In the ancient ages, majority of the world’s religions were polytheistic. In polytheism, the faithful devote themselves to many deities (Brink, 2098). These gods are sometimes viewed as parts of a supreme being. However, today, monotheistic religions have widely been accepted in the world. They include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The three religious groups believe that there exist one Supreme Being who created the world and who controls everything in it. This god is seen as divine, mighty and all-powerful (Geertz, 34). Many scholars hold the view that monotheism is a higher form of religiosity when compared to polytheism. They claim that the former is a later development. However, there lacks evidence to support this argument. Whichever the case, monotheistic religions are very elaborate and they convincingly reveal their god as the only one. This paper thus presents the monotheistic god as the “sole being” worthy of human worship. The polytheistic deities are societal creations.
Interestingly, all the three monotheistic religions are Abrahamic. They all believe that Abraham, a messenger of God, and his descendants hold a significant role in the spirituality of humanity. In Judaism, Prophet Abraham is regarded as the ancestor of the Israelites. Christians refer to him as the “father of faith.” On the other hand, the Muslims see Ishmael (Abraham’s son) as the father of the Arabs. These connections suggest that the three religions have a common source. By extension, they can be seen as worshipping the same god but using somehow different rituals and practices.
Muslims believe in Allah. This god is highly exalted such that attributing qualities of lesser beings to him is a grave sin (Haddad et al., 15). According to the Islamic teaching, though Allah has given his people free will, he still holds their destiny. Allah has 99 attributes. Among them is being merciful and compassionate. Muslims believe in the Tawhid (the unity of God). They strictly reject any attempt of idol worship. Additionally, Allah is beyond human understanding. Islam is against any effort to make him visible or human. The religion teaches that Allah has given various books to his messengers. To Moses, he gave the Torah. He as well provided the Gospel to Jesus. Mohammed was given the Quran. The Muslims highly value the Quran as they claim that it is in its original form with no alterations. The books by the previous prophets are considered to have lost some of the messages or altered. Likewise, Mohammed is highly regarded in Islam as the final messenger of Allah.
Christians also believe in the supremacy and singularity of their god. Christianity is the largest religion worldwide. Their god is presented as a “personal” god. He is capable of establishing interpersonal relationships with his people. In the Bible, he had an intimate friendship with such characters as David. He is also referred to using such titles as the “father” and the “shepherd.” This attribute of having a personality does not, however, mean that he is human. Christianity is Christ-centred, following the life and teachings of the Messiah who is taken to be god’s son. The Christian theology is captured in a summary form in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed which are recited by most of the denominations. The creeds emphasize the existence of an almighty God and the suffering and death of Messiah, the savior of humanity and the only son of God.
Lastly, there is Judaism. This religion is founded on the Torah. It is divided into several denominations which include the Reform Judaism, the Conservative Judaism, and the Orthodox Judaism (“Jewish Americans”). Judaism does not put a lot of importance to beliefs. Instead, the believers are expected to have their actions and conduct strictly in line with what their god requires of them. The Jews also emphasize the independence of Yahweh (as they call their god). They explain that he is the maker of the natural world and all the boundaries including time and space. He is therefore not constraint by these boundaries whatsoever. According to Geertz (19), Christianity and Judaism have a lot in common. In fact, Christianity has its roots in Judaism.
There are significant differences between the three groups. The main one is that, whereas Christians view Jesus as the son of their god. The Jews do not recognize his divinity. On their side, the Muslims consider Jesus like any other prophet of Allah. Another significant difference between the religions is a critical aspect of the nature of the “only god.” Both the Jews and Muslims believe in one god – a supreme being with no different persons. On their side, Christians believe in a Trinitarian god consisting of three persons- the father, the son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the three holy books, a masculine language is used to refer to the “only god.” However, none of the religions claim that this god is male or has gender. The divine being is viewed as a leader, provider, and protector (Sinno, 4). Traditionally these roles are associated with men. Thus, masculinity is very common when talking about the monotheistic god. In Christianity particularly, the relationship between this god and the people is often analogized to that of the husband and wife. Hence, he is in many instances referred to as a “father.”
Another significant aspect of the Abrahamic religions is the centrality of worship. The “only god” demands nothing else from humanity apart from worship. The three religions have got different rituals and rites. Prayer is particularly essential among all the religions. Also, according to Mayhill (34), Islam borrows many doctrines and concepts from Christianity. Some scholars, however, define Islam as a revised Judaism with some Christian values. The three religions present their god as a merciful but a just god at the same time. Their teachings are based on the need for the purification of souls in preparation for the last days when god will come to judge his people.
The nature and role of the monotheistic god can be well understood by examining the lives of the Israelites when they were captives in Babylon. As recorded in Torah, the Jewish prophets always cautioned the people against worshiping foreign gods. They wanted to maintain the independence of Judaism without influence from other beliefs and worships (Mayhill, 28). These constant warnings against idol worship reveal a jealous god who hates his people worshipping other gods. On the other hand, he is seen as just and disciplinarian god when he allows his people to be captured. The Israelites had abandoned god’s ways and decided even to worship idols. The Jews were conquered by the Babylonians. The conquest made them lose their territorial sovereignty.
God did not abandon them, however. When the people repented of their sins, he used Nehemiah to rebuild the nation of Israel. While in exile, the Jews were ruled by their masters through Jewish governors. One of the governors in those times was Nehemiah. The governor was determined to preserve the Jewish identity. He closely identified himself with the Babylonian Jewish community. Additionally, he established a close relationship with the Jewish people in the homeland (Mayhill, 29). He was, therefore, able to re-establish Israel. Back home, he helped in reconstructing the destroyed city of Jerusalem. For the Jews, they restrained themselves from doing anything that would annoy their God and especially the sins that had made him allow them to be exiled (Mayhill, 29).
Out of mercy, Yahweh restored the glory of Israel. Through Nehemiah, he brought together the scattered Israelites and got back the land that had been bought by non-Jews. According to Mayhill (30), Nehemiah was determined to see to it that the Jews kept their identity. While in Babylon as a governor, he got news of the state of affairs in his homeland. He became very bitter and asked for permission from King Artaxerxes to go there and try to streamline things. He systematically managed to separate the Jews and the strangers amidst opposition from all corners. Nehemiah was able to undertake all these things because with the help of his god who wanted to end the suffering of his people. After many years of captivity, God delivers the Israelites from the Babylonians. This is after they repented of their evil ways and resolved to be obedient to their god.
A monotheistic system of religion is superior to the polytheistic system. First, the system tends to explain the origin of the world more clearly. The story of one all-powerful being as the creator is relatively more convincing. Polytheists present their gods as forces of nature or celestial bodies such as wind, sun, and moon (Paul, 5). However, these forces are part of the creation. They cannot have come into presence themselves without a supreme being. The three religions share many things. This commonality is essential in understanding the god of the three religions. In the case of Judaism, the “only god” is presented as a god who punishes sin but a merciful one as well.
A Portrait of Jewish Americans. Chapter 3: Jewish Identity. In Pew Research Center. Religion & Public life.
Brink, T.L. Religiosity: Measurement. In Survey of Social Science: Psychology. F. N. Magill, Ed., Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1993, pp. 2096–2102.
Geertz, C.: Religion as a Cultural System. In Ritual and Belief. Readings in the Anthropology of Religion. D. Hicks, Ed. McGraw-Hill College. 1999. Pp.11-35.
Haddad, Y. Yazbeck & R.S. Ricks: Claiming Space in America’s Pluralism: Muslim Enter the Political Maelstrom. In Muslims in Western Politics. A.H. Sinno, Ed. Indiana University Press. 2009. Pp. 13-34.
Myhill, John. Language, religion and national identity in Europe and the Middle East: a historical study. Vol. 21. John Benjamins Publishing, 2006.
Paul, G.: Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies. A First Look. In Journal of Religion & Society. 2005. Vol. 5.
Sinno, A.: The Importance of Western Muslim Minorities. In Muslims in Western Politics. A.H. Sinno, ed. Indiana University Press. 2009. Pp. 2-6.
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