02 June 2022


MONOTHEIST mɑ.nə'θi.ɪst adjective. Believes there’s only one god.
2. Believes there are various beings called “gods,” but one of them is mightier than the rest, and only that one is worthy of worship (or to be recognized as the capital-G “God”).
[Monotheism mɑ.nə'θi.ɪz.əm noun, monotheistic mɑ.nə.θi'ɪst.ɪk] adjective.

Most of the pagans I encounter believe in God, in one form or another; very few are nontheist. Oh, they may not be religious at all… towards God, anyway. They’ll get fully religious when it comes to sports, politics, music, or whatever their favorite recreational activities might be; they simply worship weed, fr’instance. God, not so much.

But when you talk to ’em about God at all, by and large they figure there’s only one God.

Most of that is because of western culture. There’s a lot of Christianity and Judaism in European history, and both these religions insist upon one God… so yeah, the idea works for them too: One God. Or they have a middle eastern background, and Muslims are most definitely monotheist, so they are too. Or they’ve dabbled in eastern cultures, and picked up a few Hindu and Buddhist ideas, and even though there are thousands of gods in Hinduism, the branches of Hinduism which have really caught on in the United States have been the ones which emphasize pantheism, the idea the universe is God. Well there’s only one universe (although they might recognize there’s a multiverse), so in their minds there’s also only one God.

I have found it extremely rare to find a pagan who believes in multiple gods. Oh, there are some—like the capital-P Pagans who are trying to bring back pre-Christian European religions, and deliberately have multiple gods. Or the Yoruba gods, or the Chinese folk religion’s ancestors, or old-school Hindus of Indian descent who don’t care what Oprah Winfrey’s favorite Hindus teach about pantheism; they have straight-up multiple gods, and worship a few favorites.

But my experience is not the baseline for humanity. For that, you need proper stats taken by proper scientists… so I found a report by the Pew Research Center in 2017. They figured as of 2015, Christians are the largest religious group, at 31.2 percent of the earth’s 7.3 billion people; followed by Muslims, unaffiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religion, and other religions. (Jews made up 0.01 percent of the world’s population.) Put the Christians and Muslims together, and this means 55.3 percent of humanity—more than half—is definitely monotheist.

Monotheistic religions.

Whenever people talk about monotheists, they tend to talk about the three biggest Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But I’m gonna point out they’re hardly the only monotheists. Lots of other religious have likewise discovered, or concluded, there’s only one God.

Religious scholars are still debating whether

  • humanity started with one God, and devolved into multiple gods, or
  • humanity started with animism and ancestor worship, and as we got sophisticated we evolved into polytheism, then henotheism, then monotheism.

I lean towards the first idea. ’Cause we’re seeing examples of it right now. Look at the way Americans depict White Jesus—how they imagine he votes, what he loves versus what he hates, and how rich we wants to make us. Then compare the American idea with the ways other cultures imagine Jesus. Does he even look like the same Jesus at all? Hardly. If we weren’t all calling him Jesus, we might suspect we were talking about entirely different people.

Same deal with ancient cultures and God. You get Grunt’s tribe claiming he’s the greatest warrior; Ugh’s tribe says he’s a bright light in the sky; Duh’s tribe talks about her as a kindly old grandma; Snort’s tribe says he controls the weather. Once Grunt’s tribe comes and conquers them all, you get four different people-groups with four very different-sounding ideas of God… which can easily be mistaken for four gods (and Grunt’s god sounds strongest, so he must be the king-god). Keep interacting with different cultures, and your pantheon’s gonna grow bigger and bigger.

Three religions—JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, and SAMARITANISM—descended from the original Hebrew religion of Yahwism, the worship of the LORD as defined through his relationships with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Samaritans evolved on their own after northern Israel was exiled by Assyria in the late 700s, and grew distinctly apart from the returning Yahwists, who split into Sadducee and Pharisee sects.

When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70, Samaritans, Pharisees, and Christians were the only Yahwist sects left, and we evolved into our own religions. Judaism took the Mishna, a second-century collection of rulings and teachings of Pharisee rabbis, and made them their primary way to interpret the Law. Later they wrote the Gemara, a commentary on the Mishna (really two of them, one from Jerusalem in the 300s, and one from Babylon in the 500s). Both Mishna and the Babylonian Gemara make up the Talmud. Add various traditions taught by the medieval rabbis, and you have today’s Judaism.

ISLAM began with Muhammed ibn Abdullah of Mecca, a trader in the 600s who interacted with both Jews and Christians, wasn’t sure which of us was correct, so he sought his own visions, which sent him a whole other direction. He was commanded by an angel (he claimed it was Gabriel; Christians doubt this) to write down his revelations, which became the Quran. Add the sunnah, or traditions about Muhammad, and you have the main texts of Islam.

Offshoots of Islam include the MANDAEANS, a gnostic group who sees John the baptist as their greatest prophet; BAHÁ’IS, who insist God is one—and humanity is one, and religion is one; and DRUZE, who also believe in reincarnation. Offshoots of Christianity include RASTAFARIANS, who believe Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is the second coming of Christ; and UNITARIANS, who believe in one God but don’t believe Jesus is he.

SIKHISM is a monotheistic religion founded in the early 1500s by Guru Nanak in Punjab.

SEICHŌ-NO-IE is a New Thought religion founded in 1930 by Masaharu Taniguchi in Japan.

And other monotheistic religions arose over time. Like the Himba people’s worship of Mukuru, the Algonquian and Lakota worship of the Great Spirit, and in ancient times, the Chinese worship of Shangdi and Egyptian worship of Aten are obvious forms of monotheism.

Same God?

Of course the obvious question arises: These different religions all worship one God… but are they worshiping the same God? Or does each religion have a wholly different god—and from our perspective as Christians, a false god?

It’s debatable. And we really do debate it. Some folks are gonna say yes, of course they’re the same God; it’s just the other religions have him very, very wrong. (And some, like the Bahá’i, aren’t gonna say the other religions have him wrong; just that they have a different point of view. Be open-minded, people, wouldya?) Others are gonna insist none of them are the same God; we have the right God, and the rest of them are worshiping false gods.

And some of ’em are gonna pick and choose which religions have right or wrong gods. I know plenty of Evangelicals who firmly believe Jews and Christians worship the same God… but Muslims worship a whole other god. And some of ’em will go so far as to say Roman Catholics worship a whole other god too—as do Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and pretty much every church and religion they don’t like. It’s based on prejudices and little else.

What do the scriptures say? Well, when people in the bible got God wrong, he sent ’em prophets to correct them. When Pharisees got God wrong, Jesus didn’t denounce them as following another god; he said they’re following the right God, but in the wrong way.

Heck, when Paul encountered the Athenians, who worshiped all sorts of gods, he took the tack that at least one of the gods in their pantheon was the right guy:

Acts 17.22-29 NET
22 So Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. 26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move about and exist, Epimenides, Kritiká as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Aratus, Fainómena 29 So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination.”

Y’notice Paul actually corrected their views about God by quoting their own guys. (Bible quotes wouldn’t really have worked on them anyway.) But following Paul’s lead, it used to be a common Christian tactic to identify which god in a pagan culture was most like God as we knew him, and try to lead them to the true God by correcting their beliefs.

One of the fascinating things missionaries and anthropologists keep noticing about pagans who worship a bunch of gods: All of ’em know deep down there’s a highest god. Not necessarily the king of their gods, like Ra, Zeus or Odin: One higher than even the king-god. One the gods themselves worship. One above any of the gods they worship, who’s behind everything, who created the heavens and earth. In the bible, pagans call him “the Most High.” Da 3.26, 4.25 Every culture has a concept of this Highest God. They just don’t always talk about him: They don’t know anything about him, think he’s beyond them, and they’re too busy worshiping lesser gods. But they know he exists.

Now, is this common belief in a Highest God a trick of the devil, in order to get people to worship that god instead of the One God? Or is the Highest God none other than the One God?

Well, if you’re to believe the folks who insist Allah’s not God, the pagans’ “highest god” is really just Satan itself. But this isn’t at all what Paul taught. Paul told the Athenians this Highest God was his God, the Father of Jesus. They didn’t know this God; they believed wrongly about him; Paul was here to fix their false beliefs. Right God, wrong ideas.

And that’s what Islam is. Right God, wrong ideas. The Muslims are entirely correct when they say there’s no God but Allah. Where they go wrong is Muhammad didn’t describe him accurately: Allah does so have a son. Namely Jesus.

The world isn’t filled with thousands of gods, trying to trick humanity into worshiping them instead of the LORD. There’s one God, over all… and billions of wrong beliefs about him. These wrong beliefs drive wedges between people and God, and sometimes lead people to other gods. So we need to help them, and God, knock the wedges out of the way by introducing them to Jesus, the only one who can wholly straighten us out of those false beliefs.