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Friday, May 18, 2012

Under One God: The Legacy of Monotheism

Simply put, monotheism is the belief in the existence of a single god, in contrast to polytheism, which is a belief in the existence of many gods.
Until the advent of monotheism, polytheism was the norm among the early civilizations. Civilizations that worshiped many gods were traditionally more accepting and more tolerant of the gods of other people, e.g., the Sumerians, Hittites, etc. (Hittite state documents unearthed by archaeologists often bear the invocation “The Thousand Gods of the Hatti.”) 

The first monotheistic religion may have been the worship of the Sun God Aten in ancient Egypt, which was established by Amenhotep IV (1364-1347 BC).

However, this did not last, as a subsequent pharaoh eradicated the worship of Aten. Then sometime before the 6th century in Persia, Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) founded Zoroastrianism, which many  scholars believe to have influenced the three major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  
Zoroastrianism recognizes one god—Ahura Mazda—as the creator of all things.
One of the symbols of Zoroastrianism
Of course, religious conservatives do not acknowledge the connection between Zoroastrianism and their religion. On the other hand, most religious historians believe that the major religions have their roots in Zoroastrianism. 

Other similarities between Christianity and Zoroastrianism include:
  • Holy Spirit
    Ahura Mazda has a Holy Spirit that sometimes seems to be him and at other times seems to be independent. The Holy Spirit of Christianity has the same characteristics.
  • Saviour
    Christianity has Jesus who was born of a virgin and will return at the end of time to defeat evil and establish his kingdom; Zoroastrianism says that the Saoshyant or saviour will be born of a virgin and will lead humanity in the last battle against evil.
  • The devil
    The Christian Satan parallels the Zoroastrian Ahriman or Angra Mainyu.
  • Angels
  • Archangels
    Christianity has seven archangels; Zoroastrianism has seven Amesha Spenta.
  • Immortality of soul and life after death.
  • Heaven as a place of reward for the righteous, and hell as a place of punishment
  • Resurrection at the end of the world, when the dead revive and the new world will have a fresh life and new beginning.
  • The last judgment

The “us against them” mentality fits beautifully into monotheism’s basic tenet.
It has this deadly formula: since there is only one god, the god (or gods) that other people worship must be false; hence, these other people are unbelievers.
And we all know how the major religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, treated the “unbelievers.” 
Consequently, monotheistic religions are less tolerant, less accepting, of other people’s beliefs.
Accepting the existence of other gods will mean a negation of their own. So for their religion to survive and spread, they have to deny other people’s gods. In so doing, a whole lot of mess is opened—genocide, hatred, intolerance, bigotry, wars, and still more wars.
Religious and political leaders may state that the world may be united under one God, but which God? The divisiveness ingrained in religion will never go away; uniting the world can only result in bloodbath.  
Nothing separates humanity from one another as thoroughly, as completely, as religion.

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