Polytheism is the belief in, and often worship of, multiple deities or spirits, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religious sects and rituals. Polytheism is a type of theism. Within theism, it contrasts with monotheism, the belief in a singular God who is, in most cases, transcendent. In religions that accept polytheism, the different gods and goddesses may be representations of forces of nature or ancestral principles; they can be viewed either as autonomous or as aspects or emanations of a creator deity or transcendental absolute principle (monistic theologies), which manifests immanently in nature (panentheistic and pantheistic theologies). Polytheists do not always worship all the gods equally; they can be in monolatrists or kathenotheists, specializing in the worship of one particular deity only or at certain times (respectively). The recognition of the existence of multiple gods and goddesses, however, does not necessarily equate to the worship of all the deities of one or more pantheons, as the believer can either worship them as a whole, or concentrate only on a specific group of deities, determined by various conditions such as the believer's occupation, tastes, personal experience, family tradition, etc. It is also possible to worship a single deity, considered supreme, without ruling out the existence of other gods. This religious position has been called henotheism, but some prefer to call it monolatry. Although the term "henotheism" is controversial, it is recognized by scholars that the worship of a single God accompanied by belief in other deities maintains the principle of polytheism. - Wikipedia

In the following article, quoted in part, the claim that the LDS Church is polytheistic is denied:

Latter-day Saints are not polytheists in any reasonable sense of the term that does not also exclude most other Christians who deny the Modalist heresy - fairlatterdaysaints.org

A distinction was attempted by Apostle Orson Pratt that, although there have been, are, and will be an unknown number of Gods as the process of begetting and deification continues there is only one God (principle of truth, light, and knowledge) and this God, often personified but who is no actual being, inhabits or may inhabit an unknown number of "temples" which are also referred to as Gods. The God of the Bible, the Heavenly Father, then, is one of these "temples" as is the Son now and someday so shall all who achieve or inherit Christ-likeness. Additionally, Heavenly Father once was a man such as Jesus was and became God the being (the temple housing God the principle) at some past point just as Jesus did.

This opinion was opposed and ultimately excluded from official LDS teaching, primarily on the grounds that Pratt's conception of God/(s) having reached a condition of complete knowledge (omniscience proper) conflicted with then President Young's insistence that God/(s) knowledge eternally increases. Neither ever wavered from the doctrine that an unknowable number of Gods exist. The definitions appear widely variant however with Pratt's Gods having arrived at perfect knowledge and Young's Gods forever perfecting knowledge.

One of the denials of polytheism appears to hinge upon acknowledging the existence of multiple Gods while at the same time only worshiping one of them. This seems to fall within the category of henotheism which, according to the Wikipedia article quoted above, does not fall outside the lines of polytheism.

Monotheism claims that there is only one God anywhere (multiple universes or not); it speaks of ontological being rather than unity between beings. It allows for the existence of other beings who may claim to be God but does not allow for them to be true.

The LDS claim to monotheism seems to appeal to the oneness of the various Gods while maintaining the insistence that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct beings. Of the unknowable number of Gods which exist (unknowable because they are outside of our universe and no revelation of them is given) there are at least 3 distinct beings who are each God. To Latter-day Saints, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are 3 distinct beings, and these members of the Godhead have perfect unity in purpose and plan. Our worship goes in one and only one direction.

What do LDS adherents worship, the unity between the Gods or the distinct God's themselves? If it is 1 of 3 distinct God's who are but some of many, how then are they not polytheist? If it is the unity between the Gods, how then are they not pantheists (Pantheist belief does not recognize a distinct personal god, anthropomorphic or otherwise, but instead characterizes a broad range of doctrines differing in forms of relationships between reality and divinity.)?

Note - A significant edit has been made to this question on the basis of comments and further research. I have endeavored to remove a quotation that appeared to be official LDS teaching but was not without obliterating the heart of the question itself. Apologies if some answers are invalidated by this action.

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    I'm curious why you elected to quote an opinion piece (from a man who was publicly rebuked and had to publicly apologize a few years later for inappropriate opinion pieces) instead of an official church source? Is the aim here to understand or to ridicule what Latter-day Saints believe? Commented Jan 1 at 19:06
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    @HoldToTheRod Was it this particular opinion that caused his rebuke and that he later apologized for? Commented Jan 1 at 19:34
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    @HoldToTheRod I ask because Pratt was excommunicated in 1842. On 20 January 1843 church leaders declared Pratt's excommunication illegal, reinstated him in the church, and reappointed him as an apostle. The opinion I have quoted is from 1855. Commented Jan 1 at 19:46
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    @HoldToTheRod When Orson Pratt was attacked by “exceptionally orthodox” members of the Church, Brigham Young brushed aside these criticisms by bolstering Elder Pratt’s reputation with this affirmation of his faith: “If Brother Orson were chopped up in inch pieces, each piece would cry out Mormonism was true.” Commented Jan 1 at 19:49
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    @MikeBorden in 1865 the First Presidency and the Twelve wrote that Elder Pratt's speculative thoughts on this topic (given on multiple occasions) "are mere hypotheses, and should be perused and accepted as such, and not as doctrines of the Church". The church's statement was published in the Millennial Star October 21, 1865. The OP presents as doctrine of the church something the church has rejected as opinion. Thus I am left to question whether the question is asked disingenuously. Commented Jan 1 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


The difference is that henotheists believe that there are many gods active in the world, and they pick and choose to worship the one that they feel is the most beneficial to them, ("I acknowledge Ares and Aphrodite and Hera, but I give my devotion and worship to Zeus,") whereas Latter-Day Saints believe that many gods exist somewhere, but for the world in which we live, there is only the Lord, and everything else is not relevant to our world or our lives in any way. That's a very different character of worship, and a very different picture of the world, from the henotheistic perspective.

  • (Preemptive note: I'm aware that that's not how the worship of the Greek gods actually worked. Just using those names as a familiar example.)
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Jan 1 at 21:02
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    If 'god' exists (where, does not matter for 'god' is 'spirit' and 'god' is 'eternal' and 'god' is omnipresent in every possible realm) then that should be worshipped. Otherwise 'god' is no more 'god' and 'worship' is no more 'worship'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 1 at 21:43
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    That may offer a way out of henotheism but polytheism doesn't require worship of but only acknowledgement of the existence of. Monotheism insists that there is only one anywhere and everywhere. Commented Jan 1 at 21:53
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    @DanFefferman Isn't Chemosh ultimately no God at all? Commented Jan 1 at 21:58
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    I do not see this as avoiding henotheism. Henotheism recognizes that other gods may be worshipped in other circumstances even if these circumstances are never available to some people (like being born to a different nation), which would include belonging to a different world.
    – Mutoh
    Commented Jan 2 at 19:00

This question is best answered by a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, but I will offer this from their own literature:

Mormons, more properly referred to as Latter-day Saints or members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, worship God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

LDS members rightly deny that they are polytheists because they do not worship many gods. However, they are not strictly monotheistic either, because they accept that other gods than the Heavenly Father do exist - although not in our universe. The discussion of tabernacles and principles, etc. is tangential to the main point. These are not objects of worship in LDS theology.

LDS are monotheistic in the sense that they recognize that no other gods exist in our universe. Any other gods are unknown to us except theoretically. This is a far different theologically from ancient henotheism, which believed that only one god should be worshiped by a certain people, while other known gods were worshiped by other peoples in our own world.

Conclusion: The LDS are are monotheists in the sense that they deny that other gods exist in our world. However, the OP may be right to classify LDS theology as henotheistic, as long as it is understood that for the LDS, other gods exist only outside of our universe. Finally henotheism should not be confused with polytheism as applied to the LDS.

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    Just to understand your answer better: are you saying that LDS is agnostic about the existence other gods lording other universes, but consider it safe enough to ignore them (i.e. other universe's gods don't meddle in our universe the way Satan and his missions do, for example)? Secondly do they also consider them irrelevant enough to our universe that they don't worry who created those other gods and that if it turns out they they are not created by our God in our universe, it doesn't matter to us? Commented Jan 1 at 21:16
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    Your reference is insufficient to explain just what the words you have quoted actually mean. There is much more needs to be examined than that 'summary' of belief.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 1 at 21:46
  • @GratefulDisciple no to being "agnostic" about other gods in other universes but yes to it being safe to ignore them. I don't know the answer to your second question. Commented Jan 2 at 14:25
  • I'm also wondering the nature of the unknown; whether LDS believe in 1) parallel universes hermetically sealed from one another, 2) multiverse as in science fiction, 3) normally imperceptible dimension of our universe (like the spiritual realm inhabited by demons, angels, the divine council gods in Ps 82, or even souls of the dead), or 4) the vast unexplored areas of our own universe, since we are practically imprisoned to our tiny corner of the Milky Way (just 1 star, our solar system), which in turn is only 1 of billions of other galaxies. Commented Jan 2 at 15:34
  • @GratefulDisciple - I'm not sure choices 1-3 are addressed in LDS literature. But they definitely believe the our universe extends far beyond the Milky Way. “And worlds without number have I created; … and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten” churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2013/08/… Commented Jan 3 at 3:07

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe exactly what true Christianity itself professes (they are one and the same): That Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh, that we are children of God as attested by His Spirit to ours, and that we can be joint-heirs with Jesus Christ in receiving all that the Father has and be like Him, if we suffer jointly with Christ in His labor of love. This is what the Scriptures state plainly enough for all the world to read and consider.

"Honor thy father and thy mother" is a spiritual principle given to us in our earthly condition as an explicit analogy of our relationship with God. God Himself prefers the title "Father" towards us. This is not an accident. Therefore God is not inherently a singleton title any more than "father" is a singleton. On the contrary, it is a relationship specifier. Since God is the Father of our spirits, similar to but much greater than the unique honor children owe to their earthly fathers, He is the only Being whom we are to worship. Families are sacred and no person may lawfully intrude in family relationships. God's law of chastity and parental responsibilities are thoroughly expounded in Scripture to prove this.

No person has more or less than exactly one earthly father. It is exactly the same with our Heavenly Father; we have exactly One to whom we our existence, obedience and worship. Both polytheism is completely precluded by the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ. Depending on what precisely one means by "henotheism" that may be precluded as well. For example, it is incorrect to say "I have more than one father" but it is not incorrect to say "multiple people are fathers". It is nonsensical and dishonorable toward one's real father to pretend to have more than one earthly father or for a person to neglect his true one; in a similar but even far more important way there is only one Being whom we worship, and that is God our Father.

We worship God the Father Himself.

By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them; And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them; And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship. Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him.

Doctrine and Covenants 20:17-19,21

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    Polytheists don't have to worship multiple Gods, they just have to believe that multiples exist. Commented Jan 1 at 22:19
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    @MikeBorden Polytheism definition: "The worship of or belief in more than one god." This word is way to squishy to be informative. By the much looser definition (which is out-of-band with respect to the OP's question), all Christian denominations that believe in the Father and the Son being separate beings would be polytheists, and all Biblical religions would be polytheistic. But again that's missing the OP's question.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 1 at 22:59
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    It's really not that squishy. Monotheism insists that 1 and only 1 God exists anywhere. A monotheist could never say that there are an unknowable number of Gods somewhere and remain a monotheist. Additionally, as I understand trinitarianism, it is asserted that Father and Son are not separate beings. Commented Jan 2 at 15:18
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    @MikeBorden As Mason Wheeler points out in his answer, the terms really aren't apropos or comparable on their own, but would need considerably improved precision of language to be relevant. The "-isms" are simply inadequate, and yes, there are worlds of difference between the worship of one God while acknowledging the existence of others, and the worship of multiple gods. It is far, far too squishy. Let more light be poured into the subject so as to avoid oversimplification, false Hegelian dichotomies and strawmen. See this answer here: christianity.stackexchange.com/a/69069/46886
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 2 at 18:16
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    By "monotheism" this answer actually means monolatry, not monotheism proper. I may have only one biological father, but there are many biological fathers besides mine with a "father" relationship to other sons & daughters. The claim "there is only one father" doesn't simply mean I have only one father, but also the denial that there are multiple fathers at all (whether they're mine or not). If Mormonism acknowledges there are other "Fathers" out there besides ours, it's not monotheism any longer.
    – Mutoh
    Commented Jan 2 at 20:59

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