no less than four, sometimes
more. The Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Satan are certainly gods. For whatever
the Christian apologist wants to say, these four certainly function as much
like individual gods as any Greek gods. The Yahweh figure may be more
powerful than the Son, Satan or Holy Ghost, but so too was Zeus or Thor. All
move in mysterious ways and while three are allied against one, so too were
there alliances among Greek and Norse gods. In addition, Catholics have
Mary, who seems to have special powers and access to the other gods in
remarkable ways. Then we have all the saints of both Catholic and Orthodox
traditions. How convenient that each of them seems to have special powers,
not unlike the demigods and lesser gods of other polytheistic religions.
In Christianity, the Gospel of John 1:1 shows a clear duality: "In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
The author takes great pains to convince us that his two gods are really
one, but the argument falls short. Two gods are just that, two gods. No
amount of hocus-pocus can make them one, yet that has been the party line in
Christianity for 1,700 years. Why 1,700 years? Because the issue was quite
controversial in the church for the first 200-300 years. Perfectly
legitimate Christian writers had strongly differing views on the nature of
their Christ. Was he a god or not? Was he made a god after he was first
human? Was he always a god? These concerns had real consequences for how one
went about understanding the crazy ideas being perpetrated at the time. If
Jesus was a god all along, then he really could not suffer and die in the
way of a true human. If he was truly human, then he was made a god upon his
death. He suffered like a human and because he became a god, his followers
can become gods when they die. We may scoff at these ideas now, but while
that particular idea was slapped down in the third century, it has been
resurrected many times in history, most recently in Mormonism.
Consider Islam and Judaism:
What about Islam, it claims to be monotheistic? Mohammed strongly
criticized Christianity because he claimed it had three gods. But he only
improved by a small margin. Islam has no less than two gods, Allah and
Satan. Both are quite powerful and vie for the souls of humans. How much
more godlike can you get? In Shiia Islam, there is an additional pantheon of
gods or demigods in the form of fallen martyrs or saints. Believers flock to
the various shrines of Fatima, and Imam Hussein, in hopes of getting a
blessing or protection. The 12th Imam?s predicted Messianic return sure
makes him look like a god or demigod.
Finally, we come to Judaism. This may seem to be a monotheistic religion,
but only if there is no acknowledgment of a Satan or the Evil One, and what
do we do with the coming Messiah? Jewish scholars like to say that Satan is
really just a representation of the evil side of humanity, but in the book
of Job, he seems to have a lot of power independent of Yahweh. In Genesis,
the Tempter seems to do things a Greek god might do when he tempts Eve. As
for the Messiah, the Jews believe this godlike creature is yet to come.
Whoever the Messiah is, he will be godlike or have godlike powers. The
Jewish scriptures? claims about the Messiah certainly sound godlike and
therefore make Judaism a religion of two or three gods. Simply because a
religion says it is monotheistic, does not make it so.
Whether Christian, Islamic or Judaic, the pantheon of gods looks remarkably
similar to that of the Greeks, imaginary beings who have relationships with
one another and with man. Over time, these imaginary beings take on more or
less power in the pantheon. The Jesus god is in ascendance right now among
Protestant fundamentalists. The Holy Ghost god is most influential in the
Pentecostal movement. The Yahweh god is top of the Jehovah Witnesses
pantheon and Mary is high on the food chain for Catholics. Satan has a lot
of sway in some Islamic sects and Christian fundamentalists.
Redefining god definitions:
Just because a religion has a well oiled propaganda machine claiming
their invisible beings have certain relationships and power doesn?t mean we
have to buy into it. In fact, I think it is imperative that we non-theists
openly redefine god definitions. After all, Christians couldn?t decide for a
couple hundred years on the nature of their gods and some are still debating
the nature of various invisible friends and enemies.
Use the Language of Polytheism
To avoid stepping into the theist?s paradigm, here are some practical ways
to use language. When talking with a Christian religionist, refer to the god
Jesus or the god Satan. As you talk, do not use their hocus pocus, sleight
of hand language. They believe and act as if they have multiple gods, so
talk to them in that way. It has the wonderful effect of getting you out of
their paradigm and challenging them in theirs. Language is powerful; use it
to forge a new reality, one that is independent of monotheistic mythology.
Why should they be allowed to set the terms of religious discussion?
For example, you might ask, "How does your god Jesus talk to you? How does
your god Satan talk to you? How do you tell the difference?" If your god
Holy Spirit moves someone to dance and talk in tongues, why don?t the
Presbyterians and Epicopalians enjoy that benefit? What makes the
Pentecostals the main ones to enjoy tongue talking? If your god commands
women to keep quiet in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35), how is it that there
are so many women preaching in the evangelical movement? What if the god
Holy Spirit commands a woman to speak in church? Could it really be the god
Satan talking to her to get her to violate the silence commandment? When
does the god Holy Spirit talk to you or how does he act in the world? Where
does he do his thing? How is the god Holy Spirit different than the god
Jesus? They seem to do different things, but how do you know if it is your
god Jesus talking to you or the god Holy Spirit or maybe the god Satan? If
you can?t tell the difference, then why have two or three? If you can tell
the difference, then explain?
The believer may often respond that you are uneducated in the doctrine of
the church. They would be wrong. You are well acquainted with church dogma
and doctrine, but since you are not captive to that tradition, you don?t
need to use that language. You are free to call a spade a spade. The
believer may try and educate you with their double speak and church
propaganda. Keep to the new language, even as they try to bring you back to
their frame. The polytheistic frame is a powerful tool for challenging their
mythology in entirely new ways. Most religionists are quite unsophisticated
in the ancient arguments and struggles that resulted in today?s dogma. What
they know is what the church taught them. They have no idea that today?s
dogma is based on a fantasy framework concocted by four centuries of
argument, infighting and political intrigue.
Keep Your Cool:
Do not argue or get into a heated debate. Just ask them to explain.
Highly charged emotional arguments do two things, closes off true discussion
and creates defensiveness in the other person. The result is a discussion
that goes nowhere. Their religion has conditioned them to get defensive when
questioned. The defensive response keeps them safely inside their linguistic
framework. The less defensive and confrontational you are, the greater the
chance of some interesting discussion and potential influence. Approach the
subject as if you were talking to an ancient Greek about their pantheon. As
they try to explain from their frame, respond with your frame. For example:
Them: "You don?t understand, God sent his only begotten son to earth
to show us how to live."
If you define the terms and stick with them, it makes the discussion much
more interesting and difficult for them to hide behind doctrine. It slows
the process down in a way that may bring about more considered and
thoughtful argument. They may not change their view, but they will know that
you don?t play the game on their turf. They also learn that you are not
bound by their doctrines, which can be very difficult to explain in the
light of simple reason. A side benefit comes when they hear questions they
have never considered. They may be inclined to think about their own gods in
a slightly different way.
You: "So your father god has a son god, just like Heracles was the son of
Zeus? And the son god lived on earth like Heracles?
Them: "No, Jesus is not like any Greek god. He is god but became a
You: "You can?t have your cake and eat it too. If he is a son, then
he is not your father god any more than you are the same as your father. And
how does your Holy Spirit god figure in to all this? He is never mentioned
in your Old Testament but suddenly shows up in the pantheon about the time
your Jesus god appears; looks like Jesus just made up another god for you
Christians to deal with."
Because most religionists live comfortably within a common framework, they
rarely have it challenged. Even when Moslems, Jews and Christians engage in
discussion, they do not challenge one another?s basic paradigms. Only
someone totally outside of the religious framework can effectively
illuminate the linguistic prison all religionists inhabit. The next time you
are in a discussion with a theist, try using language that keeps you out of
their paradigm and encourages consideration of the pantheon of gods that
inhabit their make believe world. The result may challenge them and will
give you new freedom of movement around their mythological world.
- Darrel W. Ray,
Ed.D. "The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture," IPC
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© 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2009-AUG-06
Latest update: 2009-AUG-06
Author: Darrel W. Ray