Overview:

Throughout history there have been (and still are) twenty-two options concerning belief in God, from various polytheisms to 'ignosticism.'

Reading Time: 7 minutes

1. Polytheists say there are many Gods, even into the thousands. Adore all the Gods or as many as you can. Polytheists say, since there is not one of anything, why would there be just one God? For the polytheist, any arguments for one God may be used to argue for many Gods. Polytheism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

2. Henotheists admit many Gods too, but you may have time to adore only one, and that’s okay because these are not jealous Gods. Henotheism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

3. Kat-henotheists also acknowledge many Gods, but you may adore only one God at a time, moving from one God to another God at different periods of your life. Kat-henotheism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

4. Dystheists say there are many Gods, or one God, and not one of them is entirely good. Adore with caution. Dystheism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

5. Dualists acknowledge two equally powerful Gods, one very Good and the other very Evil. Adore the good God. The need for two Gods rests upon the world’s oscillation between beauty and ugliness, delight and dread, kindness and cruelty, irises and Ebola viruses. The existence of an evil God exonerates the good God from any responsibility for evil or bad events, or animal and human suffering. For instance, a bloody world of predators and prey would seem to taint a good God’s reputation for goodness; so why not blame an evil God for the theater of violence we see among animals and humans? In a family of Dualists you may hear the following exchange: Child: ‘Mommy, did the God of Compassion create the talon, the fang, the claw? Did the God of Love create the malarial mosquito?’ Mommy: ‘No, sweetie, the other God, the God of Cruelty made all those things.’ Religions with a devil belief—Christianity and Islam—can come close to Dualism when they enlarge the power of the devil, as was done for 300 years during Europe’s ‘satanic panic’ witchcraze—1400s, 1500s, 1600s. Dualism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

6. Monotheists declare there has only ever been one God. Adore that God. One God is a simpler idea than many Gods and preferable for that reason. Seven or eight distinct (and opposing) monotheistic religions claim this God and define God in many different ways, with many different hues. Each successive monotheism throughout history (seven or eight of them) purports to supersede previous monotheisms by offering new revelations in new holy books inspired by the one God. Monotheism is an ancient view that’s still with us (though not as ancient as polytheism).

7. Trinitarians affirm one God in three ‘persons’: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Ghost. Adore each person of the Trinity. God the Father is the Creator. God the Son came to earth in human form as Jesus and died on a cross for human sins. God the Holy Ghost ‘proceeds’ from God the Father and God the Son and sends messages to humanity through prophets and comforts believers on earth. Other monotheists suspect this isn’t mono-theism, but Christianity vigorously defends the oneness of three. Trinitarianism is an ancient view that’s still with us among Christians.

8. Pantheists state that God is identical to the many things of the physical-material world. The universe is God. You may adore God in your reverence for the universe. This is an ancient view that’s still with us.

9. Pan-en-theists claim that God is within the many things of the material world but distinct from the many things of the material world. God is both immanent to the material world and transcendent to it—God is within the material world and God is above it too. Adore this God in your esteem for the material world, or adore this God as something transcendent to the material world. Pan-en-theism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

10. Deists insist there is a God who created the universe but thereafter took no interest in it. You do not adore this God because this God cares nothing about you or little about you, either because he doesn’t know you exist, or because he cares about you as much as he cares about the life of an oyster (with due apologies to The World Parliament of Insects, Mollusks, & Affiliated Clam Culture). Deism is about 300 years old. The name ‘deism’ is seldom used nowadays but the belief behind it still exists, and many people who believe in God believe in a ‘distant’ God who does not really attend to what we are doing on planet earth.

11. Taoists say there’s no God but there is an impersonal Force called the Tao (pronounced Dow) that pervades the universe and may be tapped into and utilized by humans (similar to ‘The Force’ in Star Wars). Adoration is not necessary. Taoism is an ancient Chinese view that’s still with us.

12. Extra-Terrestrialists say that what humans have been calling ‘Gods’ are actually non-supernatural galactic beings visiting earth from outer space and using modest ingredients to un-miraculously originate life on our planet; these beings have been monitoring human developments ever since. Adore when met. Extra-Terrestrialism dates to the 1940s or so, and there are numerous ‘UFO religions’ nowadays.

13. Monists proclaim there is only one item in existence: God. God is everything, everything is God, and everything is only one thing, namely God. Variety is an illusion and all the words we have for the many apparent existent things are superfluous. Thin the dictionary to the letter ‘g’ and the word ‘God.’ (Pantheism is different from monism in that pantheism admits the existence of many things.) Monism is an ancient view, coming out of India, and it’s still with us.

14. Anatheists say God cannot be rendered into any image or concept because the God that can be conceived is not the real God. The real God is unknowable and certainly beyond a human’s brain to grasp. Adore this unknown and unknowable God. God is above human ideation and human words. All religions are flawed in that they cannot ‘apprehend’ God. Mystics in various religions make these kinds of claims and say they experience God immediately (‘without mediation’). That is, mystics claim to experience God without the mediation of religion, without holy saints, without holy buildings, or holy worship, or holy bells, books and candles, and even without thoughts and words. Mystics claim an ineffable experience of God, and a few mystics who are capable write inch-thick books describing it (!)—some of which are true works of literary art, studied by Ph.D.s university literature departments. Anatheism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

15. Apotheosis-ists (Euhemerists) say Gods were once humans who at some point achieved apotheosis, elevation to divinity. Adore the worthy ones. This idea was widespread in the polytheisms of antiquity. Heretical versions of Christianity claimed this of Jesus in ancient times. Some forms of Buddhism are here, and Mormonism is here with the notion that God was once a human like us. The concept of Apotheosis (human elevation to divinity)is an ancient view that’s still with us.

16. Misotheists follow Prometheus and hate all Gods because Gods are completely overbearing, pompous, fat-witted despots; and religion is a malignant cancer upon society. Adoration is inapt. Misotheism is an ancient view that’s still with us. In modern times it appeared in a few 20th-century communist nations that outlawed and suppressed religion, and it appears in strident anti-theists.

17. Atheists find no persuasive arguments or persuasive evidence for God and no convincing idea of God on offer in six thousand years; and they say therefore, there must be no Gods. Some Buddhists are here. The Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism is an atheist (showing that even a ‘religion’ can be atheistic). Atheism is an ancient view that’s still with us. 

18. Agnostics means ‘not knowing’ and though these people remain unconvinced by every argument for God’s existence they prefer to withhold judgment as to whether God exists, saying ‘I don’t know if there’s a God’—because they are also not totally convinced by atheist arguments against God. But remember that agnostics are not any kind of believer in God and do not hedge their bet by attending religious services or by praying, just in case there’s a God. So, agnosticism is a species of unbelief. Agnosticism is an ancient view that’s still with us—though the term itself (agnostic) was invented in 19th-century England.

19. Skeptics doubt everything, not only avowals about God, but also all claims to all knowledge. Skeptics say we can doubt everything except mathematical conclusions and current reports about our own current state of consciousness (‘I am sad right now’). A Skeptic might say, ‘You claim to know God exists but you don’t even know if Charlemagne existed.’ Skepticism is an ancient view that’s still with us.

20. Freethinkers/Humanists may be atheists, agnostics or skeptics or even heretical believers in God but they prefer a positive self-designation, a positive label, and not a negative label for themselves. Freethinkers arose a few hundred years ago in Europe to face the restraints placed on thought by religious dogma, which even today in certain parts of the world religion cudgels free thought and free speech. Humanists, also a few hundred years old, affirm that all sense of value, worth, purpose, morality, goodness, and creativity comes solely from humanity, with no Gods to offer anything. Whatever goodness is found (even in the religions) is really only a product of human creativity and human goodness. For instance, by this view, no God ever gave humanity a moral rule because humans made the moral rules. The Humanist and the Freethinker often refuse to call themselves atheists (though they typically don’t believe in Gods) because they say no one should be required to label themselves based on dissent to other people’s beliefs. Theists (God believers) would seem to require that all people label themselves based on whether we all agree or disagree with theism, and if we disagree, then we should label ourselves ‘atheist’ (i.e., not theists). Humanists and Freethinkers say, ‘No thanks. We feel no need to label ourselves based on our rejection of your beliefs. We also reject astrology but we don’t feel any need to label ourselves as a-astrologists. We don’t believe in faeries either and we don’t label ourselves a-faerie-ists. And by the way, we don’t like the label unbeliever either, because everyone believes and disbelieves a lot of things and no one needs to label themselves an unbeliever because they disbelieve something. You ask if we believe in God? Yes, we believe God is a recurring character in world mythologies.’  The terms Freethinker and Humanist are about 400 years old.

21. Indifferentists or Apatheists are completely unconcerned about religion or God. They see religion as irrelevant to their life and of trivial importance. They would almost rather discuss anything than talk about religion. This is growing in our somewhat ‘post-religious’ Western world. It’s most common among young people age 30 and below. Ask them if they’ve ever thought about whether a God exists and they might say,  ‘I never gave it any thought.’ 

22. Ignostics advise us to give up the word ‘God’ and rub it from the world’s lexicons and never utter it again. Why? Because we have established over many thousands of years that we do not know what the word ‘God’ signifies, as indisputably displayed in humanity’s profound disagreements about God, evinced in this very roster of twenty-two. If a Martian from outer space were to land on Earth and ask the human race what God is, the Martian would hear only a cacophony of discordant voices—proof enough that humans don’t know what they’re talking about when they talk about ‘God.’ Ask an Ignostic ‘Do you believe in God?’ and the reply comes: ‘I don’t know what you mean by the question.’ Ignosticism is a 21st-century coinage combining two words: agnostic and ignorant.

J. H. McKenna Ph.D. has taught the history of religious ideas since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and also in popular venues...