Is there just one God? Or are there many deities, both personal and impersonal?
Take a moment to consider what you know of the major worldviews. What do you notice, no matter how limited your knowledge may be? They’re all different.
Each religion or philosophy provides different answers to the basic big questions of life: What is true? Why are we here? What happens when we die?
And, of course, each worldview has a different answer to the question of God—or is it gods? How many are there, anyway? One? Three? One hundred? Six thousand?
Philosophy—as the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence—tries to help us make sense of these worldviews. Logic helps us organize our observations and pay attention to defining our terms. On the subject of deities alone, we step into a realm of intricate terms. “Monotheism” seems simple enough: monos (single) + theos (god) = monotheism, a belief in only one God.
But the “-isms” don’t stop there.1 When we’re finally done just defining terms, often only cynicism remains
In his essay on pantheism, one philosopher refreshingly admits that it’s complicated.
Another has found it expedient to distill worldviews into three distinct groups: 1) those who believe all that exists came from absolutely nothing; those who believe existence had some kind of impersonal beginning (like mass, energy, or motion); and 3) those who believe in a personal beginning to all things.
But even these attempts to simplify serve only to make us more aware of the complex nature of this topic.
At a Glance
The five major worldviews—religions or philosophies—are atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Below is an outline of each worldview’s general conclusion regarding God or gods and the nature (or purpose) of existence.
Atheism states that the origin of existence is impersonal. No personal being, such as a god, caused any part of the material world to exist; there is no spiritual world.
This system of thought is not a religion, and no set practices or specific texts define this worldview. Rather, the various philosophers and scientists who hold to atheism help to give it a recognizable shape.
Atheists generally regard the world from a purely material or naturalistic standpoint, often arguing that there was less-organized matter (or energy or motion) that gradually became more organized and complex, thus creating our world.5 The impersonal caused the personal (e.g., humans now have a self-will).
According to Buddhism, our existence will be characterized by suffering as long as man has desires,which are functions of the ego or the individual, subjective person (a trait of the personal). For his suffering to end, man must escape the personal and achieve Nirvana.
Nirvana is a state of complete loss of self and connection to all things in the universe: one is all and all is one. The origin of life is impersonal, as is its end goal of Nirvana. Buddhism is known as non-theistic.
One of three prehistoric religions still practiced in modern times, Hinduism reflects the very nature of the culture to which it belongs.7 The Hindu worldview reveres unity amidst diversity, and it has happily absorbed gods, practices, and insights from other traditions.8 It blends aspects of the personal and the impersonal.
Hinduism is a polytheistic worldview with a pantheon of gods (which rank as greater and lesser gods, incarnations, and manifestations)—all expressions of Oneness.
The belief in one eternal, omnipotent, transcendent God (Allah) is the foundational tenet of Islam. “Muslims believe in one God who created the universe and has power over everything within it. He is unique . . . [and] cannot be compared to His creation. . . . The ultimate purpose of all creation is to submit to Him.
The Islamic understanding of God is distinct from all other religions and beliefs in various respects since it is based on a pure and clear understanding of monotheism.”10 While the Qur’an mentions other “gods,”
these are understood as wholly undeserving of worship; they are manmade rather than truly existent. Islam claims to be the purest form of monotheism
The most pervasive organized religion, Christianity has its roots in Judaism. Deuteronomy 6:4—a verse of scripture within both Judaism and Christianity—states, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” As in Islam, within Christianity, God is revealed as preexistent, self-existent, eternal, holy, omnipotent, and transcendent.12 However,
Christianity—which identifies as a monotheistic religion—adds a unique understanding of the way God reveals his character and nature: the Trinity. According to the doctrine of the Trinity, God is three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Through this display of his relational nature, God reveals his immanence (ability to be experienced or known). God is therefore both personal and knowable.
The Trinity: The Mystery of Christian Monotheism
The mystery of the Trinity seems to defy all logic and reasoning. How can anyone be both three and one? Many attempts have been made by theologians to illustrate the concept.
The Trinity is like a clover, one has said: three petals, one stalk.14 Another illustration is attributed to C. S. Lewis, who said the three dimensions of space—length, width, and height—which all exist in the same space, yet are distinctly different illustrate this mystery more clearly.
Even in logic we have a way to describe this conundrum. To understand the type of unity that exists in the Godhead, we would realize it is not 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, but 1 × 1 × 1 = 1.15 But we need more than just logic and reasoning to convince us.
Another mysterious tri-unity may be found in man himself: the inextricable natures of mind, heart, and body. The Christian God meets us in each of our human dimensions. The Christian God is the only God who has revealed himself as relational in his essence; as another author wrote, “God is love.”16
When we look at the Bible, we see the relational history of God and man. God created man in his image.17 Man, when given a choice, rebelled.18 God’s nature (love) compelled him to restore the relationship with man through the most famous redemptive act of all history.19 He willingly tore himself apart, defying all reason, to reconcile his people and his creation to himself.
Though transcendent (far and beyond knowing), he allowed himself to draw immanent (near and knowable).20 The apex of the Christian story is the sacrificial work of the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, and the ultimate sign of his divinity—the resurrection. In this story, God himself suffered death in order to break its power.
It is a good exercise of the mind to try to discern the nuances of meanings and the cognitive facts regarding the supernatural. Our minds hunger for reason and explanations—understanding is deeply satisfying, and logic is a tool we can use to gain that understanding.
But it is not cool logic alone that wins us over. It is not merely a study of probabilities that convinces us. It is relationship, founded on the work of redemption. This haunts both heart and mind, giving each personal journey—as well as all of history—great purpose and meaning.
It is the God of the Bible who speaks to the deepest needs of heart, soul, and mind. The personal, loving God of Christianity reaches out to each of us individually, offering us a personal, direct relationship.
Ultimately, neither you nor I can prove or disprove the existence of the Christian God or any of the gods espoused by the various religions. We can only continue to pursue knowledge and understanding. We must follow the evidence we encounter with an open mind and an unassuming heart in the strong hope that “truth will out!”
Proof #28 - Notice how many gods you reject2>
There are literally thousands of religions being practiced today. Here are 20 of the most popular, along with an estimate of the number of followers:
Christianity: 2.1 billionIslam: 1.3 billion Hinduism: 900 million Chinese traditional religion: 394 million Buddhism: 376 million African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million Sikhism: 23 million Juche: 19 million Spiritism: 15 million Judaism: 14 million Baha'i: 7 million Jainism: 4.2 million Shinto: 4 million Cao Dai: 4 million Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million Tenrikyo: 2 million Neo-Paganism: 1 million Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand Rastafarianism: 600 thousand Scientology: 500 thousand
If you believe in God, you have chosen to reject Allah, Vishnu, Budda, Waheguru and all of the thousands of other gods that other people worship today.
It is quite likely that you rejected these other gods without ever looking into their religions or reading their books. You simply absorbed the dominant faith in your home or in the society you grew up in.
In the same way, the followers of all these other religions have chosen to reject God. You think their gods are imaginary, and they think your God is imaginary.
In other words, each religious person on earth today arbitrarily rejects thousands of gods as imaginary, many of which he/she has never even heard of, and arbitrarily chooses to "believe" in one of them.
The following quote from Stephen F. Roberts sums up the situation very nicely:
"I contend that 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."
A rational person rejects all human gods equally, because all of them are equally imaginary. How do we know that they are imaginary? Simply imagine that one of them is real.
If one of these thousands of gods were actually real, then his followers would be experiencing real, undeniable benefits. These benefits would be obvious to everyone.
The followers of a true god would pray, and their prayers would be answered. The followers of a true god would therefore live longer, have fewer diseases, have lots more money, etc. There would be thousands of statistical markers surrounding the followers of a true god.
Everyone would notice all of these benefits, and they would gravitate toward this true god. And thus, over the course of several centuries, everyone would be aligned on the one true god. All the other false gods would have fallen by the wayside long ago, and there would be only one religion under the one true god.
When we look at our world today, we see nothing like that. There are two billion Christians AND there are more than one billion Muslims, and their religions are mutually exclusive.
There are thousands of other religions. When you analyse any of them, they all show a remarkable similarity -- there is zero evidence that any of these gods exist. That is how we know that they are all imaginary
You will frequently hear believers make the following rationalization:
Suppose you are right. Suppose there is no God. Then when I die as a believer, I have lost nothing. I just die, as a man that devoted his life to love and morals. But if you, as a non-believer, are wrong and I am right, you have to spend an eternity in hell. See, I have nothing to lose, but you have everything to lose.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that there are thousands of gods that humans have imagined. A person who believes in Allah can make this statement, and so can a person who believes in God, and so can a person who believes in Vishnu.
The fact is that religion is a form of delusion. By believing in an imaginary god, you have not "lost nothing." What you have done is commited yourself to a lifetime of delusion, instead of commiting your life to reality. Non-believers live moral and loving lives without having to resort to delusion.
The fact that there are so many gods proves that all of these gods are imaginary. If there actually were an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving "god" in any form, that would be obvious to everyone and we would all align on him. His existence would be undeniable and impossible to hide.
Ideas of love within religion are usually driven by one of two mythologies – either a personal God who commands love or a mystical God of ineffable love – but both are inadequate for motivating love of neighbour.
The first tends towards legalism and the second offers no cognitive guidance. The situation is further complicated by there being different understandings of love of neighbour in the various Abrahamic religions, as exemplified in the approaches of two philosophers,
Søren Kierkegaard and Emmanuel Levinas. A better approach is therefore to explore actual practices of love in everyday life, and to discover how love might be performed openly and creatively.
One such practice is recognition of vulnerability, and this too is often driven by a mythology,
in this case one marked by fear, and by a violence either imposed or avoided. One paradigmatic example is the vulnerability felt by speakers, especially women, in front of an audience.
A turning from wilful ignorance of vulnerability and a turning to reliance on collective work, modelled on an awareness of mutual vulnerability and openness to the unknown, will help to change our philosophical and social imaginary.
The dark myth of vulnerability can be transformed into finding opportunities in vulnerability for openness to affection and so to an enhancement of life. It is only from the perspective of this new imaginary,
and from everyday practices of it, that the double love-command – love of God and love of neighbour – will function as any kind of common ground between religions
M I Ro