Anthropologists in recent times have made two startling discoveries regarding ancient man. The first is that humanity, in fact, traces its origins to a single human couple – a primeval “Adam and Eve” so to speak. From this first human couple descends modern man. The second amazing fact is that the first generations of man were monotheistic, meaning they believed in a single God. There are few extra-biblical accounts of how the first humans worshiped the one God but we do know that they believed in one God.
Religion today is roughly divided into four groups: monotheism, pantheism, polytheism, and the primal religions of tribal peoples. Though this last group is chock full of myths, superstitions, and generally irrational beliefs, it proves the point that man is by nature a religious being. Man must find some place, plan, and purpose in the cosmos in order to live and thrive. Primal religions gave this on a basic level, attributing to local deities the many wonders of nature. This is the form of religion that the scientific method was supposed to rid the world of. We needn’t think some evil spirit is behind the springtime floodwaters when we understand that they are caused by the melting of mountaintop snow. Neither should read the stars in search of good or bad omens. Yet this particular example is clearly demonstrated by many through the popularity of astrology and other superstitious readings in the modern West. Why would we reach out for such nonsense when we have the scientific method to give us mathematical certainties? The answer lies in the aforementioned fact that man is a religious being. Many people have left the “organized” religions of their youth, skipping church to live the “free” life – only to find themselves in a quest for some higher guiding principle. The rise of astrology in the West’s ever-growing secularism shows how right was G.K. Chesterton when he said: “A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything.” Some may say “God is dead” but the existence of man’s primal religious instinct teaches otherwise.
The rise of the polytheism (which is really one step up from the primal religions in that it is a far more organized system of many deities who control nature and the fates of men) and pantheism stem from the question: can God get lonely? This question, by the way, is a wholly legitimate question that even children ask. Most of the time orthodox parents reply with the non-answer: “We shouldn’t ask such questions, just have faith.” Other parents, whose ideas have been shaped by secular culture say: “Of course God gets lonely, that’s why he made you and me!” Neither answer is acceptable, though in this case a non-answer would be better than a wrong answer. It’s better for a child to look to faith than to a belief which denies God’s omnipotence, for if God needed us then He is obviously not all-powerful!
Polytheism and pantheism are two seemingly logical answers to the above question. Like monotheism, both assume that God does not get lonely – but their answers are radically different. Before we begin, however, it is important to identify the two theological factors which give us the problem in the first place. These are: God oneness and God’s personhood. The first humans believed in a single and personal God. The problem of loneliness – for anyone – simply means that a person is alone, which in turn causes a bad case of loneliness. Now apply this to a God Who must face an eternity of solitude and we have one major theological mess. The key to understanding polytheism and pantheism is to see that each tackles one of the two theological factors, accepting one while denying the other.
For the polytheist, God does not get lonely because God is not one but many. The gods are powerful persons in control of everything with which humans interact. Polytheists, to some extent, understood that if we are personal beings, God must in some sense be personal as well. God can’t give what He doesn’t have – and at the same time, an impersonal universe cannot create a race of personal beings. Personality must go “all the way up” but in this case God is split into many gods in order to keep Him from eternal loneliness.
Coming Soon: Answers from Pantheism and Monotheism