The concept of monotheism has always bothered me. How can someone believe in only one God? Even if they are deluded to the point that they believe they can communicate with a higher being, how do they know it’s the same being every time. Surely any being that was capable of such communication, or a being approaching omnipotence, would be aware of any prior communications, and as such would be able to appear as the same being.
So believing in a single God is possibly more illogical than believing in multiple Gods. Now, we know that logic isn’t a strong point of those who follow religion, but surely there must be some reason why people choose to believe that there is only one God, and it happens to be the one they worship.
The obvious answer is that the Holy Books say that the God of that particular book is the only God. Take the Bible for example, specificly Isaiah 44:6 in which the Judeo-Christian God (Yahweh) states:
“There is no God Beside Me”
As a reader of this blog you’ll know that religions have a vested interest in making you believe that their God is the only God, so shouldn’t be trusted. But even if you did take the Bible as “gospel”, it’s not as clear cut as one might think.
Looking at the 10 commandments, the foundations of Christian Morality (and self-preservation), we see that Yahweh acknowledges that there are other Gods out there. Specifically:
“You shall have no other gods before me”
Like most of the Bible, this can be interpreted in a number of ways. Upon first reading the natural response is to take this as Yahweh accepting there are other Gods and trying to assert his superiority over them. There is a subtle but important difference between “don’t believe in any other Gods” and “don’t worship any other Gods over me”. Any logical person would surely see this as a confession that other Gods exist.
But as I mentioned earlier, logic is not the religious person’s strong point, and as such they have attempted to explain away this little problem. The most popular “explanation” is that the commandment is referring to temptations, worldly goods etc., rather than actual Gods. This, of course, is patently ridiculous. To interpret the word “God” here as meaning something other than a supreme deity opens the possibility of interpreting it elsewhere in the Bible in the same way. Unless, of course, you choose to selectively apply this interpretation in the same way many Christians selectively believe only parts of the Bible. This undermines the entire concept of Yahweh as a deity as proposed by the Bible.
The commandment is not the only hint that the writers of the Bible (bearing in mind it’s inspired by God) thought there was more than one God. The observant amongst you might have noticed that part way through Genesis the way God is referred to changes. Initially the word “Elohim” is used. Elohim is generally used as a plural, referring to Gods of polytheism. Much like the attempts to dismiss the use of the word “God” in certain circumstances, many have tried to claim that in some circumstances it refers to multiple Gods, whilst in others it refers to a single deity. Their deity, of course. Part way through Genesis, the word Elohim is replaced by Yahweh.
This is a complicated subject, and remains a point of debate. Yahweh and Elohim are Hebrew words that have been translated into English. The commandment example used in the beginning of this post actually uses the word “Elohim” (translated to “Gods”), which only serves to underline and reenforce the points I made.
I’m interested in your opinions on this. I find the explanations provided by theists hard to swallow. There’s an inherent lack of logic underlying the counter points that just doesn’t sit right. Admittedly much of this is word play, but when religion is primarily based on a book, wordplay, and the interpretation of the language used, becomes a point of upmost importance.