Once man became aware of his mortality, he required answers. He wanted to know why he was here, where he came from, was there nothing more? He observed wondrous things throughout nature from the earth to the skies and concluded that some one or some thing was responsible for it. Shamans and priests arose to help answer the questions. In the beginning there was one God or Creator, but as populations grew and expanded across the globe, traditions changed and multiple gods appeared. All the great ancient civilizations were polytheistic in nature. They were powerful and dominated the civilized world. But things were about to change.
From Many Gods Back to One, Sort of
Monotheism reclaimed center stage with the appearance of Judaism. The Israelites became united under their god, Yahweh. Through oral and written accounts to the Ten Commandments rendered to Moses, Judaism became a regional institution.
Some monotheistic gods were simply the creator, neither good nor bad, while some were explicitly moral and benevolent. The Jewish god appears to be both, being kind and wise but also showing a streak of vengeance. He was a jealous God with no tolerance for idolatry. He was responsible for more than one city’s demise. His motives were varied from Jericho, where he led the Israelites to victory, to Sodom and Gomorrah where the wickedness became insufferable. A curious aspect of Yahweh was that He seldom made personal appearances since the Garden of Eden. Instead, he sent messengers or angels to deliver messages or destruction with the exception of Moses to whom He personally gave the Ten Commandments atop Mount Sinai. It was as if He didn’t want to be seen as a destructive force. A particularly strange case involved Lucifer, God, and a man named Job. According to legend Lucifer was an archangel who eventually rose against God and was condemned to Hell. But in Job’s case he was able to wager that he could shake Job’s faith. God consented with some rules. Lucifer caused all kinds of unimaginable suffering to Job and his family, but Job, although rattled and angry, kept the faith. It is not my intention to question the Bible, but there could have been easier, less harmful ways to test Job’s faith. The point being while Lucifer carried out the deeds, God allowed it.
The angels of Judaism are extremely powerful creatures, and there are many. In an attempt to portray God as moral and benevolent, the bad things have been delegated to the angels. Since the angelic war that caused Lucifer to be cast down, all evil has been attributed to him. God just allows it. So a good question to bring to bear is, have angels replaced the aspects and lesser gods of earlier times?
Along about 2000 years ago another religion sprang from Judaism with the coming of Jesus of Nazareth. To the Hebrews he was a heretic; to the emerging Christians he was the promised messiah. He would inspire a religion that would dominate the western world for centuries to come.
Since Christianity is rooted in Judaism, many aspects and traits are shared. There is one god, Yahweh or Jehovah; the Old Testament is shared, as are the angels, the good and bad.
But along came Jesus with a new message of love and tolerance. It’s almost like God was wanting His people’s belief system to evolve. The religious authorities of the time rejected His new teachings, because it eroded their power structure, branded Him a blasphemer, and convinced the Romans to have Him crucified, falling right into the Christians’ hands. It was the resurrection that was the cornerstone of the new religion.
There is another new aspect brought into play by Christianity that has been settled presumably, but is debated in some circles. The Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit has brought up the question of whether Christianity is a true monotheism, or is it a religious triumvirate?
Arguments for one God, the traditional view, say they are three different aspects of the one God. Dissenters claim they are separate entities. They point out that Jesus called out on the cross, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” If They were one and the same, the Father couldn’t have forsaken the Son. Reasonable. Another clue could be found in the creation account. When God endeavors to make man, He says, “Let Us make man in Our own image.” Everything is plural.
Regardless, it has been traditionally accepted as a monotheistic religion and has, after two thousand years, encompassed most of the known world.
Next: Wars and Rumors of Wars