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In principle, Christianity is monotheistic. It posits that one god exists. However, as a result of the 300k+ christian sects, there exists more than one definition of the "Christian God".

With the existence of multiple definitions of a "Christian God" amongst different sects and doctrines this creates a plurality of practices - each aimed at their respective notion of the "Christian God".

In other words, since these multiple definitions lead to a pluralism of practices, does this mean Christianity functions as a polytheistic faith?

If not, this would require that all 300k sects agree that they worship the same "God".

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closed as not constructive by Joel Coehoorn, Andrew, David Stratton, Waggers, Mark Trapp Dec 16 '11 at 4:26

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This sounds like a statement, not a question. –  styfle Dec 15 '11 at 4:24
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If you could find one person who was a member of many denominations which held mutually contradictory beliefs ... I still wouldn't necessarily call this person a polytheist, but at least your question would make sense. As stated, the question does not make sense. At all. –  TRiG Dec 15 '11 at 13:05
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Seriously, why am I getting down voted? Is my question offensive? Confusing? I don't understand the community here. People question my "intentions" as though that has any bearing on the relevance of my question. Should I down vote everyone who's intentions I am suspicious towards? I thought this was supposed to be a mature community. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 20:03
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It sounds like you already have the answer "yes" in your mind, while it sounds like many other people have the answer "no" in their mind. This just an opinion. As interesting as the question is, I don't think it is answerable. This site is not meant to be a discussion. You can go in chat or find a forum for discussion. –  styfle Dec 16 '11 at 6:12
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@styfle, I actually had to spend most of my time explaining my question before a received a clear answer from flimzy. I conceded some points along the way. Frankly I think most people here don't like difficult questions. This is proving not to be an open community (big surprise). –  rpeg Dec 16 '11 at 6:31

4 Answers 4

This is really more a logic/philosophy question than a Christianity one.

And it is logically similar to this scenario:

Twin brothers get separated from their mother and from each other at a young age. As adults they later reunite and discuss their mother, to find that their childhood memories are imperfect, and sometimes conflict. Does this mean they have multiple mothers?

Clearly not.

While the brothers may have different memories or opinions about their mother, they are still borne of the same mother.

Another example:

I love my boss. My coworker hates the same boss. Does this mean we have multiple bosses?

Clearly not.

Differing and conflicting perceptions and opinions of the same being/entity/object does not mean the being/entity/object in question is actually multiple beings/entities/objects. It simply means our perceptions and opinions are different and often times imperfect.

EDIT

Following from these examples, it is clear that the twins, and me and my coworker do not indeed have multiple mothers/bosses. Likewise, Christianity does not indeed worship multiple Gods.

Going a step further, to more directly address the actual question, nor do the twins functionally have multiple different mothers--that is to say, one doesn't send Mother's day cards to one city, and the other to another city. Nor do they function as if they have multiple mothers; that is to say, neither brother sends Mother's day cards to multiple addresses.

Nor do my coworker and I functionally have multiple bosses; I don't call my boss on one extension, while my coworker uses another. Nor do we function as if we have multiple bosses; I don't call one of multiple extensions when I need a PO approved.

And as applied to Christianity, the various sects/denominations/faiths/traditions all functionally worship the same God1, so they do not functionally have multiple gods, and no Christian individual prays to multiple gods2, thus do not function as if they are polytheistic.

1Some minority Christian faith groups try to tie Christianity to other non-Christian belief systems; such as Christianity and New Age, where the nature of God is "changed" (i.e. "God is the Universe"). In such a belief system, where the adherents are worshiping "the Universe", they are not in the strictest sense worshiping the same God that main-line Christianity worships, who is distinct from the created Universe. In this regard, and in this regard only, it may be possible to claim that Christianity as a whole is "functionally polytheistic," in that two subsets worship each a distinct [Gg]od. But in my mind, this still is not the same as "functionally polytheistic."

2Some Christian sects do have polytheistic undertones. Mormonism for example, has some polytheistic (or henotheistic) undertones. Sometimes Catholicism is considered "polytheistic," especially in certain parts of the world where praying to the saints is hard to distinguish from worshiping the saints. But these possible examples of "functional polytheism" have nothing to do with the various Christian faiths, and have everything to do with the specific faiths being (or appearing to be) truly polytheistic, so I don't believe they apply to this question.

EDIT #2

I think it comes down to a question of identity (or the external appearance of identity) of the [Gg]od(s) being worshiped.

Christian sects, with rare exception (see 1 above) believe in a God that share the same identity. They all believe God wrote (either directly or indirectly) the 66 books of the Bible, they believe God became human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and they believe God died a torturous death on behalf of sinners.

Whether a Christian group worships the God thusly identified through song, acts of service, acts of war, or any other means, the identity of the God is the same.

This is distinct from the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship (or appear to worship) the same God, because in this case the identity of the two Gods is distinct (at least on the surface). Christians believe in a God identified above. Muslims believe in a God that never took on human form, and who sent a final prophet, Muhammad, etc.

(Whether, upon further investigation, we can determine that the identity of the [Gg]od worshiped by Christians and Muslims is indeed the same is for another discussion. The only point I'm making here is that it's easy to see how they may appear to be different Gods.)

Based on this identity-of-God argument, I would say that Christianity as a whole (not withstanding fringe groups that subscribe to an alternate identity of god), is not functionally polytheistic.

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Nice analogies! –  David Stratton Dec 15 '11 at 7:02
    
Poor analogies. The keyword is "functionally" polytheistic. It functions as though it were polytheistic. Even though it is, principally, monotheistic. It functions as though it were a polytheistic faith. It acts as though it were, or at least that's what I'm questioning. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 16:29
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@rpeg Not a useful definition. If you follow it, EVERY religion is polytheistic; EVERY political party is really multiple political parties, and taken to the extreme, human beings inhabit 7 billion different universes. –  DJClayworth Dec 15 '11 at 16:58
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@Flimzy, you're seeing this closer to the terms of how I view it. The idea came to mind when reading some anthropological text about observing a polytheistic tribe. Communities of people worshipped at different totems. The totems represented different gods. From that perspective I wondered how Christianity would appear. If the "greeting cards" go to the same place, that assumes that all worship goes to the same place. I personally don't disagree with this (as I am not a theist) but I suspect some others will disagree that all worship (greeting cards), go to the same place. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 20:22
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@rpeg: I have (hopefully) addressed that issue further with another edit. BTW, thanks for the wonderful question (Even if the majority seem to think it's a bad question) –  Flimzy Dec 15 '11 at 20:28

No

In a polytheistic religion, each member worships a set of gods. In Christianity, each member worships a single god, and further, believes that there is only one god. The fact that there are different sects does not make it a polytheistic religion -- each sect claims as a point of doctrine that there is only one god, and hence, each sect is monotheistic. Disagreements about the nature of God result in different doctrines, not polytheism.

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Hey Sean. @Flimzy and I already worked this out. You've unfortunately misunderstood my question. I'm speaking of Christianity on a macro level. Not micro. I am also not questioning/proposing that Christianity IS polytheistic. I'm asking whether it acts AS THOUGH it is on a macro level. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 20:24
    
Woo. That answer grew in the last few minutes. I'll have to excuse myself, since I'm not sure I can make a useful answer at that level. –  Sean McMillan Dec 15 '11 at 20:38

If not, this would require that all 300k sects agree that they worship the same "God".

Aaa, but that is just the rub: they do! Even the ones with pretty radically different descriptions of him agree that there is just one God out there.

The suggestion that this is functional polytheism is ludicrous.

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They don't. This isn't true. There are Christian sects who claim the god they worship is not the same as those of different sects. Additionally, I'm speaking fundamentally about how the practice takes place - "Functionally" polytheistic. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 16:28
    
Well, I certainly have seen Christians describing the hate-filled vengeful God of the Left Behind books as "not the God I worship". –  TRiG Dec 15 '11 at 20:37
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@TRiG That's a figure of speech. –  Shredder Dec 16 '11 at 18:41
    
@Shredder. I don't think so, though I'd find it difficult to articulate precisely what I'd mean by that. –  TRiG Dec 17 '11 at 2:25

No, it is not. There is only one God that Christians believe in, and that is "the" God in the Holy Bible. As to how the different sects interpret the Bible and get their view of God is unrelated.

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You need to speak to more Christians of different sects. They don't agree on a definition of the god they are worshipping from the bible. Also, I'm not saying Christians worship different gods. I'm asking whether Christians "function" as though they do. Act as though they do their actions. Appear as though they do. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 16:34
    
@rpeg I'm saying that individual definitions and beliefs don't matter. If a group or individual is in opposition to anything in the bible, then they are that much more off the point in their worship. –  Shredder Dec 15 '11 at 17:20
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@rpeg I'm sure every sect would like it if the rest of the Christian world agreed with them and their belief system and all converted to their denomination, but that's just not going to happen, and we can't control it. To say that this means that all Christians function as polytheistic.. is nonsense my friend. –  Shredder Dec 15 '11 at 17:26
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How is it nonsense? Let's ask how a polytheistic society "functions". Def: The belief in or worship of more than one god. If a society is divided into factions with differing definitions of their god, disagreement on how to worship a god, and different practices for worshipping a god, this correlates directly with the definition of "polytheism" - worship of more than one god. Now, each Christian is surely monotheistic. I don't question that but when you take a step back and look at the forest, you have a society that acts very differently. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 17:34
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I may not understand what you're saying. However I'm coming from the perspective that the sects still represent "Christianity". Despite how "separate" they are, they still represent the whole. Is this what you're disagreeing with? Also, I don't think the believers need to agree on anything. I think the intentions, philosophy and principles of Christianity can still be monotheistic. I think the actions don't require any forethought or planning from the participants. For example, I could say I'm morally pure but still commit sin. I would be "functionally" a sinner. –  rpeg Dec 15 '11 at 18:40

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