understanding monotheism

May 6th, 2007

Monotheism is the canon that there is only one god. You see, before monotheism was "in", people had differnet gods for different things, a god for good health, a god for battle and so on. And whichever it was they needed help with at that moment, that's the god they would pray to. But monotheism is very strict on this, only one go-to-guy.

If you consider the implications, they would have to be wide ranging. First of all, from an administration point of view, it's a lot easier to send all your mail to the same guy, regardless of your case. Secondly, you don't have to worry that some gods would feel slighted because you constantly do business with others.

Since there is only one god, however many "religions" you could invent, they would always address the same guy. And indeed, this is something the major religions accept, that through Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it is the same god you worship. This is a very troubling truth, for several reasons.

If there are several paths to god, several ways to reach him, which is the best one? Which is the way that given a lifetime of deeds based on those "guidelines" gives you the highest "score" with god? What is the best way to ace the test? Is god going to reward followers of one religion higher than followers of another? That doesn't seem fair, does it?

I think intuitively we tend to believe that god *is* fair. It *does* pay off to be a good person, god will reward those who are good and punish those who are bad. Isn't that what we believe? So he shouldn't treat you better for picking one religion over another, should he? Because they are all ways of reaching him.

But if all [monotheistic] religions are equally good, it means that they are instances of one another, that they are redundant. Consider the following illustration from mathematics.

f(x, y) = x * 2 + y * 2

g(x, y) = (x + y) * 2

f and g are functions. In fact, they are equal, because they produce the same output for the same input. As long as this condition holds, it doesn't matter what happens inside, it doesn't matter how the output is computed. All that matters is what the result it. It may be that g is more "clever" in computing the result than f, but both do the job just as well. What it boils down to is that you only need one of f and g.

This is a mathematical illustration of what we've already established about religions. All are ways of reaching god, equally good ways. However it is you go about reaching god through these different paths, ultimately gives you the same outcome. And that means.. one is as good as the other. There may be one that is more "clever" or "efficient" or "easier", than another. And if so, why wouldn't you pick the most "clever" way, just like a mathematician would use the function that gives him less work?

If two religions don't specify that you must be a lifelong follower to be worthy of god, we can consider them interchangeable. In Christianity, you can become a follower at any point in your life, and god won't reject you. If that's also the case with Islam, then you can switch between them.

In particular, this gives you flexibility. If as a Christian you move to a country where Islam is the standard, you can switch and not "miss a step". Or if you don't like praying as much as you should in Islam, you can become Christian and pray less.

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7 Responses to "understanding monotheism"

  1. erik says:

    Not sure the "I don't like to pray too often" is a great argument in the eyes of God. Besides, doesn't every Abrahamic religion believe in a different "door guy" for heaven? St Peter for Christians etc. Might be tricky/expensive to bribe St Peter into letting you in if you're Muslim...

    Politics, always politics.

  2. numerodix says:

    Nah, the bouncer is just in the cartoons. Protestants at least believe you can speak to god directly, no middle man necessary, in which case I doubt you need to bribe guards on the way into the compound either.

  3. Graham says:

    Very interesting read, but the very premise on which you based it (that Christians, Muslims etc. pray to the same God) is flawed, because it's not true.

    5 a.m. isn't the best hour to be writing religious essays so I'll refrain, but the bottom line is that they're not one and the same, just with different names.

    By the way, do you think it'd be redundant to also have links to the previous and next entries at the bottom of the page? I find that when I'm catching up on a few entries at a time, it's a minor annoyance to have to scroll back up to the top after reading the comments.

  4. erik says:

    Graham - I assume you're referring to the (not unimportant) nuances such as the Christian God as part of the Holy Trinity (therefore Jesus is also God, etc) which Muslims and Jews do not believe. The point is that all three are Abrahamic religions, with the same historic foundations that, therefore, if you will, 'sprung' from the same 'God'.

  5. numerodix says:

    - Very interesting read, but the very premise on which you based it (that Christians, Muslims etc. pray to the same God) is flawed, because it’s not true.

    Is that the case? I must have the wrong information :D

    - By the way, do you think it’d be redundant to also have links to the previous and next entries at the bottom of the page? I find that when I’m catching up on a few entries at a time, it’s a minor annoyance to have to scroll back up to the top after reading the comments.

    Well, it seems a bit out of place to me. You don't actually have to scroll, click on the page and hit [Home] instead.

  6. I know this post is old but I had to throw in my two cents. I can't resist a good fight over religion.

    Like Graham, I do not consider Christians and Muslims to worship the same God. The Jewish faith is obviously the root of all three (supposedly). The Christian faith is then built off of Jesus being the decedent of King David who of course is a major Jewish figure. But the supposed origins of Islam along with the prophecies of Muhammad do not fit that scheme at all. Jesus himself was a Jew. His teachings, according to the Bible, were not against Jewish law. They simply pointed out the flaw of Jewish leaders of his time. Jesus was after all a rabi. As opposed to Muhammad who partook in heated debate with the Jewish scholars of his day and was repeatedly told he was going against Jewish belief and law this all according Islamic traditions. I'd cite sources for this but I sold back my history of Islam textbook. I will forgo my personal opinions of Islam, and leave it at that I do not believe Islamic scholars, or anyone else, when they claim Christians and Jews worship the same God as Muslims. Nothing against Muslims, I just simply don't believe them.

  7. Paul says:

    Interesting theory Martin. I think it's all about how you look at the case, or situation or example... You can think in strict, traditional religious ways or in your own, logical way which makes sense to you. Like everything else. One can come up with endless of reasons why this is better than that, why the earth has to be round, etc. But what really is important here, I think, is not being right or correct in such discussions but obtainig satisfaction from whatever you come up with. Because what is "right" or "correct" anyway? It's all subjective.