Notions of Divine and Ultimate Reality

I.  Categories, Animism, and the Axial Age


1.     Categories of Conceptions: belief in more than one god

a.     Polytheism: Belief in more than one god

b.     Pantheism: doctrine that all that all beings are divine in some way, or that God is in everything.

c.     Monism: doctrines that teach that only one being exists.

d.     Dualism: two divine principles – Samkhya, Taoism, Zoroastrianism

e.     Monotheism: belief in on personal, transcendent Creator God as opposed to belief in many gods

f.      Non-theistic

2.     Polytheism, Sky Gods, and the Mother Goddess

a.     Until about 2000 BCE, most prehistoric societies polytheistic, animistic.

b.     Animism and the worship of nature – sacred powers associated with certain feature of nature – sun, water, sky, totem plants and animals.  Giver, sustainer, destroyer of life.

                                      i.     Sky Gods – connected with creation, dwells in the sky, fertilizes the earth with life-giving rain.  Smts (African traditions) has withdrawn after creation > abstract, transcendent.

1.     All religions tend to move from transcendent to immanent, accessible; and vice versa
(ex. Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka)

2.     Sovereignty > order – in kingdom, in universe

c.     Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia (present-day Iran)

                                      i.     Sky God connected to creation and sovereignty (Zeus)

                                    ii.     Mother Goddess (Ancient Mediterranean, Near Eastern, South Asian) – connected to the earth.

1.     Fertility, cycle of seasons, birth and rebirth

2.     Ambivalence of goddess – pregnant yet chaste, protector yet destroyer (demanding blood sacrifice)

a.     Durga, Kali (Shakti)

3.     Axial Age – 8th C. BCE – 2nd C. CE

a.     Many new, world traditions born.  From Far East-India-middle east-mediterranean

b.     New conceptions of the divine: pantheistic, dualistic, monotheistic and monistic

                                      i.     8th-6th C. BCE: Hebrew religon developes into radical monotheism (Palestine)

                                    ii.     6th to 4th C. BCE: Dualistic cosmologies and eschatologies in Persia, notably Zoroastrianism

                                   iii.     6th-4th BCE: Founding of Buddhism and Confucianism (India and China)

                                   iv.     7th-3rd BCE: New pantheistic and monistic philosophical notions of the divine develoed in the Upanishads (India)

                                    v.     5th to 2nd BCE: New philosophies of religion in works of Plato, Aristotle, and Stoicism (Greece)


II.  Example: Hinduism - From polytheism to pantheism to monism

1.     Vedic religion (2500-800BCE): visionary and sacrificial dimensions

a.     Indo-Aryans; Fire sacrifice, revitalizing the gods, maintaining order of cosmos

b.     Divine-human relationship: interdependence; sacrifice, petition, control

2.     Speculative texts (800-400 BCE): Upanishads, Aranyakas.  New notion of deity

a.     Mystical, philosophical speculation on nature of ultimate reality

b.     Brahman: power, being that pervades cosmos.  Salt chunk in water

c.     Divine human relationship: Atman and Brahman

d.     Samsara, karma, moksha

3.     Advaita Vedanta (Sankara 788-820 CE): Nondualism

a.     Maya – the illusory phenomenal world, absolute non-duality

b.     Cosmos as GodŐs dream

c.     Liberating knowledge = transcends space and time, known as being-awareness-bliss

4.     Central issue in Hindu monism: reconciling the one and the many.  All the gods are one.


III.  Monotheism and the Abrahamic Traditions

1.     Central issue in Western monotheistic religions: reconcile presence of sacred power in the world with its wholly otherness or transcendence of the world.  God is eternal, outside the world, self-sufficient – mustnŐt be viewed in too human terms. Yet still intervenes in human affairs, is a personal God.  World is not a part of God, God and world are distinct.

2.     Until Ninth Century: Israelites had worshipped a universal creator God.  They were polytheistic but recognized a single ascendent god among all others (henotheism).

a.     God as transcendent and powerful but enters into a special relationships with Israel.

                                 i.         A jealous God - have Ňno other gods before meÓ

b.     Through Moses (13th C.): Yahweh revealed to Israelites and special relationship established in the course of specific historical events

                                 i.         Exodus from Egypt, the covenant at Mt. Sinai, exile in Babylonia.

                                ii.         Struggle with polytheistic cults and pagan idolatry

c.     Prophets (9th to 6th C.)

                                 i.         railed against worship and idolatry of other cults

                                ii.         emphasized GodŐs sovereignty over all of creation

                              iii.         Moved in direction of claiming that there are no other gods

                              iv.         God as personal though transcendent

                                v.         God as wise and powerful > omniscient and omnipotent

                              vi.         God as infinite, eternal