Photo © Mike Stenhouse

Photo © Mike Stenhouse

A member of a Christian forum asks:

I know several places in the bible it says have no other gods before YWH[sic], and that he’s the most powerful, but does it ever say he’s the only one?

What do you think about other gods?

I cannot help but offer my own thoughts:

In my understanding, all gods are created by the humans that want them to exist to explain what happens in the world. Gods are a part of our cultures, and they evolve as we do. Gods began as celestial bodies (sun worship) and gods who ruled different natural forces (gods of fertility, volcanoes, the sea). As we grew to know more about how the world worked, our gods grew to be more and more complex, more powerful, and more concerned with the ways of humans. Once we knew that the sun rose and set on its own, there was no need for a deity to carry it across the sky. Once we discovered our orbit and gravity, we could let go of the giant turtle that carried the flat earth on its back.

So yes, other gods did and do exist… but only in the mids of those who worship them. The ancient gods died along with the people who created them (like Ra and Apollo). Some gods linger on (Allah, Shiva) because they thrive in their home cultures.

Yahweh is one of the most advanced gods because he can be defined a bit more than the others and is more personal. We say he is outside of time because we know what time is and what restraints it puts on our universe. We say he speaks through books because we have written languages and the technology to pass it on. God is as advanced and as brilliant as we are, because our amazing minds imagined him and adore him.

This is just the way we are. I’m sure in the future our deities will grow and evolve to fit into the holes that science has not yet closed, into the mysteries that are still unsolved.

It’s kind of confusing, in a way… deities are getting bigger all the time as our minds and imaginations expand… but at the same time they shrink smaller and smaller as we give them less and less credit for the natural things of this universe.

We truly are amazing, thoughtful beings.

* * *

My thoughts are greatly inspired by the documentary Creator of God: A Brain Surgeon’s Story and the Q&A session our audience had with the creator Dr. Vivekanand Palavali at a local film festival. Although it has some weaknesses, I recommend seeing this film if you have the chance–especially if you have an agnostic or believing friend with you. It sparks some lively conversations!

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7 thoughts on “No Other Gods but Yahweh?”

GeorgeRic · October 19, 2009 at 1:48 am

And in the Psalms "For the Lord is great God, & a great King above all Gods" Typically interpreted that angels, compared to men, are as gods, But angels are nothing but creatures. And Jesus is their King.

How great it is to find a blog of people who are honestly looking for answers. You people see only what is material; Christian ideas are out of this world (and help us to live better in this world). Plato in his 'Allegory of the Cave' started it. Abbott, writer of 'Flatland', described contiguous dimensional worlds. 'Techie Worlds', available at Amazon.com, analyzes in a mechanistic sort of way. It looks at Christian concepts like Trinity, resurrection, judgment, soul, Satan and hell. Viewed dimensionally, those ideas make logical sense. That follows the pattern of science: examine phenomena in the light of a theory. When phenomena become more understandable, accept the theory.
GeorgeRic

GeorgeRic · October 19, 2009 at 1:49 am

Continuing the previous comment:

Throughout history mankind has experienced strange ideas and events: Wicca, Greek gods, Hindu pantheism, upturned corners on oriental temples, the sun dancing at Fatima. Materialists just deny them all. 'Techie Worlds', with its geometric understanding of worlds contiguous with ours, explains the structure of our real worlds. It is not accepted by bible thumpers and professional religious. They have faith. Instead it serves thinkers who able to integrate sensible ideas.
GeorgeRic

Dean · February 14, 2011 at 4:10 am

@GeorgeRic: Materialism does not “deny them all”. Materialism, loosely defined, simply puts religious and mystical experience in its proper place (the only quantifiable place)—in the natural world. The fact that our consciousness is confined in this little area inside our skull does not negate the fact that many people have profound and life-changing experiences. One of the arch-materialists of our day, Dr. Sam Harris, is incredibly interested in how these experiences happen and how we can harness this power of the brain to make positive changes in our lives.

As for any assertions that gods or supernatural places actually exist, I’m afraid you’ll still have to look to those who are less concerned with facts to find any camaraderie.

Regarding the post itself, history is pretty clear that the ancient Middle East was rife with pantheons upon pantheons of tribal gods. The fact that (the Bible records that) YHWH demanded of the Hebrews that they have “no other gods before [him]” was merely a demand of loyalty, not a demand of theistic exclusivity. “Let the others have their own gods; I am your god” is the gist. A demand of monotheism likely would have been absurd. The Hebrews were one tribe among many, and YHWH was one god among many.

This makes the fact that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all monotheistic now all the stranger but still a rather mundane product of history.

    Godless Girl · February 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Yes, I’m glad you brought up the time in which these texts were written. The Bible mentions other deities by name (Baal, etc.) and seems most interested in proving that Yahweh’s power is greater than the gods of other tribes.

NotSoMightyGod · February 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

The person who wrote the post needs to consider the context that the authors were writing in as well as their motive(s).

Tribal communities vying for territory and survival would be well served to develop as many commonalities as possible to create a cohesive culture. Mosaic law is a perfect example of rituals and traditions derived to create a sense of community.

Whether other Gods exist or not was probably not a question for the authors. Denying other Gods to concentrate the community’s worship would have been the gist. (That effort is valid regardless of the actual piety of the author. The intent can be justified for either a priest or a charlatan.) It’s all about creating solidarity.

Remember also, that if your nation defeated my nation, either on the battlefield or by subjugation, it could be interpreted that your God(s) is/are stronger than my God. The assumption implies that there are numerous Gods even if they’re divorced from natural phenomena and are associated with their followers.

To answer the writers question directly, YES; old Testament authors especially, assumed there were many Gods.

The answer to what *I* think about other Gods is answered above; community, solidarity, culture.

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