There are a variety of types of theism, some of which might not strictly be regarded as a form of theism but for the purpose of this video/article theism as a concept is the belief or proposition at least one god exists. A theist is one that accepts the proposition as true.
Main Categories of Theism
The main purpose of this is to just give a brief overview and where appropriate explain some tensions or various opinions about God or gods.
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Polytheism is the belief that there are many gods.
The most commonly known are the Greek/Roman pantheon, Hinduism and the Norse/Asatru.
These gods were often imperfect and man-like in their attributes. They might be seen to be playing pranks or games with our lives and with certain weapons or magic could even be defeated.
They fornicated with humans, sometimes disguised as animals, creating half-breeds that were either heroes or monsters.
Monotheistic religions have the core belief there is only one god. This is usually a creator Omni-type god but there are sometimes modifications to these qualities.
The main monotheistic religions everyone will be aware of are the Abrahamic faiths; Islam, Christianity, and Judaism but there is definitely some tension in the Monotheistic nature of these claims.
Tensions within Christianity & Other Abrahamic Faiths being Monotheistic
There are a few tensions within monotheistic religions that seem to indicate they are not strictly monotheistic, or their roots were in polytheism.
Within Christianity, there is the Trinity which I’ve heard described in a number of ways (just check the SEP to see) but usually, the Trinity is seen as either all God but also their own entities, or sometimes one God in different modes. Angels are also created by God and have their own personalities and services to the heavens and mankind.
This is actually quite similar to Hinduism in the sense of Brahman being the ultimate or eternal metaphysical absolute and, in fact, they have something like the trinity called the Trimurti which consisted of Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer.
The other gods and demons are birthed and perform tasks that you might see akin to that of angels or demons from Christianity, though often have a more active role.
It is often believed that all these gods are but mere aspects of the supreme reality, Brahman.
Whilst it is near on impossible to say “a Hindu believes x” there are many beliefs within Hinduism that do seem to resemble those in Christianity, like the belief God is in everything or that the human body is a temple.
The tension I mention with the Trinity is more present when they are described as their own entities, and the angels are used as a comparison for the smaller gods within Hinduism, along with the fact they have a very similar Trinity (known as the Trimuti) with Brahman in the middle and Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva round the outside.
The Father and Brahma
Could the Father be equivalent to Brahma the creator of the world and all things?
God the Father is the creator of all things. This means that he was the creator of the world and everything in it. He is the father of the universe.https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zygbtv4/revision/8
I think that one is pretty clear-cut.
The Holy Spirit and Vishnu
Could the Holy Spirit be seen as Vishnu the Preserver?
The Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, bears witness of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He is the source of personal testimony and revelation. He can guide us in our decisions and protect us from physical and spiritual danger. He is known as the Comforter, and He can calm our fears and fill us with hope. Through His power, we are sanctified as we repent, receive saving ordinances, and keep our covenants.https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/youth/learn/ap/godhead/roles?lang=eng
Vishnu is a god that is supposed to restore the balance of good and evil. The stories are quite different to that of the holy ghost but we can see that this preservation and protective quality is present in both.
Jesus and Shiva the Destroyer
Could Jesus be compared to Shiva, the destroyer?
8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20John%203%3A8&version=NIV
I’ll admit, this link is a tad more tenuous but Shiva wasn’t regarded as “evil”
Shiva’s role is to destroy the universe in order to re-create it.
Hindus believe his powers of destruction and recreation are used even now to destroy the illusions and imperfections of this world, paving the way for beneficial change. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not arbitrary, but constructive.https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/deities/shiva.shtml
So we can see this destruction can be seen in a similar way to destroying the devil’s work, though perhaps goes a fair bit fourth when it comes to the whole universe.
Old Testament/Torah and “Other Gods”
The tension with the Monotheistic religions being Monotheistic doesn’t stop at these similarities though. We only have to look to the old testament or Torah to find mentions of other gods.
“Most mainstream Old Testament scholars believe that the religion of the early Israelites was neither monotheistic nor polytheistic but “monolatrous.” While the existence of other gods was not denied, Israel was to worship no god but Yahweh. In virtue of the Mosaic covenant, Yahweh became the “confederate god” of Israel, and they become his people (Meek, 215)”https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/monotheism/
“You shall have no other gods before me.”Exodus 20:3
In fact, there are quite a few gods listed in the OT
God Had a Wife?
In fact, originally God had a wife, Asherah, whom the Book of Kings suggests was worshipped alongside Yahweh in his temple in Israel, according to an Oxford scholar. In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshipped both Yahweh and Asherah.
So, it’s fair to say that the Abrahamic faith was definitely not monotheistic originally even though it has seemingly been altered over the years to be so, with various apologetics about what other gods actually represent, e.g. Demons or false idols.
Classical theism’s God is infinite or unlimited in not depending on other things, and in perfection, power, knowledge, goodness and creative responsibility. The roots of classical theism go all the way back to ancient Greece with Aristotle and Plato and over time have been refined or twisted to fit a specific religion.
Classical theism usually applies to the Monotheistic religions, especially as they [Monotheistic gods] usually indicate the Omni-traits.
To some, the God of classical theism is personlike but not a person (as some say of Brahman, conceived as being, consciousness and bliss).
In fact, it can even be argued that some of those that believe in the Abrahamic god has modified the deity so much that it no longer fits the description of classical theism.
The god of classical theism can most definitely fit into certain types of monotheism and polytheism and could be argued to fit into others, such as deism.
For more info, it might be worth reading this: https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/god-concepts-of/v-1/sections/classical-theism
There are a few forms of deism but essentially it’s a take on a god creating the universe and then just leaving us to it.
There’s no real doctrine or set of beliefs other than, and I paraphrase jokingly, “God jump-started the big bang”.
This god can be seen in different ways, and in fact, you can find a modified version of Christianity that fits into deism now.
There are some that argue that deism shouldn’t strictly be regarded as a form of theism as the deistic god is not involved with or interested in the universe it made, whereas the theistic gods are still involved in some way, be it through keeping order, personal relationships or whatever.
Panentheism is essentially the thought that god is greater than, and contains the universe. Not only that but permeates every single thing and extends beyond space and time.
Panentheism can be found on its own or within many religions, there are, for example, elements of panentheism in some forms of Hinduism and Christianity. Some might go so far as to say the god of classical theism is panentheistic as a default.
Pantheism equates the universe with the divine. The universe and god are one and the same. In fact, most forms of pantheism don’t even have any supernatural conscious element to this divinity. The universe is god, the universe is natural, therefore god is natural.
In some respects, it can be seen as reverence for the overwhelming awesomeness that is our universe and how it works.
It can also be seen that the pantheistic god does have a form of consciousness, not that we really understand it, and the will permeates and creates the universe. Everything in creation is a mere reflection of aspects of God, and there could be more to god than these reflections too.
Some might argue that pantheism shouldn’t strictly be regarded as a form of theism as the god of pantheism, doesn’t interact with the universe (as it is the universe), is natural, and doesn’t strictly have a consciousness or personal stake in individual well-being.
Pandeism is interesting, it’s basically deism except god died in the process of creating the universe, and that’s why we’ve been left to get on with it.
In fact, it’s more than that, it’s essentially the combination of pantheism and deism.
God didn’t exactly die, god chose to become the universe and ceased being a separate entity.
Therefore, the entity God can be seen as dead in so much of the identity or character God no longer exists, but is still there in the universe.
People might make the same arguments for why pantheism isn’t strictly a form of theism as they do deism.
Ancient theisms and other religions of note
The concept of the prime mover or unmoved mover is much like that of deism. The original spark that needed no cause. Or to paraphrase Red Dwaf, God is the entity that jumpstarted the big bang.
In fact, Aristotle describes the unmoved mover as being perfectly beautiful, indivisible, and contemplating only the perfect contemplation: self-contemplation. He equates this concept also with the active intellect.
The prime mover is essentially the beginning of classical theism.
Animism—the belief that all natural phenomena, including human beings, animals, and plants, but also rocks, lakes, mountains, weather, and so on, share one vital quality—the soul or spirit that energizes them—is at the core of most Arctic belief systems. This means that humans are not the only ones capable of independent action; an innocuous-looking pond, for example, is just as capable of rising up to kill an unsuspecting person as is a human enemy.
It’s as it sounds essentially the sun was worshipped as a deity.
In a way, we can understand this, as without the sun there would be no life on our planet.
The sun was also seen as good, it brought daytime, warmth, and safety by driving away the darkness and reducing the nighttime threats.
Taoism / Daoism
Taoism teaches about the various disciplines for achieving perfection through self-cultivation. This can be done through the use of Taoist techniques and by becoming one with the unplanned rhythms of the all, called “the way” or “Tao”.
It’s not strictly a theistic religion at its core but elements of theism have been built into it over time as it has been influenced by local cultures and gods.
As you can see, there are various forms of theism, even within a particular belief there are varieties of belief systems which is why you end up with so many denominations and the like.
There are also some forms of god belief that are not strictly regarded as a form of theism like deism, though I personally see deism in the set of theism where theism is the belief or proposition at least one god exists.
I am not sure I would regard pantheism as a form of theism as it just seems like a way of giving reverence to the awesomeness of the universe and the closest thing we humans can actually see to what we think of as the divine.
I think there has to be an entity of some description for us to be discussing theism, even if it is not the personal or interactive god type you might find in monotheism or polytheism, but is still a character like that in deism.
This is also [In part] why is see atheism as the negation of the proposition of theism. There is a balance and Atheism itself is a proposition. Though, as I have described before, there are still many valid uses for atheism. When it comes to discussing the universe as a god, I don’t feel that balance is there, it seems more like a redefinition of what a god is to try and maintain some form of theistic belief when really they are just someone in awe of the universe.
I hope this has been in some way helpful in the exploration of theism and shows it is not all the same thing – and this is just a preliminary overview of the definitions for various types of gods/theism, combined with some personal commentary.
If you’re interested I describe Why I Believe No Gods Exist which covers some of this information in more detail, my personal history with theism and my journey to atheism, and the arguments that have strengthened my belief that atheism is true.
I’ve tried to remember to list my references, though as with many of my articles, I read a lot of stuff that influences ideas and then I find specific quotes, so there is more that I could probably link to as influences, but I have no memory of what they were. Below should be enough to get you started though:
- Exodus 20:3
I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
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