Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Are Christians monotheists?

*

No, they are not - certainly they are not; at least, Christians are not monotheists in any way which could be explained to an unsympathetic/ hostile non-Christian, e.g. someone who was a straightforward (non-Trinitarian) monotheist.

*

(Because, if you suppose that hostile critics would be convinced by the one-in-three, three-in-one Athanasian Creed type explanations of why Father Son +/- Holy Ghost are not two or three Gods... then you are mistaken.)

(Since such explanations do not make rational sense, then how and why should anybody who is not already a Christian (of a particularly philosophical mind-set) be convinced by them?)

*

But then there is no scriptural reason why Christians should be monotheists, since the Bible is full of gods, and silent on the subject of monotheism.

Why then the zealous and punitive obsession with proving (by demanding public assent to statements that - even if they were true - are logically self-contradicting and/ or incomprehensible) that Christians are monotheists?

*

The reasons for aggressively asserting the monotheism of Christianity are not scriptural, but (presumably) philosophical - and derive from reading scripture through the lens of fixed prior philosophical assumptions: by insisting that God be fitted-into a preshaped monotheistic mould derived from philosophy, rather than by fitting philosophy around what revelation as transmitted by scripture teaches us concerning the nature of God.

**


Note: I say two or three gods, because I have a hunch that most Trinitarian mainstream Christians do not, in practice, regard the Holy Ghost as a full aspect of the Trinity, that is a personage on a par with God the Father and God the Son - but instead regard Him as the means or mechanism by which the Father and/or Son effect changes among men and on Earth: i.e. more like a physical force than a person. This is promoted by the fact that we do not pray to or on behalf of the Holy Ghost, but ask that the Holy Ghost be sent for our aid and comfort.

*

Further note added 24 July 2013: The point I wish to emphasize is that the way to deal with the question about whether Christians are monotheists is that it does not matter - not in any fundamental sense.

(Or rather it should not matter and if it does, we are in serious trouble).

Christians are what they are - and what they are should be derived from the proper sources: who cares whether what Christians are does, or does not, fit into some definition or other of monotheist?

Christianity fits some definitions of monotheism, it does not fit other definitions - so what? It is not the job of Christianity to fit definitions of monotheism, or any other philosophical category - this debate is not just irrelevant, but actively harmful to the proper understanding of Christian doctrine.

The primary reality of Christianity is personal and narrative - not conceptual. 

12 comments:

  1. In practice I have found this to be true. When I have discussed religion with Muslims they have been vehemently opposed to the idea that Christianity was monotheistic. Some Jews too, though those discussions have only been online.

    The reasons are mostly philosophical, but its also true that while the OT acknowledges the existence of other gods, its pretty emphatic that Jehovah is the only god to worship. So Christians, who worship both the Father and the Son, have a scriptural reason to want to claim them as one God too (though this scriptural reason could be accommodated in other ways if necessary).

    ReplyDelete
  2. @AG - What I get from reading about the tragic Christological disputes which tore up the Christian church in its early centuries is that there was a failure to achieve a philosophical solution; and instead a pragmatic agreement that Christians must publicly profess to a logical paradox.

    This worked as a way of holding together the philosophical factions of what remained of the Christian church - but it is absurd to suggest that the understanding or rationale of God being both one and three was resolved or even moved forward.

    And yet philosophical Trinitarianism is used as it it were an argument - something that is definitive of Christianity in a profound sense!

    This is bizarre: that because, historically, Christians have been required to profess Trinitarian philosophical formulae; these formulae are then used in engagements with people outwith the community who profess these formulae - as if they were arguments, as if they were persuasive in a rationally compelling fashion!

    Belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and the reality of the Holy Ghost is entirely dissociable from these incomprehensible because self-refuting philosophical formulae - why then are the formulae still celebrated, why are they regarded as the focus and definitive of Christianity?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not sure which ones you're referring to, but the formulae for explaining the Trinity that I'm aware of are not self-refuting.

    I'm also not aware of their being "the focus and definitive of Christianity".

    Nor am I aware of people being "required to profess Trinitarian philosophical formulae". What we're required to believe is that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and that there is only one God. As Adam acknowledges, leaving aside the question of whether other gods exist, the scriptures make clear that there is only one God to be worshipped by Christians, while also making clear that both the Father and the Son are to be worshipped.

    The formulae regarding nature, person, etc., are attempts to explain how this can be.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @A - "What we're required to believe is that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and that there is only one God."

    Yes, it is quite straightforward so long as it is understood the the word God has a different meaning in the first and second parts of the statement; otherwise it does not make sense.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As I understand it "God" is used in the same sense in both places. It's the sense of the word "is" that differs: In one place meaning "is identified with" and in the other "exists".

    ReplyDelete
  6. Catholics do pray to the Holy Spirit. The most well-known prayers to the Holy Ghost are the Veni, Sancte Spiritus and the Veni, Creator Spiritus.

    John Paul II wrote one of his finest encyclicals on the Holy Spirit, Dominus et vivificantem, 'the Lord, the giver of life.' The Pope confided to André Frossard in their 1981 dialog that he began to pray to the Holy Spirit in earnest when his father gave him the advice to ask the Spirit for help with his difficulties in metaphysics.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Question for thought: how could the theological predication "God is Love" have any truth outside of the trinitarian framework?

    As for my comments:

    The Trinity is a "logical paradox", sure. But so is Christ. That God, Creator and Lord of Creation, should consubstantiate with a mere creature: this is also a truth founded by revelation and not by logical reasoning. (Kierkegaard called the Incarnation the "Absolute Paradox".) Likewise the Trinity is rationally incomprehensible, yet discloses the truth that God is the communion we clumsily describe as "love", to a degree unfathomable to any created being.

    I see folks forget all the time that the concept of "the person" is a direct product of Christian theology, and that the truth of the matter is that humans are called persons in a theomorphic sense rather than that God is called a person in an anthropomorphic sense.

    Christians are obviously not "polytheists" in the sense that they recognize that the nature of the one divine reality is realized in a communion of persons. The truth disclosed by the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the Christian faith.

    P.S. re: the lack of acknowledging the personhood of the Holy Spirt: yes! I think this has to do very directly with the degraded understanding of creation and nature so many folks have.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "I see folks forget all the time that the concept of "the person" is a direct product of Christian theology, and that the truth of the matter is that humans are called persons in a theomorphic sense rather than that God is called a person in an anthropomorphic sense."

    Do you have any links for this claim?

    A quick search suggests the etymology is dramatic (from persona, from perhaps mask).

    Or do you mean the concept is a specific, technical sense?

    ReplyDelete
  9. The crucial thing with the Holy Trinity is how it is explained as a first line explanation.

    This is where Classical Theological formulations fall down so spectacularly, since they are meaningless hence strike people as either hopelessly confused or deliberately evasive.

    What is needed is an explanation of how three persons of the Holy Trinity are - in a strong sense - also One.

    This is provided by the Mormon theology of the Godhead, in a way that is logical and understandable to a child, and seems near enough for all practical purposes.

    Why is this regarded as heretical, when it is close to/ identical to what almost all devout Christians have believed?

    And how can it be reasonable to argue against a simple and comprehensible and useful understanding of the Trinity, by putting forward one which nobody understands - hence nobody really believes except in a submissive fashion (that is, they will publicly assent to it, will swear to it - but uncomprehendingly, without inner appropriation)?

    I repeat: this is putting philosophy above Christian revelation; allowing revelation to be distorted and made abstract (hence useless) because of a rigid insistence that Theology adhere to prior standards of philosophical conformity.

    ReplyDelete
  10. First, your premiss seems to be that the true description of God's nature must be easily grasped by human beings. I see no reason to assume that premiss. It is possible that God's nature is such that people can't fully get their minds around it. The fact that they can't is not necessarily an argument against its being one way rather than another.

    Second, the Mormon conception is rejected by the Catholic Church (which is the only one I can speak to) because it contradicts what the Church believes has been revealed by God about his own nature: That he is a spirit, i.e. immaterial, and absolutely without limit.

    Of course it's not always easy to know specifically what is the "official" Mormon position on these things. I assume that you are referring to the "classical" Mormon belief that the Father and the Son each have a physical body and the Holy Spirit does not, and that they are united in will and purpose but not in substance.

    ReplyDelete
  11. *What I get from reading about the tragic Christological disputes which tore up the Christian church in its early centuries is that there was a failure to achieve a philosophical solution; and instead a pragmatic agreement that Christians must publicly profess to a logical paradox.
    *

    Yes. The conventional doctrine of the Trinity is more a statement of the problem rather than a solution of it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. The Unitarians worked it down to one God and apparently kept working on it till there was no God.

    ReplyDelete