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God
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God

This article is about God, the supreme being, as postulated especially by major religions. For a more general discussion of gods, see deity.

The of this article is disputed. Please help restore neutrality by reporting disputed terms and phrases on , so that disputed parts can be settled.

God is a name given in English to the one supreme being, as postulated, especially but not exclusively, by the three major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as well as Hinduism (Brahman), Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. When used as a proper noun, "God" is typically capitalised. The (lowercase) words "god" and "goddess" are derivative common nouns, used to refer to one of the supernatural beings postulated by some religious systems, such as the Greek and Roman dieties. (See the list of deities for a list from various religions.)

"God" is also used to refer to a non-anthropomorphic entity, an underlying energy or consciousness that pervades the universe, whose supposed existence makes the universe possible; the source of all existence; the best and highest good within all sentient beings; a higher power; or even that which is beyond all understanding or definition.

Table of contents
1 The meaning of "God"
2 Etymology
3 God in monotheistic religions
4 God and exclusivity
5 The existence of God
6 The nature of God
7 God as Unity or Trinity
8 Monotheistic conceptions of God
9 The gender of God
10 Revelation
11 Omnipotence and Omniscience
12 God as a computer, alien, etc.
13 Quotations about God
14 Links and references

The meaning of "God"

Conflicting interpretations arise regarding the name of "God", and what the name actually means — often the infinite God concept is mixed with non-infinite personifications of "God" (i.e., God as an old man, a Zeus or Odin). A belief in a "God" or gods is found in all cultures, although followers of a particular God or gods may consider other gods to be nonexistent or inferior. Likewise many people hold non-literal, sometimes even secular interpretations of God; few of which contradict the concept of the "Absolute Infinite", despite any contradictions they may have with any particular religious tradition.

, by Michaelangelo; from the Sistine Chapel.]]

Etymology

The word God comes from the Old English/German/Norse language family and is equivalent to the derivatives of the Latin word Deus. The meaning and etymology behind the Germanic/Indo-European word God as used in English and its cognates (such as Gott in modern German) have been hotly disputed, though most agree in a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form ʒun, which means something like "possession" or "inspiration", and could be related to everything from the old Germanic divinity Wotan/Odin to the Greek word khute, meaning "libation".

God in monotheistic religions

The generic term God is often used as a proper name by most adherents of most monotheistic faiths. Different names for God have arisen from both language differences and from religious traditions. Both kinds of branches have generated evolutions in the name of "God".

See also the entry on names given to the divine

God and exclusivity

In many religions like Christianity, and Islam, it is believed that the God has revealed a version of his message which is final and the only true message through a prophet or messenger. Most followers of these religions also believe that their path is the only path to salvation ordained by God. In Christianity, this is most clearly expressed by the Bible verse John 14:6, attributed to Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life, No one comes to the Father except through Me." However, salvation is often not ruled out for those who have not had the Gospel proclaimed to them, nor the possibility of asking to be baptized. Critics of this approach to God claim that it is intolerant of others' beliefs, and it causes enmity between followers of different religions.

In other religions, like Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Transcendentalism, it is believed that the followers of religion do not have an exclusive path to God. Followers of such faiths believe that their chosen path is the best for them, but also that followers of other religions are equally correct and are seeking the same destination. Critics of this approach to God claim that it excludes the possibility of a central absolute truth from a literal God, and that logical contradictions appear when one compares the central teachings of any two major religions.

The existence of God

Arguments both for and against the existence of God have a history dating back to classical times. Ontological arguments argue God exists by necessity or definition - that God's existence can be determined from consideration of his nature alone. Cosmological arguments contend that the existence of the universe is contingent upon the existence of God. Teleological arguments argue that the structure of aspects of the Cosmos, such that the high level of complexity seen in our universe or the apparent fine-tuning of physical constants, require a divine designer. Arguments from morality contend that the existence of 'good' and 'evil' imply the existence of God. A more comprehensive list of such arguments can be found in Arguments for the existence of God.

Alternately, there are a variety of arguments against the existence of God. The problem of evil argues that the suffering seen in the world is inconsistent with an omnipotent but benevolent God. The argument from Inconsistent Revelations argues the diversity of different religious beliefs makes the 'truth' of any particular viewpoint on God highly improbable. Incompatible-properties arguments contend that many of the properties often assigned to God are logically inconsistent with each other. Some atheistic arguments follow a burden of proof line of reasoning, claiming that by default God does not exist, until empirically proven otherwise.

Fideism maintains that all these attempted proofs and disproofs of God's existence are misguided, as belief in God must depend on faith, rather than any rational arguments or proofs.

The nature of God

Theology is the study of the nature of the divine. Theologians attempt to explicate (and in some cases systematize) beliefs as well as expressing their own personal experience of the divine. We attempt to classify theologies according to their views on two fundamental issues:

  1. Is God singular or plural (or perhaps a trinity)?
  2. Is God transcendent or immanent, or both?
Answers to these questions reflect, and imply, different positions concerning the relationship between God or god(s) and the world, and between God or god(s) and humankind.

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.

Some people, find the concept of God meaningless or unnecessary.

In addition, there are those who regard themselves as unavoidably unknowing.

God as Unity or Trinity

Jews, Muslims, and a small fraction of Christians are unitarian monotheists. The vast majority of Christians have been and still are Trinitarian monotheists. Many Trinitarian Christians hold that belief in the Trinity is one of the most essential teachings of their faith; many hold that rejection of the Trinity constitutes belief in a different God, and thus excludes one from forgiveness of sins] offered by Christ. Theologically liberal Christians do not make such claims, and are more tolerant of non-Trinitarian beliefs.

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: compare with the Hindu Trimurti. See also Christology.

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 "Elohim") 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. They believe that by following their religion's teachings, humans can literally become gods (sometimes phrased as "become like Heavenly Father") at some point after death and resurrection; this is also called Exaltation. 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 or henotheism as opposed to the monotheistic views of mainstream Christianity.

Monotheistic conceptions of God

Judaism, Christianity and Islam see God as a single being who rules over the universe. These three Western faiths uphold an ancient monotheistic tradition that, according to their belief, is the original faith of mankind (or alternatively, for some believers, began with their first Prophet, Abraham). In this view one God, the creator of the world, exists. A number of additional attributes generally link 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. Some intellectuals of these three faiths in the West still accept these views as valid, although many of the laity today do not have a wide awareness of them.

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.

Biblical definition of God

The 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." (Exodus 34:6–7)

The Hebrew Bible 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. It 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". It 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", which means that one should read the Bible as God's view of humanity, and not as humanity's view of God.

Similarly, the New 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 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, and that he subsequently sent the Holy Spirit. 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 transcendent and invisible. This appears to be a radical departure from the concepts of God found in Hebrew Bible. 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.

More details can be found in the article on the Aristotelian view of God.

Kabbalistic definition of God

Kabbalah (Jewish 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 envision 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 all that there really exists; all else is an illusion. Depending on how this is explained, such a view can result in panentheism, or pantheism.) However, most other Jews who hold by Kabbalah 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. See the article on Kabbalah for fuller details.

The Kabbalah's idea of emanations can 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 as ways that God could act 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 distinct from the idea of the three persons of the Trinity.

Process theology and process philosophy definition of God

Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947).

In this view, God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of a coercive being. Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God and creatures co-create. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. See the entries 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, God is commonly expressed through the duality of the Goddess and the Horned God. However, there are those Pagans who align themselves with the Left-Hand Path. Such Pagans are generally autotheists, believing that they themselves are gods or can become gods.

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.

The 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 commonly considered to have no gender, since they are not at all physical. 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; Jesus referred to God as everyone's Father (e.g., the Lord's Prayer). But some Christians today, especially those inspired by feminism, do not consider this tradition and instruction to be binding. Other commentators point out that Hebrew tradition sees the Spirit as female.

Mormons, including the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, teaches that God the Father also has a perfect body of flesh and bones, while agreeing that the Holy Spirit is bodiless.

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

Many religions hold that God can communicate his will to humanity; this process is called revelation. Some religions believe that revelation is only available to certain individuals, dubbed 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 Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) are held to be the product of revelation by Jews. Both this and the New Testament are held to be the product of divine revelation by Christians. Muslims consider the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to be deliberately corrupted works; instead they affirm that the Koran alone represents divine revelation.

Neopagans teach 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 occurs most commonly in the Wiccan traditions.

Omnipotence and Omniscience

Discussions about God between people of different faiths, or indeed even between people of the same faith, often prove unproductive, in no small amount due to people using the same words but assigning them different meanings. This situation 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 is made 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 come 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.

God as a computer, alien, etc.

Some comparatively new belief systems and books portray God as 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 aggregated itself to the very fabric of the cosmos. In this view, this god-intelligence now looks over the Earth.

Similar to this theory is the belief or aspiration that humans will create a God entity, emerging from an artificial intelligence. Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer (and futurist of sorts), said in an interview that: It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him.

Another variant on this hypothesis is that humanity or a segment of humanity will, through self-evolution, create a posthuman God from itself; for some examples, see cosmotheism, transhumanism or even prometheism.

Quotations about God

Links and references

References

See also

External links