For the second post in my series on establishing the likeliness that humanity was originally monotheistic, I thought I would give a bit of background in the discussion.
“The nature, role, and characteristics of this universal sky-god may be concealed under the most diverse forms, but he is always more or less recognizable to the historian of religions and always identical in essential definition…The sky-god has reigned everywhere. His kingdom still covers the whole of the uncivilized world. No historical or proto-historical motive can be assigned as a cause, and neither the migration of the races nor the diffusion of the myths and folklore affords the slightest justification of the fact. The universality of the sky-god and the uniformity of his essential characteristics are the logical consequence of the uniformity of the primitive system of cosmogony.” – Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt, “Der Ursprung der Gottesidee”
Dr. Schmidt, in his seminal work, The Origin of the Concept of God, was published as a direct challenge to evolutionary ideas of religion and its development. Dr. Schmidt’s thesis, as described above, was that across the board all the over the world, there was a consistent picture of a high god who ruled over all from the sky. Most of these myths about a high god had mostly consistent descriptions, and in that, Schmidt was able to put forward his idea that humanity started with the belief in a single God. Over 4,500 pages detailed all of the religions that he had discovered.
Of course, scholarship at the time routinely ignored his findings and continued to publish their own findings without consulting Dr. Schmidt’s work. This is what is known as “anthropology’s great blindspot” to those who follow Dr. Schmidt’s work. Why would scholarship both ignore Dr. Schmidt’s conclusive data and findings and move away from the idea of original monotheism?
The first is that scholarship was routinely publishing papers that would further the evolutionist agenda for the study of religion. Most evolutionists accepted that humanity’s religion began as an animist (also known as a fetishist) religion, which in turn became polytheistic as people started to see different weather phenomena as the product of a different God. Andrew Lang, an ethnologist, claimed that the common view was that there would never be a hierarchy of gods in the pantheon unless human reality showed a hierarchy first. That is, there would be no high god unless a monarch on earth showed humanity the model. Or, we would never see a higher level of gods unless we saw an aristocracy on earth.
Secondly, a lack of biblical theology made it easy to depart from the idea of original monotheism. Some religions, to boost the credibility of their god, might attach the name of the High God to their newest novelty god. Three generations after Pachacuti’s reforms in the Incan Empire, Huascar, a ruler, set up a golden idol to Viracocha-Inti, combining the original god and the false god into one. The name of Zeus has a similar history: deus and theos, etymologically linked, can be traced to Zeus. Despite the work of Plato, these names became general names for any god, dissipating any connection to the One, True God. (Richardson suggests that Kleenex is a good analogy: though Kleenex is the brand name, every tissue is colloquially known as a kleenex.) This posts two problems for those without biblical theology: the lines between Inti and Viracocha might be blurred, suggesting that both names represent the same God, and without the ability to read biblical history out of their history, we miss the links they have the Living God.
Third, the wrong focus of anthropological work can distract us from finding the sky-god. Don Richardson posits that anthropologists miss much when they focus on the brassy, public features of primal religion, compared to the missionaries who looked at the society’s moral checks and balances. It was doing the work of the missionaries, looking at the moral code of the religious, that led Dr. Schmidt to be able to find the evidences of the sky-god in the religions of the world. In seeking for the weird and wonderful, anthropologists might dismiss the stories relating to the sky-god as the work of missionaries and not an essential part of the religion’s history.
So, unfortunately, because scholarship was posting anthropological work with an agenda, ignoring clear evidence; because the Church is not trained well in biblical theology any longer; and because the work of anthropology is working in the wrong categories, it will be harder than it should to prove the possibility of original monotheism.
Despite this, some have diligently done anthropological research with the mind of Christ, and have rightly sought the hand of Yahweh in the world’s religions. Knowing where the studies of the history of religion have gone wrong will help us find ourselves back on the correct track.