Is monotheism the root cause of intolerance in the world today? It would be well for the House of Abraham to unite in responding to this question. 

Fifth Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue, May 8, 2007

25 January 2023

The Problem of Divine Unity and Human Pluralism

In recent years a growing chorus of voices around the world is criticizing the idea of monotheism as being a root cause – if not the chief cause – of conflict, imperialism and intolerance in the world today. This critique is important because it not only addresses wrong actions of Muslims, Christians and Jews (and certainly we have been guilty of these), but it attacks the very idea of monotheism itself, arguing that the very idea of monotheism itself is incompatible with human pluralism because it inevitably promotes a hegemonic worldview and therefore imperialism, conflict and violence.


This argument, expressed in a variety of ways, goes something like this: Monotheism is the belief that one God created one human race from one ancestor, and monotheism declares war on all other gods and excludes all human identities which do not conform to correct belief. Just as there is no room for pluralism or diversity in God, so there is no room for diversity in human identity. Furthermore monotheism forms the ideological underpinning for a centralized, unitary state, and thus it contributes to the formation of empires and their violent efforts to subjugate the whole human race.


The Muslim, Christian or Jewish listener who hears these arguments will immediately think of verses in the Qur’ān or the Bible which support tolerance, pluralism, peace and love for the other. However, such proof-texts are irrelevant to responding to the critique, since the critique is addressed to the doctrine of monotheism itself. That is, these critics may readily acknowledge that beautiful verses in the Qur’ān and the Bible do support pluralism and tolerance, but they argue that those verses are contradicted by the deep structure of monotheistic belief which drives its adherents to do the opposite of what these verses advocate.


This critique of monotheism is a worldwide phenomenon, and not just a Western problem. In this paper I will cite authors from the West, from the Middle East and from South Asia to illustrate this critique, but many other examples could be cited of a growing anti-monotheist intellectual trend around the world. It is imperative that believers in the Abrahamic faiths pause for a moment from our arguments among ourselves to consider an appropriate response to this attack on the most fundamental belief which we all share. Jesus (p.) said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not stand,” and it would be well for the House of Abraham to unite in responding to this critique of monotheism.


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