What is the Definition of God?
Every debate should begin with agreeing on what words mean...
July 1, 2012 - 2:00 pm
“I shall understand by “atheism” a critique and a denial of the major claims of all varieties of theism… atheism is not to be identified with sheer unbelief… Thus, a child who has received no religious instruction and has never heard about God, is not an atheist – for he is not denying any theistic claims. Similarly in the case of an adult who, if he has withdrawn from the faith of his father without reflection or because of frank indifference to any theological issue, is also not an atheist – for such an adult is not challenging theism and not professing any views on the subject.”This is often defined as strong or positive atheism - the explicit affirmation that gods do not exist. In coming on to sites and forums like this, most commentators are making that explicit affirmation.
The problem with this whole discussion is that it starts at a false premise. It assumes that everyone defines “God” in the same way.
Last month I published a long review of Dennis Prager’s new book Still The Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph and discussed my view for the real important division we should focus on defeating:
That’s what the Bible is really about, though we don’t like to talk about it because it’s so disgusting and scary: the ancient Israelites’ battle against nature-worshiping sex cults that practiced human sacrifice. I always wondered why idol-worship was so important as to be above things like murder and stealing in the 10 Commandments. Aren’t those much worse than someone just praying to a rock? Nope. The Commandments are just listed in the order that they’re broken. Idolatry — worshipping an image, worshipping a noun — comes before any other evil act. Within the ethical monotheist tradition, God is not a thing we can comprehend. God is transcendent — God is a verb. Thus to worship God is to worship a verb — to transform into understanding ourselves as a state of permanent change and growth, not a static, defined image.
Every human being has to worship something. All “worship” means is to regard with respect and reverence, to focus deeply and obsess. So for me, the intriguing questions are not the Atheist vs Believers food fight of “Does this other guy’s supernatural deity he worships really exist?” but rather, “What happens to my life when I choose to worship something?” and “What’s the difference between making a verb the object of worship instead of a noun?”
When we ask these questions then we start treating religion as a branch of science in the tradition of the Renaissance alchemists, mystics and Hermeticists like Isaac Newton. We don’t have to prove a deity exists, we just have to conduct the experiments of testing out religious rituals to see if they really work to bring one closer to union with God. And my tentative conclusion is that they do.
Sure, the world is full of religious hypocrites and terrible people masking their evil with religious language. But the sincerely religious are the most amazing people I’ve ever met. The loving, happy people they’ve become through their deep devotion to their faith offers all the evidence I need to think they’re on to something. And I don’t have to agree with their theology to stand with them on the value of the religious life’s pursuit of holiness. The right theology isn’t what does the trick for making someone a better person. I sit equally amazed by the lives of my very Christian college friends and my Orthodox Jewish new media colleagues.
So far I have yet to see how any purely secular philosophy produces people as decent as the more traditional faiths. But maybe I’m wrong?
Related article from this author: 6 Varieties of the Agnostic Experience
Image and thumbnail courtesy Artens