A few weeks back (has it been that long?) I sparred with a young atheist named Aaron who used his "17 years as a fundamentalist" (coincidentally ending shortly after his 17th birthday) to show his familiarity with the Bible to try to show that Christians are ordered to literally slay their enemies. Of course, that familiarity did not include an understanding of either context or parable, but that's not really what the issue was. It was the fact that there is a Christianity for children and one for adults. And, unfortunately, many like Aaron (whether they remain Christians or not) never move from the former to the latter.
Such apparently write letters to Mark S., who runs the "Set Free from Jesus" site. And while the site could encourage many weeks of study, Mark hits on something that illustrates the above (page down to the sexy pic of Baal):
I get emails from Fundies who tell me that since I spend soooooo much time speaking out against something I don't believe exists (i.e. Biblegod), I must therefore deep down inside really do believe that Biblegod DOES exist, as "no one would spend time writing against things they don't really believe exist."Mark is absolutely correct, right down to his title: "Polytheism is Correct"
Following that line of "reasoning", then all the Gods and Goddesses (even the tree gods) mentioned in the Old Testament must also be real- at least as real as the god of the Bible who rails against them. Biblegod expends enormous amounts of time and energy speaking out against and battling Baal, Tammuz, Ishtar, and all the other gods of days gone by...
Thus this Fundy line of reasoning, rather than being some "silver bullet" to defeat Atheism, actually opens up a veritable Pandora's Box of pagan gods with which to haunt and infest both the Christian worldview AND the space under their beds at night!
Of course, the first time one accuses Christians of being polytheists, the Christian is guaranteed to recoil in horror. After all, we all know that Christianity is one of the "great monotheistic religions," meaning that they believe in only one God. But it's not so simple as that.
According to Merriam-Webster, monotheism is "the doctrine or belief that there is but one God" and polytheism is "belief in or worship of more than one god."
Christians are both. How can this be? How can there be one God but many gods? Going back to our trusty dictionary, we'll note that "god" has more than one definition:
1 capitalized : the supreme or ultimate reality: as... the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe...Christians are monotheistic in that they believe in one God (capitalized) who is worshipped as creator and ruler. However, according to Christian theology, there are also beings "believed to have more than natural attributes." There are, in fact, supernatural beings that may control a particular aspect or part of reality.
2 : a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship; specifically : one controlling a particular aspect or part of reality
There is "the god of this world," (2Cor 4:4) who blinds the minds of (i.e. controls to an unknown extent) humans who do not serve God. There are devils (1Cor 10:20) who receive the sacrifices that the pagan Romans offered to their gods. There are those beings whom the Bible refers to as principalities (c.f. Eph 6:12) who are non-physical (i.e. spiritual) powers in the world. There may even be (depending upon how one reads Daniel) principalities with authority over certain physical nations or groups of people (Dan 10:13). One of them, known as Satan, offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship.
So what? Thus lies the difference between children's Christianity and the real thing. Kiddie Christianity sees God as all there is outside this physical world. He's a kindly old man who loves his wayward children, counts up good and bad deeds, and has a naughty and nice list as if he were some cosmic Santa Claus. Christians, in this scheme, are of course on the good list, and if everyone else would just be good children, they could get on it too. And while there is nothing in it that is demonstrably false, it is not near enough to reality to be called 'true' in any real sense.
Adult Christianity is polytheistic in this sense: there are gods and they are real. Being non-physical, they are of course not testable by science or sensually noted except on rare occasions (all-there-is-is-matter materialists discount them completely, like a man who denies the existence of beauty because it won't fill his gas tank). But they have an impact on nations and on individuals (who can but see the footprints of Moloch all over our modern society?)
The fact that the gods of the past were and are real explains one of the hardest notions for Christians to get past their little blue bonnets: our warfare is spiritual, not physical. It is certainly not legal. You cannot turn a fallen world into the kingdom of God by passing laws or beating up professors. You can't get it by killing Muslims. As Paul said, "The weapons of our warfare are not the world's weapons." We are not going to win the world by fighting it on its own terms. This world belongs to another god. We may save some individuals from his control and fate, but we will not wrest this world from his grasp. I am absolutely astonished at the number of preachers who find swimming pools and movies to be "worldly" but will look to the political process to save the nation.
But though polytheistic in the sense that it recognizes that there are supernatural powers that influence and in some sense rule reality, adult Christianity is also monotheistic. There is one God who is the creator and is worthy of obedience and worship, and he is the only God who can rescue one completely from the influences of the gods who have real power and real authority in this fallen world. His solutions do not lie in a supreme court case or a constitutional amendment. They lie in a contrite heart that loves his neighbor more than himself. It is a simple solution but not an easy one, because it requires us to change rather than changing others.