The Nature of Religion

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University of Toronto St. George
Andre Maintenay

World Religions September 20 , 2010 Chapter 11: The Nature of The Divine Monotheism and Polytheism Monotheism Greek word for worship of only one god Polytheism Greek word for worship of many gods th Both definitions first seen in European writing during 17 century of absolute monarchy Used in intra-Christian context, e.g. Protestants condemned Roman Catholic worship of saints as polytheistic. Now principally refer to Hebraic model of exclusive devotion to only one god vs. Hellenic model of devotion to many. Before monotheism was coined, the idea was a distinctive characteristic of: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (all regions in the west), where monotheism was exclusive and declared faithful should worship only one God, that the worship of any other is an abomination to God, and that no other Gods exists. Christians and Muslims both believed in this and drew clear boundaries between themselves and others, which encouraged others to join them. However Jews view themselves as a community, allowing others who are truly motivated to join , however have rarely attempted to convert outsiders. Guy E. Swansons book, The Birth of the Gods: The Origin of Primitive Beliefs, states monotheism is associated with social complexity, reflecting the establishment of multi- layered hierarchy. However, polytheism may simply represent the attribution of human motivation to natural phenomena, thus movement towards monotheism could easily be seen as marking a societys denial of this primitive understanding of causation. Greek philosophers tried to reduce all complexities of the world to one single, overriding element or principle, e.g. fire, water, change, time, love or knowledge. Hinduism and Buddhism identify a single principle of salvation in which animals, humans, and gods all participate. Unlike Jews, Muslims, and Christians, they do not view monotheism and polytheism as being completely opposite of one another. Dualism: Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism Dualism in religion assumes two ultimate principles (usually personified as good god and evil god) opposing each other and more or less evenly matched. Zoroastrianism A nominally monotheistic religion with dualistic overtones. Was developed in Persia (Iran) before mid-6 century BC Was states religion of Sasanians Supreme creator god is Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) Zoroastrians called themselves Mazda worshippers and their tradition The Good Religion Religious thoughts are placed among the great religious traditions of human history Traditions priestly and prophetic teacher, Zarathushtra wrote 17 psalms, called the Gathas, that form parted of the sacred book, the Avesta. Five feature of particular interest: 1. Emphasis on ethics: morality is central, both as an ideal and as an achievement 2. Eschatology, centred on the expectation of a world to come both for the individual and for the world as a whole, when this life will be overhauled and a new utopian age ushered in 3. Zoroastrian traditions vivid personification of evil as a demonic antagonist who, like Satan, in the Christian and Muslim traditions, seems beyond the good deitys control 4. Zoroastrians traditionally dispose of their dead by exposing the remains to birds of prey in Towers of Silence 5. Zoroastrian ideas about evil and the soul contributed to the development of comparable ideas in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Today, most Zoroastrians consider themselves monotheists, perhaps because their tradition was maintained under Islamic rule in Iran and under Christian rule in British India. However their monotheism is not exclusive: Zoroastrians admire a host of divine entities (corresponding to deities in the Hindu Vedas) that they consider to function as agents and deputies of Ahura Mazda. In the Avesta, it suggests that two other gods hold sway in the universe. The good god Ahura Mazda, is the one whom all praise and tahnks are due The evil god, Angra Mainyu (later as Ahirman), is the god who controls evil and must be exorcised The devil is much more elusive in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, perhaps because theologians wanting to affirm Gods purpose and power have been reluctant to make room for a second ultimate power. Yet he was present in narratives during the Christian Middle Ages and is still seen in folklore and popular piety of all three Abrahamic traditions. Satan is mentioned in both the New Testament and, as Shaytan or Iblis, in the Quran But he does not figure in Old Testament narrative The snake Genesis 2-3 is never described as anything more than a snake and Satan makes no appearance in the Hebrew creation story. Even the book of Job refers only to the Satan, meaning adversary, a designated court official However in the New Testament, Satan is a fully developed power, independent of God, which is also viewed in a series of books created after the Old Testament and before the New Testament, which are not included in either the Jewish or Christian Bible.
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