Difference Between Monotheism and Polytheism

Key Difference – Monotheism vs Polytheism
 

Polytheism and Monotheism are two words that can be very confusing for most of the people, although there is a key difference between the two. Let us approach this difference in the following manner. How many gods do you believe in? This is a question that may sound absurd to all those who are followers of monotheistic religions. Monotheism is a belief that there is only one god. On the other hand, there are many religions that are polytheistic in nature and allow belief and worship of many gods. Though this is contradictory in thought and procedure, there are many similarities in the two types of religions. However, despite similarities, there are also differences that are hard to explain and it is these differences that will be highlighted in this article.

What is Monotheism?

Belief in and worship of one god is the basis of monotheism. Many of the major religions of the world today can be considered monotheistic as they believe in one Supreme Being or deity. These are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Sikhism. This may appear contradictory to some, particularly when Hinduism with its pantheon of gods is included in the religions that are monotheistic in nature. But those who talk of hundreds of gods in Hinduism conveniently forget that there is an underlying unity among these gods and the different gods are manifestations of different powers only.

Difference Between Monotheism and Polytheism

What is Polytheism?

Polytheism is the belief and worship of many gods. There are many who feel that many different gods in Hinduism is an example of polytheism. Hindu philosophy called Advaita as propounded by Shankara says that belief and worship of many deities having different forms and qualities makes it easier for the believers to choose one of them. However, there is a greater understanding among all that all these gods are mere manifestations of one Supreme Being even though there is a basic trinity of Gods called Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh in Hindu faith.

In polytheism as is prevalent in Hindus, people choose one god and worship that and do not accord the same high status to other deities. Though they have respect for other gods too, they do not treat these deities as their own. Rather, people feel closer and nearer to their own chosen gods rather than to all the gods described in Hindu religion. A devout Hindu, whether he is a worshipper of Rama, Krishna, Durga, Hanuman, or any other deity is quick to acknowledge the existence of all other deities. In the heart of his hearts, every Hindu believes that these are mere manifestations of One Supreme deity. Since this Supreme Being is not within his grasp, he conveniently chooses one of the deities. At the same time, he is aware that the deity he worships is exhibiting one of the aspects of the Supreme Being. This is the reason a Hindu is so tolerant and ready to accept the viewpoints of other religions.

For most people, the concept of monotheism is easier to understand, and there are also people who believe monotheism to be superior to the concept of polytheism.

Monotheism vs Polytheism

What is the difference between Monotheism and Polytheism?

Definitions of Monotheism and Polytheism:

Monotheism: Monotheism refers to a religion that believes in one God.

Polytheism: Polytheism is belief and worship of many gods.

Characteristics of Monotheism and Polytheism:

Number of Gods:

Monotheism: Only one god is worshiped.

Polytheism: Many gods are worshiped.

Examples:

Monotheism: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheistic religions. These are also called Abrahamic religions.

Polytheism: Hinduism is an exception and appears to be polytheistic to the westerners because of the existence of many deities though there is an underlying unity among these gods that are believed to be mere manifestations of one Supreme Being.

 

Image Courtesy:

1. “Cima da Conegliano, God the Father” by Attributed to Cima da Conegliano – The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN, UK [1]. [Public Domain] via Commons

2. “Avatars” by the Victoria and Albert Museum – Painting from Jaipur, India; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (site is redesigned, old description is also available in Britannica”. [Public Domain] via Commons