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God

The proper noun God, with a capital "G", refers to a single ultimate, infinite source (immanent and/or transcendent) of being in the universe. This is in contrast with the common noun god (used in lower case), which refers to a class of typically immortal, supernatural beings with great powers. No undisputed evidence has ever been found for the existence of God or of gods, but belief in God or gods is found in almost all cultures, although followers of a particular god or gods may consider other gods to be purely fictional.

Table of contents

Names for God in Monotheistic Religions

The generic term god is often used as a proper name (God) by most adherents of most monotheistic faiths. However each faith has a name or names that they use in addition, e.g.:

  • Jehovah or Yahweh - one of the names used for God in the Bible, based on the Hebrew YHVH (יהוה). The name, while appearing in Jewish prayers, is never pronounced (Adonai is usually said instead), and as written Hebrew did not originally mark vowels, the original pronunciation is speculative.

See also the entry on Names given to the divine

Arguments for the Existence of God

It has been argued that, without postulating the existence of one, eternal God, the origin of the universe appears inexplicable, since it is not logically possible for something to come from nothing. This and other arguments for the existence of God are discussed under the the field of study called Apologetics.

Beliefs about the Nature of God

Theology is the study of the nature of the divine. In some cases, theologians attempt to explicate (and in some cases systematize) the assumptions that underlie specific, organized, religions; in other cases, theologians seek to transform a personal experience of the divine into some philosophical system. All theologies begin with a notion of "god;" different theologies have been grouped and classified according to their views on two fundamental issues: is God singular or plural, and is God transcendent or immanent, or both. Answers to these questions reflect, and imply, different positions concerning the relationship between god(s) and the world, and between god(s) and humankind.

  • Theism is the belief that God is both transcendent and immanent; thus, God is simultaneously infinite and in some way present in the affairs of the world. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, although this belief raises questions about God's responsibility for evil and suffering in the world. Some theists ascribe to God a self-conscious or purposeful limiting of omnipotence, omniscience, or omnibenevolence. For a discussion of the meaning of "God" in this sense, see: What is God?.

  • Deism is the belief that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world, beyond what was necessary for Him to create it. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and does not literally answer prayers or cause miracles to occur.

  • Monotheism is the belief that there is only one god, or that the gods of different religions are really just different manifestations of the one true god.

  • Pantheism is the belief that god is the universe and the universe is god -- or, more generally, that the universe is divine. It is most often explained as having the feeling that existence has a divine or awe-inspiring aspect.

  • Maltheism is a form of theism which holds that God is a cruel, arrogant, abusive, and untruthful being who is not worthy of worship.

  • Animism is the belief that spirits inhabit every existing thing, including plants, minerals, animals and, including all the elements, air, water, earth, and fire. This was probably the first form of worship. The anthropologist E. B. Tylor argued that this is the original form of religion.

  • Dualism, also called Manichaeism, is the belief that there is both a perfectly good God and an opposing evil deity of equal potence. It is the belief that there are only two fundamental things or substances or constituents of things in the world at large or in the human soul. An example would be that both good and evil simultaneously exist and that one cannot survive without the other. That they balance each other even though they are independent of each other.

  • Henotheism is the belief in one god, but at the same time does not deny the existence of other gods. It is a variation of polytheism which holds that there are many gods, but one of them is supreme and the other ones are only ancillary and don't have the same level of "god-ness". Some forms of Greek and Roman classical polytheism fall into this category. The gods of Norse mythology, who are subsidiary to Odin are another example of henotheism. The term has come to mean in recent years that one believes in multiple god/esses, though the worshipper "borrows" from various cultural groups and may worship one above the others. Example would be, worshipping a Greco-Roman god for one reason and then asking a Celtic god for something else. This is a fairly new form of worship used primarily by Neo-Pagans.

  • Monolatrism is a type of henotheism. Its adherents believe that many gods do exist, but these gods can exert their power only on those who worship them. Thus, a monolatrist may believe in the reality of both the Egyptian gods and the god described in the Bible, but sees him or herself as a member of only one of these religions. The gods that he/she worships affects their life; the other gods do not.

  • Polytheism is the belief in more than one god/dess. In some beliefs it is said that all these god/desses are of equal power and authority while in others, there is a hierarchy. This is best demonstrated by the Greco-Roman deity structure.

A few people use the word "monotheism" to refer to the belief in a single god and use "theism" to refer to any belief in god(s), i.e., monotheism or polytheism. Some theists believe in the existence of other less powerful immortal beings, but give them other names such as angels or demons.

Many people find the concept of God meaningless or unnecessary:

  • Atheism holds that no gods exist at all. This position is formulated in different ways.
  • Agnosticism holds that a god or gods may or may not exist, but we cannot know.
  • Logical positivism holds that the word "god" is (cognitively) meaningless.

God as Unity or Trinity

Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists and a small percent of Christians are unitarian monotheists. The vast majority of Christians have been and still are Trinitarian monotheists.

Unitarian monotheists hold that there is only one "person" (so to speak), or one basic substance, in God. Some consider Trinitarianism to be a form of polytheism. In contrast, Trinitarian monotheists believe in one god that exists as three distinct persons who share the same substance/essence; this belief is called the Trinity.

Mormons hold that God is one of three divine personages collectively referred to as the Godhead. One of these personages is a spirit without a body referred to as the Holy Ghost. The other two personages are spirits with perfected or glorified (often called celestial) bodies referred to as Heavenly Father[?] (or less commonly Eloheim[?]) and His Son, Jesus Christ. Mormons hold that God is a Holy Man, or sanctified human who advanced to his divine status through a repeatable process of progression, and that by following the precepts of their faith, humans can literally (eventually) become gods (sometimes phrased as "become like Heavenly Father") at some point after death and resurrection. This belief is mainly held in the largest Mormon branch, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This belief system implies, if not explicitly claims, polytheism as opposed to the monotheistic views of mainstream Christianity.

Monotheistic Conceptions of God

In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, God is held to be a single being who rules over the universe. There is an ancient monotheistic tradition among these Western faiths that began with the first Prophet of Abraham (or instead, for some believers, that began with Adam). In this view there is one God who is the creator of the world. A number of additional attributes have generally been attributed to God, including Omnipotence (being all-powerful), Omniscience (being all-knowing), and Omnibenevolence[?] (being all-loving).

These usually conceive of God as a personal God, with a will and personality. However, many important medieval rationalist philosophers of these three religions taught that an intelligent person should not view God as personal at all, and that all these teachings were actually meant as metaphors only. These views are still accepted as valid by the intellectual elite of these three faiths in the West, although it seems they are not widely known among the laity today.

In Eastern Christianity, it remains essential that God be personal; hence it speaks of the three persons of the Trinity. It also emphasizes that God has a will, and that God the Son has two wills, divine and human, though these are never in conflict. The personhood of God and of all human people is essential to the concept of theosis or divinization.

A number of Arguments for the existence of God have been offered; an argument for the thesis that God does not exist is the problem of evil, with the project of Theodicy as a response.

Biblical definition of God

The book of Exodus in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) characterizes God by these attributes: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

The Tanach (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) contains no systematic theology: No attempt is made to give a philosophical or rigorous definition of God, nor of how God acts in the world. The Tanach does not explicitly describe God's nature, exemplified by God's assertion in Exodus that "you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live." The Tanach does, however, provide a poetic depiction of God and His relationship with people. According to the biblical historian Yehezkal Kaufmann, the essential innovation of Biblical theology was to posit a God that cares about people, and that cares about whether people care about Him. Most people believe that the Bible should be viewed as humanity's view of God, but theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel described the Biblical God as "anthropopathic," and said that we should read the Bible as God's view of humanity.

Similarly, the New Testament also contains no systematic theology: no attempt is made to give a philosophical or rigorous definition of God, nor of how God acts in the world. The New Testament does, however, provide an implicit theology as it teaches that God became human while remaining fully God, in the person of Jesus Christ. In this view, God becomes someone that can be seen and touched, and may speak and act in a manner easily perceived by humans, while also remaining transcendant and invisible. This appears to be a radical departure from the concepts of God found in the Hebrew Bible and in the Qur'an. The New Testament's statements regarding the nature of God were eventually developed into the doctrine of the Trinity.

Aristotelian view of God

A separate article exists on the Aristotelian view of God. Much of this article discusses Aristotle's book on first philosophy, the Metaphysics, in which Aristotle discusses the meaning of "being as being". In brief, Aristotle holds that "being" primarily refers to the Unmoved Movers, and assigned one of these to each movement in the heavens. Each Unmoved Mover continuously contemplates its own contemplation, and everything that fits the second meaning of "being" by having its source of motion in itself, moves because the knowledge of its Mover causes it to emulate this Mover (or should).

Many medieval philosophers made use of the idea of approaching a knowledge of God through negative attributes. For example, we should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; all we can safely say is that God is not nonexistent. We should not say that God is wise, but we can say that God is not ignorant, i.e. in some way God has some properties of knowledge. We should not say that God is One, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being. See apophatic theology. This article also discusses Aristotle discussion of Platonic theory, according to which ideas are the ultimate principles of Being.

Aristotelian view of God

Kabbalistic definition of God

Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mysticism) teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. Rather God is the creator of both, but is Himself neither. But if God is so different than His creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted Kabbalists to discuss two aspects of God, (a) God Himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God who created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another.

Some Kabbalistic Jews, such as Moses Cordovero and Lubavitch (Chabad) Hasidism, hold that the first aspect of God is actually all that there really is. Nothing exists except for God, and all else is an illusion. (Depending on how this is explained, such a view can be considered panentheism, or pantheism.) Most other Kabbalists hold that there is an aspect of God that is revealed to the world.

Kabbalists speak of the first aspect of God as 'En Sof'; this is translated as "the infinite," or "that which has no limits". In this view, nothing can be said about this aspect of God. This aspect of God is impersonal. Kabbalists speak of the second aspect of God as being seen by the universe as ten emanations from God; these emanations are called 'sefirot'.

The 'sefirot' mediate the interaction of the ultimate unknowable God with the physical and spiritual world. Some explain the sefirot as stages of the creative process whereby God, from His own infinite being, created the progression of realms which culminated in our finite and physical universe. Others suggest that the sefirot may be thought of as analogous to the fundamental laws of physics. Just as gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force allow for interactions between matter and energy, the ten sefirot allow for interaction between God and the Universe.

A difficulty with this view is that the Kabbalah teaches that the Sefirot are not distinct from the Ein-Sof, but are somehow within it. The idea that there are ten divine sefirot could evolve over time into the idea that "God is One being, yet in that One being there are Ten". This would be almost the same as the Christian belief in the Trinity, which states that while God is "One", in that One there are three persons. This interpretation of Kabbalah in fact did occur among a small number of Jews in the 17th century. Rabbi Leon Modena, a 17th century Venetian critic of kabbalah, wrote that if we were to accept the Kabbalah, then the Christian trinity would indeed be compatible with Judaism, as the Trinity closely resembles the Kabbalistic doctrine of sefirot. This critique was in response to the fact that some Jews went so far as to address individual sefirot individually in some of their prayers. Kabbalah had many other opponents, notably Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet (The Rivash); he stated that Kabbalah was "worse than Christianity", as it made God into 10, not just into three. The critique, however, was unfair. Most followers of Kabbalah never believed this interpretation of Kabbalah. The Christian Trinity concept posits that there are three persons existing within the Godhead, one of whom literally became a human being. In contrast, the mainstream understanding of the Kabbalistic sefirot holds that they have no mind or intelligence; further, they are not addressed in prayer, and they can not become a human being. They are conduits for interaction - not persons or beings.

The Kabbalah's idea of emanations could also be compared to the distinction made by fourteenth century Christian theologian Gregory Palamas. Palamas drew a distinction between God's essence and energies, affirming that God was unknowable in His essence, but knowable in His energies. Palamas never enumerated God's energies, but described them simply as ways that God could be seen acting in the Universe, and particularly on people, from the light shining from the face of Moses after Moses descended Mt. Sinai, to the light surrounding Moses, Elijah and Jesus Christ on Mt. Tabor during the transfiguration of Jesus. For Palamas, God's energies were not some other thing separate from God, but were God; however the idea of energies was kept very distinct from the idea of the three persons of the Trinity.

Today all Hasidic Orthodox Jews are Kabbalistic; some non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews are kabbalisticly inclined, while some are rationalists. Most Reform and Conservative Jews are rationalists.

Process theology and process philosophy definition of God

See the entry on Process theology and panentheism

Neopagan Concept of God and/or gods

Neopaganism allows for diverse personal beliefs about the nature of God. There is little specific dogma. Most Neopagans hold a polytheistic, pantheistic or panentheistic belief, often with some elements of animism. Among Neopagans, and especially Wiccans, one primary model of God is the Horned God. However, there are those Pagans who align themselves with the Left Hand Path or LHP. These LHP Pagans are generally autotheists.

While on the surface Neopagans worship many gods, many practice a kind of monotheism, believing the many gods to be aspects of the One God. Many others practice duotheism, for example in many forms of Wicca all gods are considered aspects of the Lord, and all goddesses aspects of the Lady.

Most Heathens consider themselves strict polytheists.

The Ultimate

Arguably, Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate (this, too, has many different names) are not conceptions of a personal divinity, though certain Western conceptions of what is at least called "God" (e.g., Spinoza's pantheistic conception and various kinds of mysticism) resemble Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate.

The mathematician Georg Cantor identified God with the mathematical concept of the Absolute Infinite.

Gender of God

In Judaism it is a fundamental heresy to believe that God has a gender. Grammatically, most of the Hebrew names for God are masculine; a few are grammatically feminine; This is not held to have literal significance. In regards to translating Hebrew names of God into English, most Orthodox and many Conservative Jews argue that it would be wrong to apply English female pronouns to God, not because God is of the male gender, but because doing so tends to draw attention to God as having gender, and also because the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) usually uses names that are grammatically masculine.

In Christianity, one person of God, the Son, is believed to have become incarnate as a human male; however, the other two persons of God are without gender, since they are not at all physical. (Mormonism is an exception; it teaches that God the Father also has a perfect body of flesh and bones, while agreeing that the Holy Spirit is bodiless.) The other two persons (the Father and the Holy Spirit) have traditionally been referred to using male pronouns and have primarily been associated with male imagery; but some Christians today, especially those inspired by feminism, do not consider this tradition to be binding.

Most Neopagan traditions, such as Wicca, believe in both male and female Deities. A few (especially Dianic Wicca) see the Divine as entirely feminine, and call her the Goddess.

For a more detailed look at this issue, see the article on God and gender.

Revelation: How God Communicates With Mankind

Many religions hold that God can communicate his will to mankind; in Judaism, Christianity and Islam this process is called revelation. Some religions believe that revelation is only available to certain individuals who are termed prophets. Others believe that revelation is channeled through divinely sanctioned religious institutions, and still other, more mystically oriented religions, believe that revelation is generally available to all people. The books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible; aka Old Testament) are held to be the product of revelation by Jews. Both the Tanakh and the New Testament are held to be the product of divine revelation by Christians. Muslims consider the Tanakh and the New Testament to be deliberately corrupted and falsified works; instead they affirm that the Koran is the only work that represents divine revelation. How revelation works, and what precisely one means when one says that a book is "divine" is a matter of some dispute.

Neopaganism teaches that communication from the gods is usually direct and experiential, and do not have the concepts of "scripture", "prophet" or "revelation" in the sense used by the Abrahamic religions. Divine messages are believed to usually be given directly to the person or persons for whom they are meant. In some traditions, a ritual sometimes considered revelatory is called Drawing Down the Moon[?], in which a high priestess (or sometimes High Priest) invokes the Goddess and speaks by Divine inspiration to an assembled coven. This ritual is most common in the Wiccan traditions.

Omnipotence and Omniscience

Discussions about God between people of different faiths, or indeed even between people of the same faith, are often unproductive, in no small amount due to the fact that people use the same words but assign them different meanings. This situations occurs when some monotheists within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam state that God is omnipotent. In practice one finds that the term "omnipotent" has been used to connote a number of different positions. See the articles on Omnipotence, Omnipresence and Predestination.

Many monotheists reject altogether the view that God is omnipotent. In Unitarian-Universalism, much of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, and some liberal wings of Protestant Christianity, God is said to act in the world through persuasion, and not by coercion. God makes Himself manifest in the world through inspiration and the creation of possibility, but not by miracles or violations of the laws of nature. The most popular works espousing this point are from Rabbi Harold Kushner (in Judaism). This is the view that also was developed independently by Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne[?], in the theological system known as process theology.

See a list of Deities from various religions. See also Goddess.

Some of the Hindu Gods include Atman, Brahman, and Siva. See the entry on Hinduism for a discussion of this faith's theology, which is fairly complicated: most of its adherents are polytheists, but a few are monotheists.

God as a computer, alien, etc.

Some comparatively new belief systems and books propose that God really was an alien. Many of these theories hold that intelligent aliens from another world have been visiting Earth for many thousands of years, and have influenced the development of our religions. Some of these books posit that prophets or messiahs were sent to the human race in order to teach humanity morality, and to encourage our civilization to grow and develop.

Some people have posited that perhaps God is really an intelligence that at some point in the past become sufficiently advanced that it uploaded itself to the very fabric of the cosmos. In this view, this god-intelligence now looks over the Earth. (Who has this POV? Reference please!)

See also: The relationship between religion and science -- The nature of God -- God and gender

References


God is the nickname for prefects at Eton Public School in Britain, for obvious reasons.



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