How Many Gods?

Posted date: 2010-02-13

Posted By : Marc

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are often referred to as the "great Monotheisms." As my familiarity is limited to Christianity, I will not question the other two. But in Christianity, how many gods are there really? Over the centuries, thousands of books and tens of thousands of articles have been written on the triune God (Holy Trinity):


The triune God consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

the dual nature of Jesus:


The God/Man duality, not the God/Sandwich duality

or other variations on that theme.

That ignores, however, the obvious other parties. First, the Commandments inform us that we should have no gods before Jehovah. The implication is that other gods exist, but that Yahweh (Jehovah) is the god of the Hebraic peoples. Aside from Jehovah, the most important god is Satan. Some might argue that Satan is not a god at all. By definition, in fact, he is a devil. No, the Devil. But how do we define a god, and how does this definition differ from that of devil? Wildly disparate definitions exist, but the common usage includes the Abrahamic god, Olympians, Norse gods, and the like. I will define the word "god" for my purposes to be an immortal being capable of influencing the physical world in a way that defies the known laws of physics through mere intention. That is to say, a god can will things to happen without any physical cause. According to the Christian holy book, the powers of Satan are such that he fits comfortably in this category. Even if we ignore the triune god problem, we have at least two gods. But that is far from all. In the modern parlance, any acts in violation of physical laws would be considered miracles. By my definition, then, the saints of the Catholic Church are gods. In fact, many of them quickly became the objects of worship for their similarity to local gods among peoples conquered by Christian armies.

In the early church, Mary was often depicted in art similar to Isis, a popular goddess in the Mediterranean. She also came to be associated with Ephesus, the holy city of Diana (Artemis). From a BBC history of Christianity:

When Christianity was spreading across the Empire, it's clear that it deliberately took images from the pagan world in which it lived and into which it spread and used those images.
In Latin America, Mary quickly assumed a role formerly played by various Mother goddesses in various pantheons. For example, the Aztec or Nahuatl people contributed to the conversion of their own gods into Christian figures:
The wide range of Nahuatl literature on the Virgin shows that, far from some early "syncretic" mixing of Mary with native "goddess" cults, Nahuas were introduced to, and to varying degrees participated in, the full-blown medieval and Renaissance devotion to Mary, adapted into their own language.
It is difficult to divest one's culture of gods that have endured for centuries. We may never be rid of gods altogether, but if we can make a reasoned comparison of modern gods to obsolete gods, we may be able to make progress.

Questioning the monotheism of modern theology isn't enough. A further step in improving society's net adherence to reality is impressing where the modern god concepts fit philosophically.

In this country, the traditional theological discussion begins with the question, “Do you believe in God?” In a way, this is akin to the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” In answering the latter question, one would go out of his way to clarify that he does not now and has never in the past beat his wife. What he is doing is refuting the premise built into the question. The non-theists of the world should take a similar approach to answering the belief question:
Q: “Do you believe in God?”
A: “I do not believe in God.” or “No.”


Q: “Do you believe in God?”
A: “I do not believe in the gods.”


Q: “Do you believe in God?”
A: “I do not believe in gods.” Or “I don’t believe in any gods.”
The semantics are very important here. In the first example, the answer acknowledges the questioners’ god. Even a simple “No.” here is tacit acceptance of the questioner’s god as the god. The second is similar, in that the definite article again accepts the speaker’s premise that his or her set of gods is the set of gods. By using a more general reply stating that you do not believe in gods, you are placing the questioner’s gods on the same level as other gods which he or she would call mythical.

Ultimately modern gods will suffer the same fate as Marduk, Mithras, and Minerva. My goal is to contribute to the acceleration of this process. We are living in exciting times in this regard, but we most not relent. So many reasonable people are so close to abandoning their religions that sometimes all it takes is a calm discussion with a person who has already cast away his shackles.

Author: Larry Wallberg Date: 2010-02-13

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Very nice post. I once asked a similar question about the multiplicity of Christian gods, all masquerading in various guises. So you might find this post entertaining.

H.L. Mencken's essay, "Memorial Service," is right up your alley. If you've never read it, you can find it in his Prejudices: Third Series (pages 232-37). That little article -- today it would probably have been a blogpost -- has been reprinted numerous times, and appeared most recently in Christopher Hitchens's anthology The Portable Atheist. But you can read it for free at Google Books.
Author: marc Date:

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Thanks for that reference, Larry. We live in a great time period when the wisdom of the great works of nearly a century ago may be instantly plucked from the ether.

As for your old post, I do have to disagree with your characterization that
[Satan]’s clearly got the powers of a deity — albeit an evil one
for a couple of reasons:

First, Satan proves the be the truth-teller in the Garden of Eden, and Yahweh the liar. Yahweh did not kill Adam and Eve for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

Second, the worst crime Satan is guilty of is being a jerk to Jesus. Compare that to Yahweh forcing the Jews to completely eradicate the Amalekites, except for the [probably] pre-pubescent girls (seriously, who besides a pre-pubescent girl hadn't already been married off in that barbaric culture?), with whom they could pleasure themselves. Remember, too, that it was ultimately Yahweh who ruined Job's life and killed off his family basically to win a bar bet with Satan.

Third, I can not think of a single evil act by Satan in the entire bible. On the other hand, genocide, human sacrifice, rape, and all other possible forms of evil were perpetrated or ordered directly by Yahweh him(her?)self.

Author: marc Date:

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Good gods, delving deeper into the comments to Quazy Quistian Question #6, everything I said has all been said before. Even the Xtian responses sounded like recycled BS. I suppose that makes me, officially, a hack. Damn.
Author: Larry Wallberg Date: 2010-02-14

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Some hack. You're the only person who has pointed out my mischaracterization of Satan, about which you're completely right. I'll never call Satan "evil" again, until a theist can cite me chapter and verse showing, specifically, his evil acts -- not just some name-calling by the Yahweh fans.

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