Monotheism as defined in Western thought is little more than a male-centric hubristic idea of the Self. Like the de-feminising of the Divine, monotheism, defined as a singular, exclusive, exceptionalist entity is tied to issues that have very little to do with holiness, righteousness or salvation. Rather, it has a whole lot to do with an image the Europeans created of himself as the ultimate bringer of order, the saviour, rationalist, the real god, not the one “on high.” According to the Platonic reasoning that expanded on this, there could only be one system of logic and one leader, one correct way of doing anything. All this was conveyed using language meant to evoke ideas of binary opposites. This reasoning morphed into arrogant assumptions of authority to which you are still expected to defer.
The roots of “pure” monotheism can be traced back to aggressive, authoritarian myths that were developed to instill and maintain a similar ethic among roving hunter-warrior clans. Due to the hostile ecological conditions such myths were developed as coping mechanisms. It was crucial then to encourage and reinforce certain behaviours for survival. But the myth stayed in their collective consciousness long after the ice retreated. Rosemary Ruether argues in “Sexism and God Talk” that “nomadic religions were characterised by exclusivism and an aggressive, hostile relationship to the agricultural peoples of the land and their religion.” It formed the basis of their desire to exert total control over all facets of life and their surroundings and was firmly a part of their cultural worldview long before the first Hebrew was born.
Thus it fed into the emerging ideology of certain Hebrew sects from whom much of our understanding of “pure” monotheism came. However, their monotheistic worldview was developed in response to their encirclement by much more powerful territorial-states such as the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians and Phoenicians. Wishing to develop a nationalistic identity, the priestly Levite sect moved to a position of prominence and imposed on the other sects the Marduk-inspired deity Yahweh/Jehovah, an intolerant, singular entity who was “a jealous god.” Caribbean people see this as piety, history sees this as a struggle to define a nationalist identity in the face of even other Hebrew tribes venerating Divine Goddess concepts and values.
History and linguistics also tell us that throughout Genesis, wherever “god” is written, the original word was “Elohim” which does NOT translate into “God” and was NOT even singular. The Elohim are said to be seven in number and Gerald Massey in “Gerald Massey’s Lectures,” “The Natural Genesis ” and “Ancient Egypt The Light of the World” even gives us the names and trace them back to Egyptian concepts.
It is mainly these two streams that fed into early Christian theology. Augustine drew extensively from such Platonic writings as The Euthyphro, The Republic and The Apology. Here one begins to see the influence of linear progression and binary reasonings: a thing or idea either is or isn’t. This represents the opposite of what S. Korsi Dogbe called the law of contraries in Africanist and Asiatic cosmological thought. The ancient Greeks were not monotheists of course but their writings laid the foundations for what would be later taken up by thinkers like Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Aquinas.
Indeed, the very act of writing became a “God” in its own right. Writing may have been invented in Africa and Sumer – scholars like Evelyn Reed and Charles Finch believe by women – but in a Europe imbued with imperialist aspirations it was used in interesting ways. In Christianised Europe, the written word was used to marginalise women, femininity and indigenous nations in tropical regions, many of which had scripts but transmitted sacred knowledge orally to avoid abuse of the written word. To this day the use of the written word is used by Eurocentric religious thinkers to reinforce ideas of the superiority of the Abrahamic faiths (read European culture). Think about it, without the written media, how could the writing of “God” and all the pronouns referring to “Him” be done in capital letters? This is an expression of reverence craftily used to show that the “god’s” of indigenous peoples are inferior to the Christian religion and its “Word.”
As the Church became more formalised and accepted in Rome, it continued to streamline the idea of monotheism. It also served to justify military actions in other lands. For the Jews, those who didn’t worship “one” god were backward, primitive as well as hostile and violence was not only justified but morally compelling. But for them this was mostly just an idea, militarily they were a defeated force. In any event the religion was always tribal and had no real expansionist doctrine. Europe, with Christianity spread throughout the western part of the continent and backed up by military might, took what was for the Jews mostly an ideal to a different level. As they moved into other people’s lands, it did not matter that the cultures they encountered possessed philosophical/spiritual concepts that imply a singular creative force. It did not matter that order existed in these other cultures, what was important was that they did not idealise the divine – and therefore power – in a singular, absolutist way and so their “gods” were immoral, they were immoral, irreligious and as such could be attacked, enslaved and exterminated. The non-idealising of power is perhaps why even proto-Christian sects like the Gnostics were also exterminated. Elaine Pagels tells us that the Gnostics refused to rank themselves in a hierarchical structure, kept communities that were more egalitarian and had women in positions of leadership.
Marimba Ani shows us in her book “Yurugu” that the European elites never held for long any philosophy, belief system or political institution that didn’t facilitate the usurping or retaining absolute power. We in our innocent, often myopic way, guided by ancestral retentions long since manipulated, focus mainly on monotheism from a spiritual sense – thinking, I guess, that everyone else does. But I believe that we of the post-colonial Caribbean still possess some freeness of mind to pick apart these ideas imposed on us. We must have a clear understanding of the history behind these ideas lest the mistakes of the past continue to be repeated. We all know – or should know – that religion was used to justify some of the worst atrocities in human history. The taking of other people’s lands, the suffering inflicted on them, the most blatant destruction to the environment, all stem from certain ideas advanced by a belief that someone was doing god’s work. With that in mind, we as post-colonials are supposed to be following through with probing questions like how exactly was religion mis-used? What exactly did they do? The answers to these questions must then be linked to our understanding of the powerful role myths play in creating and maintaining senses of identity and the “rightness” of what a people may be doing.
From a Caribbean perspective we need to look at the beliefs, concepts and institutions we’ve inherited in the context of the unequal parent-child, master-subordinate relationship with the Europeans as the master because that’s how they envisioned it. Many older belief systems tell us that there are many paths to the divine enlightenment, Eurocentric ideologies teach us there can only be one. That’s based on the culture they’ve known for hundreds of years. That doesn’t mean it must be like that. Consider the billions of lives destroyed throughout history because some people either didn’t ‘believe’ or believed…but differently. Having considered that, when someone like Pastor Cuffie could openly utter such verbal effluence stating that if you are a true Christian you cannot consider other faiths as divine, you have to ask yourself what kind of bigot “god” must be if this is how you must think and say if you want to get into heaven.
By: Corey Gilkes