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Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists. In a more specific sense, theism is commonly a monotheistic doctrine concerning the nature of a deity, and that deity's relationship to the universe. Theism, in this specific sense, conceives of God as personal, present and active in the governance and organization of the world and the universe. As such theism describes the classical conception of God that is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism. The use of the word theism to indicate this classical form of monotheism began during the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century in order to distinguish it from the then-emerging deism which contended that God, though transcendent and supreme, did not intervene in the natural world and could be known rationally but not via revelation.
The term theism derives from the Greek theos meaning "god". The term theism was first used by Ralph Cudworth (1617–88). In Cudworth's definition, they are "strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things".
Atheism is rejection of theism in the broadest sense of theism; i.e. the rejection of belief that there is even one deity. Rejection of the narrower sense of theism can take forms such as deism, pantheism, and polytheism. The claim that the existence of any deity is unknown or unknowable is agnosticism. The positive assertion of knowledge, either of the existence of gods or the absence of gods, can also be attributed to some theists and some atheists. Put simply theism and atheism deal with belief, and agnosticism deals with (absence of) rational claims to asserting knowledge.
Monotheism (from Greek μόνος) is the belief in theology that only one deity exists. Some modern day monotheistic religions include Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Baha'i Faith, Sikhism, Eckankar and some forms of Hinduism.
Polytheism is the belief that there is more than one deity. In practice, polytheism is not just the belief that there are multiple gods; it usually includes belief in the existence of a specific pantheon of distinct deities.
Within polytheism there are hard and soft varieties:
- Hard polytheism views the gods as being distinct and separate beings; an example of this would be the Egyptian and Greek Religions; along with certain schools of Hinduism.
- Soft polytheism views the gods as being subsumed into a greater whole. Some forms of Hinduism such as Smartism/Advaita Vedanta serve as examples of soft polytheism.
Polytheism is also divided according to how the individual deities are regarded:
- Henotheism: The viewpoint/belief that there may be more than one deity, but only one of them is worshipped.
- Kathenotheism: The viewpoint/belief that there is more than one deity, but only one deity is worshipped at a time or ever, and another may be worthy of worship at another time or place. If they are worshipped one at a time, then each is supreme in turn.
- Monolatrism: The belief that there may be more than one deity, but that only one is worthy of being worshipped. Most of the modern monotheistic religions may have begun as monolatric ones, although this is disputed.
Pantheism and panentheism
- Pantheism: The belief that the physical universe is equivalent to a god or gods, and that there is no division between a Creator and the substance of its creation. Examples include many forms of Saivism.
- Panentheism: Like Pantheism, the belief that the physical universe is joined to a god or gods. However, it also believes that a god or gods are greater than the material universe. Examples include most forms of Vaishnavism.
Some people find the distinction between these two beliefs as ambiguous and unhelpful, while others see it as a significant point of division.
- Deism is the belief that at least one deity exists and created the world, but that the creator(s) does/do not alter the original plan for the universe.
Deism typically rejects supernatural events (such as prophecies, miracles, and divine revelations) prominent in organized religion. Instead, Deism holds that religious beliefs must be founded on human reason and observed features of the natural world, and that these sources reveal the existence of a supreme being as creator.
Autotheism is the viewpoint that, whether divinity is also external or not, it is inherently within 'oneself' and that one has a duty to become perfect (or divine). This can be in a selfless way, a way following the implications of statements attributed to ethical, philosophical, and religious leaders (such as Jesus and Mahavira).
Autotheism can also refer to the belief that one's self is a deity (often the only one), within the context of subjectivism. This is a fairly extreme version of subjectivism, however.
- Eutheism is the belief that a deity is wholly benevolent.
- Dystheism is the belief that a deity is not wholly good, and is possibly evil.
- Maltheism is the belief that a deity exists, but is wholly malicious.
- "Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Retrieved 2011-03-18.
- Perspectives of reality: an introduction to the philosophy of Hinduism - Page 20, Jeaneane D. Fowler - 2002
- The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Second Edition, OUP
- The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997).
- Encyclopædia Britannica.
- John Orr (English Deism: Its Roots and Its Fruits, 1934) explains that before the seventeenth century theism and deism were interchangeable terms but during the course of the seventeenth century they gained separate and mutually exclusive meanings (see deism)
- Halsey, William; Robert H. Blackburn, Sir Frank Francis (1969). Louis Shores, ed. Collier's Encyclopedia 22 (20 ed.). Crowell-Collier Educational Corporation. pp. 266–7.
- Cudworth, Ralph (1678). The True Intellectual System of the Universe, Vol. I. New York: Gould & Newman, 1837, p. 267.
- Nielsen, Kai (2010). "Atheism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2011-01-26. "Atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings.... Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God for the following reasons (which reason is stressed depends on how God is being conceived)..."
- Edwards, Paul (2005) . "Atheism". In Donald M. Borchert. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). MacMillan Reference USA (Gale). p. 359. ISBN 9780028657806. "On our definition, an 'atheist' is a person who rejects belief in God, regardless of whether or not his reason for the rejection is the claim that 'God exists' expresses a false proposition. People frequently adopt an attitude of rejection toward a position for reasons other than that it is a false proposition. It is common among contemporary philosophers, and indeed it was not uncommon in earlier centuries, to reject positions on the ground that they are meaningless. Sometimes, too, a theory is rejected on such grounds as that it is sterile or redundant or capricious, and there are many other considerations which in certain contexts are generally agreed to constitute good grounds for rejecting an assertion."(page 175 in 1967 edition)
- Hepburn, Ronald W. (2005) . "Agnosticism". In Donald M. Borchert. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). MacMillan Reference USA (Gale). p. 92. ISBN 9780028657806. "In the most general use of the term, agnosticism is the view that we do not know whether there is a God or not." (page 56 in 1967 edition)
- Rowe, William L. (1998). "Agnosticism". In Edward Craig. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-07310-3. "In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God, whereas an atheist disbelieves in God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist. In so far as one holds that our beliefs are rational only if they are sufficiently supported by human reason, the person who accepts the philosophical position of agnosticism will hold that neither the belief that God exists nor the belief that God does not exist is rational."
- “Monotheism”, in Britannica, 15th ed. (1986), 8:266.
- AskOxford: polytheism
- "Philosophical Dictionary: Pacifism-Particular".
- "What is Panentheism?". About.Com: Agnosticism/Atheism. Retrieved 2011-03-18.
- AskOxford: deism
- Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language (G. & C. Merriam, 1924) defines deism as "belief in the existence of a personal god, with disbelief in Christian teaching, or with a purely rationalistic interpretation of Scripture".
- Matthew 5:38 "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"
- Luke 17:21 "The Kingdom of God is within you"
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