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How come the transition for polytheism to monotheism?

User Thread
 27yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that dazedNconfused1 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
How come the transition for polytheism to monotheism?
I was reading another thread discussing the existence of god and it made me think, how is it that one transitions from polytheism to monotheism?

It's hard for me to understand how a civilization can believe in and practice polytheism for so long and practically overnight convert to monotheism. It doesn't add up to me.

I am not religious nor do I necessarily follow mainstream's portrail and explanation of the idea of god. But texts like the bible make me believe that something very real and very extreme happened to cause the people of a region to all of a sudden change their minds about their beliefs and this is why, at least in my mind, there is no way that what was written in all of the world's religious texts were metaphors of life and in my mind it doesn't seem to be natural to progress into a monotheistic mind set, or at least not to me.

Look at all of the indigenous people of the world both past and present. Most if not all of them have/had polytheistic views, which lead me to state that "modern" life is not a result of natural progression.
Keywords: Religion, life, past, present, god

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 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that littlejohn is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
Hi,
You mentioned "the bible" so I think you are talking here about Romans converting from poly to mono <?> ( i.e. the rise of Christianity), following that, the spread of Christianity. I imagine there may be other notable examples of poly->mono but lets use this one.
Naturally time scales can make things short or long, but to be practical, the Roman transition took several hundred years to become pervasive. (hopefully some experts will correct me if I am off by a hundred or something ). However, I get your point. Something had to be very different and significant to trigger and sustain such a transition. So what was the trigger ?

Well, who the hell knows. History gets modified by lots of folks along the way, but in my opinion based on just stuff I think -- the masses were not connected to the Roman gods. the Roman gods only talked to the select few and made no promises of good fortune for anyone. So the average Joe hears about this new thing which is all about people giving to each other and promises eternal life etc etc... to everybody, not just the ruling class... heck yeah, this is the good stuff !!! So am I going to hang on to these guys who throw lightning bolts at me or sign up for this stuff that preaches love and living forever and all such... game over.

My opinion only. As i said, who the hell could ever really know.

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 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that thx1137 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
Actually, the rise of monotheism arose thousands of years prior to the advent of Christianity or even the Roman Empire. Prior to even Ptolemaic Egypt or even Babylon.

Although not immediately adopted by other civilizations, monotheism was the contribution of a small band of nomadic Semites whom we now call the Jews.

What little evidence we have places this conversion somewhere before 3000 BC.

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[  Edited by thx1137 at   ]
 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that thx1137 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
Atheism (one less god than monotheism) began to arise in the 1600's. That said, some Greek philosophers proposed the concept as early as 400 BC.

Of course, all of this is centered on classical western thought. This ignores classical eastern thought, including Hindu, Jane, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianism, and Shinto. That would be a whole different thread. If included here, one could argue that atheism began around 4000 BC. (Buddhism is technically atheistic. Taoism, is very much so. And Shinto? Well, a god in everything is the same as no god at all.)

And if you really want to get argumentative, technically, modern Christianity is not monotheistic. It has three supreme Gods, and one lesser, evil one. That is, if when explaining the Trinity, one exchanges the word 'mystery,' with the word 'semantics.' But, many would consider that to be offensive. This is why I did not mention Islam; as its proponents can get very upset when their religion is critiqued.

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[  Edited by thx1137 at   ]
 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that littlejohn is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
Atheism-- just a thought, i would have said that slightly differently -- as in atheism showed up with the first human (caveman or whatever ?).
Stated another way, I doubt anyone is born with a "theism" wired into their DNA...
What do you think ? The need to worship hard wired in to humans ?

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 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that littlejohn is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
everybody is an atheist til your mom and dad tell you differently ( methinks)

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 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that thx1137 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
LittleJohn, you have a point. But I think that the concept of God is natural. It is man's attempt to rationalize the things he does not understand. And primitive man understood very little.

As Voltaire said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary for man to create Him."

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 27yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that dazedNconfused1 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
You said primitive man understood very little, but how is it that some of these people's had advanced understanding of the seasons and of the stars. In some cases like the Aztecs they had simple batteries and devices capable of tracking the stars' movement? Many of them also were very architecturally advanced regardless of simplicity cause to this day some of their achievements would be difficult to pull off even with all of our technological advances. Perfect example of this is Stonehenge regardless of simplicity it is still very difficult to pull this off with modern tools. There are also other giant stone structures that dwarf Stonehenge but I can't remember what they're called that are even older.

I like how you said that everyone is an atheist until your mom and dad tell you different, but where does it all begin.

If you look at what most if not all religions, polytheistic and monotheistic, portray the main idea of what is being spread is the same, do good and avoid bad,

I imagine walking up to someone now-a-days and telling them the opposite of what they believe and not getting them to sway without having something to definitively prove what i say. So again I don't understand how people changed their minds. People don't change unless their senses are stimulated or there is no other option.

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 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that thx1137 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
DazedNconfused. I think that when LittleJohn and I spoke of primitive man, we are not thinking the Aztecs. I was thinking more like 20,000 or 30,000 years earlier. Bare foot hunter. The Aztecs were a fairly modern society in comparison. Stonehenge is only about 4000 years old, hence, somewhat modern, though prehistoric.

I do not hold that we are atheistic until taught otherwise, though LittleJohn does. I think that we create an explanation for things that we do not fathom. Like why. Or death.

The universe is a scary place. Most do not want to be alone in it, and a supreme being eases the fear. Helps it make sense.

Change comes with understanding. The Church got upset when some stated that the earth was not the center. The Church got upset again when some said this was not even the center of the universe, but that this was just a galaxy among many. They really lost it when string theory could explain why it started. Stephen Hawking who wrote in a book that the math was convincing: The universe would have begun with or without God -- this eminent scientist gets death mail as a result. People are reactionary by nature because of fear.

My personal belief? There is no personal God watching over me. There is no ultimate reason why, it just is. And when I die, I am dead.

BTW: I don't buy the good/bad argument you propose. Good like blood sacrifice? Stoning a woman that screwed someone out of wedlock? (Judaism). Burning non believers alive at the stake, or torturing them till they confessed belief? (Christianity). Or killing a daughter that had sex before marriage? Enslaving non believers? (Islam). Sorry, can't buy it.

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[  Edited by thx1137 at   ]
 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that thx1137 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
People are also quite Homo sapien centric. We want to believe that we are the reason for the existence of the universe.

It is hard for us to accept that we are just a temporary side effect.

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 27yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that dazedNconfused1 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
While I don't 100% agree with either of you when it comes to being born atheist or not I find myself leaning more towards what liljohn said. Mainly because I feel that a young human race would have resembled somthing like a child with slightly more aggressive primal instincts. From what I can tell Children don't assume. I'm not sure if that has something to do with the fact that children are still developing. They either know or they don't. Although children are naturally creative or inventive they seem to use their creative nature to attempt to solve more immediate problems instead of looking ahead and engaging in deep thought. So how long would it take a young human race to find the need to explain something they would, more than likely, otherwise see as natural or normal?

Assuming fear is the reason to create the idea of a god or gods why would we fear something that has always been present?

Fear of the environment would seem to produce polytheism, assuming early humans were actually afraid of their environment.

Fear of death in general could possibly produce monotheism but again this would mean that the fear of death is a more recent fear, in relation to environmental fear. Again this is assuming they were afraid of death.
Which brings me back to the argument, how do you all of a sudden fear somthing that would seem to be nothing more than normal?

It just seems to me that there is more evidence to explain why polytheism exists then monotheism.

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 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that thx1137 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
DazedNconfused1, good thoughts.

Allow me some clarification.

1) I did not say children are born believing anything. I just do not hold that we are inherently atheistic. That said, I do not find it coincidental that religions that incorporate a personal God, envision Him as a Father. The most powerful person in the child's mind. (Of course this supports LittleJohn's argument.) I, myself hold that atheism is unpleasant to the mind, and has to be learned.

2) Just because something is regularly occurring (normal) does not preclude fear of it. Hawks eat mice all the time (normal). That doesn't mean mice don't fear hawks.

3) The religious tendencies historically have moved from more polytheistic to more monotheistic over time. I can't tell you why, but I think that a more personal God might generate a better sense of comfort.

4) The fear of death is universal. But we experience less and less as individuals in our daily lives. In times past it was a daily occurrence. Much less so for the individual now. (This would support the old "there are no atheists in foxholes" argument.)

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[  Edited by thx1137 at   ]
 59yrs • M •
Wildling is new to Captain Cynic and has less than 15 posts. New members have certain restrictions and must fill in CAPTCHAs to use various parts of the site.
Hi. The two relevant words not being used in this discussion are animism and anthropomorphism. Early peoples tend to be animistic in that they attribute spirits to the outside agencies that affect their lives, namely the forces of nature. They do this I believe because they are projecting their own ideas of self upon otherwise unknown sources of causation. They are anthropomorphising nature as being like themselves in order to attempt to understand and predict it. With the advent of civilization the direct connection with nature is weakened in favour of a reliance on other humans performing specialized roles in a more structured society and the animistic forces of nature become a pantheon of gods. Finally, as societies compete with each other over time the need arises to get everyone in any one particular society to identify with one particular set of values in order to foster group unity and the single god is created. It actually has more to do with the development of expertise in generating compliance and obedience in groups of people than anything to do with theistic philosophy IMO.

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 65yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that thx1137 is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
These are some very valid points Wildling.

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 59yrs • M
A CTL of 1 means that Hobbes Choice is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
`The answer to this one is painfully simple.
The Roman Empire at the time of COnstantine was, as usual wrought with internecine strife. Collecting all beliefs under one banner was thought to be unifying.
Sure enough , after Constantine imposed Christianity as the single truth upon his empire, this gave licence for the widespread persecution of all Pagan sects. The people were unified in one form of hatred, and each parish was more able to control the flocks, and able to gather money and resources justified by the one god, one empire on leader concept.
Various hegemonies were able to mobilise this form of religion as a means to control and unify military action.
Successive empires imposed monotheistic religion across the world.

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How come the transition for polytheism to monotheism?
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