Monotheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, Animism, Agnosticism, Atheism . . .
What are the differences? Which is yours?
Curious to learn more, explore your own belief systems or understand someone else's? Take a moment to look at a brief description of each of these. The definitions below are generalized - people adhering to any of the systems listed will have individualized experience and understanding of them; so, bearing that in mind, here you go with some very basic statements:
Monotheism - This word comes from a mix of the Greek “monos” (one, alone, single) and “Theo-“ (God). Monotheists believe in and worship one God. Examples of Monotheistic religions are: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Polytheism - Again, from the Greek, “poly” (many) and “Theo-“ (God). Polytheists believe in and worship more than one god.
Examples of Polytheistic religions: Mahayana Buddhism, Shintoism, Candomble, Taoism, Confusionism, Hinduism, Wicca and Modern Paganism.
Pantheism - “Pan” (all) and “Theo-“ (God) give us All-God. Pantheists may experience God-in-all-things and/or all-things-in-God. Or, they may embrace their Pantheism by honoring or even believing in and honoring all Gods. Some people claiming Pantheism may simply have a tolerance for all religions, beliefs, and Gods. Many religions - and some non-religious spiritualities - embrace Pantheism, such as some branches of Buddhism, Taoism, Paganism and ecologists, and even some Christians.
Animism - The prefix “anima” comes from Latin and means “spirit” or “soul”. Animists believe that the world is alive with soul/spirit; that all things (not just people) have or are vital beings with true soul or spirit, and as such, can and should be interacted with respectfully. In Animism, plants, rocks, rivers, stars and spoons are on some level conscious and a part of the interconnected, interdependent web of life. Animistic religions include Shinto, Hinduism, Paganism/Neopaganism, Shamanistic or Earth-based religions and many (if not most) Indigenous spiritualities.
Agnosticism - The prefix “A-“ (meaning “without”) plus “Gnosticism” (Gnostic meaning knowledge) gives us Agnosticism, the belief that we cannot know whether God and/or the supernatural world exists or does not exist. Agnostics may not believe in any theism or may embrace a religion theoretically but interact with it knowing it may not have basis in truth. An Agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God.
Atheism - The prefix “A-“ (meaning “without”) plus -theism (God), means, of course, without God. Atheists do not believe in God or supernatural presence.
Many people find considering the beliefs of others difficult. Yet the ability to explore and understand others is central to generating a community of harmony among our fellow humans.
Interesting questions to ask yourself might be:
What belief system was I raised with?
Was religion or spirituality offered to me or placed upon me (that is, was I introduced to - or was I indoctrinated with a religious belief)?
Do I practice the religion of my childhood today?
Do I still believe in the religion of my childhood? (If not, why not? If so, why?)
Does what I believe bring me peace, passion or other positive experience or attitude?
Do I feel that my religious or spiritual beliefs make me a better person?
Do my beliefs still feel relevant or supportive to me?
Do I have judgements of other people’s religion?
Do I think that if I had been raised within a different belief system that I would be a different person at my core?
Does my religion/spirituality bring me peace?
Do I feel comfortable imagining what it might be like to have a different belief system?
Can I love people of different belief systems?
Which system (“ism) listed above is most difficult for me to imagine embracing?
What might I be like if that system were the one I was raised with?
What is my greatest fear about my own beliefs?
Might there be there things about my belief system or religion that could be harmful to me or other people?
What does my belief system or religion offer me that is helpful or healing?
How does thinking about other people’s beliefs make me feel? (Anxious? Angry? Fearful? Surprised? Curious? Interested? Etc. . .)
As an Interfaith Minister, chaplain/spiritual advisor working in hospice and grief support, I, Maya, am tasked with being present and fully engaged in many religions and styles of belief. I, personally, feel very, very honored to be let in to people’s deepest heart, wisest mind, softest vulnerabilities and the great strengths that every person’s religion or belief system offers them. I have found that willingness to go with someone to the core or essence of their deepest truths brings those truths alive; it is possible to gain rich understanding on a visceral level when we embrace the inherent worth and dignity of others.
Whatever your heart holds true, spiritually, religiously, scientifically, or otherwise, I celebrate your peace, joy and delight in the amazing journey of being human!
With Much Love,
Rev. Maya Massar