Polytheism, Tritheism, And The Trinity -- By: Joseph E. Walker

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 062:247 (Jul 1905)
Article: Polytheism, Tritheism, And The Trinity
Author: Joseph E. Walker


Polytheism, Tritheism, And The Trinity

Rev. Joseph E. Walker

A missionary who had spent the best part of his life in a Mohammedan country was accused of being almost a Sabellian. But, as for myself, after many years spent in China, with its triple polytheism,—the Scholar, Taoist, and Buddhist cults,—I feel disposed to affirm more boldly the tripersonality of Godhood. This is not due to long familiarity with people who worship three sets of deities, but has come about through the contrast forced on my mind between the practical workings of this confusion heaped on confusion, and the practical side of the Christian Trinity.

Polytheism begets moral and religious anarchy. There is no one fixed and definite object of reverence and trust, no one fixed and all-embracing source of reward and punishment for virtue and for vice, no immutable law of righteousness. Few people in Christian countries understand how confused, how reprehensible, how pitiful a thing, is polytheism.

Confused? One often sees in a Chinese house a large sheet of red paper pasted up in the place of honor, and inscribed, down the center, with large characters to this effect, “Seat of the Shên of Heaven, Earth, Sovereigns, Teachers, Progenitors,” and, on either side of this inscription, the names of various Taoist and Buddhist deities impartially intermingled. One such inscription which I saw had down the center, “The Golden Censer before the Seat of the Shên of the Three Teachings, Scholar, Buddhist, Taoist.”

Reprehensible? The gambler, the sharper, the quack, the thief, the harlot,—all have their patron gods. In polytheism we have a medley of devices for the securing of supernatural favor and protection, regardless of moral character; for securing unmerited benefits, and averting the just consequences of wrong-doing, without repentance or change of character. And, worse than this, its rites are sometimes openly associated with gluttony, drunkenness, and prostitution,—all perpetrated in the service of, and for the delectation of, certain gods. All polytheism is not so bad as this; but none is genuinely good.

Pitiable? A family meet with misfortune; who or what is to blame? Is it that their residence is located across the path of malicious spirits, or does it disturb by its location the “dragon”; or is it that the tomb of some ancestor is obnoxious to evil from some such source? Or have they offended some god or demon; and, if so, which one, and in what way? There is no fixed character of godhood, no certain standard of conduct, by which their past actions can be tested, and the “Achan” located. They consult gods, demons, geomancers, necr...

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