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There has been recent discussion on the site regarding monotheism, henotheism, and polytheism. A recent question sought to clarify who or what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worship. However, the question was1 focused on a definition of Deity that is not accepted by the church, limiting the scope & utility of the discussion.

I'd like to parallel that question with the opposite question, and focus on the broader matter at hand that many site members expressed a desire to discuss on the twin question: how do Latter-day Saints respond to the claim that Latter-day Saints are not monotheists?



Related:

1 - The post in question has since been edited to acknowledge that a quotation provided in the original question is not an accepted position of the church. This commitment to transparency & sincere inquiry is gratefully acknowledged.

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    The answer to your third linked question stated we believe that there are other gods out there, Which is polytheism. Monotheism is to believe that no other god can possibly exist other than the One True God.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 2 at 12:33
  • Oh I don't mind linking to arguments I disagree with. I cite sources I disagree with all the time too. Engaging with a variety of viewpoints is to be expected if one wants to make an argument. Jan 2 at 14:56

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Monotheism does not have a universally accepted meaning:

  • Many Jews & Muslims believe most Christians are not monotheists
  • Some Unitarians believe trinitarianism is not monotheistic
  • Some Christians believe the veneration of saints in Catholicism violates monotheism
  • Some Christians believe the Latter-day Saint view on theosis violates monotheism
  • Even in Judaism, which has long been the standard for monotheism, it’s complicated. Many students of the Hebrew scriptures see multiple deities acknowledged in the older Hebrew texts versus a different portrayal in the late first-temple, post-exilic, and second-temple texts. Whether this is a difference in belief, or just in focus, or just in vocabulary, it makes an absolute reference point very difficult to define.
  • "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). Are the devils monotheists?

The irony is that all of the groups I’ve mentioned here (besides the devils mentioned by James, who were unavailable for comment) consider themselves to be monotheistic. Wikipedia articles have been cited as the standard in other threads; if we are relying on Wikipedia for theological knowledge, we may have larger problems than a few vocabulary words.

Incidentally, “monotheism” is not a term found in the Bible. When Paul taught the very polytheistic Athenians, he didn’t spend his time laying claim to specific vocabulary words; instead he taught them about creation and man’s relationship to the Creator (Acts 17:22-29).

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Is Henotheism the answer?

Henotheism is messy, and even more ill-defined than monotheism. To apply henotheism to any Christian faith would require so many asterisks and footnotes that it would be cleaner just to use a different word instead of henotheism.

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May I offer a practical distinction between the application of polytheism vs. monotheism:

  • In a polytheistic world, the ancient Greeks (for example) had to worry about pleasing Zeus, and Athena, and Poseidon, all without upsetting Hades too much, and so on. Their deities were in conflict and would (in ancient Greek lore) pit humans against one another. Polytheists found themselves casting their worship in multiple directions.
  • In a monotheistic world, worship goes in one direction. I suggest that one cannot truly worship the Father without worshipping the Son, and one cannot please One with pleasing the Other. There is no circumstance in which one can solicit an answer from One that is different from the answer obtained from the Other (like children often try to do from Mom & Dad). 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.

The official church website has an article addressing critiques of polytheism. I'll cite 2 quick passages here:

disunity is impossible between exalted beings.

For some observers, the doctrine that humans should strive for godliness may evoke images of ancient pantheons with competing deities. Such images are incompatible with Latter-day Saint doctrine. Latter-day Saints believe that God’s children will always worship Him. Our progression will never change His identity as our Father and our God.


Disclaimer: these thoughts are the product of my own study and do not constitute official statements by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

[Editorial insertion - some have expressed concern about the disclaimer, given the importance of citing official sources. I have cited an official source, but I myself do not speak for the church. I have asked other users not to present opinion as if it were the position of the church; in adding a disclaimer I seek to hold myself to the very same standard I expect of others]

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Christianity Meta, or in Christianity Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 2 at 19:17
  • Your clarification as to your 'Disclaimer' is appreciated.
    – Anne
    Jan 4 at 14:48

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