Can we make a clear distinction between religions that have been categorized as "monotheistic" and those labeled "polytheistic"? Are there many gods in Hindu and African religions, or are these...

Can we make a clear distinction between religions that have been categorized as "monotheistic" and those labeled "polytheistic"? Are there many gods in Hindu and African religions, or are these many representations of a single GOD? Can saints be categorized as gods? How do they fit into that category and how do they differ? Are God and Jesus a single entity? What about Brahma and Vishnu? Would an outsider view this differently from an insider? Can you think about these issues as an anthropologist, rather than being guided by the teachings of your religion & personal religious beliefs?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, let us address the issue of whether one can study religion (or really any other aspect of human culture) without being “guided” by one’s own beliefs.  The answer here depends on what we mean by “guided.”  We can certainly put aside our beliefs to some degree, but we can never be completely free of them.  Good social scientists do not (and cannot) prevent their own beliefs and experiences from affecting the way they think.  All they can do is to understand what their beliefs are and to understand how those beliefs and experiences might affect their thinking.  In other words, our beliefs will affect our thinking, but they do not need to control that thinking.

Looking next at the issue of outsiders and insiders, an outsider would typically tend to view an issue differently from an insider.  This is largely because insiders and outsiders will have different emotional approaches to a given question.  For example, Christians are militantly monotheistic.  They insist that they worship only one god and they have some degree of scorn for those who worship many gods.  Because of this emotional approach to the issue of polytheism, they would tend to have a very hard time accepting the idea that Christianity might be (or at least appear) somewhat polytheistic.  This is even true within Christianity as many Protestants can think that Catholicism is somewhat polytheistic because Catholics are much more likely to pray to saints than Protestants are.  Many Christians will have a hard time accepting the idea that the doctrine of the Trinity appears to be polytheistic to many outsiders.

What this all seems to indicate is that it is hard to distinguish between polytheism and monotheism.  There does not appear to be a bright dividing line between the two.  There are religions that see themselves as monotheistic but which have polytheistic aspects.  There are religions, like Hinduism, which seem to be polytheistic but can also be characterized as monotheistic.  It is hard to label religions with complete objectivity and insiders and outsiders will differ in their views of any particular religion.

Chantelm | Student

Monotheism is only believing in one god. Hindus and other Asian religions for instance are polytheistic because they believe in different Gods and they worship Gods of harvest, rain etc. Saints are not Gods they are just an image. There is no certain image on what God look. Jesus is God through man. He tried to come on earth to show the truth through Jesus. Jesus was not just any man, he came on this earth to save humanity. He died on a cross so that everyone could be saved from being in hell for eternity, whoever believes in him is saved by grace and is on a road to heaven. It depends how you live your life and what you base your beliefs on to interpret this question.