There were often moments when I would take a topic on and hit a wall regarding the level of understanding I honestly had. One such topic that I took on at a young age was the various forms of theism. Fortunately, as I grew older, I firmly understood the differences found in each system of belief. However, I notice people around me struggle to find the words that best describe their views. Oftentimes the lack of vocabulary resorts in comments around label avoidance.
Label avoidance is an honest approach with theism but should not be used in place of philosophical terminology. These terms can be intimidating if this isn’t your natural habitat and overwhelming to research. To help explain some of the differences between theistic belief systems, I have created a short story. This is a story filled with metaphors and analogies, which can help us understand these complex terms. I hope you enjoy the story, gain helpful information, and utilize the new terms in your life. There are more terms than what are provided in this article, so please be sure to research further. I will provide a glossary of terms at the end of this article to help. Let’s dive in!
Jared began his weekend with excitement about an upcoming hike to the Golden Cathedral trail at Escalante National Monument. He had heard that the views were part of Utah’s top five most scenic spaces and that travelers often reported an otherworldly sensation upon viewing the domes and arches. Being a skeptic, Jared had never placed value behind concepts like “God” or divine beings. He was in this for the views and brushed aside the reviews discussing theological and magical ideas.
Jared’s bags were packed, and he hit the road. After a few hours, he arrived at his camp site and took in the surrounding scenery; it was truly picturesque! He understood how people could feel closer to nature and even claim to sense the divine. He settled in for the night and kept the mesh cover of his tent unzipped so he could see the Milky Way pass through the night.
As Jared woke up, he could hear echoes of something whispering outside. Surely this had to be the other campers wrestling around in the morning, and so he set aside his morning haze. While prepping his coffee kettle over a fire pit, he heard the echoes again, no louder, no quieter, and he began to meditate on the idea of what it could be. Again, this had to be an animal or neighboring campers. However, for a split moment, he allowed his thoughts to wander to the idea of the divine.
While stirring his fork around his food, Jared thought, “If there is a God that helped make this, they probably don’t involve themselves with our lives.” Although possible, Jared concluded that a divine creator wouldn’t have time to involve themselves with humanity or our planet. There are countless other galaxies, planets, and life forms; why would this one be so important? Jared chuckled at remembering a review that claimed this place promoted spirituality. “Not a wrong review,” said Jared as he cleaned out his bowl and prepped for the long hike.
As Jared arrived at the starting point of the Golden Cathedral Trailhead at Neon Canyon, he could hear the whispers again, but this time it was in the wind that howled through the narrow chambers of the canyon. His eyebrows furled at the sounds, but he carried on to his 8-mile hike. Observing the steep red rocks and green trees popping out of what appeared to be nothing was genuinely magical. Jared saw sego lilies, rare lizards, and rock formations that truly inspired awe. Maybe this is what visitors meant by experiencing the divine.
There was a transcendence around him that felt divine in itself. This made Jared pause and contemplate further about the Universe, with a capital ‘U’. Was this the divine? Is God and the Universe the same thing? If so, reality itself would be divine, which wouldn’t diverge far from Jared’s scientific beliefs. Jared’s ideas of the divine began to expand and think about the concept of a God without supernatural elements being part of this expansive Universe because God would be the Universe and beyond the Universe. Perhaps a relationship could be formed with this type of God.
This hike was beginning to look more like a spiritual retreat and soon would take a drastic turn. As Jared neared a bend in Neon Canyon, he observed the sun above the canyon’s narrows. It seemed almost as if the world was sinking around him, and then with one slippery step, Jared fell backward and hit his head on a stone. He felt dizzy, a bit nauseous, and profoundly embarrassed with himself. He rolled to his right side and slowly began to prop himself up when he was overcome with light-headedness and fell back down to his side.
Fortunately, another hiker ran to Jared’s side and helped prop him up aside a boulder. The hiker asked if Jared was alright and offered him water, a snack, and checked out his head wound. After a moment, all seemed well enough to stand up and carry on. The stranger offered to finish the hike alongside Jared as a precaution. Jared agreed, and they set off. The hiker seemed strange to Jared, almost ethereal. There was certain ease with the final stretch of the hike, and it caught Jared off-guard.
Jared finally asked the traveler, “Who are you?” The hiker grinned and said they have been called many things by many people but welcomes several epithets. Jared had no time for riddles or strangers who acted cryptic. He said to the stranger, “I don’t want to be harmed. I just want to finish this hike, and go home.” The stranger took Jared’s hand and helped him around a corner to reveal the entrance of the Golden Cathedral. The stranger said, “We’ve been on the road for an hour, and yet here you are. I think you know what I am.” Jared was shocked; this was God, THE GOD, and here before him.
As Jared walked closer to the opening of the Golden Cathedral, he saw several other hikers waving at him. He asked the God next to him, “Who are these people?” The God replied, “These are some of my friends. They wanted to see this stunning arch.” As the ethereal beings grouped together, they took a seat, pulled out lunch, and began to ask about the journey through the canyon. Each being listened intently to this God.
Jared was beside himself as he watched these beings behave like humans. They seemed to hang onto every word that the God was saying. It was as if this was their leader. They revered this God just as much as Jared was beginning to. Finally, Jared mustered enough courage to ask the God, “Are you the leader of this group?” To Jared, this seemed reasonable to assume that maybe there are many types of beings in the expanse of the Universe, and they rely on a supreme leader. We, as humans, have done this throughout history. We elect leaders now and expect them to wield power with knowledge and compassion.
The God seemed set back by Jared’s question, almost as if he could read the assumptions Jared had in his mind. “No,” said the God, “My friends support many things that I cannot.” The God went on to say, “I heal people with ease and enjoy sharing my gift with the world, but healing does not help the Earth grow food. Healing does not offer deep love, passion, or wisdom.” The God went on to list several qualities that seemed to overwhelm Jared. There had to be countless beings that were tied to various attributes.
Jared was in a state of shock and truly overpowered by this reality. The faces around him were all equally powerful and capable of impacting his life if they chose. These divine beings were all unique individuals who appeared to have physical attributes resembling many cultures and ethnicities. The group began to grow in number before Jared’s eyes.
Jared closed his eyes and tried to collect his thoughts. There couldn’t be infinite beings attributed to similar ideas, right? He opened his eyes and asked, “Is Odin part of this group?” Odin stepped forward with his one intensely blue eye and greeted Jared. Jared kindly greeted Odin and then asked, “Is Óski, Woden, or Great Ayton here?” Odin burst into laughter and said, “It is just me and my many names.” Jared nodded and thanked Odin for helping him understand.
He asked the God of healing, “Are there several Gods of healing, or are you manifestations of the same being?” The God took a breath and said, “Several Gods can heal, and some are different than I am. However, some tribes gave me a different name when I appeared to them.” Jared concluded that Gods and Goddesses may be manifestations of the same idea but based on culture differently. This had to be the final answer. It only makes sense that barriers such as language would create names for Gods that act the same throughout various cultures.
The group of beings carried on as Jared wrestled with his thoughts. It was as if he weren’t there unless he actively reached out to one of the beings. Suddenly, the God of healing approached Jared and pointed out the night sky. Hours had passed as they spent time below the red cliffs. The God leaned into Jared and whispered, “It’s time to wake up.” In a flash, Jared woke up in his tent, under a canopy of stars, and wildly amused by this vivid dream.
Before going to sleep again, Jared thought about the context of this dream. How profound it was to be away from the mundane. How his mind ran wild with the release of stress. Jared was amused by his own ability to imagine events like this. There wasn’t a God around him to whisper anything, and his mind had been responsible for the powerful dream. Still, it was exciting to experience such a rush of imagery. Jared turned and fell asleep again.
SOFT POLYTHEIST WITH PANTHEIST PHILOSOPHIES
In the morning, Jared woke up and began to light a small fire to cook breakfast. As he opened his tent, there was a loud echo of voices around him. The voices called to Jared, they felt surreal, and then he knew the dream was more than a dream. Jared walked through Neon Canyon and to the Golden Cathedral. As he sat in contemplation for a moment, he realized that he did believe in a God, in fact, several Gods.
Jared felt that for him, the Gods were of the Universe just as much as we are. They were given many names by humans, but their real identities were ultimately unknowable. When we refer to Zeus in one culture, he may go by Jupiter in another. Similar to Cronos or Isis and Auset. Jared’s heart filled with this new perspective, and he offered thanks to the Universe for reaching out to him. One person out of billions. He knew that developing a relationship would require him to reach out, communicate, and listen. Jared’s world had indeed evolved profoundly, just as the reviews had said.
- Atheist: The belief that God(s) do not exist or cannot be proven.
- Agnostic: Believing that we cannot know whether God(s) exist.
- Animist: The belief that everything has a spirit or form of consciousness similar to divine spark.
- Deist: The belief that God(s) exist but do not take part in our lives.
- Ditheist: The belief in two distinct Gods and that they are equal.
- Henotheist: Acknowledging that there are or might be many Gods but only one is supreme.
- Monotheist: The belief that there is only one God.
- Monolatry: The belief that there may be many Gods but they are expressions of a supreme being.
- Nontheist: The apathy or silence towards the subject of the divine as a philosophical stance.
- Pantheist: Belief that God and the Universe are the same and that God may exist outside of the Universe as well.
- Polytheist: The belief that there are many Gods with distinct and individual identities.
- Soft-Polytheist: different gods may be aspects of only one god, psychological archetypes, different expressions through various cultures, or personifications of natural forces.