I am sure it makes perfect sense to pagans, but paganism is enigmatic to monotheists.

Why would someone chose to worship one god among many or one localized god or a god who is only associated with one segment of the world, like the seas or the mountains or the moon?  Why would you not choose to worship one supreme god who has power over all parts of nature and life?  Why worship the creation when you can worship the Creator?

These are precisely the questions taken up in today’s passage from this new surah, “The Differentiator,” another name for the Qur’an.  Of course, paganism was the norm in pre-Islamic Mecca.

It is He [Allah] who has control over the heavens and earth and has no offspring — no one shares control with Him — and who created all thing and made them to an exact measure.  Yet the disbelievers take as their gods things beneath Him that create nothing, and are themselves created, that can neither harm nor help themselves, and have no control over death, life, or resurrection. (25:2-3)

The Prophet Isaiah asked the same questions of the ancient Israelites as they flirted with Canaanite paganism.

All who make idols are nothing,
and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
they are ignorant, to their own shame.
Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
which can profit nothing?
People who do that will be put to shame;
such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand;
they will be brought down to terror and shame.

The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
human form in all its glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine.
He cut down cedars,
or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
It is used as fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (Isaiah 44:9-20)

The Apostle Paul said something similar to the Roman Christians who lived in the midst of rampant paganism.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:18-25)

I imagine the answers to the questions at the top of this post are simple.  People raised in paganism naturally develop a polytheistic worldview.  There are many ways in which our world does seem segmented and the power associated with the segments do sometimes seem to be in opposition (i.e., the power of the earth can level the power of human industry and construction).  One can only adopt monotheism once they are aware it is a viable option.  Polytheists do often believe in a supreme power, but it is only an impersonal power that gave life to the personal gods of the pagan pantheon.

But . . . when the religion of the One God is presented, why hang on to an inferior explanation?  It is probably not that simple, but that is the message that we start with in this new surah.

Advertisements