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Ancient gods were physical, and as such, constrained. If not exactly human, they did have boundaries to their existence. They operated in realms. Athena was the goddess of Athens. Delphi had an oracle, etc. Now over time as enterprising peoples tried to extend their influence, it made sense to have the dominion of their Gods extend as well, which meant they had to go up. Mount Olympus, said to be the home of the 12 Greek gods of the pantheon, was the highest peak in Greece at 9,500 ft. Likewise, Moses ascended Mount Sinai, at 7,500 ft. the highest peak in the area. There is a strong correlation between claims of hegemony and the height from which their gods operate. When a mountain was no longer tall enough it seems, the notion of heaven was assumed. This is coincidental with the notion of exclusivity of God.

Early on, the Hebrews did not deny the existence of other gods even as they admonished adherents to ‘not have any other gods’ before their own. Their thinking evolved from henotheism (preferring one god among several) to monotheism (there is only one true god). I call the latter the ‘space God’. This is not to make fun but rather to help you imagine where the ultimate physical god has to dwell. A constrained physical God in outer space won’t actually see very much. How can He actually know everything?

Physical gods are by definition bounded. To extend the dominon of a nation, therefore, the bounds of your God have to be extended. Thus, the association of the constrained God being integrated with the unbounded members of the Trinity, i.e. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, mitigates these limitations. This is a brilliant theology that introduces mysterious dimensions to inspire respect in the ‘otherness’ of God. Being watched over by a Jealous, Righteous and Just God necessarily introduces a sense of dread in the faithful. Dread validates the existence of an omniscient deity, which motivates the subordination of others, and so the myth feeds on itself. While cogent and historically persistent, this explanation does nothing to solve the problem of coexistence in an ever more heterogeneous population with the diversity of beliefs.

Monotheism is necessarily tied up with territorial favoritism. To Americans, to be Christian means being bounded by the domains of America. We have to start recognizing this as theocratic imperialism. It is the extension of the bounds of the Christian God to cover other lands at the expense of local gods. If this sounds obvious, stop to ask yourself if you can extract the God from the locale. I don’t mean the metaphysical God behind Jesus. Rather, can you remove notions of geography, whether it is ‘the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, or ‘the land of the free’ from the evangelical message? I don’t think you can. In fact, built into ‘the Great Commission’, i.e. Jesus’ directive to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel’, is necessarily a geographical expansionist mindset. It means ‘propagate Christ-god to all geographies’. Sounds like standard missionary work, doesn’t it? What is the problem, you ask? Why is this intolerant?

My point is not self-evident. Let me add some contrast to the belief in domain-exclusive gods (and I will try to be succinct for the sake of impact). Imagine, for a moment, that belief has everything to do with a locale but nothing to do with a specific god like Apollo, Osiris or Jesus having to necessarily be in that locale. Assume that all cultures have mythologies that communicate worldview via stories, which in turn exemplify desired behaviors. In this chain of belief, we have a cosmology, shared values and desired outcomes.

Now work backward from this: what are the scalable outcomes desired? The values required to support them? Based on this, create the supporting scared stories (or mythology). From this perspective, you see, you cannot take heroes or gods to be literally physical, but you can experience them in the imagination. They are a metaphor and as such, there is no competition across geographies implied. Proselytizing is not a zero-sum game in the naming of your God(s).

The competition will be in the domain of values and behaviors. If there are conflicts, the resolution is a dialog about the behaviors and values themselves and how they can be adjusted to allow for co-existence. It is hard to imagine a ‘religious’ value in this context that cannot be accommodated for the sake of loving your neighbor. Stories are then revised as a response to the accommodation, and cultures can move on from anachronistic stories that no longer serve the purpose. In other words, the outcome justifies the narrative, not the other way around. In this model, you may have very different gods ‘existing’ in the minds of the believers without having to be territorial about it. Because belief is what motivates people to act, there is a very real impact via the outcomes. 521 Main Street can believe in one God, while 523 believes in another god. Compatibility of values will make the coexistence of the gods voluntary. These are the gods of Main Street, not outer space.

— Roy Zuniga
Redmond, WA
July 2017