The Problem with Monotheism and the Quest for a World Religion

I’ve been trying to start this post for sometime, but I can’t figure out where to start. Part of the problem is that I have more questions than answers.

But I’m just going to start writing and see where it goes.

I’ll start with a personal background relevant to my interest in this subject. I love medieval history. But I hate that it is entirely tangled up with Christianity. After all, what would be left of the Middle Ages as we know it if not for Christianity?

I have a confusing love-hate relationship with popular imagery from the time. My husband came across a crusader helm mug on Think Geek once and put it on his wish list. From his perspective, all he saw was a representation of his interest in geeky things and Monty Python. I look at it and I instantly feel angry inside. Why does it make me so angry? I don’t know. In general, it should make anyone angry to think of the numerous attacks on human freedom throughout history. But something about religious persecution specifically strikes a personal chord that I don’t even have a claim to. I am not persecuted. I don’t have any specific knowledge of ancestors who may have been, though I’ve heard in passing that some of my ancestors emigrated to escape persecution of their Christian practices.

Religious persecution of any kind makes me mad. I don’t want to see Christians suffer any more than pagans or anyone else. I don’t have a problem with individual Christians, but the religion as a whole comes across to me as an evil force vying for world domination. Not just Christianity, but Islam too. I feel like the history of violence, forced conversion, and proselytization of these monotheistic religions stole something from me that I never had in the first place. It’s the strangest feeling. Sometimes I wonder if I am not feeling residual emotions from a past life.

Because here I am, a pagan in the 21st century in America, land of the free, complaining that Christians from centuries ago stole something from me. Honestly, I have no logical explanation for the feeling, it is what it is.

In my combined attempts to rationalize my feelings and change my negative perspective, I came to the conclusion that the Christian “take-over” of the western world was necessary due to increased globalization. More people interacting means a need for new social dynamics and new political methods. The merging of church and state seemed like a logical way to go. For quite some time, this explanation was suitable for me. It didn’t fix everything, I still felt a yearning for a past that I was not a part of and I mourned its loss, but I accepted what I rationalized to be the only way.

Recently, however, I’ve been considering the efficacy of a world religion on peaceful global relations. Muslims, Christians, even the Buddhists all proselytize (some more peacefully than others) their religions thinking that they follow the one true path and that the world would be a better place if everyone else followed their path too.

Ironically, the desire for a word religion in the name of peace has led to copious amounts of conflict and violence. As far as I am aware, religious warfare wasn’t a thing until the rise of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions. Before this time, conflicts were more likely to arise over basic survival needs – for conquest of lands and resources. Now, in this globalized world where getting along is more important than ever, we have added religious conflict to the mix. What started out as an effort to get everyone on the same page for improved relations has only made relations worse.

What is it about monotheism that creates all this drama? First, let us consider the polytheistic peoples pre-Christian-conversion. When peoples of differing religious beliefs came in contact with each other, they didn’t feel threatened by each other’s gods. What was there to fight over when everyone had their own deities? Oftentimes, people would consider foreign gods with curiosity and sometimes adopt one or more into their own pantheons. With monotheism, however, a particular religious group is certain that their version of the one and **only** god is the correct one. Monotheistic religions, therefor, threaten the validity of each other.

This shouldn’t be a problem if everyone could just settle on one religion, one worldview, one dogma. But this is impossible, nor is it desirable if it were possible. The beauty of this world lies in its diversity. If everything was the same, that would be boring. Who would want to travel anymore? I want to visit China someday, among other places. Why? Because it is so culturally different than where I am from and that is exciting!

The very evolution of individual Abrahamic religions and their further divisions demonstrates our need for culturally relevant and, more often than not, polytheistic belief systems. The Abrahamic God started out as one of a larger pantheon. He eventually sort of absorbed the characteristics of all gods and natural forces until he became the one-and-only. If He is supposed to be the embodiment of all the cosmos, then why do the religions that follow him need angels, saints, demons, Jesus? People have a hard time relating to a cultural-less cosmic being. Culture is a significant part of religion. Jesus came about as a way for Christians to relate to their God on a more human level. It’s telling that pictorial representations of Jesus show him as a white man, despite evidence that he likely wasn’t (religion is inevitably cultural!). Many Catholics worship or pray to the Mother Mary as a deity figure, possibly indicative of desire for a male/female balance. The Saints have been given traits of pagan gods and people pray to them as if they still were gods.

There may indeed be a cosmic all-encompassing god force out there, but like the blog post I referenced last time points out, what matters to us as humans on our microscopic level of existence are the aspects of deity that we can relate to on a human level. This means that there cannot be one cultural-less god figure who will satisfy the entire world’s religious needs.

Consequentially, each religion that insists on naming only a single god as god-of-everything, no matter how culturally relevant to a region, will inevitably lead to conflict and violence each time different religious groups come into contact.

I don’t have the answers to the world’s problems (but wouldn’t I be cool if I did 🙂 ) and this post shouldn’t be taken as proof that we should eradicate all monotheistic religions (attempts at this would also lead to more violence 😮 ) It only represents food for thought and my personal observations.

One last thing: I didn’t mention atheism in the above, so I’ll add my two cents about that in here too. I think its great that some people feel secure as atheists. But the fact of the matter is, mankind as a whole needs something else to believe in. Unless science unravels the theory-of-everything, eradicating religion entirely isn’t an option – although it sounds lovely on paper (isn’t that the way of it with idealistic solutions? 😉 )

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Posted on July 23, 2015, in Paganism, Social Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. You wrote –
    “what matters to us as humans on our microscopic level of existence are the aspects of deity that we can relate to on a human level. ”
    God became a man and dwelt among us as one of us, lived a perfect life and died for us. He experienced our suffering as one of us.
    I agree with you that is what matters and Jesus Christ does too.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with you on all of your points here. On the one hand, monotheism has just as much right to exist as anything else, and there are good people in the world who are monotheist. And yet the sheer amount of violence and domination that has been enacted in monotheism’s name throughout history has shown that it is capable of a much more venomous fanaticism than any other theological position has ever been. Religious-motivated violence has occurred among other theistic categories, but not nearly to the same extent or with the same amount of intensity. While I try my best to remain logical about it – and this is much easier with moderate and liberal monotheists – when I am faced with monotheistic fundamentalism and evangelism, I can truly understand why some atheists are anti-religion. It makes me angry too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yes, of course they have a right to exist. I didn’t mean that their beliefs are invalid so much as I was pointing out the problems with the monotheistic (or otherwise “only-right-path” proselytizing) religious systems as a whole. The most curious part of my observations is that even the monotheistic guys can’t commit so easily to a single-all powerful God worship – that at some level, they all tend to resort to various forms of modified polytheism (though they don’t recognize it as such).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that you were claiming all monotheistic beliefs to be invalid. I was explaining my own difficulty between being tolerant of it and being really angry about the things that have been (and still are) done in its name. And you are completely right that no matter how committed to true monotheism a religion might be, it always resorts to some kind of “modified polytheism” in the end somehow.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “Because here I am, a pagan in the 21st century in America, land of the free, complaining that Christians from centuries ago stole something from me. Honestly, I have no logical explanation for the feeling, it is what it is.”
    I’ve often wondered if logic was the best way to approach religion, or if humans had so little grasp of the scope involved that it was like using logic to dissect computer code in a language unknown to an amateur programmer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In the case of christianity, it is an integral part of the religion to “spread the good news” and convert people. They see themselves giving you a great gift by doing so, because if you convert you are “saved”. So, it is a conquering religion by default. In contrast, the pagans of old went to war over land, but tolerated each other’s gods, because each had their own.

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    • I don’t have a problem with Christians “spreading the news,” but the extent to which the ends justifies the means for some of the more zealous types isn’t cool. A rejected gift is not worth going to war over 😦 I’m happy that there are, at least, Christians out there who accept (even if uncomfortably) other faiths.

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      • Unfortunately that discomfort likes to become vocal. The internet is full of stories from fellow pagans who are routonely shunned by abrahamic people. I am lucky to have had only minor run-ins with the uncomfortable.

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      • Yes, this is true to. I get a lot of the sort who “accept” me but they still try to sneak in their gift in not so subtle ways (most of these people are family, though, so they don’t shun me over it)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, I agree so much! I have serious issues with any religion that claims it is the “one true way” for everyone, and pushes its agenda through politics. As an ex-Catholic, I still get very uncomfortable with Christianity and especially the doctrine of hell.

    As you point out, pagan cultures tended towards greater diversity. When peoples met, their gods were seem as just that: “their” gods and either left alone or, if they were interesting, absorbed into the existing pantheon like the Romans did with Gaulish or British gods. But there was generally not a “one size fits all” approach and you weren’t stoned to death or threatened with eternal torment if you didn’t agree.

    I still tend to think of pagan religions as arising from the relationships of a particular people with their landscape and culture, and they make no pretence of being universal.

    Even if there were some unifying force (which I tend to think there may be) then it would be an unknowable “ground of being” not a personal god who cares what we believe and what we do in our personal lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My personal opinion regarding monotheism’s need to convert everyone to their belief system basically equates to the human need for Validation. “If you believe what I believe, than I must be right!” The bigger the church congregation, the more we faith we have!

    I have nothing against religions. I think many people need some kind of guiding principle to follow, or a group of like minded people to connect with, so it serves it’s purpose. I don’t consider myself atheist, but I also am not a joiner. I like the saying “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, Spirituality is for people who have already been there and don’t want to go back.” IMO there are as many paths to GOD (Good Orderly Direction) as there are people walking on those paths. If any person can find a path, or paths, that work for them, Hallelujah! 🙂

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