Monotheism Definition in Religion

Monotheism is belief in a single God

Green crucifix in a Bible open to John 1:1
Christianity is an example of a monotheistic religion.

 

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Monotheism is a religion or belief system that involves a single God. Monotheists believe that this omnipotent, omniscient, ultimately good being is the creative ground for everything else. The monotheistic religions include the world's largest religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism.

Monotheism Definition

The word "monotheism" comes from the Greek monos, which means "one," and theos, which means "god." The concept differs from polytheism, a belief in the existence of many gods, and atheism, the belief that there is no god.

The monotheistic god is believed to be unique and fundamentally different from all other comparable beings, such as the gods of other religions. The concept differs from monism, the doctrine that the universe originated in one basic principle, such as the mind, indicating idealism, or matter, referring to materialism. Monism holds that there is only one kind of reality, while monotheism has two realities: God and the universe.

Monotheism vs. Polytheism

Philosophers and scholars debate the merits of monotheism and polytheism. One of the weaknesses they identify with polytheism involves questions about the ultimate origin of things in situations where numerous gods are included. Monotheism runs into difficulties, scholars say, as it tries to explain the origin of evil in a universe overseen by a single omnipotent, omniscient god.

Various theologians and philosophers have offered that monotheism is a later development in the history of religions than polytheism. Some argue that polytheistic faiths were more primitive culturally, ethically, and philosophically, making monotheism a "higher" form of religion because it's a refinement of polytheistic religions. Although polytheistic beliefs might be older than monotheistic concepts, this view is heavily value-laden and can't readily be disentangled from cultural and religious bias.

Origin of Monotheism

The origin of monotheism is unclear. The first recorded monotheistic system arose in Egypt during the time of Akhenaten, who ruled in the 13th century BCE, but it didn't survive long after his death. Some suggest that Moses brought monotheism to the ancient Hebrews, though he might have been henotheistic or monolatrous, meaning worshiping one god without denying the existence of others.

Some evangelical Christians regard Mormonism as a modern example of monolatry because Mormonism teaches the existence of many gods of many worlds, yet worships only one on this planet.

Because the primary religions of Western culture are monotheistic, there no longer is much debate in the West about the attributes of monotheism vs. polytheism. The choice that remains is between monotheism and atheism. 

The Main Monotheistic Religions

Because monotheism believes that there is only one god, it is common for believers to think this god created all of reality and is totally self-sufficient, without depending upon any other beings. This is true in the largest monotheistic religious systems: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism.

Most monotheistic systems tend to be exclusive, meaning that they don't simply believe in a single god; they also deny the existence of the gods of other religious faiths. Occasionally a monotheistic religion treats other gods as aspects or incarnations of their one, supreme god; this is relatively infrequent and has occurred mostly during a transition between polytheism and monotheism when the older gods must be explained away.

Because of this exclusivity, monotheistic religions have historically displayed less religious tolerance than polytheistic religions, which have been able to incorporate the gods and beliefs of other faiths with relative ease. Monotheistic religions have only done so while denying any reality or validity to the others' beliefs.

Types of Monotheistic Gods

The type of god worshiped in a monotheistic system varies greatly. The God of Islam is depicted as unbegotten—meaning unborn, self-existent, and eternal—and in no way anthropomorphic. Attributing human qualities to Allah is considered blasphemous in Islam. On the other hand, the Christian God is very anthropomorphic, with God the Father and God the Son as part of three persons (including the Holy Spirit) in one God.

Scholars and Philosophers Say Monotheism:

  • Is a religion or belief system that involves a single God.
  • Focuses on a god, not a basic principle.
  • Has alternatives including polytheism, a belief in many gods, and atheism, a belief there is no god.
  • Isn't necessarily a "higher" or more evolved religion than polytheism.
  • Might have originated in the 13th century BCE in Egypt.
  • Is exclusive, meaning that adherents deny the existence of other gods.
  • Has different versions of its god among monotheistic faiths.

Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/monotheism

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/monotheism/#KabMon

http://www.humanreligions.info/monotheism.html