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I.  Between polytheism & montheism? 
1.2 The world of idols
( in chap.1 - Traditional religion in Melanesia )

By:  Theo Aerts
UPNG Press 1996

Introduction | Melanesian Gods | Between polytheism and monotheismWorld of idols |

I. Between polytheism and monotheism

2.  The world of idols

Already and even according to the Scriptures, the historical counterpart of monotheism was an "assembly of gods" (cf Is 14, 13) or a world with 11many gods and many lords" (1 Cor 8, 5) conveniently defined as polytheism and idolatry.  In this configuration, the gods were personal beings 0) who, received a cultic veneration, and who were able to influence matters of interest for their respective worshippers. Such "gods" were not and never had been "humans"; their existence, in the minds of their religious subjects, did not depend on any human activity while their influence had no spatial, temporal or functional limits (Brelich 1960: 126).  Says Ettienne Gilson, specifically about the gods of the Greeks:  they were "living powers or forces, endowed with a will of their own, operating in human lives and swaying human destinies fiom above" It was because historically, both in the Semitic and Hellenistic worlds, native monotheism and foreign polytheism spoke somewhat the same language, that the two systems could come to terms. The knowledge of this confrontation provided scholars with a framework in which to understand all religions, and this happened not only among religious thinkers, but in the human sciences as well. Let us mention here two opposing schools of evolutionistic scholars.

The early cultural anthropologists, as A. Comte and E. B. Tylor, believed that polytheism and monotheism were successive stages of one great evolutionary process, mutually linked in a straight line, while all religious expressions which did not meet this first mark - either because their object was not personal or because it was limited in its activities - were relegated to the realm of fetishism (i. e. the worshipping of man-made things) or also that of animism (i. e. the veneration of some kind of spirit).

In time, other students of religion of this school developed further distinctions known as dynamism (for the worship of powers of nature which were not, or not yet personified)' or as henotheism. The latter form of worship (i. e. one-god-worship) indicated the stage of evolution just below monotheism (i. e. unique-god-worship). As a matter of fact, in the case of henotheism, people still admitted many gods, but cared only about one of thern.'

By:  Theo Alerts
Port Moresby, University of Papua New Guinea press, 1996

... to be continued ...

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