In the last post we explored why monotheism so easily slips in the fundamentalism and causes so much hatred and trouble in the world. By its foundation in one and only god, it has to be monopolistic.
But it wouldn't be fair not to mention the good side of monotheism. Or better, to say why the development of monotheistic religions was a great step in the evolution of the human thought.
Let's take a look at polytheistic religions first. There is a bunch of divine beings, gods and goddesses, living at some nice place, having their affairs and, here and there, interfering with the lives of mortals. Usually, it's a cheery bunch of creatures. Their lives are described in collectively created pieces of literature known as myths.
painting by Jacopo Zucchi
As you probably know those divine beings represent the forces of the nature, each to its own. But they also represent the forces inside us. E.G. Demeter is the goddess of crops and fertility of the Earth. But she is also the one that deals with our own needs of reproduction and parenting. This similarity of nature and humans, of the outer and inner world, of the "above" and "below" is one of the important principles of any spiritual practice. And there are some bloody good reasons why is that so.
Now, every bunch of gods and goddesses we know of has a chief. The one that is above the others. Sure, revolutions happen and the number one can be stubbed in the back or thrown off the cliff so the younger one can get the throne. But still, there is always a number one. One that is supposed to keep all those forces coherent and, more or less, under control. One that will be called Ego in the 20th century.
The notable step before the monotheism was Echnaton's. Echnaton, also known as Akhenaton or Amenhotep IV was a pharaoh ruling the Egypt in 14th century BC. He was a kind of rebel child so, during his 17 years of reign, he introduced many reforms. Most notable was his reform of the religion, actually the first step towards the monotheism.
Echnaton worshiped Aton, the Sun god. But he also tried to make him the only god, by neglecting and banishing all the others. Which was kind of silly and childish. You can't just tell the rest of the nature to go away. Well, you can, but the consequences, on both spiritual and political level, are not pleasant. And it's not the proper monotheism anyway.
Monotheistic God is not just one, it's the only one. It's not just the one above the others, nor the only one because the rest is banished. It's the all-containing God. The unity. And that step is the important one. It's a huge leap in our comprehension of ourselves and of the world we are part of.
woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Psychologically, it might seem as a simple thing and not a big deal. It's switching from our many instincts, needs and inner mechanisms to a single one. It's the realization that I is one, a coherent entity. Every kid gets that idea as soon as they start to speak. But does other animals, mammals included, has that conception? Hardly so. It's one of the things that make us humans. So it is a big deal after all.
On the "above" level, in the outside world, it's a comprehension that the whole Universe, the whole world we are part of, is one. It's the realization of oneness, unity and harmony. The world is not just a pile of disconnected things and events anymore. It's one world and each of the parts is connected to the rest. Realizing that is a great spiritual achievement.
Unfortunately, the mere existence of a theory is not enough. This is a mystical experience. Experience being the important word. Declaring oneself as a member of a particular religion or reading about it is not enough. It has to be experienced first hand. And that takes much more. Though it is worth the effort.