The ancient Israelites were an anomaly among their pagan neighbours. Their LORD was a jealous god who wanted his people to love Him with all their hearts, all their minds and all their strength.
Scholars throughout the 18th and 19th Century held to an evolutionary model of religious development. As a culture develops, it would change from a polytheistic worldview to a henotheistic worldview (in which one god is supreme over the other gods) and then eventually develop a monotheistic worldview, which was considered to be more refined.
Yehezqel Kaufman vehemently disagreed. Any similarities between the rites and rituals, stories and legends of polytheistic Canaanites and monotheistic Hebrews were similarities in form only. The purposes, meaning and function behind them is radically different. Rather than a natural evolution from polytheism, Biblical monotheism was a revolutionary worldview, completely separate from polytheism.
He stated that a culture does not become “more like” monotheism as it reduces the number of its gods. The two systems are different at their core, not because of the number of gods.
At the core of the Judeo-Christian faith is a Being — eternal, unchanging, all-knowing, all-powerful. He is the Creator of all things, but He Himself was not Created. He transcends time entirely.
This is in stark contrast to the pagan systems, in which the gods are themselves created, temporal beings. They are not the source of all. They have a theogyny (an origin). They are made of some kind of elemental material (fire, wind, water, precious metals, etc.) within the Metadivine Realm. It is this Metadivine Realm which is their source.
There are good gods and evil gods, but the Metadivine Realm itself is morally neutral. Humans are caught up, pawns in the struggles between the competing gods.
Pagan gods are not overly concerned with humans. There may be gods whose role is to legislate some kind of justice over the human world, but this is more an occupation than an essential part of their being. Humans may coerce, manipulate or bribe gods to their side with their rituals.
The pagan cult, therefore, also involves magic and divination, because humans can use gnostic means to bypass the gods and go straight to the Metadivine Realm, manipulating substances (flesh, blood, etc.) that have some kind of connection to that realm, to which even the gods are subject.
In the Judeo-Christian worldview, God is subject to no manipulation. There is no MetaDivine Realm, no way to manipulate or coerce God. One can make a plea to Him, but cannot force His hand. Magic and divination are rebellion against His Will, and they are pointless, because He is subject to no elemental substances of any realm above Him.
He is intensely concerned with humans, because He is Good, as a part of His essential character. And the struggle between good and evil is not a battle between gods, but a battle within us. It is a result of the free will that he has given to us — good is His Will, and evil is our choice to do against His will.
I agree with Kaufman that monotheism is definitely not a natural development of polytheism. It is in the heart of man to make idols for himself, we would never “evolve” into monotheism. God had to intervene to reveal Himself to us. And even so, time after time, we put aside our monotheism to “devolve” into pagan worship.
Like the Hebrews and the golden calf, or the Israelites time and time again under the Judges, we prefer the pagan worldview. We want to recognize neither our own sinfulness, nor our own powerlessness. We prefer to turn to magic and divination, as it gives us a sense of control over the universe, and enables us to ignore our own sin.
Reading Kaufman’s description of pagan worldview, I was reminded of a book that came out a few years ago, called “The Secret.” It combined pop psychology with gnostic principles, promising a way of manipulating “the Universe” to obtain everything you ever wanted. “The Universe” is merely a rehashing of the ancient concept of the Metadivine Realm. How easily we can fall back into a state of pagan cultic practices. In our post-modern world, God is whatever you determine him to be, reality is whatever you want it to be, and the Universe is here to do your bidding.
More disturbing than this infiltration of paganism into our culture, is the infiltration of paganism into our very Church. Have you run into the prosperity gospel yet? Word-Faith? Name it and claim it? This system determines that because we have the Holy Spirit in us as Christians, we can manipulate the spiritual world by using our words(is the Word the new substance of the Metadivine Realm?) to make proclamations and decrees. We can garner wealth by manipulating the “spiritual principle” of sowing and reaping. Sow a seed of money to a prosperity preacher, and reap a harvest of wealth. There are certain spiritual principles by which the universe must work. Really? Is God Himself bound by these “spiritual principles”? Sounds like manipulation of the Metadivine Realm to me.
I can only conclude that we as humans are idolatrous pagans, in utter rebellion toward God; left to our own devices, we can turn even His Word to fit what we want it to say. Look at the way Micah and his prophet perverted their worship of God in Judges 17.
Those anthropologists of the 18th Century, who were Western monotheists themselves, would have to eat their words. So much for “evolution” or “advancement.” Far from a natural advancement of a culture to a higher form of religion, culture devolves into cultic practices, self-worship, celebrity worship, and nature worship. It is all over our “advanced” culture. The human heart is wicked above all things, and without intervention, its natural state is rebellion against God.