Monotheism is the problem
In terms of a viral meme, one that infects carriers and propagates at a quick rate, monotheism has to rank as perhaps the most active and, in my opinion, the most damaging belief system ever. It currently infects, in various forms, over a third of the world’s population, and perhaps more than half—I have trouble keeping up with the numbers of Christian, Muslims, Jews and other monotheists around the world.
The elegance of monotheism is its simplicity—if there is one Supreme God (or Goddess, or Spirit, or Life Force, etc.), then there is no need for competing viewpoints. It’s a simple dichotomy—there is God and there is the Other, and if you are a follower of God, then the Other is necessarily in opposition to you. Black/White. Yes/No. One/Zero. Off/On.
But the fact is that we live in a world that throws multiple perspectives at us every second of every day, and people who have been trained to look at the world from a monotheistic perspective are often ill-prepared to deal with the inevitable confrontations that arise from clashes between free individuals. After all, if there’s only one true, all-powerful God who wants His worshippers to worship in one particular way, then there’s never any reason to examine alternate points of view in any depth.
Given that, and given the fact that monotheistic thinking pervades such a large section of the population, I think it’s amazing that we’ve managed to do as well as we have over the last ten thousand years or so.
Early Christianity is interesting to study, because it’s a case of what happens when a polytheistic society becomes overrun by monotheism. Even the early Christian churches—and it’s important to remember that the period between the time Jesus walked the earth and the ascension of the Catholic Church to its place as the state religion of Rome was filled with schism and division—were, in some ways, polytheistic. There was God the Father of the Old Testament, Jesus the Son (with all manner of discussion about his divinity or lack thereof) who was a god in his own right, the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, plus all the minor spirit creatures of the Jewish tradition. The bloodiest fights in that period were over, as I understand it, the most effective way to merge Jesus into God the Father, and go from a polytheistic belief to a monotheistic. Lots of people were killed over that argument.
And the “Jesus is God” people have won that argument so completely that in evangelical churches today, God the Father is practically non-existent. It’s all Jesus, all the time. But it’s not the Jesus of the gospels—it’s the Old Testament, raging with fire and brimstone, go out and kill some heathens Jehovah with a new name (and according to Tim LaHaye, a penchant for white Hummers and automatic weapons).
They’ve also won in the political realm, as Kevin Phillips points out in American Theocracy. The similarities between the modern Republican party and the fundamentalist church are striking. Both look to a single head whose will cannot be questioned, because questioning is disloyal. Both set up a strict hierarchy and have little room for individuality. And most telling, to me anyway, both place a stronger emphasis on what they believe than on what is factually accurate.
I have more to say on this, but putting this together has already taken more time than I like to admit, so I’m posting this now and seeing if it gets any reaction.