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God,divinity of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as many other world religions. See also religionreligion,
a system of thought, feeling, and action that is shared by a group and that gives the members an object of devotion; a code of behavior by which individuals may judge the personal and social consequences of their actions; and a frame of reference by which individuals
..... Click the link for more information. and articles on individual religions.
Names for God
In the Old Testament various names for God are used. YHWH is the most celebrated of these; the Hebrews considered the name ineffable and, in reading, substituted the name Adonai [my Lord]. The ineffable name, or tetragrammaton [Gr.,=four-letter form], is of unknown origin; the reconstruction Jehovah was based on a mistake, and the form Yahweh is not now regarded as reliable. The name Jah occurring in names such as ElijahElijah
[both: Heb.,=Yahweh is God], fl. c.875 B.C., Hebrew prophet in the reign of King Ahab. He is one of the outstanding figures of the Bible. Elijah's mission was to destroy the worship of foreign gods and to restore exclusive loyalty to God.
..... Click the link for more information. is a form of YHWH. The most common name for God in the Old Testament is Elohim, a plural form, but used as a singular when speaking of God. The name El, not connected with Elohim, is also used, especially in proper names, e.g., Elijah. The name Shaddai, used with other words and in names (e.g., Zurishaddai), appears rarely. Of these names only Adonai has a satisfactory etymology. It is generally not possible to tell from English translations of the Bible what was the exact form of the name of God in the original. In Islam, the name of God is AllahAllah
, [Arab.,=the God]. Derived from an old Semitic root refering to the Divine and used in the Canaanite El, the Mesopotamian ilu, and the biblical Elohim, the word Allah is used by all Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others.
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Conceptions of God
The general conception of God may be said to be that of an infinite being (often a personality but not necessarily anthropomorphic) who is supremely good, who created the world, who knows all and can do all, who is transcendent over and immanent in the world, and who loves humanity. By the majority of Christians God is believed to have lived on earth in the flesh as Jesus (see TrinityTrinity
[Lat.,=threefoldness], fundamental doctrine in Christianity, by which God is considered as existing in three persons. While the doctrine is not explicitly taught in the New Testament, early Christian communities testified to a perception that Jesus was God in the flesh;
..... Click the link for more information. ). In the Hebrew Bible the concept of God is not a unified one. The attitude of believers to this apparent inconsistency has generally been that God, unchanging, revealed Himself more and more to Israel.
Scholars belonging to the rational schools of the 19th cent. developed a view of the Bible as primarily a history of Judaism that evolved naturally without the benefit of divine intervention in the world. They see a series of stages in which God was first held by the Jews as simply the head of a tribal pantheon, then gradually assumed all the attributes of God's fellow divinities, but was still worshiped more or less idolatrously. Gradually, according to these scholars, the Jews considered their God as more and more powerful until they believed God creator and ruler of all humans though preferring Israel as God's chosen people.
God's attributes of goodness, love, and mercy these critics consider as very late in this development. More recent scholars have refuted this latter position, seeing these very qualities in the God of the Exodus. Although the idea of God, through its long acceptance by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, has come to be associated with the concept of a good, infinite personality, in recent times the name has been extended to many principles of an utterly different sort; thus, a philosopher may consider the unifying concept in his philosophy (e.g., cosmic energy, mind, world soul, number) as God.
Arguments for God's Existence
There are several famous arguments for the existence of God. The argument from the First Cause maintains that since in the world every effect has its cause behind it (and every actuality its potentiality), the first effect (and first actuality) in the world must have had its cause (and potentiality), which was in itself both cause and effect (and potentiality and actuality), i.e., God. The cosmological argument maintains that since the world, and all that is in it, seems to have no necessary or absolute (nonrelative) existence, an independent existence (God) must be implied for the world as the explanation of its relations.
The teleological argument maintains that, since from a comprehensive view of nature and the world everything seems to exist according to a certain great plan, a planner (God) must be postulated. The ontological argument maintains that since the human conception of God is the highest conception humanly possible and since the highest conception humanly possible must have existence as one attribute, God must exist. Immanuel Kant believed that he refuted these arguments by showing that existence is no part of the content of an idea. This principle has become very important in contemporary philosophy, particularly in existentialism. The consensus among theologians is that the existence of God must in some way be accepted on faith.
God(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
"God is love." "God is the eschatological hope." "God is the ground of our being." "God is my co-pilot." "God is a psychological crutch, a human invention." "My God! Did you see that?" "Oh God! What will we do now?"
All these expressions, and many more, have been employed to describe or invoke the name of the deity. Atheists have been known to ask the God in which they do not believe to "damn" someone, or send them to the hell they do not believe exists. The phrase "oh my God," expressed with the proper inflection, is always good for a laugh on the soundtrack of television sitcoms. "Oh God..." can express horror, ecstasy, wonder, awe, and delight.
But who, or what, is God?
The answer depends, of course, on whom you ask. But most definitions may be lumped into one of five general categories.
God As Revealed Personality
This is the God of monotheistic religion, the God who exists outside of time and space but who stepped through the veil to reveal himself to humankind. (The masculine pronoun is used here because in this tradition, God has universally been pictured and referred to as male. Lately there is a movement, especially in traditionally liberal seminaries and denominations, toward gender-inclusive language. Such language would dictate the use of words such as "Godself" rather than "himself." But because of the overwhelming use of masculine language in historical monotheism, it has been retained here to better fit the tradition.)
In spite of the great separation, both of substance and sin, that exists between Creator and Creation, God "appeared."
In Judaism, God used various mediums to shade his appearance. Sometimes he spoke through angels, theophanies, or prophets. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush. Often he communicated to priests at the Tent of Meeting when they "cast the Urim and Thummim," which appear to be some sort of sacred dice. Once he spoke through Balaam's donkey.
All these intermediaries were not used because God was "playing hard to get" or being mysterious. There was a very practical reason God had to "filter" himself. In Exodus 33, Moses pleaded with God, "Show me your glory." God's reply was simple. "No one may see me and live."
Moses was hidden in the cleft of a rock and allowed to see God's "after glow." But from that time on, Moses would wear a veil over his face after he came from meetings with the Almighty because "his face was radiant."
In Christianity, God reveals himself further by "taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). "The Word was made flesh and lived for a while among us" (John 1:14). "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Hebrews 1:3).
The primary revelation of Jesus Christ was followed by another revelation through the written word. "All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful...." (2 Timothy 3:16).
Islam recognizes both of these revelations, even calling Jews and Christians "people of the book." The Qur'an reminds us, "We believe in... what has been revealed to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and in the books given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord" (Sura 3:84).
But Muhammad taught that both Jews and Christians rejected the revealed God. Islam teaches that a final revelation was given, that revelation being the holy Qur'an, dictated to Muhammad, who could neither read nor write, by an angel. The Qur'an obtained its final form over a period of only eighteen years after the Prophet's death. Allah, "the God," has made his final revelation, has called for the world to submit to his will ("Muslim" means "one who submits" to the will of Allah), and awaits the world's response.
Other world religions, to a lesser degree, contain an element of revelation. The "thirty-three million Gods" of Hinduism are all revelations of the face of the Unknowable. Ahura Mazda spoke through the prophet Zarathustra. Indigenous religions often communicate with God through animal spirits.
But the common denominator of this expression of divinity is that such a great gulf exists between Creator and Creation that intermediaries, sent from the one who wishes to reveal himself, are necessary.
God As First Cause
This definition, often referred to as Deism, was popular in the eighteenth century and among the founding fathers of the United States. Although they are usually thought of as men of Christian convictions, Thomas Jefferson and the rest generally thought of God in terms described today as that of a watchmaker.
If you are walking down a lane and find a watch keeping perfect time, you have to assume someone made that watch, wound it up, got it going, and then, for whatever reason, walked away. It's simply too big a leap to think the watch was made by accident or somehow pulled itself together out of raw materials. Its function is obvious, and it works perfectly. The only conclusion any logical person can reach is that somewhere, hidden from view, is a watchmaker who made the watch and set it to working. Perhaps he is hiding somewhere behind a tree and watching to see what you do with his masterpiece. But since you can't see him anywhere, it could be that he simply left his creation behind and walked away to another task. You don't know anything about him except that he makes good watches. There is no evidence except for the watch he left behind. Even his existence is pure deduction. There seems to be no better way of explaining the watch you hold in your hand. The watchmaker is revealed only by his craftsmanship.
This theory illustrates the belief that God must be the first cause, the one before and behind the "Big Bang" of Creation. "The heavens reveal the glory of God," says the psalmist. "The skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). Those who hold this position believe it is too great a leap to conceive of Creation without a Creator. The universe is simply too complex not to have been planned by a mind. There may not be evidence that God is in communication with us. After all, we have only the word of prophets and preachers for that. But any logical person has to deduce that if a simple thing like a watch can't pull itself together out of nothing, certainly it's too much to expect of a universe.
This position has a way of creeping unnoticed into our minds. No less a scientist than Stephen Hawking, one of the preeminent astrophysicists of our day, ends his book, A Brief History of Time, with these words:
However, if we do discover a complete theory [of Creation], it should in time be understood in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.
God As Cultural Phenomenon
Man makes religion, religion does not make man.... Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people....
The religious world is but the reflex of the real world.
These words, written by Karl Marx, represent the view that God is a human invention, cast in different shapes by different cultures, usually to buttress systems of social power hierarchies. Sigmund Freud wrote that belief in God was a "universal obsessional neurosis." He considered God to be a cosmic projection of our love/hate relationship with our parents.
Others picture God as a cultural crutch, noting that when a president wants to persuade people that he means well, he ends his speech with the stirring words, "God bless America!" The president probably isn't being hypocritical. He really does want God to bless America. But the obligatory cheer doesn't hurt, either. After all, in the United States, where some polls say 88 percent of the people believe in God, who is going to argue against asking God to bless the "good guys"? It's subtle and sincere. And it works.
There are many reasons that some consider such cultural use of God harmful. In India, belief in God produced a caste system that kept people in their social place. The same thing happened in pre-Civil War America when many plantation owners believed God ordained slavery. Some believe the Roman Catholic Church culture and Islam's Allah invented a male God to subjugate women.
Because every culture has arguably produced a God created in its own image, it's easy to come to the conclusion that God is a cultural invention. Those who hold to this belief generally refer to themselves as atheists, declaring, just like Marx, that God is an invention of humankind, a cultural phenomenon.
God As Myth
Myths are guide paths into human experience, left by those who have gone before. They are stories illustrating truths, often richly layered. Adults often read highly entertaining children's stories on quite another layer than that of adventure story. Like poetry, sometimes they express the inexpressible.
Western society's math-and-science craze has produced a very literal-minded group of readers whose common conception is that myths are really nothing more than entertaining lies, and that the recording of history has always been a factual endeavor. Many insist, for example, that those who wrote scripture either were lying outright or must have been recording fact, even though the authors may have been writing within a mythological or metaphorical genre and didn't intend for their stories to be taken literally. Ample evidence supports the theory that even the author of Genesis did not think God really created the world in six days.
Jesus used to teach with great insight when he began his parable-myths with the phrase, "A certain man went out to...." He didn't warn his listeners he was making up the story. They knew that. What he was interested in was the truth the story conveyed.
So all this doesn't mean myths are not true. It means instead that they can be at least as true as literal fact. Poets and artists understand this. But many others do not. Myths can convey more insight through an "Aha!" experience than a straight telling of the facts because facts do not always convey the essence of the reality they are trying to express.
Such is the case, some believe, with the idea of God. It is not that calling God a myth means God does not exist. It just means that God exists in a form less expressible than mere facts can convey.
In Hindu thought, for instance, Brahman is completely indescribable (see Brahman/Atman). "No tongue can spoil it," is how the sages put it. Brahman is not even a God. Brahman is more a principle. Brahman came before language, so how can words pin him/her/it down? Even pronouns fail because Brahman is not just a noun. The thirty-three million gods of India are merely faces of the indescribable.
When Moses spoke to God at the burning bush, he asked, in essence, "Who are you?" The answer came back, "I Am."
Later, more literal scholars tried to insist God was really saying, "I cause to be." In other words, "I am the Creator." But that kind of scholarship misses the point and only confuses the insight of the original myth by adding a layer of cultural baggage.
Those who claim God is a myth are saying that God exists in a form we are unable to understand and describe, because God comes before language and patterns of thought. The only way to see God, according to this view, is to come at God obliquely through the lens of mythology. Not "God is..." but "God is like...."
God As Expression of the Unknown
Historically, unanswered questions have been left to God. What caused a mountain to rise from a plain? Manitou. How did we get fire? Agni. What force was responsible for the disappearance of strange animals? Noah's flood. Who causes lightening? Thor.
Religions form along the borders of the unknown. The whole science vs. religion argument often has at its core the unstated assumption that as science pushes back the boundary of human knowledge, there is no longer any need for God. The expression "God of the gaps" arises from this notion: God resides in the gaps of human knowledge—gaps that are gradually decreasing in size as knowledge increases. People who hold this view generally believe God is the historical answer to questions better answered by scientific research. The place to find truth, they imply, is not in the church, synagogue, or mosque, but in the laboratory.
But another category of folks, who also see God as an expression of the unknown, see no threat from scientific knowledge to the notion of God. There exists in the cosmos, they say, that which cannot be analyzed under a microscope. What is love? Why does compassion still exist in this Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest universe? Why are some poems "better" than others? What is quality? Why, in spite of everything, do some people believe they actually talk to God? And, wonder of wonders, that God talks back? They aren't all crazy. How can it be explained?
These questions point to answers existing in the realm of the spiritual, not the material. And science is not equipped to examine things it cannot replicate in the laboratory under carefully prepared conditions.
This leads some people to the conclusion that there must be something out there greater than humans. To these people, "God" becomes a term to explain the unexplainable. Miracles, answered prayer, and coincidences compel us, according to this view, to believe we are not alone. God is not to be explained under this way of thinking. God's existence is simply to be accepted.
Many who belong to organized religions hold this belief, even when confronted by theologians and orthodox teachers. "In the unknown, God exists. And that settles it for me."
an imaginary figure of a powerful supernatural being, the object of religious worship and faith. The idea of god as personal and supernatural is the distinctive characteristic of theism. By contrast, in pantheism god is conceived of as an impersonal force, inherent in nature and sometimes also identical to it. In the dualistic ancient Iranian religion of Mazdaism, the figure of the light god, Ahura-Mazda, is contrasted to the figure of the dark and evil deity, Angra-Mainyu. In the religions of the ancient Orient (including China, Korea, Japan, and India) and in other polytheistic religions, there appears an assembly of gods, one of whom is seen as chief and most powerful—for example, Marduk among the ancient Babylonians, Zeus among the ancient Greeks, and Perun among the ancient Slavs. In Hinduism and some other religions there is no such clearly expressed superiority of one god over the others; there are revered, alongside the “great” gods, various second-rank, lower gods, which are indistinguishable from local spirits, genies, and demons. In monotheistic religions, belief in a single and omnipotent god is the principal religious dogma. But in Christianity, unlike Judaism and Islam, the one god has three persons (hypostases)—that is, god the father, god the son, and god the holy spirit (the holy trinity).
Concepts of the gods have developed over a long period of time and reflect the historical evolution of the peoples that revere them. In the early forms of religion a belief in gods is not yet present, but rather a veneration of lifeless objects (fetishism) or belief in spirits and demons (animism) and other imaginary figures. Some traits of these mythological personalities were subsequently intertwined with the figures of gods or of the one god. The idea of a tribal god arose with the disintegration of the primitive communal structure and the subsequent development of tribal units. He was, above all, a god of war, leading his tribe in the struggle with other tribes and their gods—for example, Ashur with the Assyrians, Yahweh with the ancient Hebrew tribe of Levi (or, as many suppose, of Judah). For many settled peoples, upon the formation of city-states these gods become the patron gods of their city—for example, Enlil, the god of Nippur; Marduk, god of Babylon; still other such gods among the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians; Horus, god of the Idfu region, Ptah of Memphis, Amon of Thebes, and others among the ancient Egyptians; Pallas Athena of Athens, As-clepius of Epidaurus, and others among the Greeks. With the union of several tribes or cities around a more powerful tribe or city-state, the god of the latter became the statewide or national god, elevated above the other tribal gods. Thus, Marduk became the national god of Babylon; in Egypt, the gods Horus, Ptah, Amon, and Ra in turn occupied the position of chief god. The gods of subjected tribes and cities took a subordinate place in the polytheistic pantheon.
Among the ancient Hebrews, with the unification of the Hebrew tribes and the formation of the state of Judah, Yahweh, originally a tribal and local god, was transformed into a god of all the Hebrews and subsequently into the only creator god and lord god. The concept of the Christian god was formed in the first century A.D. At its foundation is the Hebrew Yahweh (god the father), but with it was fused the concept of the suffering savior-god of Oriental religions (god the son, Jesus Christ) and the abstract universal mind (logos) of the gnostics (god the holy spirit). The monotheistic religion of Islam arose among the Arabs in the early seventh century. Characteristics of the ancient Arabic tribal gods were transformed into the image of the Muslim god, Allah, which was in particular influenced by the Hebrew Yahweh. The religion of early Buddhism rejected the worship of gods; however, Buddha himself subsequently became a god, and Buddhism came to include many other gods besides him.
Theology, the religious and philosophic teaching about god, developed upon the completion of the historical process involved in the formation of the major monotheistic religions. God now became not only the principal subject of faith and worship but also a concept of idealist philosophy. Specific proofs of god’s existence were advanced—for example, the cosmological argument (since there exist effects, that is, the world of cosmos, there must exist also a source setting it into motion, a first cause of all things; Aristotle, afterward Leibniz, Wolf, and others); the teleological argument (purposefulness in nature as proof of the existence of a rational creator; Socrates, Plato, the Stoics, Cicero, and others); the ontological argument (the very concept of god as the perfect being presupposes his existence; Augustine, An-selm of Canterbury). Kant refuted these three principal arguments, demonstrating the impossibility of any theoretical proof of the existence of god, but advanced a new ethical argument, viewing god as a necessary postulate of practical reason.
In contemporary bourgeois philosophy the approach to the idea of god is founded either on post-Kantian irrationalism or on a revival of archaic philosophical systems of the past, such as ancient Indian or medieval metaphysics (neo-Thomism, theosophy, and others). Both these tendencies are often combined.
Concepts of gods in their various forms have been repeatedly subjected to criticism by atheists and promoters of enlightenment in antiquity and modern times, particularly by the French materialists of the 18th century and Feuerbach. The proponents of Marxism have proved that social conditions cause the development of false forms of consciousness and have connected the disappearance of various irrational ideas, including the idea of god, with the abolition of social antagonisms and the building of a classless communist society.
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S. A. TOKAREV