The March of Monotheism
July 6, 2010 Leave a comment
First Things features an interesting review on the common Abrahamic origin of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — but doesn’t conclude that the common origin is a viable basis for “getting along.” Nice sentence: “Living religions positively vibrate with conviction, and in this case, as in most others, points of contact tend to generate friction.”
I was struck, however, by a detail in the review: “some medieval interpreters see the Jewish people leading the nations toward monotheism.”
That God would favor monotheism makes sense. (Indeed, that the gods would favor their various versions of monotheism makes sense. As a cultural phenomenon, monotheism had a competitive edge, notwithstanding the cultural hegemony 2,000 years ago of the nominally polytheistic Roman empire.)
But as the Pauline epistles amply demonstrate, insular Judaism (like Hinduism, but unlike Buddhism and what would become Christianity and Islam) had ceased to become an evangelical vehicle. So if the Chosen People were to be the propagators of monotheism, then they needed a version of Judaism that appealed to Gentiles.
Christianity, with its polytheistic-co-opting Plural Monotheism (in the doctrine of the Trinity), became the perfect vehicle. With the conquest of Christianity, the purer monotheism of Islam (there is no god but God) became another perfect vehicle. But let it be said, Islam’s more rigorous monotheism would not have been culturally and politically feasible but for the power of, first, Judaism, to insist theocratically upon the supremacy of the one God, and second, Christianity to achieve a universal appeal and wean diverse people away from polytheism. The sequence of gradual monotheistic hegemony makes perfect sense.