Monotheism – What it is, concept, characteristics and examples

We explain what monotheism is, its characteristics and examples of monotheistic religions. Also, what is polytheism.

Within a single monotheistic religion there can be many different cults.

What is monotheism?

Monotheism (word from the Greek monos: “one and theos: “God”) is the religious doctrine according to which there is only one God, that is, a single supreme deity responsible for all divine creation. It is, therefore, the opposite of polytheism, which is the belief in various gods.

The first samples of monotheism in the history of religion come from remote antiquity, such as Judaism (with 4,000 years of history) or Zoroastrianism (emerged in the first or second millennium BC). However, there is much debate among theologians and historians as to which doctrine would have arisen first, that of monotheism or that of polytheism, or perhaps some intermediate model, which is entirely possible.

In any case, the monotheistic God is thought of as an entity whose nature is unique, eternal and universal, which gives him the gifts of ubiquity (being everywhere), omniscience (knowing everything) and omnipotence (being able to do everything). According to monotheistic doctrines, there are only two essential realities: God and the rest of things, that is, the universe.

This construction of the divine tends to produce monolithic religions, that is, more homogeneous, in which it is easily distinguished between the “divine truth”, that is, the commandments of the one God, and the practice of false religions.

This means that monotheistic thought is, in principle, exclusive with any other type of belief that is not its own, and therefore justifies proselytism and evangelization, or in extreme cases the persecution of those who profess other religions. Hence, some attribute the origin of religious violence to the invention of monotheism.

This, however, does not mean that monotheistic religions are pure and homogeneous. Within the same monotheistic religion there may be many different cults, many different interpretations of the sacred doctrine, or even, as in the case of Christianity and its extensive saints, a certain polytheistic upswing.

Examples of monotheistic religions

monotheism examples
The Abrahamic religions believe in a relatively similar God.

The main religions of the world are monotheistic, perhaps because their doctrine prompted them to expand into distant territories and to convince distant cultures. In any case, among them are Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three modern Abrahamic religions. Each of them believes in a single relatively similar god, although they differ in their doctrines, religious texts, historical interpretations, and commandments.

Other examples of monotheism in history are the zoroastrianismAn ancestral religion that worships the god Ormuz and was born together with the ancient Indo-Aryan peoples; or the sikhism, religion fruit of the tensions between Hinduism and Islam between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Monotheism and polytheism

Unlike monotheism, polytheism is a religious doctrine according to which there are many different gods. In some cases the deities are organized into pantheons or lodges, and in others simply inhabiting nature.

Polytheism tends to distribute between its gods the regions of the natural or spiritual world, attributing to them properties, domains, personalities and a history of interactions that is usually also a cosmogony (origin of the universe).

For that reason, polytheistic religions tend to be less structured and more heterodox than monotheistic, as is the case with Hinduism today, or as was the case with many ancient religions, such as the one practiced in Ancient Greece, whose gods inhabited the top of Mount Olympus.