I am starting this article but I don’t know how and where it will finish. So please bear with me. As you have made out today’s topic is of eternal conflict since these two concepts evolved. The common ground in all religion is that God is the creator and also possesses the qualities of all knowing, all merciful, all powerful, all wise, beyond space and time and unaffected by anything what so ever. Anything else which is superlative and best of the best can be added to his description.
The problem arises when everyone considers that what their god has said is right and is the best thing. Before the advent of the prominent monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam came Hinduism which is blamed to be a polytheistic religion. If someone digs deeper then even Hinduism is a monotheistic religion but here the concept of god is different from that of Christianity and Islam. So when there is a conceptual difference there is bound to be conflict. But I will keep aside Hinduism for the time being.
The first question that arises is that if god is one for all then why the two most prominent monotheistic religions are different from each other? When the first major monotheistic religion came then there should not have been a requirement of a second one. But still the second one came is flourishing quite well. It can be said that the first one and the second one are different from each other, but then in that case we will have two gods. If the teaching of both the religions is not a photocopy of each other then also it can be said that because the source is not one therefore the teachings are different. In this case also then we are accepting that there are two gods.
Here arises the problem, both accepting in one god but the teachings differ in both- how can that be? When this comes to the followers then it becomes a competition for supremacy – what my god said is right and what others have said is not the right path. Then all sort of justifications start pouring in to prove it. Before the advent of the two prominent monotheistic religions there were no wars based on religion, but after that there have been numerous wars in the name of religion and to spread their respective religions. Monotheistic religions gave rise to religious intolerance.
In case of religions which came before Christianity and Islam, like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism which gave god status to more than one, there was no problems in accepting and giving space to more than one god. This open mindedness gave an easygoing approach to religion with all existing happily side by side. Monotheism brought rigidity with a conviction that the rituals and practices which I follow are the only correct way to approach and worship god. This is the reason why the first religious battles were fought to uphold these separate convictions of monotheistic religion. The war involving monotheistic and polytheistic religions started for a different reason. Here the battle was to spread the supremacy of monotheistic over polytheistic religion. The polytheistic religions first openly accepted the presence of another religion without conflict but when the true nature of the purpose came out, only then did the polytheistic religions started to resist. It may not sound politically correct but one of the primary focuses of Christianity and Islam has been to spread the religion among others. The Christians did this mostly through their economic conquest of the world in earlier centuries and is presently done through missionaries. The Muslims did this through conquest by expanding their territory and quite a bit of forced conversions. Before this the pre Christ religions seldom had any conflict on these grounds and existed peacefully without resorting to any type of force or coercion.
One of the drawbacks which I perceive of the monotheistic religion is that they tend to take god beyond the all knowing, all merciful, all powerful, and all wise to the alpha and omega of the universe, the only all supreme. This leads to a doctrinal conflict with other religions as one is not ready to accept anything else. From where does this belief comes that there can be only one road which leads to god. What is the difficulty in accepting that the goal can be one but the roads can be many? Whereas the monotheistic religions cannot go beyond their single road a polytheistic religion allows different highways to reach god. When a person is given the leeway to approach god in his own way then he is more open to accept other ways also, but if the mind is forced into believing that there can be only one way then that mind will never accept any other way.
One explanation can be that human mind may believe in a formless god but cannot conceive a formless one due to the limitation of the mind. When the mind is restricted to a particular line of thinking given in a book and the person is not capable of treading that path due to the limitation of his mind, then it is but natural that he will lose direction. But when there are multiple options available to him and he has the freedom to choose the way which suits his nature then it is more likely that he will not lose direction. An example can be that when we fire a rifle our vision passes through two sights on the rifle, the fore sight which is at the tip of the barrel and the rear sight which sits just in front of the eyes and the target. We need to use both the sights to take a perfect aim at the target or else we will miss the target. Here the rear sight is the face which we conceive as god, the foresight gives us the direction towards god and the target is the god. Without the rear sight we will not get the right direction to aim.
Another great difference which I have noticed is that the monotheistic religions follow a formless view of god but actually create a god which is more akin to as if it has a form, which behaves as if it is a living entity. In Islam particularly no picture can be made of the Prophet, but while praying why then it is required to face the Mecca. Instead of giving a form, the direction is the form. If god is present everywhere then a follower should be able to pray facing any direction. A polytheistic religion has given many faces to god in many forms but the underlying concept is that the prayer is addressed to the formless one in his own personal way. The faces are just a means to direct there prayer to the formless. For this reason there is no restriction in the number of ways god can be addressed through as many faces he wishes.
One basic difference between monotheistic religion and polytheistic religion is that monotheistic religion believes god is sitting on a pedestal in heaven but a polytheistic religion like Hinduism Buddhism and Jainism though believing in heaven and hell searches for god in his soul and not for someone sitting on a pedestal in heaven. In Hinduism it is called 'sat- chit-ananda' which means 'truth- consciousness-bliss'. It is synonymous to the three qualities of the supreme being which can be experienced by a seeker by achieving this state. This heavenly experience is experienced in the soul. It has nothing to do with polytheism, the various gods worshipped in various forms are just stepping stones to the right direction and destination.
Ultimately as I believe both the ways of worship has their strength and weaknesses. But the biggest weakness lies in us, our nature does not allow accept our mistakes and weaknesses and therefore we try to justify our point first through discussion and then through force. If the all knowing and the all wise understood beforehand about this weakness of its so called greatest creation then I am sure he would have not tried to force himself upon us this way. But now gods mistake cannot be undone by even him.
Disclaimer: The article is in no way intended to hurt the religious sentiment of anyone. If I have hurt your religious sentiment then I apologize for it. Please read it with an open mind only.