What is the difference between "monism" and "monotheism?"

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "monotheism" is made up of two parts, from the Greek. "Mono" is a form of "monos," which means "single, alone" and "theism," which is a form of "theos" meaning "a god." So, "monotheism" literally means "one god." "Theism" is also from the Greek. Over time, "

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

" is made up of two parts, from the Greek. "Mono" is a form of "monos," which means "single, alone" and "theism," which is a form of "theos" meaning "a god." So, "monotheism" literally means "one god." "Theism" is also from the Greek. Over time, "theism" has come to mean "belief in a diety"— coined in the 1670s.

Generally, monotheism is the belief in one God. At the center of Christianity and Judaism, monotheism is exercised in the worship of God (the Father), who is all-powerful, has created the entire universe and is still involved with His creation today.

Within this belief system, God is often seen as a being...

...of unlimited power (omnipotence), unlimited knowledge (omniscience), unlimited extension (omnipresence), and unlimited goodness (omnibenevolence). 

These beliefs are supported in the Scripture of the Old Testament of the Bible. In Exodus 3, verses 13 and 14, God gives Moses His name, identifying himself as the God of Israel:

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (NIV)

The word "monism"...

...comes from the Greek word meaning alone or single.

It basically means that everything comes from one, single thing. The specific definition is that...

...various things or kinds of things...in the world are somehow reducible to, derivable from, or [explained] in terms of one thing (substantival monism) or one kind of thing (attributive monism).

Originally meaning that everything is either mental or material (from Christian Wolff), today the concept reduces everything to one original and lowest form, and ultimately growing beyond its original "singleness" into something more complicated and/or sophisticated. This is different from "plurism" which states that there are many things or many kinds of things.

Research notes that often, and inaccurately, monism is confused with dualism—something having two natures or "sides," such as good and evil. Monism is, however, not dealing with two natures, but only one. Monism is not "plurism" or "dualism."

In other words, monism is...

...the doctrine that the person consists of only a single substance, or that there is no crucial difference between mental and physical events or properties

Monotheism is the belief in one God. Monism is the belief that everything comes from one source. For "monism," a scientist might say that all life comes from carbon: one element. There is theological reference to God in "monotheism," but in "monism," there is a simplistic philosophy that accounts for the basic nature of all things.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What exactly is the difference between monism and monotheism?

Monism and monotheism are not the same thing, though some people are both monist and monotheist at the same time.

Monotheism is the simpler concept.  Monotheism is the idea that there is only one god.

Monism is more complicated.  It is the idea that all things are truly part of one overarching whole.  There are not truly many things, all is one.

It is possible to interpret monism and monotheism to be compatible.  In such a view, God and the universe are the same thing.  The whole universe comes from God and is part of God.  So long as one believes that there is only one god, this type of monism would be monotheistic.

Monism, then, is one way to be monotheistic.  However, many monotheists, as seen in the newadvent.org link below, would see monism as a heretical form of monotheism.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the difference between monism and polytheism?

Monism is not a religion or a faith per se.  Instead, it is a metaphysical way of looking at the world.  Monism holds that everything in the universe is really part of one substance or one nature.  A monistic religion would hold that there is a god and that all of creation is really part of that god.  Most scholars see Hinduism as an example of such a religion because Hindus believe that everything in the world is part of Brahman.

Polytheism can be monistic as well.  In polytheism, there are held to be many gods.  However, it is possible that these gods can all be seen as part of one overarching nature.  Hinduism is also an example of such a religion.  As this link shows, many Hindus believe in many gods, but see those gods' separate beings as somehow illusory since the gods are really part of one overall being.

But there are also purely polytheistic religions.  A religion is polytheistic so long as it believes in many gods.  It can believe that the many gods are all truly separate entities and therefore it can be polytheistic without being monistic.

Last Updated on