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Why did the Middle East select for monotheism?

By Lorenzo

[Snip] A variation on the Whig interpretation of history that still has surprising sway is that human religious history has a “natural” progression from animism through polytheism to monotheism. It has led to such nonsense as the psychotic tyrant Akhenaton being written up positively solely because he was monotheist (or, at least practised monolatry: Kerry Greenwood’s Out of the Black Land provides a revealing fictional treatment). This animism-polytheism-monotheism “progression” is an interpretation that has nothing to recommend it, apart from monotheist self-satisfaction.

If one doubts that polytheism is perfectly compatible with highly sophisticated societies, I refer you to classical Rome and Greece; to India, China and Japan. If you doubt it is perfectly compatible with thoroughly modern societies, I refer you to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. If you think monotheism is necessary for a highly compassionate morality, I refer you to Jainism and Buddhism.

Not only does the animism-to-polytheism-to-monotheism progression fail as a moral and intellectual claim, it fails as history in the quite basic sense that monotheism is purely a product of the Middle East. It spread from there around the globe (indeed, it is still doing so), but it evolved nowhere else.

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