Dear 100 Hour Board,
Thanks to Facebook, I keep being exposed to crazy things that other MEMBERS believe about our church that just aren't true. The latest one was a girl who tried to claim that Mormons are polytheistic, not monotheistic, because we believe that everyone can become a god, therefore we don't believe in one god. Also, according to her, Momons are not Christian because Christian means more than just believing in Christ; it's tied to the monotheism angle, and we've just "appropriated" the term but we're using it wrong.
I got a bit of info from Wikipedia to refute this, but it's not really my realm of expertise. Can someone with a better understanding of definitions of religion explain why this girl is wrong? (The post has been removed from the mom group, thank goodness, but it would make me feel better to know in case I ever encounter this concept again.)
-With people like that, it's no wonder people are confused about our church
So here's the thing: most members of the Church aren't theologians or experts in religious nomenclature. In fact, most people aren't, period. This means that we have a lot of different ideas about how to interpret terms like "monotheism" or "polytheism." There are certain traditions that we all believe, but the truth is that a lot of those can be challenged if you look at them more closely, so maybe don't throw that woman under the bus quite yet (but I will eventually get around to the fact that we're not polytheists, don't worry).
Monotheism is the belief in only one God. Polytheism is the belief in and worship of many different gods. One classic example of a polytheistic religion is Hinduism. But wait, is it really? Sure, they have up to 330 different deities, but they also believe that God, the universe, and everything in it, is one. Also, if you get right down to it, most of the gods are avatars of other gods, who are in turn avatars of other gods, etc etc until you get back to Krishna. So depending on your interpretation of the different theisms (or system of belief about God), you could argue that Hinduism is polytheistic, or pantheistic, or even monotheistic. What I'm trying to say here is that the various theisms have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to applying them to actual belief systems.
So, back to monotheism and Mormonism. We believe that Heavenly Father is God, and we're pretty clear on the fact that we should have "no other gods." Cool, sounds like monotheism. However, the Hebrew word we use for God is Elohim, which is plural--we have both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. Okay, that's more than just one God, but for all intents and purposes they're one entity, so maybe we can still get behind it. Then there's the fact that we believe in an entire Godhead--three distinct entities who are all gods. Yes, they are completely united in their purposes and what they do, to the point that one of them can speak for all of them, but the fact remains that they are still distinct beings. That doesn't really sound like the belief that there is "but one God." In fact, believing in three separate members of the Godhead seems pretty apostate to a lot of Christian religions for precisely the reason that it doesn't sound quite like monotheism. And then there's the doctrine that your friend brought up: we believe that everyone who has ever lived on this earth has the potential to become gods and goddesses one day. That's one of the most beautiful, empowering pieces of doctrine we have, and I think it speaks volumes about the power and scope of the infinite atonement. But it also means that we can't really claim to be monotheists. After all, we believe in two heavenly parents, three separate members of the Godhead, and that one day there will be millions of other gods and goddesses.
So getting down to the nitty-gritty, members of the LDS Church aren't really monotheistic in the strictest sense of the word. But are we polytheistic? No, because we don't worship other gods. The proper term for us would actually be henotheism--the worship of one God without denying the existence of other gods.
Hopefully that helped clear up some confusion!
The Book of Mormon teaches us over and over again that there is only one God. I give a few examples here:
2 Nephi 31:21 "This is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end."
Alma 11:27-29 "And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? And he answered, No."
Mormon 7:7 "He that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end."
In the Church we like to emphasize that the members of the Godhead are separate people, because they are. But they are not separate Gods. They work perfectly together, making them one God. To say we worshiped multiple Gods would be to say that the Godhead isn't completely unified.
As for being Christian: Yes, there are many reasons we are different from traditional Christians. We believe Christ still speaks today, and we believe that He will save nearly everyone on the Earth in some form of salvation (Kingdoms of Glory). If that means that we believe in a different Christ from everyone else, I won't apologize for believing in a Christ who's more powerful than other religions are comfortable with.
It really depends on your definition, but I see myself as both monotheistic and Christian.
I think this book chapter is quite good at explaining how I feel about this issue. I don't really care if Mormonism is monotheistic or polytheistic. If my understanding of history is accurate, one of the main reasons why Christianity even cares about being monotheistic is that a long time ago early Christianity was corrupted by the philosophy of neoplatonism, a school of thought founded by a Greek guy named Plotinus. Basically, neoplatonism says that everything that exists fundamentally can be derived from "the One", which was kind of like a God (but not really a being). This philosophy became very popular in the Hellenic world. The Nicene Creed, a doctrinal statement that attempted to make the Godhead into one God, happened a hundred or so years later and largely was a merger of neoplatonism and Christian doctrine. The only other reason I can think why people care is that the only God mentioned in the Old Testament is Jehovah (although of my memory serves me right again, there's some pretty ambiguous verses in the first couple chapters of Genesis that maybe mention other Gods - sorry I can't remember where I heard this, I could be totally wrong about this somewhat tangential detail).
Anyways, if I was agnostic, I don't think I would really care if a religion was monotheistic, ditheistic, tritheistic, polytheistic, henotheistic, patheistic, autotheistic, deistic, atheistic, or any other kind of -istic. I can't think of any reason why only one being/thing could be a deity. Unless I believed Plotinus. Then I would feel more strongly about it.
Anyways, "polytheistic" is a word that has definitely become a mean thing to call someone else. But just because other people say it like it's a mean word doesn't mean it should be a mean word. Being polytheistic does not equal believing in the Greek pantheon, sort of like how being monotheistic does not equal believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.