What is a god?

A problem with classifying world views as polytheistic or monotheistic or atheistic is that we’re not always using the word theos, that is, god, in the same way. Monotheistic worldviews that emphasise the oneness of God have rarely excluded concurrent belief in angels. Which begs the question: how exactly do we differentiate angels in monotheism from gods in polytheism?

In my experience the difference between polytheistic gods and monotheistic angels is less stark than we’ve made it. In fact I am inclined to suggest their equivalence and assert what monotheists call God is more akin to what polytheists have at times referred to as the unknowable god or formative chaos or ultimate reality from which all gods emerged.

This ambiguity besets dialogue between monotheists and atheists also. For not only are atheists mistakenly inclined to draw an equivalence between the God of monotheists and the gods of polytheists, but I have met many who identified as atheist whilst still holding to belief in angels without seeing any problem with that self identification.

4 thoughts on “What is a god?

  1. The problem here is the worldview of Western modernity, which came to draw a line between “natural” and “supernatural”, with us on one side and angels/gods on the other.
    The more traditional view is to draw the line between creature and creator, and we and angels/gods are on the same side of that line.

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  2. We’re back to egregores again.
    The problem came when Western (scholastic) theologians started to see the main ontological division as between “natural” and “supernatural”. That puts God and the gods on one side of the line, and us o9n the other.
    But the real line is between creator and creature, and God is on one side of the line, and we, with the gods, are on the other.

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  3. Yes, I think you’re right. The natural/supernatural division is not native to the Hebrew worldview. I wonder if it goes further back than the scholastics though, for instance, to Plato.

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