Published On: Thu, Dec 5th, 2013

Why God needs the government: multiculturalism vs monotheism

FHN looks at the worship of Aton, the first monotheistic religion over 3,350 years ago, and how changes to European attitudes to Christianity today may make Islam more rigid in the future.   Multiculturalism and strict monotheism are incompatible. 

Most people will have heard of Tutankhamon, the young Egyptian Pharaoh whose tomb was rediscovered, intact, in 1922.  He was not always called Tutankhamon, however.  His original name was Tutankhaton and he succeeded his less famous, but significantly more important, father-in-law Akhenaton, who died 3,349 years ago, in 1336 BCE.  Both Pharaohs had part of their name in common - Aton.

Tut-ankh-amon was originally named Tut-ankh-aton, in homage to the one true god, Aton.

Tut-ankh-amon was originally named Tut-ankh-aton, in homage to the one true god, Aton.

Akhenaton (“Splendour of Aton”) had been born Amonhotep (“Beloved of Amon”) and at some point in his life he stopped being a polytheist and started to exclusively worship Aton, a new god.  Curiously for the time, Aton was a god that had no physical form at all.  He was just to be imagined and no depictions of Aton were allowed – except for a “sun disk”, which is what Aton means.

Akhenaton and his beautiful wife Nefertiti and children. Aton is the sun disc above them.

Akhenaton and his beautiful wife Nefertiti and children. Aton is the sun disc above them.

Akhenaton - who was married to the beautiful Nefertiti – forcibly converted the entire country of Egypt into becoming worshipers of Aton, at the expense of all of the other traditional gods.  As Pharaoh, and in charge of all of the wealth of the state, Akhenaton had the power and authority to close rival shrines and temples and to chisel off the names of other gods from monuments.  He abandoned the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes and built a new capital on the banks of the Nile. What was unique about Akhenaton was that he did not just believe that there was one chief god, like Amon, but also believed that there was only one god and all other gods were false.  Aton was thus the world’s first monotheistic god, long before the Jews dedicated themselves to their one god, Yahweh.

Permanently getting rid of all of the other gods, however, was no easy task.  After he died in 1336 BCE the capital moved back to Thebes.  Aton was rejected by Egypt and Akhenaton’s name was chiseled out of stone inscriptions on monuments that he had erected and his name was removed from most of the official records of Egyptian Pharaohs. It is amazing that we know anything about him at all.  Freed from his father-in-law’s influence, Tutankhaton changed his name to the more familiar Tutankhamon.

Strict monotheism required the backing of the state to thrive.  Without that support it died.  The natural religious order for ancient Egypt was polytheism.

The fundamental difference between monotheism and polytheism is that polytheists can happily co-exist with other religious groups. In fact they thrive on picking and choosing the best elements of other gods, no matter where they come from. The Romans and Greeks were masters at this and frequently used double barrelled names to describe their gods, connecting a more familiar god with a more foreign god.  This encourages multiculturalism and the exchange of goods and ideas.

Jupiter Amon, a mixed Roman-Egyptian god with his Roman mature beard and Egypitan Ram's horns.  From a monument in Spain.

Jupiter Amon, a mixed Roman-Egyptian god with his Roman mature beard and Egyptian Ram’s horns. From a monument in Spain.

Monotheism, however, requires the denial of the existence of other gods.  If your god is the one and only true god, that means that all other gods must be false.  For others to believe in those false gods is an affront to your one and only god.  This must be excised and to do this effectively you must dominate completely.

Once monotheism, in the form of Judaism, and then Christianity got underway, however, there came to be a realisation that it was not enough to have one true god.  It was necessary to have one way of worshipping and interpreting that one true god.  All other ways threatened your existence. This explains the external conflicts between the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the internal conflicts between Christian sects and Shia and Sunni Islam.  It also explains the suppression of science in the medieval world as new ideas came into conflict with long held religious belief.  New scientific ideas, like Galileo’s helio-centric solar system, were a threat to monotheistic dominance.

Monotheism requires full agreement.  Disagreement can result in death.

Monotheism requires full agreement. Disagreement can result in death.

This also partially explains the simultaneous rise in multiculturalism in Europe and the fall in the number of regular Christian church goers in the modern era.  As fewer Europeans are Christian in general, and specific Christian sect members in particular, there is less of a need for Europeans to demand that all other people follow their faith and sect.  Not only do they accept that people might be agnostic or atheist (which was originally a derogatory term for Christians who denied the existence of the traditional pantheon of Roman gods) but they can accept that people can worship other gods as well.

This is one of the reasons that modern Europe is so effective from a multicultural perspective.  Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Romania, Sweden etc all have different languages, cultures and religions – albeit variations on Christianity.  Within their borders they accept other Europeans and other non-Europeans.  Freedom of religion is enshrined in European law.  A requirement for all people living in Europe to be faithful to one Christian God of one Christian sect would make pan-European co-operation significantly harder.

This is in sharp contrast to many Muslim countries which forbid open worship of religions other than Islam and frequently have Muslims killing Muslims due to doctrinal differences.  Conversion away from Islam (apostasy) is a capital offence, while becoming a Muslim is automatic at birth.  Multi-culturalism is effectively impossible in those countries.

The following countries require death penalty for apostasy: Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Qatar, Yemen, Mauritania.  Less severe penalties apply in: Egypt (3yrs jail), UAE, (3yrs jail), Malaysia (fine, imprisonment, flogging), Morocco (15 yrs for proselytising), Jordan (fine, jail, marriage annulment etc), Oman (legal in criminal code but father can lose custody of child).

The following countries demand the death penalty for apostasy: Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Qatar, Yemen, Mauritania. Less severe penalties apply in: Egypt (3yrs jail), UAE, (3yrs jail), Malaysia (fine, imprisonment, flogging), Morocco (15 yrs for proselytising), Jordan (fine, jail, marriage annulment etc), Oman (legal in criminal code but father can lose custody of child).

As more non-Europeans of Islamic heritage live in the European Union it could have the effect of making Islam more tolerant in Islamic countries.  They will have seen that it is possible to worship their own religion alongside non-believers and live in harmony.

Equally, it it could be seen as a cautionary tale: once you allow people to stop believing in your particular religion and allow them to abandon their faith for another faith, or even drop religion entirely, they will.  To stop the loss of this monopoly on God a logical reaction is to fight harder to make your religion more permanent.

Monotheism is hard to maintain without the firm backing of the state.

 

  • Gordon Fowkes

    There is not now or ever before a Monotheistic religion. All who claim it have an array of more than one in minor or competing positions. Most religions of the Book have angels and Satan as not of this plane of existence. As such most religions are at least dualist (good v bad).

    In all of creation, particlarly noticeable in the animal kingdom, the sustained capacity of a statistically significant number that creates as least as many young than the group loses to death over a lot of generations. It goes to the most basic of equations:

    The Chicken, the Egg(Chick), Rooster and the Fox Family.

    If there were no Foxes, the Rooster would have to invent at least one. Satan, Communism, ObamaCare, Polio, Global Warming,Jihad, Crusade, etc empowers the Rooster.

    • Tristan Fischer

      To be clear, I agree that even monotheistic religions can be interpreted as polytheistic – with angels and demons and demigods (as an aside Genesis 6:1-4 and Numbers 13:32-33 make reference to Nephilim – giants who were fathered by fallen angels and whose mothers were human. They were wiped out in Noah’s flood).

      But the main thrust of the article is that people are naturally polytheist – looking for answers to basic questions about “who am I?” and “what will happen when I die?” and “why has this disaster befallen me?”.

      Monotheism requires a strong state apparatus behind it to keep everybody from drifting off to other beliefs and gods. This is what Akhenaton provided when he introduced Aton to Egypt 3350 years ago. This is also what Constantine provided to the Roman world from the 300s. It is also what Islamic states provide today where renouncing your religion is punishable by death.

      Since foreigners and non co-religionists cannot adhere to Islamic law it makes it impossible for those societies to be multicultural.

      Conversely, the West has become multicultural as the state no longer demands that its citizens follow one God and one particular way of worshiping God.

  • Tristanfischer

    To be clear, I agree that even monotheistic religions can be interpreted as polytheistic – with angels and demons and demigods (as an aside Genesis 6:1-4 and Numbers 13:32-33 make reference to Nephilim – giants who were fathered by fallen angels and whose mothers were human. They were wiped out in Noah’s flood).

    But the main thrust of the article is that people are naturally polytheist – looking for answers to basic questions about “who am I?” and “what will happen when I die?” and “why has this disaster befallen me?”.

    Monotheism requires a strong state apparatus behind it to keep everybody from drifting off to other beliefs and gods. This is what Akhenaton provided when he introduced Aton to Egypt 3350 years ago. This is also what Constantine provided to the Roman world from the 300s. It is also what Islamic states provide today where renouncing your religion is punishable by death.

    Since foreigners and non co-religionists cannot adhere to Islamic law it makes it impossible for those societies to be multicultural.

    Conversely, the West has become multicultural as the state no longer demands that its citizens follow one God and one particular way of worshiping God.

  • Douglas Buck

    If one chooses the right god to worship, He lives on, in spite of culture or government.

  • Gordon Fowkes

    Monotheism is a pipedream not found in any religious group of two or more believers. All the sc-called monotheist religions have multiple personalities flroating around in the ether. As a non existent entity, even the God of Abraham failed from enforcing any such monotheism.

    The God of Abraham and the Book, is specified source of authority in matters of religion in these religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and maybe Mormon). Since all forms of life must be bred and fed, competition for both exists inevitably. It is impossible to describe a universe without food and/or sex. As such some form of duality in inevitable as people try to ask the basic questions of what the F?.

    The early missionaries were given wide latitude in developing Christianity to pagans with their own religious beliefs. That meant repositioning the parts of the pagan rites compatible or convertible to an acceptable version of Christianity. This process was pub in full throttle by the Emperor Constantine who forced a decision, any decision, that would dampen the religious squabbles in the Church.

    Making Christmas the birth date of Christ to coincide with the Roman Legionnaires favorite God . This is change management at its best, defusing a potential threat to Christianity by adopting something with a lot of connotative meanings (buss clusters). St Helen (Constantine’s Mother), replaced the fish with the Cross and established a lot of religious icons and relics. Brilliant woman.

    The Protestant Reformation was in large part a process of stripping off the accoutrements of the Official Papist interpretation. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts came to the Colonies to get away from the Pagan rituals of the Anglican and Catholic Church such as Christmas as they correctly know that these were not of heaven but earth.

    Since many of the Pagan religions were decentralized often down to village level where a coven or medicine man and/or women were independent from the Ruling Bunch. Conversion to Christianity or Islam often started at street level but it was more efficient to convert the ruler and endow them with god like powers. This removed the decentralized pagan structure, and the women who ran it. Hence the Malleus Maleficarum which took care of the witches.

    The Protestant Reformation returned the religion to a more decentralized system like the structure of Sunni Islam. Shi’a tries to set up a counter part to the Christian state like Byzantium or Rome. The Catholic Counter Reformation saved the last of the Five Pentatarchs(Sp?). Cairo, Jerusalem, Aleppo, and Constantinople fell to Islam.

    The Christian Church during the Darker of Ages provided the lattice upon which Europe grew.

    • Doug Schulek-Miller

      … and you are a Judaic expert, Gordon?

      • Gordon Fowkes

        Doug, what did I say that suggests that I am or am not a Judaic expert. The Book, the God of Abraham is not a Judaic exclusive. It includes Christianity, Islam, Mormonism and others I don’t recall at the moment.

        My discussion has been the history of the times since Hammurabi through Marx to wherever it is we are at. If there is some substance for said remark, let me know.

        • Doug Schulek-Miller

          I shall have to pose the question to my Hebraic scholar friends at Chabad, but offhand I’d say the inclusion of such a point under His view of Avraham may not be exactly correct. Certainly such history writers as Max Dimont do not accept anything more than monotheism for the Hebrews. I don’t recall Paul Johnson writing of such a variance to the religion, either. Now, though, if we’re talking about the practices of the common adherents as opposed to the religion as followed by its Patriarchs, then I can understand for Baal and others were great problems for the tribes living in what used to be Canaan, having failed to eliminate them from the land as they were instructed.

          Your statement: “There is not now or ever before a Monotheistic religion. All who claim it have an array of more than one in minor or competing positions. Most religions of the Book have angels and Satan as not of this plane of existence. As such most religions are at least dualist (good v bad).” is actually a very Christian-centric statement and not indicative of the larger meaning of the conflict that rages in ones’ self between the good instincts and bad instincts in Orthodox Judaism, let alone the reference, as the primordial Hebrew prayer said at least twice each day addresses Him as One – the only One, there is none other. Period. After all, without Him there is nothing, literally; so there can be none but One. That concept is even embodied within the Hebrew language. Where is there not monotheism in Judaism, at least within Orthodox Judaism? I can’t speak for the reform folks – they are on a different set of ideologies quite often – except where He is concerned, that is, for to Him all Jews are His people despite their variant practices concerning the observation of His Torah. Remember, too, Gordon, if you aren’t reading the Torah, you are likely reading the Greek translation which became the Christian basis for their Old Testament – not quite the same as the Torah.

          • Gordon Fowkes

            One angel, or demon or devil in the creed means more polytheism. The Trinity still gives Christians fits. It is missing the mother figure which is why Fatima and Mary are imporant figures of varying divinity. Islam’s big argument is that there is only one God, not three as most Christians claim.

            My assertion is not based on religious text except as psychological evidence. That evidence shows the existence of the eternal battle between the Chicken, the Chicks, the Eggs, the Rooster and the Fox Family. Details on Spotlite Radio

            http://spotliteradio.com/?p=9925

            My own faith is (none ya) , and I feel most comfortable with the Knights Templar and the Anglican Church. It’s a family thing, I was named after a bishop in Kalamazoo and my Uncle Fowkes was a Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Denver. I served as a Crucifer in my home town church,

            Details on the details

            http://crossedculture.blogspot.com/

          • Doug Schulek-Miller

            Gordon,

            Perhaps it is definitions, as “theism” implies to my mind the worship of said deity, not the mere existence thereof, rumoured or otherwise, of a spiritual creation. In that context, according to some interpretations, even the golden calves of Moses and Mount Sinai fame don’t count – but Ball and Moloch do as there was active “worship”.

            Do you know any Jews that worship angels? I don’t. You’re stretching the point, Gordon. There’s a far cry between Monotheism and Hinduism and a few angels created to serve Him and who are not worshiped do not make the religion any less monotheistic.

            Ask Paul Johnson, eh?

          • Gordon Fowkes

            My concern is with the psychological effects of a belief system, not with its internal dogma except as it influences the Rules and Roles of the competition within and between groups. That there are such terms and “theism, or worship, or faith” describes the inner workings of the Rules of the Culture affecting social status and the immediate environment. Other than that practical impact on others is your business, and I will defend the right of your bellief and worship thereof.

            In my treatise of the functions of protect and nurture of the young aka feed and breed and the dramatic conflicts over getting fed and laid is central to all forms of life. IMHO, those are in accordance with God’s laws from creation. The choices that the existence and structures of powerful entities from an adjacent plain of existence is more derived from ZipCode and DNA.

            One outstanding and irritating piece of propaganda is the concept of the Anti-Christ, possibly Christs older brother, that takes the valiant efforts of mere mortals to defend. The concept of an Angry God, typified often as a Father figure. This is most likely the deification of one’s dysfunctional and abuse father, Real fathers don’t go ballistic when Jurior misses the goal for the day.

            That this belief is almost universal may, by itself is God’s law. If however, any citizen who treated his kids like an angry God, Child Services would remove the child from the Hellish Home the child was imprisoned. Fortunately, most religions have a nurturing aspect to counter balance the rage of an Angry “god”.

          • Doug Schulek-Miller

            Gordon, yours is a set of concepts rooted in Christianity. In that context I’m sure you are correct and properly concerned. Your terminology, alone, fails to relate to the only truly monotheistic religion in the world: Judaism. For example, what would an “anti-Christ” be in Judaism when he is considered just to be merely another Essene? It is a non-concept.

            While Buddhism might want to proclaim itself as Monotheistic, the raising of self to another state of being, a state attained through denial and meditation, could be interpreted as self-idolatry, a condition experienced far too much in the present day and age under other monikers.

            Remember to us, He is everything, literally, completely. It is curious that string theory and Kaballa may have a shared point of reference – convenient for the ultimate reductionists out there. However, to us there is Him, nothing else. Period. It isn’t just omniscience and omnipotence, He IS EVERYTHING! Therefore, the mere idea of “other” gods hankers back to the bad old days of Baal idolatry or even the current days of materialist self-worshiping idolatry, both of which are condemned within Orthodox Judaism.

  • Tim Murphy

    It is interesting when a blanket statement is made based upon a single example. The assertion that monotheism needs the support of the state based upon this one example of Aton is fallacious at best. For instance, Christianity was flourishing in the First and Second centuries even with the persecution heaped upon it from the authorities in Jerusalem and Rome.
    The writings of the New Testament indicate that Jesus’ followers would remain separate from the World. This ‘World’ included the political apparatus and non-Christian religions of the day. History shows that the First Century Christians did not serve in the military and completely abandoned their pagan ways once they accepted Christ.
    That is until Constantine, who hijacked Christianity to further his political aspirations. After his victory at the Milvian Bridge (claiming that the ‘God of the Christians’ assisted him in his victory), Constantine lifted the state-sanctioned persecution against the Christians that Nero had begun. Constantine began currying the favor of the Christian leaders of the day by providing the same financial support Rome had been giving to other state-sanctioned (pagan) religions. After being seduced by the power and money suddenly being showered upon them, some Christian leaders became corrupted and allowed Constantine to influence their teachings.
    The Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Constantine can rightfully claim the title of Great, for he turned the history of the world into a new course and made Christianity, which until then had suffered bloody persecution, the religion of the State.”
    This joining violated the separation Christ and His apostles demanded. One example of the contamination brought by Constantine can be seen…”In the dedication of Constantinople in 330 a ceremonial half pagan, half Christian was used. The chariot of the sun-god was set in the market-place, and over its head was placed the Cross of Christ, while the Kyrie Eleison was sung.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)
    At this point, the Roman version of Christianity became divorced from the monotheistic Christianity taught by Jesus and His early followers and cannot be fairly used for comparison.
    The article also states, “The fundamental difference between monotheism and polytheism is that polytheists can happily co-exist with other religious groups.”
    As a rebuttal I wish to ask, “Did the early Christians persecute the polytheistic Romans?”
    No! The opposite is true.
    “What retaliation were the Christians instructed to mete out to their persecutors?”
    None! In fact, Jesus instructed them to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, to pray for those persecuting them, etc. Based upon the evidence of the First Century, who was it that showed intolerance?
    The evidence also flies in the face of a further statement made in the article, “Monotheism, however, requires the denial of the existence of other gods. If your god is the one and only true god, that means that all other gods must be false. For others to believe in those false gods is an affront to your one and only god. This must be excised and to do this effectively you must dominate completely.”
    While Christianity does instruct that all other gods are false and that the one God (Yahweh)
    requires ‘exclusive devotion’, Christ did not instruct His followers to take up arms and dominate their enemies. That did not occur until apostasy entered into the congregation culminating in Constantine’s actions in the early 4th century.

  • Douglas Buck

    I want to add something in support of Constantine. The bishops of the Christian church at the time were quarreling over the nature of God. Constantine, upset with their bickering, convened a council to resolve the matter. The resolution was called the “Nicene Creed”, to my mind a mass of vagaries and contradictions. At the end of the Council, someone added a codicil to the creed, to the effect that anyone who believed differently, let him be anathema. Constantine was disappointed with the outcome, but it resolved the bickering, so he let it go. The codicil was used later to justify the Spanish inquisition and other persecutions against anyone with differing beliefs.

    Which gods require state support to survive in society? Here are some gods: Allah, Ashtoreth, Baal, Buddha, Christ, Jehovah, Krishna, the Tao, the Sun, the Moon, the Trinity, and Zeus, to name a few. If state support is required, are they for real?

  • Aram Ausky

    Roman success was partially due to their standardizing everything, law, military units, irrigation, etc. So they latched Christianity and standardized it into Catholicism.

    This is not surprising.

  • Mark Borowski

    There is NO compatibility between islam (lower case i INtended) and Christianity ( or any other belief for that matter).
    NONE. ZERO. ZIP. NADA.

    Until the animals come out of the caves and the seventh-century mentality is gone, there is no convincing “anyone else” that muslims are not misogynistic murdering heathens, or are civilized OR peace-loving in any way, shape of form.

    From William Thomas: Retired LT Col. , Retired Military

    QUOTE ” I don’t know that the choir doesn’t need to be preached to regarding the silence of the Muslims on the issue of Muslim radicals. The “We don’t condone” and the “That’s really not a reflection of Islam” fall WAY short of the passionate outrage every decent human being should feel toward the despicable acts of this human trash.

    If the guy sitting next to me in church this Sunday murders innocent people I can assure you my reaction will be a tad stronger than, “Well I don’t really approve of his actions”.

    The Roman Catholics had their Inquisition and the Protestants had their Klan. In both cases the outrage and actions of both Catholics and Protestants was loud and clear about the problems in their own houses.

    Many a Catholic hero gave his life and suffered unspeakable horrors to oust the villains in the Inquisition. Many a courageous Protestants “screamed” their opposition to the Klan’s Bible spouting murderers and some gave their lives to challenge the organization that was started in the name of Christianity.

    Today the Muslim leaders who don’t condone the Muslim terrorists are described as moderates friendly to the U.S. Moderates by definition are in the middle. We seem to have two groups of Islamic leaders: those in the middle and those who are fanatics in support of the Muslim fanatics. My question is; In the middle of what? There is no middle.

    To have actual moderates there must be both ardent opponents and supporters of the Muslim terrorists so there can be a middle ground for moderates to occupy. One end of the equation is obviously missing.” end quote.

  • Gary Vant

    Actualy Muslims have said those things for years about the terrorists, and radicals who do NOT represent Islam or its tenets, teachings and beliefs. It is just that the Radical Conservative Christian Right would rather NOt tell their story to th American people in order to foment hatred between Chritisans and Islam. That way the military Industiral complex which runs this country continues to exploit the situation and the guns, weapons, and proftis continue to roll on!

  • Tim Murphy

    I have always wondered about the influences Constantine had on the early church and its transformation into what became known as Catholicism. I wonder because Constantine was not baptized until he was on his deathbed. Though he showed favor to Christians, he remained pagan until right before his death.
    Biblical examples of individuals who furthered God’s work on earth include only those anointed by Him or one of His designates. These include Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, Samuel, Jesus, the Twelve Apostles, and Paul, among others. No where do we find examples of God using pagans (non-Israelites or non-Christians) to further his purpose (except perhaps surrounding nations who were allowed to attack and subdue Israel as punishment for their disobedience).
    Considering the fact that changes initiated by Constantine broke direct commandments of God (not being part of the world, the introduction of pagan rites, etc) what are we to make of his actions? Could they possibly be approved by God?

  • Daniel Weisman

    If monotheism requires a strong, coercive state, then how did Judaism survive for nearly 2000 years without one? Incidentally, it still survives outside of Israel, the only nation in the world in which Jews are a majority and control the government. Similarly, there is no independent state of Sikhs, only a region within India, a nation dominated by Hindus. Multiculturalism and monotheism survive quite well together when those who profess one religion recognize and respect the fact that not everyone holds the same beliefs. See the United States, with a majority who profess various forms of monotheism but a tradition of multicultural acceptance. Also, see Israel, which is officially Jewish but has a non-Jewish minority of approximately 20% of the population. That minority has full citizenship rights.

  • John Beatty, MA, Mil Hist

    Or Zoroastrianism, or Christianity after the 19th century?

    India has so many religious and factions that no one can keep track, yet the state officially backs none of them. Indian “multiculturalism” is an essential proof against this assertion.

  • Jakub Majewski

    Wow, just wow. Never mind the subject matter – in any situation, it is absolutely ridiculously foolish to draw conclusions about the general by examining at an unrepresentative and atypical particular case.

    What makes Akhenaton unrepresentative and atypical? Well, he invented his own religion. Yes, there has been many cases in the world where rulers have decided to enforce particular beliefs (this is not limited to monotheism in the long shot, by the way – remember how the Romans tried to crush Christianity because Christians refused to be polytheists?).

    As a sidenote, this of course is perfectly reasonable and normal – when you believe in a religion, you obviously believe that it holds the key to salvation, not just for you but for everyone. In the same way that rulers find it desireable to enforce one particular view on life-saving issues such as hygiene and medicine, so naturally they find it desireable to enforce one particular view on afterlife-saving issues such as religion. One of the troubles with multiculturalism is actually that it presumes a disbelief in everything – the only possible justification for unrestrained tolerance of other religions is if you believe they are all equally false. The moment you accept a particular creed, you must by definition do everything you can to dissuade others from other creeds, either because you believe they are dooming themselves to hell, or because you believe they will bring the anger of the gods down onto society as a whole. In either case, though, intolerance stems from the desire to help others – just as, I suppose, it does with atheists, who usually can’t let a day go by without jibing against what they perceive to be the delusional nonsense of religion.

    But getting back to Ahkenaton. Well, Emperor Constantine, for instance, tried to enforce Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, in the same way that previous emperors tried to enforce Roman polytheism as the official religion of the Roman Empire. China today tries to enforce atheism as the official religion of China. The Muslims, of course, by definitione enforced Islam wherever they were in power. And so on, and so on. But in none of these cases, unlike with Ahkenaton, were you dealing with a situation where the ruler tried to promulgate and enforce an obviously false religion of *his own making*. I can only think of one single other situation where something similar happened – Akbar the Great in India. In both cases, what we are seeing is not proof that monotheism requires a strong state – it obviously does not – or that monotheism is less tolerant than polytheism – it obviously is not – but rather proof that if you try to foist your own ideology onto other people by force, you will fail the moment your force fails.

    In this regard, Ahkenaton, if this one example can be used to draw any wider conclusions about anything, has more to say about oppressive manmade ideologies like communism than it does about any kind of religion.

    • Tristanfischer

      @ Jakub

      You mention:

      “The moment you accept a particular creed, you must by definition do everything you can to dissuade others from other creeds, either because you believe they are dooming themselves to hell, or because you believe they will bring the anger of the gods down onto society as a whole”

      This is what was unique and revolutionary about Judaism AND Christianity for the Roman empire from the 100s-250s AD. Roman religion was polytheistic and allowed for multiple religions to co-exist peacefully. They created hybrid gods from one country to another, which had logical overlaps. You were free to believe in your own local religion and not believe in another religion – but you did have respect that the other religion was legitimate. Because the Jews believed that only their God was legitimate they were essentially telling everybody else in the Roman Empire that their Gods were false and illegitimate. Christianity had the same issue. This is very disruptive to civil society and the Roman Empire initially cracked down on a religion that was subversive to the entire state.

      Akhenaton did not “make up” Aton. Aton previously existed. Akhenaton merely used the power of the state to favour it over all of the previous gods. This is what Constantine did as well – all the best jobs went to Christians and eventually under Theodocius it became the official religion and the pagan religions were banned – just like Akhenaton had done.

      With huge state sponsorship Christianity became the dominant religion and all other religions withered away with the one exception of Judaism which was permitted to continue.

    • Deborah Newman

      Jakub, you say “The moment you accept a particular creed, you must by definition do everything you can to dissuade others from other creeds, either because you believe they are dooming themselves to hell, or because you believe they will bring the anger of the gods down onto society as a whole.”
      Neither of these two apply to Judaism, which in any case has very little history of proselytizing, and in fact discourages converts at first, although welcomes them once they have committed themselves to the religion. Also, Jewish beliefs and practices do not emphasize the afterlife, whether heaven or hell, but rather how to live an ethical and satisfying life here and now.

      • Jakub Majewski

        That’s a complex discussion, Deborah, and I don’t want to get into it, because I don’t wish to hijack the whole thread. For the record, I do strongly disagree, and I think it can be easily demonstrated that Judaism is no different in this regard to other religions once you get past the surface veneer. The Old Testament makes it very clear that a time will come when the rest of the world will effectively become Jewish (which of course happened with Jesus Christ). Until then, the Jews were to concentrate on themselves. Nonetheless, there is very clear proselytising there – for instance, non-Jews were (and certainly are today) required to conform to Jewish religious customs while living in Israel. It wasn’t simply a free-for-all, where the Jews tolerated anyone of any religion. And this stemmed very much from the emphasis on God’s Covenant – the fact that Jewish prosperity in Israel was specifically linked in the Old Testament to the degree to which Israel conformed to the Law of God, including the requirements sent forth for non-Jews living in Israel. Oh, and also – the Old Testament is replete with comments on the afterlife – Jesus Christ invented nothing in this regard, He simply stepped in with an authoritative interpretation of what was already in the Bible :).

        …But I’ve already said too much, given that I specifically said I don’t want to hijack this discussion. Please consider the above as a mere unproven opinion, and do not feel obliged to respond to it.

  • Daniel Weisman

    I believe Jakub is mistaken in his views of Judaism and Christianity. Look to post-biblical Judaism, particularly the commentaries and traditions collected in theTalmud, and you will see an emphasis that Judaism is not a universalist religion that assumes one way is the only way. Many discussions of the messianic era to come assume there are different peoples with different customs, who will live in peace with one another. On the other hand, Christianity has traditionally been a universalist religion that assumes that everyone will be a Christian during the messianic era. This theory has been popularized in the Left Behind series of books. That does not mean all Christians believe this. After all, the Catholic church has been moving toward a less universalist ideology in recent years with the recent Popes emphasizing respect for those whose faiths are non-Christian. Among other religions, some are more universalist than others. Getting back to the original post, spreading multiculturalism refutes the idea that all monotheistic religions are by definition coercive.

  • John Beatty, MA, Mil Hist

    Basic tenants of only two major religions– Christianity and Islam–require proselytization, I think. The rest really don’t care what others believe.

  • Cheryl Simani

    Tristan:
    The primary flaw in your argument is that polytheism equates to and is supportive of multiculturalism. The ancient Egyptians were bigots. They considered all non-Egyptians sub-humans. They ritually cursed other nations and denounced other belief systems.

    Akhenaton did not create a new religion. He isolated the elements of Egyptian worship that most flattered his ego. The Aton (solar disc) was a manifestation of Ra. Traditionally, all living pharaohs (lit: “Great House” – only after Tuthmose III did the term refer solely to the king) were the incarnation of Horus, the son of Osiris, just as his predecessor was identified with Osiris. Egyptians worshipped both the divine father and son. Akhenaton’s innovation was that all the people must worship only him, the divine son/incarnate of Aton/Ra. He alone was capable of properly worshipping his divine father. As most megalomaniacs, he persecuted anyone who refused to worship him as he had decreed.

    In a like manner, Mohammed decreed that the entire world must worship only as he decreed, based upon his interpretation of the “word” of Allah. The “Peoples of the Book” (i.e. Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians) are to be tolerated only as long as they follow laws of dhimmes (second-class citizens who are accepted the natural socio-religious superiority of Muslims) and are publically humiliated when they come to pay their infidel tax). Only Muslim may hold public office in territory conquered by Islam and the ultimate goal is world dominion by Islamic rule under Sharia Law. The Sunnis support the right of world-rule by their caliphs (political/military leaders) while the Shiites support the right of world-rule by their muftis (religious leaders).

    Judaism has no designs or ambitions of world rule. The Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish prophets envision a world in which all people have chosen of their own volition to become monotheists. The ideal Jewish relationship to the other nations of the world as illustrated in the story of Joseph. The Jewish contribution is to advise world leaders and to organize national resources, not to dominate or rule.

  • Daniel Weisman

    To be a little more specific about the traditional view of Judaism, look up the laws of Noah. These are ways traditional Jewish scholars tried to determine what made Noah so good that he was saved from the flood. They were later used as ways of measuring how to determine the moral goodness of other civilizations who did not follow all the Jewish laws. In essence, they presumed that there was a recognition that God existed coupled with the latter part of the Ten Commandments–not stealing, murdering etc.

  • Tyson Rahmeier

    I have always been struck by the Second Amendment, which states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” To me, this sounds like a recognition of polytheism and the existence of other deities, but those deities are not for the Israelites. In other words, the Book of Exodus sets the rules and expectations for the Israelites, but other groups, communities, cultures, and civilizations are free to do what they will. In my view, Christianity and Islam are different in that they both claim to hold exclusive access to a single divine “truth”–that they are right and everyone else is wrong.
    However, I do not think that it follows that a state whose population generally adheres to a monotheistic faith is necessarily or inevitably intolerant. I think that the present state of western civilization is remarkably tolerant although it took a long and painful process of Reformation, Enlightenment, and Revolution to become that way. The Dar al-Islam may be going through the early stages of that transformation now and has possibly centuries of work to go.

  • Deborah Newman

    This an interesting comment, but I can’t help pointing out that you mean to say, “Second Commandment”, not “Second Amendment”. As I began reading, I thought perhaps you were somehow going to connect gun rights with monotheism!

  • frank McCartin

    original premise, just wrong. could there be one god with many guises? yes. could humans be moving toward a recognition of underlying unity amid diverse expressions of the divine? yes. “God ” must die? were humans to reject the notion of the one god, it would hardly affect the status of ultimate being, or the ground of being. This ‘being’ must be one, isn’t all that is contained in the set ‘that which is’ ? at that level we are one, of a part. hopefully our collective consciousness is moving to a recognition of our unity within metaphysical and phenomenalogical being. . the juxtaposition of beliefs (multiculuralism) is a powerful impetus toward this end.

  • lapierre

    The comment that groups of different polytheist will happily coexist with other religions is polemic. I think the Celts and the Romans could be used to support this point, as well as the numerous pre-monotheistic cultures that actively sought to eradicate their polytheistic neighbors.

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