"I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
“We are all atheists, some of us just believe in fewer gods than others."
Christians today might say, I don't believe in Zeus, that was a silly superstition. Yet for many people that was a real god. So it turns out there are 10,000 gods and yet only one right one. That means we're all atheists on 9,999 gods. The only difference between me and the believers is I'm an atheist on one more god.
When you think about it, monotheism is indeed a pretty crazy idea. To wit, there’s a guy in the sky who is a person like us, but with vastly greater powers. Do what he says, and you’ll enjoy a good life and ever better afterlife. Cross the dude, and there will be hell to pay.
James Foley says, “Enough with the ‘One God’ stuff.” His cautionary essay makes good sense. The exclusiveness of monotheism leads to nasty competition between religions, each of which believes that they know what the One True God wants.
Here in the high-tech futuristic 21st century, the punitive, vengeful, sky god is as strong and legitimate as he's been in a long time. Modernity, it turns out, was no cure for monotheism. If anything, it increases extremism, especially -- but never only -- among the dispossessed. And now in the Middle East we have the volatile blend of pissed-off Jews, Muslims, and Christians, each convinced they possess an a iron-clad mandate from their one and only angry god.But it isn’t only the big three Western religions who preach an exclusive brand of monotheism. Yesterday the October newsletter from Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) came in the mail. I’ve been associated with this India-based group for many years. For a long time I enjoyed feeling that, as a RSSB initiate, I was one of God’s chosen people.
However, now the exclusiveness of the Sant Mat philosophy strikes me as both metaphysically unlikely and psychologically unhealthy. Here’s what Vincent Savarese wrote about spiritual truth in the newsletter:
The Guru who unveils this truth to the world may be a boy, a man, a woman, an aged sage. It is God Himself who decides what messenger to send…After fifteen hundred years later [after the time of Jesus], Guru Nanak Dev spoke of God the Creator as Truth and that Truth is revealed through the grace of the Guru.
Well, maybe. I don’t know. But it is clear to me that if you believe (1) there is only one true God, (2) this God decides who is going to be His messenger, (3) you’ve been taken under this wing of that special mediator between humanity and divinity, then (4) you’re going to feel damn special.
And therein lies the rub of monotheism. Virtually every form of spirituality that I’m aware of advises that an excessively enlarged ego keeps us from feeling connected to the larger reality that surrounds us. Yet each monotheistic religion feeds that sense of separateness by teaching believers, “We’ve got an exclusive connection with God. How special we are!”
Monism, a belief that there is only one fundamental impersonal foundation of reality, avoids most of the problems of monotheism. A monist considers that there is something more to the cosmos than what most of us are aware of now: unity. Yet obviously the One can’t be exclusive.
As Foley points out in his essay, polytheism, a belief in many gods, also is psychologically and societally healthier than monotheism. If there are lots of gods hanging out together, as the Greeks, Roman, Egyptians, and Hindus believed, then these multiple divinities serve as checks and balances on each other. A devotee of Minerva doesn’t consider that she has a monopoly on the truth, like a follower of Jesus does.
So I’ll take my spirituality monotheism-free, thank you. Hold the big guy in the sky and give me an extra helping of humility, openness, and pluralism. I’ll believe in One God when the evidence of his/her/its existence is indisputable.