Theism itself is subject to a cultural evolution: when one speaks of theism in the ancient world, one means polytheism, perhaps henotheism (= many gods, but a supreme God).The first Christians, i.e. monotheists, referred to the ancient Greeks as “atheists” – as people who did not believe in the dominant gods.
There is more to monotheism than the idea that there is only one God.Monotheism introduces several new concepts that are at odds with ancient paganism.
To do this, one must know what the Greeks – and the Romans – understood by gods.Gods were either personalised natural forces, or human archetypes, or moral models described in myths, or a mix of them. But paganism belongs to the natural religions: the object of worship is nature, and gods are a part of nature – they literally embody aspects of nature.
Poseidon may be portrayed as a fish-scaly human figure, but that is pure symbolism.To think that gods are like human beings was considered a popular superstitionamong educated Greeks and Romans.In truth, Poseidon was a symbol of the impetuous power of the sea, the whimsy of the sea, its ability to give and take life. In paganism, there is no question of “believing” in gods, as in monotheism: gods are part of theexperience.Those who cross the sea know, from experience, that the sea has an impetuous power, that it is whimsical, that it has the ability to take and give life, etc.
You experience the forces of nature – you don’t believe in them.The world was culture – everything that was made by humans – and the rest was nature.Gods were part of the world, they had not created the world, they were subject to the same natural rules of the world. And by now it had been understood that there were also comprehensible laws behind the apparent whimsy. This was made clear by the prediction of a solar eclipse by Thales of Miletus in 585 BC.
In monotheism, God was “located” beyond nature.God stood above nature, he was its creator and therefore could not be a part of nature. While the ancient Greeks cultivated a naturalism – as in the world goes naturally – the monotheists introduced a supernaturalism. There were natural rules, but they depended on God and could be changed at any time. The whimsy of nature became the whimsy of God. God became a spirit being that could not be experienced directly. The pagan religion of experience became a monotheistic religion of faith in which knowledge of God came not from experience, but from revelation. One could only know about God what He said about himself in the scriptures.
In ancient paganism, the gods had been used to explain natural processes.This had been in crisis in antiquity, because laws were discovered everywhere to which the gods were obviously bound: a solar eclipse was not staged according to the whim of a god, but it took place on the basis of a Legality. And one had the suspicion that one could discover everywhere such laws, which, although they looked arbitrariness and whimsy, were only apparent.
With the decline of antiquity, the old polytheism was also lost, and the Christian faith – which the Gentiles, because of supernaturalism, considered superstition – prevailed with massive military force.Polytheism was less “lost”, it was fought massively, its temples were razed, the priests were killed.
It was to take a thousand years to start reconnecting with the ancient Greeks – the Renaissance, the rebirth of antiquity, the rediscovery of their treasures of knowledge, began.While in philosophy in the West only Plato and Neuplatonism prevail – because this is the philosophical basis of Christianity – Socrates and Aristotle returned now, with them reason and logic.
The natural sciences arose from the ancient philosophy of nature.This science was immediately opposed by Christianity, which saw its monopoly claim to explanations threatened. But the monopoly was lost because science showed results and changed the world.
At some point, even theologians claimed that the natural world could be explained theologically, when the explanation of the natural world by natural circumstances was so unusually successful.One stopped seeing God in every small gap, because the gaps in explanation were constantly shrinking, and with them a God who has the function of explaining what we cannot explain. They retreated to supernaturalism – science could explain everything except the origin of the world – and to the field of ethics, where science was believed to be safe.
But while faith has a firm framework, this does not apply to knowledge: knowledge expands.The range of it, which can be explained in a naturalistic way, is expanding. With analytical philosophy, theology completely lost its ability to explain – something that has not yet been talked about among all theologians and their followers. Kant set tight limits on metaphysics.
Whereas in the past the diversity of nature could only be explained with God, with the theory of evolution, the Darwin Wallace principle, there was suddenly a scientific and alternative explanation.In the meantime, only apologists with a religious agenda doubt the theory of evolution and only people who are unable or unwilling to understand the sometimes complex scientific ideas fall victim to them.
At some point, even the last monotheist realizes that there are no theistic explanations that are accepted.You have a lot of things that you can’t explain, but you don’t give in to trying it theologically or theistically – because there’s not a single case where it would ever have worked. Monotheism has established itself as a total failure when explaining.
At the same time, burgeoning atheism suggests a question, namely: if there is no God, how and why is therereligion?In the meantime, this question is far beyond the stage of pure speculation, as in Feuerbach and Freud. We partly know how religion came into being and why – and knowledge has increased in recent years. Before 9/11, there were few psychological studies on religion. Religion, when I was studying psychology, was a kind of taboo subject. At 9/11, that changed dramatically, new studies come out every year – and most have one thing in common: they disenchant religion, they explain it, and the explanations are often not very flattering.
Science now limits religions and laces them up from all sides, except the field of ethics/morality.There religion generally withdraws. The fundamentalists who do not see this are now suspicious and rather embarrassing to the majority of believers – a reason to be ashamed. Those who profess religion today must do so with the words “But I am not as stupid and indecent as the fundamentalists of my religion”.
Theism, especially monotheism, is in retreat.Since one masters the heads of the children, it takes until such a thing is established in society.