Christian Deceptions: Case Study B: One God out of Many


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    All men have need of gods.
    Homer (c.900 BC), Odyssey


    Some early Christians believed in more than one god. Some believed in two, some in thirty, some in 365, and some in even more*. In time the orthodox view came to be that there was only one god. The others had to be tidied away.

    Like its close relatives Judaism and Islam, Christianity experienced some difficulty in tidying away its supernumerary gods. It may seem obvious that the clean up was completed long ago, and that the question has now been settled. In fact, matters are not quite so simple. It is indisputable that Christianity has claimed since the early centuries that it is monotheistic. But the fact that a religion purports to be monotheistic is no guarantee that it is. Mainstream Christian Churches accept the existence of a range of superhuman beings who might be regarded as candidates for godhead. The following is a brief review of some of them.


    God the Father

    It is an uncomfortable fact for Jews and Christians alike that the God of the Old Testament is not a single god, but an amalgam of many gods. This is reflected in the large number of names attributed to him, most of which are glossed over in translations of the Bible. The most common name, Yahweh, probably means something like he who is, or he who calls into being, but it is possible that the name was adapted from that of a Samarian goddess. An error in translation of this word gave us the name Jehovah. A related form, Jah, is also found in biblical poetry. Hallelu Jah, or hallelujah, means literally praise Jah.

    Another divine name found in the original Hebrew is El, meaning the powerful one, the ruler, or god. It is found as part of many biblical names, for example Israel (who sees El), Gabriel (might of El), Emmanuel (El with us), Michael (who is like El), Samuel (asked of El) and Daniel (judgement of El). The name Elijah (Jah is my god) incorporates both Jah and El. El was originally the name of a Phoenician and Canaanite god, the father of other gods, including Baal. Etymologically the name is related to the Arabic name for God, Allah.

    Eloah is the name for God used in the book of Job. In a different form, Elohim, it occurs elsewhere in the Bible some 3,000 times. The -im ending is a masculine plural. In other words this is the name not of a single god, but at least two. Elsewhere God reportedly refers to himself in the plural. When he decided to make human beings he said "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ..." (Genesis 1:26). After Adam ate the forbidden fruit God said "Behold, the man is become as one of us ..." (Genesis 3:22), which suggests that he is addressing at least one other god. Again, in Psalm 95:3 he is described as a great King above all gods. Elsewhere he says "Thou shalt not revile the gods" (Exodus 22:28).

    The name Shaddai is used over 300 times in the Bible. It originally denoted a sky god. The name meant something like he who lives on the mountain tops or rain-maker. Elyon was the name of another god, a name that had previously been used of an ancient Canaanite deity. Sabaoth is yet another one, usually found in the compound Yahweh-Sabaoth, meaning Lord of Hosts, which is how it is usually translated. It signifies a great military leader and protector in war. On occasion a divinity appears as the captain of the hosts of the Lord (see Joshua 5:13-15), and there are yet other divine characters conventionally identified with God in order to reduce the number of divinities around: the Ancient of Days for example in Daniel 7:13. The angel of the Lord is sometimes identified with God (Judges 6:11-24) but is sometimes distinct (Genesis 24:7). Occasionally the fact that various divine characters are distinct is made explicit. For example according to Habakkuk 3:3 Eloah was coming from Teman as the Holy One was coming from Mount Paran.

    The fact that God is really a conflation of many gods is usually explained away by saying that there is only one God with a number of different titles. The plural forms are explained either by invoking a hypothesis that God spoke of himself in a manner akin to the royal We — which also requires that he was in the habit of talking to himself — or alternatively that it was God the father talking to the other two persons of the Trinity. Neither explanation confronts the explicit mention of other gods.


    God the Son

    Christians seem to have had difficulty in convincing non-Christians that they believed in only one god. Early Christians felt obliged to answer charges of polytheism. As one philosopher observed:

    If these men worshipped no other God but one, perhaps they would have a valid argument against the others. But in fact they worship to an extravagant degree this man who appeared recently*.

    The doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity were developed specifically to explain how two or three gods could be regarded as one, but the explanation did not satisfy all Christians in the fourth century when they were developed, and do not satisfy all Christians today.

    Christians asked how Christ could be co-equal and co-eternal with the Father when the Bible provided clear evidence to the contrary. The Bible referred to the Father alone as God: "And this is that the Father and Son are quite separate and that the Father had created the Son*. Contrary to modern dogma, Christ was clearly described as inferior to the Father: ".... for my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). Specifically, the Son does not know everything that God the Father knows (Matthew 24:36). Again, the Son is fallible. He could not even work a minor miracle on one occasion. He needed help when tempted. He grew in wisdom, which means that he cannot always have been all-wise, as the Father was. He said that he did not know when the world would end, this information being available only to the Father (Mark 13:32). He suffered un-godlike passions, being tired and thirsty at the well in Samaria and weeping at Lazarus's tomb. Also, the Son has a separate physical manifestation: in Heaven he sits at the right hand of the Father. Elsewhere in the Bible, the Father has authority in commanding the Son , and the Son even prays to the Father.

    Such considerations led many Christians to conclude that Jesus Christ could not have been divine. Others held that he was divine, but inferior to the Father. The line that eventually triumphed simply ignored the Bible texts and held that the Son was co-equal with the Father. To many this looked like the Father and Son were two gods.

    A further complication was how to accommodate the concept of the Word (logos). The stoic idea of each human being having a logos (soul) could easily be extended so that Jesus possessed not just any old logos but the divine logos, the "Word of God". By the time of Jesus, the idea of a divine logos was familiar to both Jews and Stoic philosophers. Some Christians thought that the divine Word (logos) occupied the role of Jesus" soul, though this line was later to be condemned as heretical. A different view eventually became orthodox, that Jesus Christ was the Word (logos) incarnate. This idea is characteristic of the gospel ascribed to John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1), which incidentally could also be rendered "In the beginning was the logos. The logos accompanied a god, and the logos was a god".

    For present purposes we will ignore the difficulties implicit in the orthodox conception of the person of Christ, but the distinction between God the Father and God the Son is a more significant problem.


    The Holy Ghost

    The Holy Ghost is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but plays a large part in the New. Little is known about the nature of it (or him, or her).

    The John gospel also refers to a Paraclete, a word that is generally translated as Comforter or Counsellor, and this is identified with the Holy Ghost (John 14:26). The status of the Holy Ghost posed a problem for centuries. If it was a god then Christianity could be accused of having three gods, as indeed it was. The solution that emerged was that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are all the same God, of one substance but three persons. As we have already seen the meaningfulness of the concept of the Trinity is open to doubt. Some Christians, many Moslems, most philosophers and almost all non-believers regard the doctrine as a thin disguise for polytheism.


    Divine Personifications

    It is not unusual for attributes of gods to be personified as semi-independent divinities in their own right: the "power of god", the "energy of god", the "idea of god", the "glory of god", the "wisdom of god". The Egyptians had long accepted such ideas:

    To Thoth was ascribed the mental powers of Ra, and, indeed, the dicta of Ra seem to have come from his lips. He was the Divine Speech personified*.

    Such personifications were popular in the Middle East and several of them were adapted into Christianity. As we have just seen, the logos or Word of God, was personified as the Word, and the spirit of God was personified as the Holy Spirit. Both were incorporated into the Christian Trinity. The Might of God became a lesser being, the angel whom we know as Gabriel. There were others too: for example the Power of God, the Energy of God, the Grace of God , the Wisdom of God and the Prudence of God.

    I Wisdom dwell with Prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions
    Proverbs 8:12 (AV, but with names capitalised as in modern translations)

    In Jewish writing Wisdom was personified in the manner of a goddess. This is most striking in Proverbs 3:19 and 8:22ff, which were cited to show that Wisdom had existed since the beginning of time. Indeed, she helped God to create the world (Proverbs 8:22 and Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-8:1). She was known as the Holy Wisdom, just as God's spirit was known as the Holy Spirit. She came within a hair's breadth of acknowledged Godhead by the same route as God's word and God's spirit. As Sophia (Greek for wisdom) Gnostics regarded her as a divine emanation, but the faction now considered orthodox was confused about her. Some represented her as incarnate in Christ. St Paul, for example, described Jesus by her title, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), and other writers explicitly identified her by what came to be Jesus Christ's title, the Word of God. Yet others identified her as the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God. She featured in early attempts to define a Christian Trinity, but was eventually dropped, possibly because of her sex.

    God embracing Sophie (during the Creation)
    as depicted on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, before she was wrtten out of the Christian story.

    However Sophia was seen, she was enormously important. For over 900 years, until the Muslims took it in 1453, the greatest church in Christendom was the Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. Now Wisdom is something of an embarrassment, especially in the Western Church. She even has her name spelled with a small w. Often her name is kept in Greek: Hagia Sophia or translated as Sancta Sophia, so that most Western Christians who have heard of her assume her to be merely St Sophia. Stories were created in the Middle Ages to explain why Sophia had been canonised. According to the Golden Legend she was a woman who won her sainthood by witnessing the martyrdom of her three daughters, saints Faith, Hope and Charity.


    The Devil

    The Devil was a relatively late entrant into Jewish theology, from where he was incorporated into Christianity. Our concept of the Devil is essentially the one originally borrowed by the Jews from Zoroastrianism. He seems to have been adopted as a personal entity during the Babylonian Exile. As Satan he was first introduced into Judaism as a supernatural being in the first two chapters of the book of Job, where he appears to be on good terms with God. Christians saw him as a sort of henchman for the divinity. King James I described him as "God's hangman"*.

    The name Satan derives from the Hebrew word for adversary. In the New Testament the word was sometimes translated by the Greek word diabolos, meaning accuser or calumniator. English translations of the Bible generally retain the Hebrew word Satan but render diabolos into English as Devil. The Old Testament uses only the name Satan. The New Testament, written in Greek but drawing upon the Old Testament, uses both names. The English term accuser is also applied as a title (Revelation 12:10).

    The identification of a personalised Satan with Lucifer is much later, and founded upon a mistake. The mistake arises from a passage in Isaiah:

    How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! Isaiah 14:12

    The original Hebrew refers not to Lucifer but to a daystar. This is most likely to be the planet we now call Venus, though it might have been the Moon. The Romans called Venus and the Moon Lucifer and Lucifera respectively. The Jews seem to have shared the Roman view that Lucifer was the son of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn.

    Venus was known as the morning star because it is often visible in the morning sky after other planets and stars have faded. The Greeks knew it as Phosphorus, the "light bringer" or harbinger of dawn, and the Romans" name Lucifer has the same meaning. The writer in Isaiah seems to be talking about the morning star, used as a metaphor for a king's diminishing power. The word Lucifer means simply "light bringer", which is why it was used in Victorian times as a name for what we now call safety matches. By applying a little imagination and generous interpretations of other biblical passages (notably Luke 10:18 and Revelation 9:1-11) later commentators managed to identify Lucifer with the Devil. The fact that early Christians made no such connection is apparent in the free use of Lucifer as a forename. A famous fourth century Bishop of Calaris in Sardinia was named Lucifer.

    Ancient peoples failed to realise that they were seeing the planet Venus both in the evening and in the morning. They therefore regarded them as two different planets and two different gods: the god of the Morning Star Phosphoros (or Phospherus) and the god of the evening star Hesperos (or Hesperus)..

    Hesperus as Personification of the Evening by Anton Raphael Mengs, ca. 1765

    Other unrelated characters are introduced elsewhere in the Bible and identified with Satan. Among them are rival gods such as Baal or Baalim, Molech, Beelzebub and Belial*. Satan is identified with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, largely as a result of a connection made by St Paul*. As in many ancient cultures it is probable that the serpent originally represented wisdom or knowledge, as it still did in New Testament times: "Be ye therefore wise as serpents ..." (Matthew 10:16). Nevertheless, following other New Testament writings, Satan is now firmly identified with a serpent or a dragon (Revelation 12:7 and 20:2). Isaiah calls a sea serpent leviathan (Isaiah 27:1), and this association, because of the much later serpent connection, seems to be responsible for the term leviathan also being applied to Satan. Satan has also been identified with Asmodaeus, a character from the Apocrypha (Tobit 3:8 and 17).

    The Christian conception of Satan is largely developed from the New Testament. Here he is identified with the prince of the devils (Matthew 12:24), the tempter (Matthew 4:3 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5), the evil or wicked one*, the prince of this world (John 12:31 and 16:11), the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), and the angel of the bottomless pit, known in Hebrew as Abaddon and in Greek as Apollyon (Revelation 9:11). These Hebrew and Greek names both mean destroyer, a word that is also used as one of his titles in Wisdom of Solomon 18:25.

    The supposed existence of a number of powerful supernatural evil forces is damaging to the Christian case for monotheism, even if they could all be shown to be subject to a single satanic being, or even to be manifestations of the same satanic being.


    Other Old Testament Gods

    As the Jews became monotheistic they generally abandoned their traditional gods, but occasionally the old gods lingered on with a reduction in rank. The Sun, Moon and stars were almost universally regarded as gods in ancient times. Now, to emphasise their subordination to the Jewish God they were made to praise him (Psalm 148:3). They are still instructed to do so in modern hymns:

    Praise the L ord! ye heavens, adore Him,
    Praise Him, Angels, in the height;
    Sun and moon, rejoice before Him,
    Praise Him, all ye stars and light: Hymns Ancient and Modern: 292

    And even more striking "Sun and moon bow down before Him" (hymn 298 in Hymns Ancient and Modern). Ancient peoples also imagined that the planets were really gods, a fact recalled by our names for them. Later these gods were demoted to angels, althoughone was especially favoured — Venus, the bright star of dawn, or daystar. It had been Lucifer: now it was Christ (Revelation 22:16).

    The angel of the Lord in Genesis 16:7-14 was a god according to verse 13, but various translations gloss over this in various ways without so much as a footnote. Translators of the Bible have written some other divinities out of the script: Lucifer's mother Aurora, goddess of the dawn, for example. The original Hebrew text of Psalm 110:3 refers to the womb of Dawn just as the Greeks would have spoken of the womb of the goddess Aurora , but as we have seen earlier, some modern translations fudge the words so that the goddess Dawn does not appear. Similarly the Queen of Heaven, Asherah, the consort of El, had her name translated as grove, so that anyone reading the Vulgate or the Authorised Version could not guess that a goddess was being worshipped in the Jerusalem Temple:

    …where the women wove hangings for the grove. 2 Kings 23:7, Authorised Version

    …where women did weaving for Asherah. 2 Kings 23:7, NIV, cf. Jerusalem Bible

    Rival gods are also mentioned in the Old Testament. In addition to those already mentioned, such as Baal or Bel, others include Ashtaroth, Dagon and Nebo. There seems to have been no doubt that they were real gods and not merely idols. Two of them, Bel and Nebo, crouched and cringed together helplessly as their idols were carted off by the servants of Yahweh (Isaiah 46:1-2).


    The Virgin Mary

    To many Protestant eyes, Roman Catholics worship Mary as a thinly disguised goddess. The reaction of the Roman Catholic Church has been to emphasise a distinction between the types of worship that are due to God and to Mary. God alone is entitled to latria (adoration), and Mary alone is entitled to hyperdulia (hyper-veneration). The Orthodox Church makes a similar distinction. Whether or not the difference is merely a semantic one is a matter of opinion. To many the distinction appears artificial. Roman Catholics sometimes point to a critical distinction between the worship of God and Mary. Only God has the power to answer prayers. Mary acts merely as a mediator, or rather mediatrice. She does not answer prayers herself as a goddess would, but only brings the matter to the attention of God in the person of Christ, the sole source of salvation.

    According to Roman Catholic belief, Mary's powers of mediation are sovereign: Christ, her son, cannot refuse his mother. The question then arises as to whether there is any real difference between Mary answering prayers herself and having her answers metaphorically rubber-stamped by a higher authority. Many see the rubber-stamping as a conceit designed to maintain the appearance of a monotheistic religion. Indeed, the concept of Mary as mediatrice was largely developed to rebut accusations that she was worshipped as a goddess. The familiar Ave Maria or Hail Mary has been amended over the centuries to reflect this more acceptable line. Thus the closing words "Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death" were added to the prayer specifically to emphasise God's sovereignty, in response to Lutheran criticism in the sixteenth century. Other prayers, the forms of which were settled before the Protestant accusations of polytheism, show Mary as possessing independent powers. The following example, from the Sub tuum praesidium, is at least 1,000 years old, although a fragment from the third or fourth centuries suggests that it is much older:

    We seek refuge under the protection of your mercies, Mother of God; do not reject our supplication in need, but deliver us from perdition, you who are alone blessed*.

    Moreover, it used to be perfectly orthodox to claim that Mary "ordered" or "commanded" God, and that he "obeyed" her*, but these claims are ever more muted, precisely because of the implications. So too, the claim that Mary's intercession is all-powerful can be explained away by saying that "she invariably intercedes in accordance with God's will"*. Many will find this explanation less than convincing, since it implies that Mary only ever asks for things that God has already decided to grant, so reducing her role as intercessor to nothing.

    Theologians who are regarded as perfectly orthodox have claimed that Mary can direct and guide our destinies as she wills; that no one can be saved except through her; that she reigns along with her son and is praised by angels, and that nothing can resist her. Indeed, she is omnipotent. She heals Hell, treads demons underfoot, saves mankind and restores fallen angels. She is above the angels. She is "another Paraclete", i.e. another Holy Spirit. She is the cause of our redemption. She is our "saviour". Indeed salvation is impossible without her. She has the same "glory" as the second person of the Trinity. She is the "complement of the Trinity". She is even called the "Spouse of the Father", "Spouse of the Holy Spirit", and most frequently "Spouse of Christ". All three have been described as her lovers [amatores]. It is even ventured that she is co-creatress [symplástes] with God. Theologians can start prayers to her with the words "Our Mother who art in heaven .... ". She is acclaimed as Queen of Mercy as God is King of Justice. She is in some respects superior to God himself and exercised power over him. Theologians ask her to over-rule God (e.g. to free them from Hell if Christ should condemn them to it). She "stops the arm of God's justice, power and revenge by the force of her mercy and love"*.

    MS. Douce 374 roll 119A(1) frame4 - detail
    Jesus with his Book of Life tries to dispense Justice to a dead man, held by an angel and a demon.
    The dead man's soul is being wieghed in a balance by St Michael,
    Jesus's Queen Consort and Mother, Mary tips the balance in favour of Mercy
    (while a demon tries to tip it the other way).

    Mary's cult came too late for her to be admitted to the divine Trinity, but there had been an obvious need for a feminine influence ever since the demotion of Sophia. This helps explain Mary's promotion into the divine Imperial Family (Mother of God, Bride of Christ, and Mater Sapientiae "Mother of Sophia" ). Her titles reflect her growing divinity. She acquired the title Theotokos, Mother of God, in the fourth century, and her first known feasts date from the fifth century. She was given the title Notre Dame, Our Lady, in the twelfth century, after which she collected titles at an ever accelerating rate. She is, amongst many other things: Mother of Mercy , Empress of Angels and Empress of Heaven , Bower of Divinity , Mistress of the World , Queen of Queens and Holy of Holies. She took over the title of the virgin goddess Hera in 1954 when Pope Pius XII proclaimed her Queen of Heaven. In 1964 Mary was awarded yet another title: Mater Ecclesiæ, Mother of the Church.

    Marian devotion is particularly strong in southern Europe, where it is clear to any observer that the distinctions of Roman Catholic theologians mean little to many Marian worshippers. They know that she is assigned a place above the highest angels and act accordingly. They pray to Mary, Queen of Heaven, and expect her to answer their prayers, just as 2,000 years ago their ancestors prayed to the goddess Juno, Queen of Heaven. To any objective observer there can be little doubt that Mary represents an updated melange of popular mother goddesses, among them the Greek Diana, the Egyptian Isis, the Phrygian Kybele, and the Middle Eastern Ashtaroth. For each sky god, King of Heaven, there is generally a Magna Mater as Queen. The titles Queen of Heaven and Mother of God are both liable to lead ordinary believers into thinking of Mary as a goddess. As one authority says of the title Mother of God (Greek Theotokos):

    Theotokos — in Latin Dei Genitrix — is hardly used; not, however, on theological grounds, but for the simple reason that it might give rise to misunderstandings on account of the pagan worship of Kybele, the Mother of Gods*.

    Whether this is ingenuous or disingenuous we need not concern ourselves. For us, the question is whether the Christians who regard Mary as a goddess are a small aberrant group, or a mainstream group protected by purpose-designed word play.


    Angelic Beings

    Hellenic philosophers around the time of Jesus regarded gods as lesser beings in a divine hierarchy subordinate to one supreme god. The Jews also had a hierarchy of heavenly beings subordinate to their one supreme god, namely the angels. It is clear, as theologians have long accepted, that angels are the discarded gods of polytheism*. This sort of belief, henotheism, is typical of the transition from polytheism to monotheism.

    Jewish and Christian literature refers to a number of different types of angelic being. They are traditionally ranked in three circles, each of three orders, and feature much more heavily in Christian hymns than in biblical writings. Authorities differ as to their names and relative ranks, but usually cite nine from the following list: seraphim, cherubim, orphanim, thrones, virtues, dominions or authorities, princes or principalities, powers, archangels, and angels. Modern writings tend to ignore the various angelic ranks, but they feature in dogma, even in Anglican dogma*. Orthodox Christians pray to angels just as they pray to saints. Prayers to guardian angels are especially popular, and the Roman Church favours such prayers as well*.

    The word angel is derived from the Greek angelos meaning messenger, a word used to translate a wide range of Hebrew expressions including ones denoting men, sons of God or sons of gods, sons of the mighty, mighty ones, holy ones, keepers, watchers, and armies of God*. In the earliest books of the Bible they are represented as men, as is God himself (Genesis 18). Indeed, God is sometimes regarded as a sort of pre-eminent angel (e.g. Genesis 48:15-16 and Judges 6:11-24). In early Christian writings, before Jesus had been promoted to the divine Trinity, he too also seems to have been regarded for a while as a pre-eminent angel, apparently identified with the Archangel Michael*.

    Angelic beings also provided mechanisms for natural phenomena. Like the pagan gods before them they moved the sun, moon, planets and stars in their orbs. Angelic Thunders spoke and angelic winds, like Boeas and Zephyr, blew on God's command.

    'And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down."' (Revelation 10:4)



    The Old Testament refers to a number of demons. Rahab, for example, was a demon personifying water (Psalm 89:10), while the female demon Lilith is mentioned as living in the desolation of Edom (Isaiah 34:14, Jerusalem Bible). Of the two goats selected as offerings by the Jews, one was sacrificed to Yahweh, the other, the scapegoat, was sent into the desert to the demon Azazel (Leviticus 16:8-10, Jerusalem Bible). Such demons were minor gods to whom sacrifices were made (Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37).

    When the New Testament refers to devils it generally means demons. That they are supposed to be actual beings, not merely false idols, is confirmed by James 2:19.


    Unclean Spirits

    Unclean spirits are mentioned several times in the Bible. They caused various illnesses. Their exact nature is never made clear, but it is apparent that they enjoyed supernatural powers. Jesus had conversations with, and exorcised, a number of them.



    Many saints are recycled pagan gods. According to Roman Catholic teachings they are entitled to a type of worship called dulia (veneration). The question arises as to whether this, like the hyperdulia accorded to Mary, is much different from the type of worship due to God.

    The role of the saints, like that of Mary, is now conceived as one of intercession. In effect Christian believers supposedly direct their requests to God through the saints: they do not pray to the saints for their direct intervention. The line is a fine one, and it is apparent that it is not universally recognised by the faithful. Take for example St Christopher, the traditional protector of travellers. Many tens of millions of Christians carry around St Christopher talismans. They may be seen on neck chains and on car dashboards throughout the world. They are often called charms because they are believed to act as magical charms to ward off danger. There can be no doubt that many of those who rely upon St Christopher talismans believe that their efficacy comes from St Christopher. His charms often bear the inscription "behold St Christopher and go thy way in safety". Whatever the official line on such matters, and whether or not St Christopher ever existed, it is clear that millions believe that a supernatural being other than God is able to provide them with supernatural protection.

    To many non-Christians, and some Christians, it is difficult to see the difference between the Christian St Christopher and the Greek god Hermes or the Roman god Mercury, both of whom were supernatural patron protectors of travellers. It is also notable that until this sort of criticism was raised against the role of saints it was held that the saints could work miracles themselves, not merely by applying to God. As scholars pointed out, St Peter could kill with a rebuke, without any need for superior assistance*.

    In Russia, Orthodox Christians address prayers both to Christ and to St Nicholas. Outside the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, Christians are less susceptible to charges that they worship saints.


    Emperors and Popes

    In the early church, the Emperor was universally accepted as being infallible, having been appointed by God as head of the Christian Church. Since 1870 bishops of Rome have also claimed infallibility, and Roman Catholics are required to believe this as a matter of dogma.

    The clear implication is that emperors possessed, and the Pope still possesses, abilities denied to ordinary human beings, in other words supernatural powers. As pope, Innocent III claimed to be set midway between God and man. Since subsequent popes have never denied this claim, it would seem that it is still upheld. For many it is difficult to see what the difference is between a demigod and an infallible being with supernatural powers.



    Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that they will attain theosis or deification at some stage in the future*. They will then share the substance of God, as do the three persons of the Trinity. Whether or not this will make new gods is a question parallel to the question of whether the concept of the Trinity is meaningful.


    The Dead

    The invocation of the dead is a remnant of ancestor worship still practised in Eastern Churches. The living frequently ask their dead ancestors to pray for them*. Arguments for polytheism are similar to those concerning saints.



    Icons are also worshipped. For example the adoratio crucis, liturgical worship of the cross (by kiss and genuflexion) has been practised since the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335. The Second Council of Nicæa in 787 made the veneration of images lawful. Henceforth proskunesis (reverence) might be paid to them, but not latria (worship).




    Our problem centres on the definition of a god. According to Chambers Dictionary, a god is "a superhuman being, an object of worship". This definition and similar ones in other dictionaries accord well with our general understanding of the word's meaning. Of the supernatural entities discussed so far, all are claimed to be superhuman, except for icons and for living Orthodox Christians, who will become superhuman only in the future.

    The only question then is whether the various remaining superhuman beings are worshipped. On this criterion it is possible to acquit Wisdom, demoted Old Testament gods, unclean spirits and living popes. Demons can be let off on the grounds that they have not been worshipped recently. In the interest of brevity, we shall leave on file questions arising from the fact that God and Satan are both conflations, likewise the implications of the invocation of the dead.

    Our best candidate for the title of another god is Satan. There is no doubt that he is seen as a powerful supernatural force. Until recent times baptismal catechisms included the lines "Forsakest thou the devil? And all devil worship". Christians affirm that Satanists still worship the Devil, so there can be no argument about his being worshipped. The fact that Christians themselves do not worship him is not sufficient to disqualify his claim. The fact that certain ancient Greeks worshipped only, say, Apollo is not an argument that Apollo was a monotheistic god. He was part of a system of belief in which other people worshipped other gods, so he was a member of a pantheon. A parallel argument holds here for Satan. In any case the New Testament refers quite specifically to Satan as the god of this world*.

    The next best candidates are the second and third persons of the Trinity. We have already seen that the concept of the Trinity is questionable. To many, including many who call themselves Christians, it is unintelligible. If it is no more than a linguistic deceit then we are left with three gods masquerading as one.

    Perhaps the next best candidate, in the Roman Catholic Church at least, is Mary. The claim that she is merely a powerless intermediary is a difficult one to sustain. First, the idea of the role of intermediary seems to have been developed specifically to refute charges of idolatry, and is hardly recognised at all by many of the faithful. Second, the system of intercession is difficult to reconcile with God's supposed omniscience, omni-benevolence and omnipotence. Why should God's decisions be affected by information channelled through figures such as Mary, when he already knows such information? Any intermediary is superfluous. Third, even if it is accepted that Mary is herself powerless, and able to act only as an agent of God, this does not debar her from being regarded as a goddess. Many polytheistic religions recognise that subordinate gods may not be free to act without leave from a superior one. Homer and Virgil tell us that lesser gods were constrained by Zeus during and after the Trojan War. According to Homer, Zeus himself was subject to those most ancient divinities, the Fates (Iliad 8.68 ).

    Arguments for the divinity of others are almost as powerful. Saints and angelic beings worshipped in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches are good candidates. The argument is identical to that for Mary.

    In brief, the number of gods recognised by Christianity depends on our definitions. If we accept that the concept of the Trinity is meaningful, and that the distinction between different forms of worship is valid, then mainstream Christians still have at least two gods: God and Satan. If the Trinity is only a linguistic deceit, then they have at least four: the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and Satan. If the distinction between the words latria (adoration) and hyperdulia (hyper-veneration) is illusory then the Roman Church has at least five gods: the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Satan, and Mary. If the distinction between latria and dulia (veneration) is illusory then it has many thousands.

    The principal point here is that there is a case to be answered, and few Christians are aware that there is a case at all. Familiar techniques are used to cover up the problems: different gods are bundled together and presented as one God with different titles. Others are translated away into oblivion, or deprived of the capital letters that would otherwise identify them as supernatural beings. Biblical passages that fit the case for monotheism are quoted extensively, while those that compromise it are ignored. Teachings are changed when they become indefensible, although without any admission that the earlier teachings were wrong. Words change their meanings as required. For many, there is a suspicion that linguistic deceits have been employed specifically to obscure uncomfortable truths and to maintain a claim to monotheism.



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    § Ashera, the consort of El, was the counterpart of the Phoenician Astarte, the Babylonian/Assyrian Ishtar, corresponding to the Egyptian goddess Isis. Some Israelites made cakes for her (Jeremiah 7:19). Before 586 BC there were dormitories for her sacred prostitutes in the Jerusalem Temple — the place "where women wove garments for Ashera" (Modern translations of 2 Kings 23:7).

    §. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p 3.

    §. Origen, Contra Celsum, 8:12.

    §. The Bible repeatedly affirms that God created Jesus Christ and made him what he was: "God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Jesus is described as "…the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29) and "the firstborn of every creature" i.e. the firstborn of creation (Colossians 1:15). Jesus was also "faithful to him that appointed him" (Hebrews 3:2).

    §. Lewis Spence, Egypt, Senate ( London, 1994), p 106.

    §. James I (of England, VI of Scotland), Daemonologie ( Edinburgh, 1697), "To the Reader" {R&tDoM p 563}.

    §. Baal or Baalim: Judges 2:11, 2:13, 3:7, 8:33, 10:10, 1 Samuel 12:10, 1 Kings 18:18 and Jeremiah 11:13; Molech: Leviticus 18:21; Beelzebub: Matthew 12:24 and 27 10:25; Belial: 2 Corinthians 6:15.

    §. Romans 16:20. The connection is probably based on Apocryphal and Old Testament passages, notably Wisdom 2:24.

    §. Matthew 13:19, John 17:15, Ephesians 6:16, 1 John 2:13f, 3:12 and 5:18f.

    §. See Graef, Mary, vol.1, pp 48 and 221, also Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p 287 , citing Dom. F. Mercenier, Le Muséon, 52 (1939):29-33, and Ashe The Virgin, pp 170-1. As Hilda Graef points out the key word translated as "deliver" (rysai) is the same word used in the Lord's Prayer. So Mary, like God the Father, can deliver us (from perdition/danger/evil).

    §. Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733): "…God obeys [peitharchei] you [Mary] through, and in, all things" G. Perrone, De Immaculato Beatae Virginis Mariae Conceptu (1847), 98; 352A. Guibert of Nogent (d. 1124): ".... as a good son in this world so respects his mother's authority that she commands rather than asks, so he [Christ], who undoubtedly was once subject to her, cannot, I am sure, refuse her anything; and what (I speak humanly) she demands, not by asking but by commanding, will surely come to pass" cited by Graef, Mary, vol.1, p 225. See also p 226. Godfrey of Admont (d. 1165) said that Christ can refuse Mary nothing, Graef, Mary, vol.1, p 248. Richard of St Laurent says that she can command [imperare] Christ by her maternal authority Graef, Mary, vol.1, p 269. See also vol.2, p 20. Vincent Contenson "…she has dominion and power over Christ" vol.2, p 46. John Baptist van Ketwigh: she "orders" and "commands" Christ vol.2, p 68.

    §. Graef, Mary, vol.1, p 147.

    §. These epithets are cited in Graef, Mary, which gives comprehensive references (and many more examples). The following are references to that work. Mary can direct and guide our destinies as she wills (Andrew of Crete, vol.1 p 157). She can grant us "the blessedness to come" (Andrew of Crete, vol.1, p 158). No one can be saved except through her (Ambrose Autpert, vol.1, p 167). She reigns along with her son, and is praised by angels (Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, vol.1, pp 180-1). Nothing can resist her (Euthymius, vol.1, p 196). She is omnipotent (Richard of St Laurent, vol.1, p 269, cf. Bérullle, vol.2 p 39, John Baptist van Ketwigh, vol.2, p 69). Whatever is asked of Christ will be received quicker through the intercession of Mary (Fulbert of Chartres, vol.1 p 206, Eadmar, vol.1, p 216, John Baptist van Ketwigh, vol.2, p 70). If he [Christ] refused her he would be breaking his own law (Guibert of Nogent, vol.1, p 225). She heals Hell, treads demons underfoot, saves mankind and restores fallen angels (Anselm, vol.1, p 212). She is above the angels (Bérullle, vol.2, p 32, Contenson vol.2, p 45). She is "another paraclete" (John the Geometer, vol.1, p 198). She is the cause of our redemption (Godfrey of Amont, vol.1, p 248). She is our "saviour" (salvatricem — Guibert of Nogent, vol.1, p 225; salvatrix — St Bridget, vol.1, p 309). Salvation is impossible without her (Alphonsus Ligupri, vol.2, p 74). She has the same "glory" as the second person of the Trinity (Arnold of Bonneval, vol.1, p 244, cf. Engelebert of Admont, vol.1, p 297). She is the "complement of the Trinity" (Contenson, vol.2, p 45). She is called the "Spouse of the Father" (Rupert of Deutz, vol.1, p 228), "Spouse of the Holy Spirit" (Swords, vol.1, p 307). All three members have been described as her lovers [amatores] (Godfrey of Admont, vol.1, p 248). It is even ventured that she is co-creatress [symplástes] with God (Isidore Glabas, vol.1, p 345). "Our Mother who art in heaven .... " (Richard of St Laurent, vol.1, p 266). She is Queen of Mercy as God is King of Justice (Pseudo St Bonaventure , vol.1, p 289). She prevents God from striking sinners (Conrad of Saxony, vol.1, p 291, cf. Alphonsus Ligupri, vol.2, p 75, confirmed by the visionaries of La Sallette, vol.2, p 100). It is possible to appeal from God's tribunal of justice to Mary's tribunal of Mercy (John Baptist van Ketwigh, vol.2, p 70). She is in some respects superior to God himself (Bernadine of Siena, vol 1, pp 315-318). She exercised power over him (Grignion de Montfort, vol.2, p 59). Theologians ask her to over-rule God (Eadmar, vol.1, p 220). She "binds the power of Jesus Christ to prevent the evil he would do to the guilty" (Bérullle, vol.2, p 39). She "stops the arm of God's justice, power and revenge by the force of her mercy and love" (Bérullle, vol.2, p 39).

    §. Graef, Mary, vol.1, p 100.

    §. C. H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible, p 171.

    §. Stone, An Outline of Christian Dogma, pp 34-41.

    §. After the recital of the Angelus on 12 th December 1962 Pope John XXIII declared "Our desire is to expand the worship of guardian angels, the heavenly companions given to us by God".

    §. Genesis 32:4, Deuteronomy 2:26, Judges 6:35, Isaiah 33:7, and Malachi 1:1 all refer in the original Hebrew to mal"akh, which is translated as angel, although human beings are being referred to. "Sons of God", bene "elohim, occurs in Genesis 6:2-4 (cf. Daniel 3:25). "Sons of the Mighty", bene "elim, occurs in Psalms 29:1 and 89:7. "Mighty ones", gibborim, occurs in Joel 3:11. "The Holy Ones", qedoshim, occurs in Zechariah 14:5. "Keepers", Shomerim , occurs in Isaiah 62:6. "Watchers", "irim, occurs in Daniel 4:13. Joshua 5:14 refers to zeba" Yahweh, "the host of Yahweh"; Isaiah 24:21 to zeba" marom, "the host of the height"; and Deuteronomy 17:3 to zeba" shamaim, "the host of heaven".

    §. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, pp 94-5.

    §. See for example Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum, Pt I, q2.

    §. Ware, The Orthodox Church, pp 236-242.

    §. Ware, The Orthodox Church, pp 258-261.

    §. 2 Corinthians 4:4. Some modern translations give the title as the god of this age rather than the god of this world, but for the present discussion it is sufficient that the word god is used at all.

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