Part 2: How concepts of God have
When hunting and gathering was replaced by agriculture and the raising
of domesticated animals, a major change occurred in religious life.
Fertility of the crops, domesticated animals, and the tribe itself became of paramount
importance. Fertility was seen as clearly feminine in nature, since only female
humans and other animals can produce offspring. The group's religion tended to be
centered on a matriarchal Goddess, who was referred to as the Earth
Mother, Great Goddess or Great Mother.
In Europe, archaeologists have found remains of an "old European" culture. Although the interpretation of archaeological
evidence is controversial, many scientists believe that the society worshipped a female fertility goddess, sometimes with a
male consort. This culture lasted for tens of thousands of years. The groups
generally lived in peace; they had few defensive fortifications. Males and
females were treated equally, at least during burial rituals.
Neopagans form the fifth or sixth largest religious group in the U.S.
They base their beliefs and practices partly on ancient Pagan concepts. Wiccans,
for example, have derived their deities, seasonal days of celebration, and
some theological beliefs from the ancient Celtic people. They follow many aspects of early
It is important to realize that no consensus exists about the origin of
||Some Wiccans believe that their beliefs were passed down from the
Celts to themselves in a continuous line for over two millennia. Others believe that Wicca is a recent
development, initially created in the 1940's from a variety of sources.
||Most people disagree. They are quite confident that the beliefs of
fertility religions were invented by humans in response to a societal
need: the guarantee of high fertility rates among their crops, animals
and tribal members. They conclude that the fertility Goddess did not
create humans. Rather, humans created the concept of the fertility goddess;
Monotheism, polytheism, henotheism and other assorted "isms":
Monotheism: Belief in the existence, and worship, of only a single god within the entire universe.
Polytheism: Belief in the existence, and worship, of multiple gods, generally with specific activities of interest, such as weather and war.
Henotheism: Belief in the existence of multiple gods, in which one is regarded as superior to all of the others.
A few thousand years BCE, Indo-Europeans invaded Europe from the east.
They brought with them some of the "refinements" of modern civilization: the
horse, war, belief in male Gods, exploitation of nature, knowledge of the male
role in procreation, etc. Goddess worship was gradually combined with worship of
male Gods. The rain was seen as a male entity, falling on and fertilizing Mother
Earth. The sun was also viewed as a source of male energy, encouraging the crops
to grow. The moon, with its soft, gentle light, was seen to be feminine.
A variety of Pagan polytheistic religions featuring Gods and Goddesses
developed among the Greeks, Romans, Celts, etc. In some areas, belief in
monotheism -- a single male deity -- emerged. Initially, this God was viewed as
ruling over a single geographical area. When a person migrated from one country
to another, they were expected to switch their allegiance to the new country's local tribal God. We see this in the biblical book of Ruth (1:16):
said...whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy
people shall be my people, and thy God my God." (KJV).
In time, God's area of control would expand beyond tribal borders;
belief in a universal monotheism began. "The theistic god in these various
||Always other, always external to the self who was defining the
||Always supernatural, and,
||At least in the West, usually personal in the sense that
individuals could know and communicate with this deity.
Bishop Spong comments:
"The theistic God was also presumed to be the explanation for that which
was beyond rational understanding, a being capable of miraculous power who
therefore needed to be supplicated, praised, obeyed and pleased." 1
The major religions which have survived to the present day are mostly
monotheistic or henotheistic. They include (in alphabetic order):
Baha'i Faith: This religion
teaches that there is only one transcendent and unknowable God who is the
source of all creation. He has sent ten Great Manifestations of God
-- inspired prophets -- to humanity: Adam, Abraham, Moses, Krishna,
Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, The Bab and Baha'u'llah.
Christianity: Most Christians, at least
since the late fourth century CE, generally recognize
God as composed of a Trinity, which is in turn composed of a Father (Jehovah), Son (Jesus
Christ) and Holy Spirit. The Trinity includes three personalities within a
single deity. Christians generally refer to ther beliefs as monotheistic; Muslims generally refer to the Trinity as polytheistic.
Hinduism: Hinduism is composed of many religious traditions. Many recognize a single
supreme God: Brahma who is simultaneously visualized as a triad: Brahma
the Creator, Vishnu (Krishna) the Preserver and Siva the destroyer.
Most traditions in Hinduism are henotheistic; they recognize other gods and
goddesses in addition to the one supreme God.
Islam: Muslims recognize Allah as the
only indivisible deity, and Muhammad as his prophet. The Shahadah, which is
recited at least daily by most Muslims reflects this: "There is no God
but God and Muhammad is his Prophet").
Judaism: Jews recognize Jehovah as
the sole deity, who has selected them to be his chosen people.
Sikhism: Sikhs believe in a single,
formless God, with many names, who can be known through meditation.
It is important to realize that no consensus exists about the origins
or present validity of these religions. Followers of these faith
traditions generally consider their own faith very differently from
all the rest:
||Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere the Hebrew Scriptures (Old
Testament). Thus Jews view G-d, the Christians view the Father (one part
of the Trinity) and Muslims view Allah somewhat similarly. But the
Christian Trinity is a very different deity construct than can fit into
the strictly monotheism of Judaism and Islam. And Jews view their G-d
very differently than the Muslims view Allah; they have different
qualities, attributes, expectations, etc.
Many Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Sikhs regard their own
religion as the only true religion; other religions are partly or
completely false. Some fundamentalist Christian denominations go further
and regard other religions as forms of Satanism, led by Satan or
his demons. They also refuse to recognize many
denominations that consider themselves to be Christian as part of Christianity.
||Religions hold beliefs about their God that are often quite different from the gods and goddesses of other religions. They
generally regard their own
beliefs to be accurate, and the beliefs of other
religions to be partly or completely false.
||Followers of most religions see their own God as creating the world, its life forms
and the rest of the universe; they see their own God as having revealed
himself or herself to her/his followers. The message is conveyed either through a
verbal tradition or in written form. But they see founders of other religions
as having created their own Gods from their own imaginations. They view
religions other than their own as simple human creations. Most believers
see their own religious texts as accurate documentaries; they view the
holy books of other religions as novels -- as works of fiction -- or as a collection of myths.
There is a near complete lack of consensus among followers of the main monotheistic and
henotheistic religions on many factors. Some are:
||They view their own religious texts as true and inspired by God. The
texts of all other religions are seen as partly or wholly false; they arose
from people's imagination.
||They see their own view of God as true; he was the creator of mankind
and the rest of the universe. They see the Gods of other religions as
false; those Gods were created by humans.
||They see their own religion as the only religion revealed to humanity by God; we call this a "top-down" faith. They view all other religions as
"bottom up" faiths; they were created by humans.
In any other area of human life, such beliefs would be considered psychotic -- totally divorced from reality. However, in the field of religion, it is the norm.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
J.S. Spong, "A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional
Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being Born," HarperSanFrancisco,
(2001), Pages 49.
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Copyright © 2001 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-OCT-7
Latest update: 2011-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson