The statement that questions Christianity's view of the divine can pose many problems and can raise even more questions. The statement dismisses monotheism and on one hand asks whether it is more probable that Christianity is a religion that does not support belief in God at all or on the other hand, whether Christianity believes in and worships more than one God. In many respects, this question appears false to a Christian believer however, if all beliefs in the 'oneness' of God are considered, it may be possible to formulate a rather different view:, a view that may indeed support the statement we are presented with.
It is important when trying to formulate a discussion on such a topic area to define what the words 'atheism' and 'polytheism' actually mean and what we should understand by them. The word 'Atheism' is defined as the 'rejection of belief in God or Gods'1 whereas the word 'Polytheism' is defined as the 'worship of or belief in more than one God. '2 Now the statement argues that maybe Christianity has more in common with the doctrine of Atheism than it does with the term Polytheism.
However, it is important to take a neutral stance when considering the statement that has been presented and although this statement may have many flaws, it is important to sum up the main arguments for and against the statement and come to a rational and logically sound conclusion which can answer the question successfully. The flaws with the statement become evident directly from the outset. Christianity for many people is a monotheistic religion in the 'complete' sense of the word.
It can be noted that common Christian belief in God does not change; it is the world that changes and our own perceptions of God change as well. There is a long history about Christianity's teaching on the doctrine of God from the time when the first Christians found God or indeed were found by God within Jesus up to the present day. The relationship between God and his people is taught in the Bible by Paul when he declares that 'now we see in the mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face'.
Paul is trying to pass over an eschatological message that at some point God will return and everything will become clear to his people. In the present age, according to Paul, everything is partial and incomplete. Therefore everything Christians say to God is in the form of 'prayer', in the hope that all that is being believed about God is not just a delusion. It would now be logical to look at how parts of Christian worship can lead to an attempt being made to solve the discussion in hand. During a Christian service, believers in Christianity declare their act of faith which is commonly known as the Creed.
They declare 'We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven of Earth, of all that is seen and unseen. '4 Alistair McGrath in his Introduction to Christianity states that 'the Creed of Christianity does more than simply state the belief that God exists; it begins to give shape and substance to a series of specifically Christian understandings about the nature and character of this God. '5 The beginning of the Creed declares that there is only one omniscient, transcendent God that created everything in the Universe, both in this world and in the world that cannot be seen.
This is a declaration of a monotheistic religion: a religion that rejects anything that goes beyond belief in more than one deity. On the other hand, the second part of the Creed onwards could be interpreted in many different ways. It declares that 'We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten and not made, of one being with the father, Through Him all things were made. '6 If this second half of the creed is analysed, one could view this passage as a different side on monotheism.
We have already declared that there is only 'One God' and Jesus Christ who has been declared as the 'Son of God'. Now the question that arises from this passage is to what extent the figure of Jesus Christ is being worshipped and whether he is being worshipped in a 'God-like form' or not. It would appear that Jesus Christ is being portrayed in the creed as a figure that possesses God-like status. However, by all accounts, Jesus could actually just be a human representation of God: a representation that all mankind could actually see, a figure who would fulfil God's work on earth.
McGrath states that 'one of the most fundamental Christian insights is that God is revealed in the person and work of Jesus,'7 so from this, it seems plausible that Jesus is not a 'God' but a representation of God on earth and that the naming of God can be determined by finding the true nature of God within the person of Jesus and what he taught and underwent. However, one question that still poses a threat to the sound monotheistic reputation of Christianity is 'How do we approach the doctrine of the Trinity? ' Many different scholars approach this subject from many different angles as it is a rather complex subject area to analyse.
McGrath believes that 'the doctrine of the trinity is one of the most distinctive Christian teachings however it is also one of the most difficult teachings to understand. '8 But the question still remains 'What is the doctrine of the trinity? ' Well, Francis J Beckwith defines the trinity in the following way: 'In the nature of the one God there are three centres of consciousness, which we call persons, and these three are equal. Though the term "trinity" is not found in the Bible, the doctrine is nevertheless taught there. Trinity" is merely the term employed by theologians and church historians in order to describe the phenomena of God they find in the Bible. '9 Christians believe that Jesus prayed to God as his own father and he taught his people and his disciples to do likewise.
The disciples talked about Jesus as if he was his father's son and in some way, he was referred to as if he himself was God. Jesus also taught his people and his disciples that the Spirit of God should be accepted into their lives and that when they received the Holy Spirit into their lives, they would find they had three names for God i. . three ways of experiencing God. Firstly as a Father- Figure who watches over his children, secondly as the Fathers Son who came on earth to bring the Good News to the people of Israel and lastly, the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to participate in the Son's prayer to the Father, and so therefore in praying they experienced themselves as living within the three-fold naming structure for God. So from this short description of the doctrine of the trinity, how can this ideology be linked to the statement we have in hand?
Many critics of Christianity would argue the case that we are dealing here with an ideology which supports belief in more than one divine being. Many Jews and Muslims, however, believe that the Trinity implies Polytheism. 10 It would be illogical to suggest that the trinity implies Atheism because we are dealing with the debate over whether Christianity supports the idea of many Gods. However, if we analyse what facts are being presented regarding the trinity, it would be hard to form a reasoned argument to suggest that Christianity is a polytheistic religion worshipping many Gods.
A good example which attempts to illustrate the fact of God being a 'father figure' is presented to us by Thomas Aquinas who states that 'God as Father should be understood to mean that God is like a human father. In other words, God is analogous to a father. '11 So what Aquinas is trying to outline in this section taken from his collection of books entitled 'Summa Theologica' is that God reveals himself to his people throughout the world in many different ways, forms and images but these forms do not 'reduce' God to a lower form to that world to which he is presenting himself.
So if we use this theory provided by Aquinas, it would seem to imply that God can manifest himself in many different ways and forms but ultimately he still remains as 'one' supreme being. Some scholars have asked if another word other than monotheism can be used to describe the belief in 'God' within Christianity. From my own personal perspective, Christianity remains a very strong 'monotheistic' religion that supports belief in only one God and in many respects it can only be categorized in this way.
On the other hand from a very neutral perspective, a minority of scholars believe it is possible to argue that Christianity could, in some way, be placed under the category of a 'polycentric' religious structure. In this way, one almighty supreme God would be at the centre of this structure and on the outside would be the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. This argument suggests that Christianity does not fall under the category of Polytheism or Monotheism: it is placed somewhat in the middle i. e. it is not polytheistic but neither is it completely monotheistic.
Despite this, trying to categorise a mainstream religion is not an easy task. In the minds of most people, Christianity and polytheism differ as greatly as Christianity and atheism. 12 On the other hand, many people believe that since the resurrection of Christ there is a chance that many Gods do actually exist. Some forms of Christian Polytheism assume that God is a culmination of many different forms, shapes etc which are similar to men. However, although many Gods are being worshipped, Christians believe that only one God, Father figure lives in Heaven.
This is why in many respects, the majority of Christians accept that One God stands above all Gods and is worshipped more than the other which is why the main arguments seem to suggest Christianity appears predominantly monotheistic. I think that it is now important to look at points of view which support another view of religion namely 'atheism' and try and connect it to Christianity and it's doctrines. Michael Martin identifies two types of atheism in his investigation into Atheism.
For Martin, we have negative atheism which suggests that the arguments for the existence of God do not give sufficient reason for belief and if the theistic proofs did give reasons for belief in God, it would 'not be the God of Christianity'. 13 Martin believed that if 'belief in God is based on reason and religious people cannot provide any adequate reasons for believing in God, then, negative atheism is justified. '14 On the other hand, Martin suggested that there is also a possibility for positive atheism which suggests that 'if the theistic God could and should have provided evidence for his existence, he has not.
The presence of Evil in the world supports atheism and as Hans Kung states, 'evil is the rock of atheism. '16 Now following on from this, many atheists and sceptics from many different areas of society have presented many very different arguments to try and add weight to the arguments for atheism. The sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that religion was a reflection of society and the influence it has upon individuals. 17 He saw the model of the worshipping and fellowshipping community as a construct of society which looks for support and guidance from within its own structure.
The believing community, Durkheim argued, was merely a 'reflection of the wider society outside, and the God or Gods to whom they looked were society itself providing protection and nurturing its own members, but also controlling them. '18 For Durkheim, communities bind together in times of struggle, such as war, and saw how the religious community is characterised by this tendency, wherein God is no more than a being that has been fabricated by society in order to preserve itself.
Freud was another sceptic of religion as a whole and he argued the side of atheism from a psychological view point when he claimed that God was nothing more than a creation by man. For Freud, religious beliefs were 'illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most insistent wishes of mankind. '19 Freud maintained the idea that religious beliefs protected man from his deepest fears, most of all death. Some scholars back up Freud's ideas and they argue from the viewpoint that humans seek protection, and who better to protect us but a vastly magnified version of the father who smiles down on us.
Now with these two different atheistic viewpoints in mind, how far do they go in disproving the existence of God in a religious environment? Emile Durkheim's Sociological theory is correct when it states that religion binds people together because the word 'religion' comes from the Latin 'ligare', to 'bind together. ' The argument is also logical when it argues that people seek fellowship, support and identity from their religion and the close community is binded together by the common belief in God and morality.
The teachings of love, fellowship and trust are all common to Christianity and they are some of the most important ethical values associated with a Christian's everyday life. However, most sociologists disagree that religion is the worship of society because Durkheim's views are directed more towards small, non literal societies. The sociological theory has quite an extensive flaw in that it does not allow for the personal relationship that a Christian seeks with God. The relationship is individual and intimate, not simply communal.
Ultimately society is secondary to the individual, not its master. So overall the criticisms of the atheistic viewpoints allow it to somewhat be refuted quite strongly. Atheism has not got a strong link with Christianity at all and the statement presented can also be strongly criticised. So in conclusion, after analysing viewpoints from both a polytheistic view of Christianity and an atheistic view of Christianity, it can be concluded that Christianity somewhat fails to be categorised fully in either of these two very different sections.
Christianity ultimately supports the doctrine of one God but this God being presented to his people in a 'three-person' structure. There are very few scholars who would agree that Christianity has more in common with atheism than it does with polytheism because ultimately the arguments and views of atheists seem rather dubious to say the least and it defies much of what Christianity teaches. It would seem from the evidence that polytheism still has the upper hand over the debatable theory on 'atheism' but it must be noted, that as a mainstream religion, Christianity remains a very well developed monotheistic stronghold.