TEXAS FAITH 49: Is monotheism superior?

Dallas Morning News,

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

The three Abrahamic faiths are known for being monotheistic religions. They worship one Deity, even though they may leave room for several concepts of the Divine. For example, Christians believe in the Trinity.

But other faiths aren’t monotheistic. They allow for more than one god. As Texas Faith panelist Amy Martin wrote in an email:

"If you ask a Hindu if they are monotheistic, they will acknowledge the all-encompassing nature of the Brahma and say that all their gods and goddesses are simply aspects of that godhead. Even pagans say the same thing. The spiritual-not-religious, like Buddhists, posit an all-is-one divine energy, but do not define it as God."

Over time, these concepts have shaped traditions, cultures and even nations. So, for this week I’d like to hear your answer to this question:

Do you think monotheism is a superior form of religious belief?

If so, why? If not, why not?

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 
I would like to thank Amy for this nice question. One item I would like to clarify is that Hinduism in not a religion nor a way life but rather as Sanskrit and Indian Studies Professor Dr. Howard J Resnick states, "A family of different religions."

Of all religions of Hinduism, Vaishnavism is the most prominent. It is over 70% of the Hindu population.

If the term Hindu has any value, it would be to indicate a geographic designation rather than a theological one. The Vaishnava tradition is not monolantry, nor pantheistic. It is monotheistic.

The scriptures of most traditions all emphasize monotheism. For example in the Bhagavad Gita, God states that he is not only the father all beings on this Earth but also the father of the angels (devas), who some call the gods (BG 14.4).

The Vedas also state, Eko nārāyana asit, "that only God exist in this material world at the time of creation." The devas are all His creation. Therefore. according to scripture, polytheism is not supported.

Logically and also according to the scripture, absolute monism, Advaita, is not supported. It is true that every soul shares a qualitative feature of God since we are all spiritual, without creation and without destruction.

However, there is a quantitative difference. Our consciousness is limited. Others are not aware that I have to go to the bathroom unless I inform them. Our consciousness is primarily limited to our own bodies. We are not conscious of all bodies, where God is conscious of all bodies (BG 13.23)

A simple analogy can be given. If you take a drop of water out of the ocean, that drop will have the same qualities of the ocean. It shares the qualitative oneness of the same percentage of salt and minerals.

However, if you were to examine it quantitatively, you will see that there is a gulf of difference between the drop and the ocean. So, in this way, there is a difference and oneness between the soul and God. (BG 15.16-19)

I would also like to add that impersonal monotheism is also incomplete. The idea that God is faceless, formless, and without personal attributes goes against the very nature of monotheistic philosophy.

In monotheistic traditions God is understood to be the source of everything. If I were to possess qualities and attributes that are not found in God, then that would indicate that God is incomplete.

Therefore, it is suitable to accept that God has a form, the perfection of form. Not an old man as speculatively imagined by some artists but rather nava-yavanam, an ever youthful beauty, Krishna.

  The following are comments that I have left in response to panelist’s submissions.  Click on the link above to see them all.
    • Regarding Mr. Ghouse post. It is our humility, or inferiority, that is realized when we realize the superiority of God. To claim God supreme is not arrogance but rather a humble recognition of the truth of our position in relation to God.

      Yes pride and stupidity grow on the same tree and therefore the Brhat Bhagavatamrta equates the terms, Love of God (Bhakti) and utter humility (Dhainya) to be practically the same thing.

      One who has a mature relationship with God knows that those who approach the Father approach the same Father whether known by the name of Allah, Jehovah, or Krishna. The point about uniqueness people also can been in favor of Monotheism as many proclaim a desire for universal brotherhood and sisterhood, yet all are different. Such universal brotherhood and sisterhood cannot be realized without understanding we have a universal Father.

    • Both Zachary Moore and Cynthia Rigby bring up the problem of evil. This issue is easier understood with the understanding that the soul is not born with the body but is actually eternal. We experience karmas from our previous lives and thus suffer from our own doing rather than from neglect from God.
    • Dear Ric Dexter, you have mentioned "Nichiren discussed inferior and superior religious beliefs, and held that beliefs which sought redemption through external intervention were not superior to the ultimate law of life and death."

      a. Not all monotheistic traditions desire redemption,

      "na dhanam na janam na sundarīm

      kavitām vā jagadīśa kāmaye

      mama janmani jamanīśvare

      bhavatād bhaktir ahaitukī tvayi


      O Lord of the universe, I do not desire material wealth, materialistic followers, a beautiful wife or results of good karma. All I want, life after life, is unmotivated devotional service unto You. Śrī Śiksāstaka – 4" Specifically the phrase ‘life after life’ is used to illustrate that the uttama bhakta does not even desire mukti, liberation. He is ready to go to hell, if there is an opportunity to serve God there.

      b. What is the logic behind the idea that spiritual inner work is superior to divine intervention? Some things are beyond our ability. Another point about this is that Love is not a one party relationship, to experience love, the highest experience, another party is necessary.