A fascinating description of the history of the words polytheism and monotheism:
I have long been under the impression that “monotheism” and “polytheism” are two of the most unfortunate words in English, or in any language. The two words present one who hears them with a near intellectual necessity to think the concepts are speaking about the same sort of thing, in exactly the same way, as “monosyllabic” means a word of only one syllable, and “polysyllabic” means a word with more than one syllable.
“Polytheism” does mean “many gods.” However, “monotheism” does not mean “only one god,” but rather “God, rather than the gods.” The two terms seem to be saying something parallel, on the same level, but they are not. This generates endless confusion, because monotheists are NOTHING AT ALL LIKE POLYTHEISTS. In fact, in may be the case that all polytheists ARE ALSO monotheists—at least in one sense of the term.
I was trying to track down the…
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