The Politics Behind “One” God

Western Definition of Monotheism masks Imperialism

By Corey Gilkes
May 01, 2014 –

BibleSo, following on from the last two articles, I want to look now at monotheism, the belief in a one and only god. To be more precise, the Eurocentric definition of it. What REALLY makes that concept so morally superior? What makes it more legitimate and righteous than the (so-called) polytheistic belief systems that came before? I’ll tell you, nothing.

And as if what I just said isn’t blasphemous enough, I’ll further argue that that specific definition of oneness – supreme singularity – filled a philosophical, not spiritual, need for a culture that came to understand relationships only in terms of absolute power. As such, the way that that culture misappropriated the spoken and written word made the “conventional” Christian ethic guilty of the same idolatry it accuses non-Christian faiths. They just repackaged it nicely and backed it up with weapons. Again, doh vex with me, go and check out de history.

Well for the four people who still reading, yuh know dais bacchanal dey. People will argue otherwise down to the wire because from the time we small we knew otherwise. We went to church and take chain up from dem priests, pastors and Sunday School teachers – many of whom really meant no harm or ill-will – who put ideas in we head about sin and eternal surveillance dressed up as the “Heavenly Father,” the Merciful One who sits in judgement of us all if we turn away from “His” Word and of “His” “Son” Jesus who is His “only” begotten son. All this pitted against non-Christian faiths; the other faiths in the Old Testament especially came in for some serious condemnation (Bal, Golden Calf, Asherah and so on). Everywhere you can turn you bound to hear (if it eh you self doin it) someone washing dey mouth on devotees of Hinduism, Orisa, Vodun (especially them), saying the ancient Egyptians was doing devil ting and so on. Most of them were demonised because among other things these faiths comprised of a “polytheistic” array of many “gods” which were of course “false gods.”

We “know” that Christianity signalled the bringing of light to this morally decrepit world because within it and its central figure resides everything needed for salvation. Interlaced with that is the idea of the superiority of Christianity’s (and Islam eh no different by the way, same cultural line) “one” book – as opposed to Orisa that is oral (no books) or faiths like Hinduism that apparently have too much ah books. Its book is the sum total of all knowledge and wisdom. All of that seeped deep down into our subconscious and even today many otherwise radical thinkers sometimes subscribe uncritically to this view.

Most of us were never taught and thought to ask specific questions about these “heathen” belief systems. We “know” these pre-Christian/Judaic belief systems were polytheistic, idol-worshipping cults because that’s what we were told. But ask the most vocal pontificators to write two paragraphs about Orisa, Santeria or the Nile Valley civilisations, how the belief systems influenced daily living and interaction or the status of their women in the society. How and why was art and sculpture used? Ask them to tell you about who or what is/was the supreme being of Sumer, they cyar do it. Ask them if they’re aware that in many parts of Africa, including Egypt, and Asia there were no words in their languages for “gods.” Ask about Pharaoh Akhenaten who simply refined what was already taught. And then ask about the origins of the one-god concept in the Judeo-Christian tradition and to compare/contrast that to what is really found in the scriptural writings and you may get a blank stare or wonders if yuh just trying to be funny (don’t believe me, explain that the word Amen is not Christian or Jewish, that’s a Nile Valley African title meaning “the Hidden Creator who is unknown,” check the responses).

So it’s no wonder that when that slick-talking, bible-waving conman Benny Hinn came to Trinidad and said he found a lot of voodoo here, I don’t know who was more pathetic, those who agreed with him or those who didn’t. The one thing most of them shared was an instinctive revulsion of non-Christian belief systems, specifically those identifiable with Africa.

Now for me, the near-atheist, it eh really important one way or the other. But is it not just possible that these heathen, polytheistic belief systems did speak about a singular, supreme, divine force and it’s just that the various attributes or qualities of that supreme being were individually expressed and venerated? Is it not just possible that that approach better expressed the totality of the divine creator force? Isn’t it possible that with such a worldview it is somewhat easier to recognise and accommodate diversity among peoples, ideologies and behaviours? Is it possible that with such a worldview it’s somewhat easier to recognise women and nature on their own terms?

Well, clearly I’m asking rhetorical questions because most who have studied these beliefs have already given us the answer. Information from archaeologists and social historians suggest that in matricentric societies there appeared to be tremendous and sincere tolerance for diverse forms of thought and expression; often different faiths worshipped in the same temples. From divine concepts to daily interactions the blood tie (family) was predominant and the most important relationship was that of mother to child, guided by honour and reciprocity. In economic activities the process was as important as the goal if not more so. The passage “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was copied directly or indirectly from similar wisdom teachings in Egypt. It’s a matricentric admonition found in many pre-Christian belief systems that diffused to Christian thought but made subordinate to the dominant patriarchy. In patricentry real diversity is intolerable; the most important relationship is understood in terms of absolute deference to the authority figure who is the father – the blood sacrifice taking prominence over blood lineage.

So I have news for allyuh on that pious high ground: yuh religion is not nearly as monotheistic as you were led to think eh. And them “false” faiths are not as polytheistic as you were told. And the same way that traces of the “pagan” Sacred Feminine can still be found in what on the surface appears to be rigidly patriarchal “god” figures in the Old and New Testament, the same way that that monotheistic ethic has a hidden history. As a matter of fact, there is so much “paganism” in all three Abrahamic faiths that if you were to take out all those elements there’d be almost nothing left. The very word Christ is of “pagan” origin. Your refusal to examine the evidence does not make it any less so.

But I eh looking to go into that here; who want to delve further could check out the works of Charles S Finch MD, John G Jackson, Gerald Massey, Count Volney, the Rev CH Vail, Kersey Greaves, Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Yosef ben-Jochannan, TW Douane. All I want to do is throw out some things you might want to ponder over.

Me eh necessarily faulting my Caribbean people. The fault lies in the way we and our forebears were deliberately “educated” in the schools and the churches from as far back as the colonial period. Now yuh know, if yuh want to warp somebody thinking, yuh have to get them when dey young. And boy did they get plenty ah we. From the colonialist perspective, of course, this was absolutely necessary. When your power is illegitimate you don’t educate the subjected; they’ll eventually challenge your position of power. Most of us would never question the narrow monotheist idea or even think you need to do so. Consider that even the very language and literature is composed so implicit and explicit messages reinforce the idea of divine exceptionalism. It is heavily dominated by that specific patriarchal cultural outlook that has coloured the interpretations of most things. Dr John Henrik Clarke used to say that the Europeans colonised not just the world but also world history and the dictionary: everything meant what HE says it meant.

Monotheism as defined in Western thought is little more than a male-centric hubristic idea of the Self. Like the de-feminising of the Divine I touched on in the last article, monotheism, defined as a singular, exclusive, exceptionalist entity is tied to issues that have very little to do with holiness, righteousness or salvation. Rather, it has a whole lot to do with an image the Europeans created of himself as the ultimate bringer of order, the saviour, rationalist, the real god, not the one “on high.” According to the Platonic reasoning that expanded on this, there could only be one system of logic and one leader, one correct way of doing anything. All this was conveyed using language meant to evoke ideas of binary opposites. This reasoning morphed into arrogant assumptions of authority to which you are still expected to defer.

The roots of “pure” monotheism can be traced back to aggressive, authoritarian myths that were developed to instil and maintain a similar ethic among roving hunter-warrior clans. Due to the hostile ecological conditions such myths were developed as coping mechanisms. It was crucial then to encourage and reinforce certain behaviours for survival. But the myth stayed in their collective consciousness long after the ice retreated. Rosemary Ruether argues in “Sexism and God Talk” that “nomadic religions were characterised by exclusivism and an aggressive, hostile relationship to the agricultural peoples of the land and their religion.” It formed the basis of their desire to exert total control over all facets of life and their surroundings and was firmly a part of their cultural worldview long before the first Hebrew was born.

Thus it fed into the emerging ideology of certain Hebrew sects from whom much of our understanding of “pure” monotheism came. However, their monotheistic worldview was developed in response to their encirclement by much more powerful territorial-states such as the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians and Phoenicians. Wishing to develop a nationalistic identity, the priestly Levite sect moved to a position of prominence and imposed on the other sects the Marduk-inspired deity Yahweh/Jehovah, an intolerant, singular entity who was “a jealous god.” Caribbean people see this as piety, history sees this as a struggle to define a nationalist identity in the face of even other Hebrew tribes venerating Divine Goddess concepts and values.

History and linguistics also tell us that throughout Genesis, wherever “god” is written, the original word was “Elohim” which does NOT translate into “God” and was NOT even singular. The Elohim are said to be seven in number and Gerald Massey in “Gerald Massey’s Lectures,” “Natural Genesis” and “Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World” even gives us the names and trace them back to Egyptian concepts.

It is mainly these two streams that fed into early Christian theology. Augustine drew extensively from such Platonic writings as The Euthyphro, The Republic and The Apology. Here one begins to see the influence of linear progression and binary reasonings: a thing or idea either is or isn’t. This represents the opposite of what S. Korsi Dogbe called the law of contraries in Africanist and Asiatic cosmological thought. The ancient Greeks were not monotheists of course but their writings laid the foundations for what would be later taken up by thinkers like Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Aquinas.

Indeed, the very act of writing became a “God” in its own right. Writing may have been invented in Africa and Sumer – scholars like Evelyn Reed and Charles Finch believe by women – but in a Europe imbued with imperialist aspirations it was used in interesting ways. In Christianised Europe, the written word was used to marginalise women, femininity and indigenous nations in tropical regions, many of which had scripts but transmitted sacred knowledge orally to avoid abuse of the written word. To this day the use of the written word is used by Eurocentric religious thinkers to reinforce ideas of the superiority of the Abrahamic faiths (read European culture). Think about it, without the written media, how could the writing of “God” and all the pronouns referring to “Him” be done in capital letters? This is an expression of reverence craftily used to show that the “god’s” of indigenous peoples are inferior to the Christian religion and its “Word.”

As the Church became more formalised and accepted in Rome, it continued to streamline the idea of monotheism. It also served to justify military actions in other lands. For the Jews, those who didn’t worship “one” god were backward, primitive as well as hostile and violence was not only justified but morally compelling. But for them this was mostly just an idea, militarily they were a defeated force. In any event the religion was always tribal and had no real expansionist doctrine. Europe, with Christianity spread throughout the western part of the continent and backed up by military might, took what was for the Jews mostly an ideal to a different level. As they moved into other people’s lands, it did not matter that the cultures they encountered possessed philosophical/spiritual concepts that imply a singular creative force. It did not matter that order existed in these other cultures, what was important was that they did not idealise the divine – and therefore power – in a singular, absolutist way and so their “gods” were immoral, they were immoral, irreligious and as such could be attacked, enslaved and exterminated. The non-idealising of power is perhaps why even proto-Christian sects like the Gnostics were also exterminated. Elaine Pagels tells us that the Gnostics refused to rank themselves in a hierarchical structure, kept communities that were more egalitarian and had women in positions of leadership.

Marimba Ani shows us in her book “Yurugu” that the European elites never held for long any philosophy, belief system or political institution that didn’t facilitate the usurping or retaining absolute power. We in our innocent, often myopic way, guided by ancestral retentions long since manipulated, focus mainly on monotheism from a spiritual sense – thinking, I guess, that everyone else does. But I believe that we of the post-colonial Caribbean still possess some freeness of mind to pick apart these ideas imposed on us. We must have a clear understanding of the history behind these ideas lest the mistakes of the past continue to be repeated. We all know – or should know – that religion was used to justify some of the worst atrocities in human history. The taking of other people’s lands, the suffering inflicted on them, the most blatant destruction to the environment, all stem from certain ideas advanced by a belief that someone was doing god’s work. With that in mind, we as post-colonials are supposed to be following through with probing questions like how exactly was religion mis-used? What exactly did they do? The answers to these questions must then be linked to our understanding of the powerful role myths play in creating and maintaining senses of identity and the “rightness” of what a people may be doing.

From a Caribbean perspective we need to look at the beliefs, concepts and institutions we’ve inherited in the context of the unequal parent-child, master-subordinate relationship with the Europeans as the master because that’s how they envisioned it. Many older belief systems tell us that there are many paths to the divine enlightenment, Eurocentric ideologies teach us there can only be one. That’s based on the culture they’ve known for hundreds of years. That doesn’t mean it must be like that. Consider the billions of lives destroyed throughout history because some people either didn’t ‘believe’ or believed…but differently. Having considered that, when someone like Pastor Cuffie could openly utter such verbal effluence stating that if you are a true Christian you cannot consider other faiths as divine, you have to ask yourself what kind of bigot “god” must be if this is how you must think and say if you want to get into heaven.

5 thoughts on “The Politics Behind “One” God”

  1. “Monotheism as defined in Western thought is little more than a male-centric hubristic idea of the Self.”

    God is not a male as some has been led to believe. Jesus himself said “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”. I beg to differ with the writer, Western Christian thinking goes back to the time of Luther, Zilwig, Calvin,Welsley, Tyndale…emerging from these great thinkers and others were the Calvinist,Lutheran, Methodist, Anabaptist, Pentecostals (from the Azuza St Revival)Baptist, Evangelicals. The list is endless. The point is that God is not worshipped as a male, the term “Father” connotes the idea of a spiritual father who brought into existence his spiritual children. God breathe into Adam nostril his Divine DNA, that lump of clay was nothing until God breathe into it a part of himself. The spiritual part of us yearns for God. The flesh/carnal part of us yearns for all that is contrary to God.

    Saying the monotheism is a western male construct is simply expressing ones ignorance of the subject. The Bible was written in the space of 1600 years by 40 men who were stirred and move by God. The revelation was completed by the 2nd century AD, that is over 1500 years before Western Civilization achieved it first set of free thinkers. Except for 1 writer (Dr.Luke) the entire Bible is Jewish in origin. The opening chapter in Genesis 1 simply declares “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” It is a sovereign declaration penned by Moses. The Bible is the only book that (1) explains the Fall of Man,(2)the origin of evil and fall of Lucifer (3)the way to God and eternal life, (4)the end of human history. The entire life of Jesus was predicted before his birth and played out in several dramatic scenes in the Old Testament. In one instance Abraham was told to take his son to mount Moriah and sacrifice him. There he was stopped by God, this account pointed to God sending his sinless son to die on the cross for the sins of the world… Isaiah writing 700 years before the birth of Christ wrote “behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Immanuel”.
    In the desert wilderness due to rebellion the children of Israel was being stung by fiery serpents, Moses was instructed to make a brass serpent and place it on a pole all who looked to it lived. This was pointing to Christ death on the cross. Incidentally they started to worship the serpent on the pole. Man is always looking for something to worship. The snake on the pole is today a common medical symbol.

    Monotheism in Christianity is built into the concept that God is one existing in 3 persons. When the Bible states that God is love, that love originated within the Trinity where the Father loves the son and the Holy Spirit, and the son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit loves the Father and the son. It is similar to us when we love our neighbor it is borne out of a love for ourselves. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

  2. On the muy importante subject ,of one sky -heavens -White god ,monotheism ,and such ,’ah just wonder ,which God, some thought, ‘Ah wee Bouy ,ANR Robinson,’ really believed in?
    Was it the god who said ,vengeance is yours , or rather the one who admonished us, to turn , the other cheek, like a Los Bajos booboolee, and let others continue to kick you around like a Sande Grande , or Plymouth donkey?
    I get it ,a certain leader,who shall for the moment , remain unnamed , deliberately, set into motion , a diabolical plot, and succeeded to trash , and destroy your government, and you must then turn around ,and reward that said culprit, once the opportunity came to be.
    Is that what some thought would happen , just because ,said ,neo Machiavellian Character , offered the Presidency to our late ,Castaria kid , on a platter-not due to any caring , or benevolence reason, on his part , but for his own sinister purposes?
    Put differently, a subtle way ,of handcuffing/sidelining , a major rival , while in the process,ensuring that he Robbie , and his 2 Tobago seats , never become a factor, in T&T politics, again.
    Something tells me , that it ain’t yours truly alone , who had ‘a late , extremely wise ,Tobago Granny.
    Mine had a favorite line she would use , and here it is :-“I sometimes enjoy ,playing the fool , to make foolish people ,feel dey wise!”
    However, I digress ,God isn’t dead,so as we say in the streets, be wise as a serpent, and harmless like a Toco Zandolee,…ooops,. a Signall Hill …ummmm,..Dove.

  3. @ Mamoo

    “Saying the monotheism is a western male construct is simply expressing ones ignorance of the subject.”

    This statement alone shows your ignorance and why my response here is not so much directed at you but towards anyone else reading this who may have a little more sense and is still capable of having an open mind to receive knowledge before it is too late. In future though, when someone says something like monotheism AS DEFINED BY the West, they do *not* mean monotheism is a Western male construct.

    Moving on

    To deny that “god” is not understood as being male and male exclusively is further ignorance of basic history. The mere fact that there is a female word “goddess” should kinda clue you in. Basic history shows that all the earliest concepts of the Divine were female. All. I made this very clear in previous essays and you had sufficient time to check out the source information. Even with the existence of powerful goddess figures, there were balancing male deities and this was reflected in the secular social culture. With patriarchy coming into its own around 2100 BCE there was a gradual shift that saw the female element being removed from divine concepts either by being written out or by the male deities being assigned concepts and traits normally associated with femininity and that especially includes the creative aspect, hence the reason that “the term “Father” connotes the idea of a spiritual father who brought into existence his spiritual children.”

    Basic elementary history also is clear that the foundation of Western thought, Western literature, Western culture lies in ancient Greece and Rome along with the Christian bible which by the time the various books were put together – I’ll not even bother to waste time on the nonsense of men being inspired by god – the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament (these terms also have an interesting history but we not discussing racism and religious bigotry today) was very much influenced by the writings and ideas of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, not to mention the deeper misogyny of Hesiod.

    There was more I planned to say but I’ll not bother, such as the utter foolishness about serpents on a pole pointing to “Christ’s” death on a cross (there were many Christs as the term – which is Greek, not Hebrew anyway, they used Messiah – was a temporal title and there were thousands of crucifixions when the Romans were dealing with Jewish acts of armed resistance). Furthermore, thousands of years before any Hebrew was around the serpent was a feminine symbol and was African as well as Asian; Dr Van Sertima also found it in the pre-Columbian Americas. Medical science was developed by women coming out of their experiences in child-rearing and observations in the properties of plants. But I wrote on all this before. I only wrote this much because I want to make it clear that I have little tolerance for people who want to insist that theology and history are one and the same.

    1. Truth is not exclusive to you alone Corey. I am responding to statement that point to a particular mindset in your dissertation.

      What is the objective of your article? It is filled with vague ideas that make Christianity the basis of your reckless whipping. Why have you not touched on Islam or some of the Eastern religions. Plurality of religion allows you to hold many views not to use your “podium” to ridicule Christian world view, I find that offensive.

      There is an African American field of thought that the Bible condone slavery. This is erroneous at best. Paul writing to Philemon during an era where slavery was common told him that he is sending back Onesimus a runaway slave. He said to treat Onesimus as a brother no longer as a slave and anything he has done wrong put it to my account. How is that condoning slavery. Wilberforce advocated for ending slavery as a Bible believing Christian. How is the Bible condoning bigotry when Jesus clearly stated “love your neighbor as yourself”

  4. God or “the source” or the Divine Flame is the same energy/Devinity that is found in everything in the universe, it is plurolism from monotheism. Everything is a spark of this Divine flame God/Godess manifested in everything. We are all sparks of this Divine flame or manifestations of the Supreme Being. Yes, there is only one God/Godess manifested in everything. Therefore we are all Gods/Godess. Why try and seperate and exclude or make superior this basic philosophy? We are all connected and not superior to others.

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