The One and Only
During August we have been discussing the many names for the one deity found in the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths. Monotheism, the belief in just one god rather than the multiple gods and goddesses of previous cultures and belief systems was a huge shift. The word monotheism is, like many others, a combination of two words meaning one and god.
The Abrahamic faiths are not the only monotheistic religions, however. Other examples include Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, and Baha’i Faith, all of which we discusses last December during our Advent series. Monotheism should not be confused with Henotheism which is the belief in one god above other gods that exist.
A recent comment asked if I thought the monotheistic faiths said to be the belief systems of those who trace their lineage from the one man Abraham to be the highest rank on what some have called the evolutionary ladder of religions. It is a most interesting question.
In 1660 Henry More, an English scholar, coined the term “monotheism” as he attempted to organize and categorize the world’s religions. He ended up developing a system that he viewed as an evolution, taking mankind from the beliefs of primitive man to the present day of the seventeenth century in which More lived. His efforts were enhanced by the work of Max Muller in the nineteenth century were felt monotheistic religions such as those of the Abrahamic faiths reflected the advancements of mankind. IN the early twentieth century Wilhelm Schmidt developed what he termed “Ur-monotheism” or original monotheism. Schmidt disagreed with Muller because he felt monotheism to be the original belief system of the earliest mankind which then became eroded or convoluted with the beliefs of several to many deities.
My short answer to the question “Do you consider monotheism to be the top rung of the religious ladder?” is no. But then, I don’t think there is such a ladder nor do I believe any religion would be at the bottom of it. What I do believe is that mankind forms networks, man being a social presence, a social animal if you will. Succinctly put, we are a pack animal; we congregate and like community.
We, meaning mankind, also like to compartmentalize. It helps us keep things straight in our minds, makes our living a little bit neater. And sometimes, we use this habit to gloss over things that confuse or concern us. The Abrahamic faiths were not the first monotheistic religions. We have not accurate records of each culture that has existed in mankind since the beginning of our existence. We cannot even agree on exactly when or what that beginning was so we cannot know everything about it or the people who lived it.
I embarked on this discussion for August, though, because I think in seeing the names of the past that were assigned to this one deity, the god of the mythologies that make up the scriptures and religious writings and stories of these three religions, we have a mirror into ourselves.
The word “holy” is an interesting word. It comes from an Old English word “haleg” meaning “whole”. While it is generally defined as meaning sacred or reverent, the truth is that those beliefs or things which we consider holy are things and beliefs that make us whole. Our word for the one deity today is Elohim Kedoshim, the “Holy God”.
Once many years ago in an English class I was paired with a fellow student and our assignment was to study a list of words – the root words from which they came and their definitions, whether or not the current definition of the word had strayed any from the original meanings of the root words and why we felt such had occurred. My partner was the only student in the school who was openly not religious. His father was a member of a socialist group as well as being the member of a group known for believing one race was superior to all others.
My fellow student was one of the most courteous people I had ever met or have met to this day. Quiet and studious, although not really a nerd or geek or whatever the common terminology for such in your culture is, he was an average student who most likely felt it safer to keep a low profile. We embraced our assignment and were about halfway through the list when I read aloud the next word…incorrectly. I read “holly” and he corrected me, very respectfully, pointing out that our word was “holy”, not “holly”. I remarked that I always got the two words confused and he laughed, saying that he actually thought the two words had a great deal in common.
I really like holly bushes and obviously enjoy discussing all things holy but I must say that I have never really seen a connection between the two. I asked him to explain. Holly bushes, he began, often are characterized by their sharp pointed leaves. I liked the smooth waxy surface of the leaves and their deep, rich color but I admitted that many varieties did have pointed, sharp leaves. Religion, my fellow student explained, seemed a bit sharp and pointy as well.
I would really like to say that I had no idea what my friend was talking about but the truth is religion can be sharp and pointy, especially to those who think differently.. We tend to define “holy” as what we believe and not allow it to include that which others believe. If we go back to the original definition, something completes us is what is holy. We are all unique individuals. What works for one does not always work for another and this is not a sign of one person being more evolved than another. It is simply an indication of our uniqueness. So I have a question for you.
Does your belief system make you whole? Does it complete you? If you’re thinking that it doesn’t, I don’t think the belief system is necessarily wrong. It could be that you are simply not doing it as it could best be lived. Tomorrow we will discuss glory but today just ponder this question: Can you be whole without breaking down another? Can you find glory within yourself and your belief systems while letting others have their glory, their faith?