More Thoughts of Richard Dawson from his book 'The God Delusion', Mono and Polytheism
It is not clear why the change from polytheism to monotheism should be assumed to be a self-evident progressive improvement. But it widely is - an assumption that provoked Ibn Warraq (author of Why I Am Not A Muslim) wittily to conjecture that monotheism is in turn doomed to subtract one more god and become atheism. The Catholic Encyclopedia dismisses polytheism and atheism in the same insouciant breath: 'Formal dogmatic atheism is self refuting, and has never de facto won the reasoned assent of any considerable number of men. Nor can polytheism, however it may take hold of the popular imagination, ever satisfy the mind of a philosopher.'
Monotheistic chauvinism was until recently written into the charity laws of both England and Scotland, discriminating against polytheistic religions in granting tax-exempt status, while allowing an easy ride to charities whose object was to promote monotheistic religion, sparing them the rigorous vetting quite properly required of secular charities. It was my ambition to persuade a member of Britain's respected Hindu community to come forward and bring civil action to test this snobbish discrimination against polytheism.
Far better would be to abandon the promotion of religion altogether as grounds for charitable status. The benefits of this to society would be great, especially in the United States, where the sums of tax-free money sucked in by churches, and polishing the heels of already well-heeled televangelists, reach levels that can only be described as obscene. The aptly named Oral Roberts once told his television audience that God would kill him unless they gave him $8 million Almost unbelievably, it worked. Tax-free! Roberts himself is still going strong (NOTE, this book was written in 2006 when Roberts was still alive) as is 'Oral Roberts University' of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's buildings valued at $250 million, were commissioned by God himself in these words: Raise up your student to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the utter-most bounds of the Earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.'
On reflection, my Hindu litigator would have been as likely to play the 'If you can't beat them, join them' card. His polytheism isn't really polytheism but monotheism in disguise. There is only one God - Lord Brahma the creator, Lord Vishnu the preserver, Lord Shiva the destroyer, the goddesses Saraswati, Laxmi, and Parvati (wives of the Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Lord Ganesh the elephant god, and hundreds of others, all are just different manifestations or incarnations of one God.
Christians should warm to such sophistry. Rivers of medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the 'mystery' of the Trinity, and in suppressing deviations such as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e. of the same substance or essence) with God. What on Earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems to be the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for a century, and the Emperor Constantine ordered all copies of Arius's book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs - such has ever been the way of theology
Do we only have one God in three parts, or three Gods in one? The Catholic Encyclopedia clears the matter up for us, in a masterpiece of theological close reasoning;
In the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these three Persons being truly distinct one from another. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: 'the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God'
As if that were not clear enough, the Encyclopedia quotes the third-centuray theologian St Gregory the Miracle Worker:
There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as tough it once had not existed, but had entered afterward: therefore the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Holy Spirit: and this trinity is immutable and unalterable forever.
Whatever miracles may have earned St. Gregory his nickname, they were not miracles of honest lucidity. His words convey the characteristically obscurantist flavor of theology, which - unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship - has not moved on in eighteen centuries. Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said, 'Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man has ever had a distinct idea of the Trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.'
Richard Dawkins. Portion of Chapter two of 'The God Delusion"