So many similarities flow through man’s interpretation of the unknown and the spiritual and it seems that all cultures and times have had the need to have something in their lives other then the material world that we can see, smell, taste and touch. Many today follow the belief in the One God. This seems to be driven by the notion that a supreme god is needed for religion which is driven by the hope for some form of salvation. The God of religion is the unspeakably great Lord on whom man depends, in whom he recognizes the source of his happiness and perfection; He is the righteous Judge, rewarding good and punishing evil; the loving and merciful Father, whose ear is ever open to the prayers of his needy and penitent children. Such a conception of God can be readily grasped by simple, non philosophic minds, by children, by the uneducated peasant, by the converted savage. Even with all their religious crudities and superstitions, such low-grade savages as the Pygmies of the Northern Congo, the Australians, and the natives of the Andaman Islands entertain very noble conceptions of the Supreme Deity. Primitive man was capable of monotheistic belief, even without the aid of Divine revelation, contrary to some religious beliefs. Among the more educated there was support for the belief that many deities were in existence at some level lower than the one supreme deity. Some were even capable of worshiping one god while recognizing the existence of other deities.
Along with polytheism, monothiesm is one of the best known theistic systems. Monotheism is founded upon the idea that there is only one God, typically regarded as the creator of all reality. This god is believed to be totally self-sufficient and without any dependency upon any other being. Other alleged gods might be claimed to be merely aspects of the supreme god – this argument is more commonly found when the transition to monotheism is recent and the older gods need to be explained away. More often, other alleged gods are simply denied any reality at all, or perhaps claimed to be demons tempting people away from the True Faith. This exclusivity has resulted in less religious tolerance and freedom in traditionally monotheistic cultures. The origin of monotheism is unclear.
The first recorded monotheistic system arose in Egypt during the rule of Akhenaton, but it did not long survive his death. Some suggest that Moses, if he existed, brought monotheism to the ancient Hebrews, but it is possible that he was still henotheistic or monolatrous. The earliest Egyptian civilization believed in a single supreme god, who had no name but was described as the source of light the creator of all. He brought fourth rules or natural laws and in their diagrammatic literature these were personified in what we see as the gods and goddesses. Briefly around 1350 BC flourished the worship at Armana in Egypt of Aten/Aton as the one and only manifestation of god, in the near east Zoroaster saw the revelation of one supreme being in the eternal flame around 600 BC and some hundred year later in the Middle East appeared the historical writings from the descendants of Abraham, and out of whose customs grew Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The form of monotheism which is traditionally most common in the West and which is too often confused with theism in general is the belief in a personal god which emphasizes that this god is a conscious mind that is immanent in nature, humanity and the values which it has created. This god is both independent of and distinct from the created universe and also presently active in the created universe. Because this form of monotheism dominates so strongly in the West, it is not uncommon to find people who simply give it the label “theism,” ignoring all the other forms as being types of theism.
When Abraham was held back from sacrificing Isaac by God around 2000 BC, his God which became the God of the Israelites was seen as but one of many. From the days of Abraham to the days of Moses and beyond, a lot of local gods still existed. When we talk about Akhenaton having but one god, to many He too was but one of many. Even Allah was originally one of many a local god. The God of Abraham and Israel was their God, their chief god, who proved himself over and over to be greater than the gods of other lands and peoples. Even the first of the Ten commandments recognizes ‘other gods’. However the other gods were but the local interpretation of god under a local name.
But what is this “god” thing that is the object of theism? A god is being, usually thought of as a person or having personal qualities, who plays a role in mythology and religion. This object of belief typically possesses supernatural or extraordinary powers far in excess of those that can be attributed to normal, mortal humans. The development of the idea of a “god” can be clearly observed in the development of religion in the Indian subcontinent. Originally, the Indian “gods” were exemplary , strong, and victorious rulers who managed to accomplish a great deal more than their contemporaries. Later they were elevated to godhood and worshiped as supernatural deities. Similar processes can be seen even in the later periods of the Roman Empire, when emperors were declared gods after their death as a matter of routine (although it was not routine that coherent religions were maintained around them for very long). Indeed, the elevation of powerful warriors or kings to the status of godhood may have been one of the earliest ways belief in gods was developed. Another aspect in the development of theism would have been the observation of powerful forces of nature. They all appear to be beyond the influence of humans, but they would also have appeared to be animate, just like humans and animals. Thus would have developed the belief that unseen, powerful spirits are behind the events in life: animism. Parallel with the belief in unseen spirits is the desire to influence those spirits – much the way powerful humans are influenced. Early religion therefore developed means by which humans make offerings to the spirits the same as offerings were made to tribal leaders. They followed whatever rules and orders the spirits might be thought to issue the same as orders from tribal leaders were followed From this sprung the tendency towards organized religion. Monotheism was a gradual process and it was not until around 500 BC that the idea that the God of Israel was the one and only God and always was. Christianity, at first a Jewish sect, confused the issue by developing the idea of a Trinity which took 400 years to define, and even then as a mystery. This Trinity seems to have roots in the three names of the Egyptian God and their fondness for triads. Allah was but the chief amongst a group of Arab gods until they recognized that he was the same God as the God of the Israelites and of the Christians. Just as the Jews had eventually got rid of all other gods so did the Moslems. Perhaps it was a lack of understanding as still exists. One region’s understanding may not be different to another’s but they all struggled to understand the indefinable unknown and eternal with greater or lesser success. As philosophy is always subject to the frailties of man it can often go astray. Some claim divine revelation but it just may be that it is logical. The truth of creation or the law of nature must eventually reveal itself simply because it is the truth. The great question posed by Pontius Pilot ‘What is truth’ is one of the eternal quandaries and at the beginning of all in our earliest civilization lies the guidance of truth from which all else flows.
1.Sheed, Frank .J. Theology and Sanity ,Oxford/New York; Oxford University Press. 2000
2.Miller. Charles .d. The origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic background and the Ugaritic texts, Oxford/New York. Oxford University Press. 2001
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