“You don’t believe in God?” Christians often respond in amazement that anyone could possibly not believe in their One True God, viewing nonbelievers condescendingly as deservedly Hell-bound, immoral rebels. But for the objective observer the question has become: is the monotheistic Christian claim of knowing the One True God rational–let alone moral?
The self-evident fact is that for practically every Christian denomination there is a different, even contradictory description of God. Christians seem nevertheless unfazed by the implications of their multiple descriptions of God. Somehow Christians, especially Bible-believing fundamentalists, are so engaged in affirming the correctness of what they believe that it never occurs to them that their own multiple descriptions of God preclude belief in a singular God who is the one and only God. Thus, when asked if one believes in the Christian God, it is logical to ask: “Which God are you asking about?” The Christian response, “Our God is the One True God,” reveals–to say the least–a disturbing lack of integrity, let alone candor.
For example, there is the one-headed God of the Oneness Pentecostal denominations. This segment of Pentecostal Christianity consists of over 100 denominations worldwide. They believe that the bible clearly teaches that the Father is Jesus, The Holy Spirit is Jesus, and the Son is Jesus. All are manifestations of the One indivisible God, not three separate persons. Oneness theology teaches that dividing God into separate persons misrepresents the monotheistic God of the Bible and dilutes the deity of Jesus. The Oneness doctrine was considered so serious a heresy just 500 years ago that Servetus, an eminent physician from Spain, was burned at the stake in 1552 C.E. for his Oneness beliefs. His executioner was John Calvin, hero and namesake of many Protestant believers.
There is the two-headed God of Arius, early 4th century presbyter of Alexandria. Arians believe the true Greek translation of John 1:1 states that “the Word was a God” and that Jesus, the Word who became flesh in John 1:14, was a lessor god because he was “begotten” of the eternal God Jehovah. This Jesus could not be of one substance or coeternal with the Father. The ensuing controversy over the divinity of Jesus was settled when the Roman Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E.; the outcome was to declare the Arian doctrine a heresy, exile Arius as a heretic, and declare Jesus as “very God of very God, of the same substance and coeternal with the Father.” [It is important to note that at this point in time the Christian God was still a Binitarian or two-headed God.] Arianism did not die, however. The 18th century scientist and mathematician Isaac Newton was an Arian advocate. Today’s best known followers of Arian theology are the Jehovah Witnesses, started by Pennsylvanian Charles Taze Russell in the late 19th century. Russell caricatured the Trinitarian God as “three gods in one person.”
It wasn’t until the late 4th century that the three-headed God of the Trinity was sanctioned. The Trinitarian doctrine is the predominant belief in Protestant denominations today. The Trinity teaches that God is divisible, consisting of three separate persons who are of the same substance, eternally begotten with one another: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Trinity doctrine is assumed by most Christians to be the belief of the early apostles, yet this doctrine was in fact undocumented until the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E. The Trinity doctrine has virtually no biblical support. I John 5:7-8 attempts to explain the Trinity, but bible scholars acknowledge these verses to be fraudulent insertions of a later period. So the Trinity’s incomprehensible three-equals-one-God was established as the orthodox, must-believe, mystical doctrine of the Christian Church. Its orthodoxy in Catholic/Protestant theology is the offspring of the Roman Empire’s determination to side step accusations of polytheism and establish unity–even if concomitant with torture and imprisonment for nonbelieving heretics.
Then there is the four-headed God of Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholic theologians will vehemently deny that Roman Catholic Mary-ology makes Mary into a member of their Godhead. Nevertheless Catholic doctrine has made Mary the focus of Catholic religious practice by alleging Mary’s immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, assumption into heaven, intercessory role, apparitions, rosary beads, shrines, and medals. In reality Mary is treated with an awe and reverence equal to the other members of the Roman Catholic Godhead. Consequently, Roman Catholics pray to and worship God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and Mary, the Mother of God.
Other Christian denominations know no limits in creating their own various descriptions of God. There are the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, founded by Joseph Smith following a visit from God’s messenger angel Moroni. The Mormon God who, progressing from a mere man to becoming God, established the pattern for his followers who, in the same fashion, desire to become Gods dwelling together on the planet Kolub. There are Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Scientists who believe that God is an eternal principle and that Jesus is the highest corporeal concept of the divine idea. There is Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, famous for its Plain Truth magazine, which teaches that the Holy Spirit is an “it,” an impersonal aspect of God’s life and power. These many Christian denominations, each with their unique, contradictory, descriptions of God, are worshiping different Gods.
To further compound this cognitive dissonance, all these Christian theologies claim the monotheistic Jewish God, Yahweh, in some mystical sense as being father of Jesus. Yet the Jewish Bible does not contain one hint of the Jewish Messiah being God’s son–let alone God incarnate. Is it any wonder that orthodox Jews not only reject Jesus as their Messiah but also reject the entire Christian God concept as blasphemy? To the Orthodox Jew, Christianity is a parasitical religion which has attached itself to the historicity of their Yahweh in order to gain legitimacy for its pagan, gentile religion.
The irony of ironies is the fact that each Christian denomination claims to have: “The revealed, infallible truth of the One True God.” God-believers with differing God descriptions are seen by one another as being deceived by some strange, even heretical doctrine. Nevertheless, Christians overlook each other’s heretical God beliefs, tentatively accepting them as the less fortunate who “at least” have some kind of God belief–which is seen as certainly preferable to nonbelief or, heaven forbid, atheism.
Perhaps Christians will someday consider the alleged words of their Lord and Savior Jesus who said to take the log out of your own eye before you take the splinter out of someone else’s eye. In order to keep pace with civilization’s progress, Christianity is grudgingly, at best, acknowledging the import of rational inquiry and critical thinking. However, for any faith-based religious thought process, a conflict arises because serious rational inquiry or critical thinking violates the spiritually esteemed “child-like faith.” Faith rejects a questioning attitude. Faith does not base its actions or beliefs on evidence [Heb 11:1]. Faith and critical thinking are at opposite poles. The revered apostle Paul stated, “whatever is not of faith is sin” [Rom 14:23]. To “lean not on thy own understanding” [Pr 3:5] is the ultimate in spirituality. To think or question for yourself is the essence of sin. Every religious heretic is labeled as such because he has thought for himself. Christianity’s multiple denominations are simply multiple heretical groups each claiming to be the only one with the [I]real[/I] truth. Ask any of them and they’ll tell you!
Objective thinkers cannot help but question the rationale and/or morals of God-believers who condemn nonbelief when these same believers are so comfortable in their self-ordained orthodoxy regarding so basic an issue as which of their multiple Gods is the one true God.
In the U.S. this issue becomes tragically humorous when it is legislated that citizens pledge they are “one nation under God.” Which God? Whose God? Further, why? Where was this God on 9/11/01?
As comedian Robin Williams suggested, “Wouldn’t one Nation Under Canada be more accurate?” At least we’d then have some tangible evidence for the truthfulness of such a statement.
It appears that Christianity’s multiple denominations with multiple Gods, each doctrinally condemning as heretics the nonconforming within its own religion, is so psychologically addictive that for the unyieldingly religious in need of a mythical heaven–Any Ole God Will Do!
Copyright 2002, Lee Salisbury. Note: This article was originally published as the Guest Essay in the Sept/Oct 2002 issue of The American Rationalist.