The Problem with Monotheism

When an author argues that there is no God, that’s his personal business — something between him and the Creator. But when an author, in addition to denying God, asserts that monotheism is a net negative for the human race, a rebuttal is in order.

In recent years, atheistic authors have claimed that monotheism is a blight, because such faith engenders war. While it is true that the histories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam include many episodes of intrafaith and interfaith violence, only someone with an unbalanced knowledge of history could fall prey to the error that monotheism has made the world a meaner, more violent place.

War has been part of human history, both before and after the emergence of monotheism, and both where monotheism prevails and where it does not. Wars are generally fought over territory and wealth, even where differing religious beliefs are involved.

Is religion a major cause of war? Not for the United States. Not one American war — Revolutionary, 1812, Mexican, Civil, Spanish, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq — was fought over religion. Furthermore, blaming monotheism for the world’s violence at this juncture in history is willful blindness. In the 20th century, brutal, tyrannical regimes inflicted more than six times as many fatalities as did wars. (Google “R.J. Rummel democide” and click on the “20th century democide” link.) 20th century aggressors and tyrants — the three most murderous being Mao, Stalin, and Hitler — were predominantly atheistic.

Authors who condemn monotheism seem oblivious to how much their own comfortable, free lives owe to the historical impact of monotheism. The pre-monotheistic worldview was pagan. Paganism exalted nature above all, and taught human subjection to nature. Paganism was fatalistic; it inculcated resignation to a static social order. To the pagans, individual lives were unimportant, cheap. The welfare of the collective, which in practice was the welfare of the ruling elite, was supreme. There was no theory of individual rights opposed to this arrangement. If you were born a drone, you lived the life of a drone, and if the rulers decided that your life should be forfeited to the sun god or in some military campaign to obtain booty for the rulers, then your fate was sealed.

The Judeo-Christian tradition’s greatest contribution to the human race has been to liberate the human race from the stifling and deadly paganism that preceded it — and that is trying to defeat it today. Monotheism impelled the search for scientific knowledge to tame the natural world. Judeo-Christian teachings gradually imbued human thought with ethical values that spawned the doctrines that all men are created equal, that they have inalienable rights, and that rulers are not above the law. The free market — based on that premise of God-given rights — has lifted masses of people out of poverty for the first time in human history. All three monotheistic faiths teach their followers to be charitable to those in need. In fact, the widespread calls we hear today about helping the less fortunate, even when made by unbelievers, are cultural echoes of our monotheistic traditions. It is hard to imagine how much poorer and less free we would be today if not for the leavening influence of monotheistic teachings.

That having been said, there is a problem with monotheism: monotheists. We who profess monotheism and know that we shouldn’t sin, sometimes give in to sin and do things to our fellow man that our faith teaches us are wrong. In the case of a minority of fanatics, the sin of self-righteousness drives them to aggression against those who don’t share their religious sense. This is because the limited human mind is incapable of fully comprehending the Deity. We each grasp small portions of this one infinite, Supreme Being, and then make the mistake of concluding that we are qualified to impose that imperfect view on others.

It is worth noting, however, that the antidote for such self-righteous aggression is found in the very Bible that atheists find so unbelievable. The Lord Jesus directs us to get the beam out of our own eyes. The apostle Paul tells us to work out our own (not the other guy’s) salvation.

Those who bash monotheism are justified in exhorting monotheists to do a better job of practicing what we preach. In turn, I urge them, too, to practice what we preach (again, not in terms of how to relate to the Deity — because that is each person’s private business — but in terms of how we relate to each other, since that is public business). After all, wouldn’t everybody prefer to live under rules like, “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” etc., that help to protect individual lives? Can atheists think of a better formula for peace that the Lord’s Golden Rule given in the Bible: “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)?

If these guidelines for social interaction hadn’t been given to us by divine commandment, human beings would need to invent them. But which approach would be more likely to instill obedience — obey these rules because you are accountable to God, Who will judge you, or do these things because Andy Atheist says that is what nice people do? Personally, I’d rather trust the peace and prosperity of future generations to monotheists, who recognize a higher authority than human will, than to atheists, who do not.

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  • noelfitz

    I agree with Dr Hendrickson when he writes:

    “Is religion a major cause of war? Not for the United States. Not one American war — Revolutionary, 1812, Mexican, Civil, Spanish, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq — was fought over religion.”

    The war in Iraq is not about religion, but about wealth – oil.

    I disagree with him when he writes:

    “the three most murderous being Mao, Stalin, and Hitler — were predominantly atheistic.”

    Both Stalin and Hitler were Christians, Hitler was a Catholic.

    I also query:

    “The free market — based on that premise of God-given rights — has lifted masses of people out of poverty for the first time in human history.”

    Free market capitalism has failed. The US is essentially owned by Chinese Communists and Muslim Arabs. Recently, in the US and worldwide, capitalism has collapsed and the state, socialism, has had to intervene to try to save banks, housing, insurance and industry. I hope the ownership of the means of production by the people will be successful.

    God bless,

    NoelFitz.
    _________________________________________________

    In necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.
    _________________________________________________

  • goral

    To say monotheism adversely affects the human race is to say that monogamy adversely affects marriage. There are those who are saying that as well.
    In my estimation they are the biodegradable by-product of a lifelong consumption of deviled ham and witches stew.
    To them monotheism is foul and paganism is fair. They are collosal bores not worthy of a pause.

    We Catholics are not at all monotheistic. Our God is a Trinity. The Holy Family is a trinity. There is too much love there to be contained in one person. Our God always serves and never masters. Our God is a helpless infant at this time of the season. Our God tolerates colossal bores and turns biodegradable waste into fertile soil.

  • Mary Kochan

    A-a-c-k! Goral! Please, no heresy here. We ARE monotheists. We believe in only one God. One God in three persons — not three gods!

    Time for Athanasius to come to our rescue:

    The Text of the Athanasian Creed

    Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

    For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

    Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

    The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal.

    As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.

    So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three gods, but one God.

    So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three lords, but one Lord.

    For as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge each Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are also forbidden by the catholic religion to say that there are three gods or three lords.

    The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

    So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.

    And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

    He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.

    Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching His godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood; who, although He is God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the godhead into flesh but by taking of the manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the quick and the dead. At His coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

    This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

  • goral

    Mary Kochan, I did not say three gods. This is what I said: “There is too much love there to be contained in one person – that’s three persons – the Trinity.
    We are not monotheistic as are the Jews and Muslims should have been my further qualification. Our Jesus is not just a great prophet.
    Nevertheless we are monotheistic.

    Ripping of the garments to my perhaps vague statement was an over-reaction.
    Nevertheless, The Athanasian Creed is a great post to butress this article.
    Thank you for giving me a chance to further expound on the topic before branding me a heretic. (Whew)

  • Mary Kochan

    Oh, Goral. I know YOU are not a heretic. However, the statement that we are not monotheists is heretical. And in fact we are monotheists as the Jews and Muslims — in that we affirm there is only one God. One of the charges they make against us is that we are not monotheists, so we never want to give them ammunition for that charge.

  • goral

    Yes indeed, “We believe in one God the Father Almighty….” Making vague statements regarding our one God is not the way to profess or explain our faith. I’m always amazed and impressed when I read “The Creed” how much painstaking effort was put into it by old Athanasius to profess and explain something that we can barely understand.

    What I was unsuccessfully trying to convey regarding this article is that even though our Christian monotheism has so many interesting and mysterious facets; even though it has so many rich venues that allow all cultures to express their worship and veneration, it still isn’t enough for all the detractors to hurl damning accusations.
    When proselytizing paganism fails then the alternative is to try to convince believers that their God is a bad god, a wrong god or a god who doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose at all. This approach could actually get more converts as people love blaming God for all their shortcomings.

    I accept the blame and will cover all expenses for ripped garments.

  • plowshare

    Noeflitz–it is true that Stalin was born an Orthodox Christian and even wanted to become a priest at some point; but he left all that behind when he became a Bolshevik and even persecuted the Orthodox clergy in later years, having all but a handful of Christian churches closed or turned to other purposes.

    Hitler abandoned his Catholicism before taking office. He based his actions on a purely humanistic, pseudo-scientific belief that Aryans were a master race.

  • plowshare

    Noelfitz [sorry about the earlier misspelling]– I think you are trolling with your comments about capitalism having failed. It is socialism that has failed, as shown by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the conversion of China to a capitalistic one-party dictatorship.

  • Daniel Latinus

    Noelfitz:

    “Both Stalin and Hitler were Christians, Hitler was a Catholic.”

    That Hitler had been raised Catholic may be true, but he ceased being a Catholic in any meaningful sense of the word well before he came to power. Having said that, it is probably inaccurate to accuse Hitler of atheism. it seems Hitler believed in an jumble of occultism and paganism. And Heinrich Himmler, also an ex-Catholic, insisted that SS men believe in God – but Himmler’s conception of the deity was different from that of orthodox Christianity.

    Stalin was raised Georgian Orthodox, and was placed in a seminary by his mother. Stalin was expelled from the seminary, and no doubt abandoned any religious belief when he joined the Bolsheviks, who would not have accepted a religious believer as a member.

    Curiously, I once read that Stalin had no problem with corrupt clerics; but he had real hatred for priests who lived up to their vocation.

    Noelfitz again:

    ““The free market — based on that premise of God-given rights — has lifted masses of people out of poverty for the first time in human history.”

    Free market capitalism has failed. The US is essentially owned by Chinese Communists and Muslim Arabs. Recently, in the US and worldwide, capitalism has collapsed and the state, socialism, has had to intervene to try to save banks, housing, insurance and industry. I hope the ownership of the means of production by the people will be successful.”

    That the free market has failed remains to be seen. My reading of events is that the things that caused the most recent economic downturn had more to do with either personal dishonesty, or perverse incentives created by government regulation. If the economic crises of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which were far, far worse than our current situation, hadn’t destroyed the free market, I doubt the present crisis will do likewise.

    But really, I want to point out something that really should be obvious, a lot of people miss entirely: government ownership of the means of production is not ownership of the means of production by the people. It is ownership by the government, which even in a democracy, means ownership by the permanent bureaucracy.

  • c-kingsley

    Continuing with corrections, Hitler was not a Catholic, was not a Christian. According to Joseph Goebbels’ diary in 1939: “The Führer is deeply religious, but deeply anti-Christian. He regards Christianity as a symptom of decay.” He publicly spoke positively of Christianity, possibly for political purposes. In addition, it has been demonstrated that much of the “evidence” of Pope Pius XII “support” for Hitler was a fabrication backed by the USSR, as their documents on the matter have been released to the public. Documents released in 1998 by Cornell University from the Nuremberg Trials revealed Nazi plans to exterminate Christianity at the end of World War II (see http://library.lawschool.cornell.edu/WhatWeHave/SpecialCollections/Donovan/index.cfm ). Not exactly your good Catholic boy, in spite of what some internet nut jobs say.

    Stalin did attend the Georgian Orthodox Seminary of Tiflis, to which he received a scholarship. He became an atheist in his first year there (good job teachers!). Like Hitler, he used religious organizations at times (like WWII) for political purposes. During the 1930′s, however, he persecuted the churches in Russia, nearly eliminating them. Not exactly your good christian boy, either.

    I sure am glad we stole all that oil from Iraq, too. How much did we get?

    I don’t know why anyone would hope that state ownership of the means of production, socialism, would be successful for us. It has failed in every other place it has been attempted, usually impoverishing and starving the people who have been forced to suffer under it. We’ll just have to try one more time, because THIS time, we’ll have the anointed one to run things.

  • noelfitz

    Plowshare

    many thanks for your charitable posts.

    We really agree on the important things, our faith.

    Other issues are debatable and matters of opinion.

    Noelfitz.

  • http://cradlerocker624.blogspot.com/ madhattertea

    Stalin and Hitler both renounced their Christian upbringing quite publicly. Hitlers master race eugenics obsession is linked directly with his embracing completely German Neo-Paganism.

    Stalin was famous for saying there was ‘no God’. he was an avowed atheist.

    These are facts.

    madeline

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