The Idea of god
“That’s because Jesus can be whatever you want him to be,
and the christian message can be whatever you want it to be.” ~ Reza Azlan
If you could take a survey of 1,000 theists which asked the question “Describe the characteristics and attributes of your god in a few words” I am almost positive that you would get different descriptions and interpretations of god from each individual. To be sure, some of the adjectives would be similar but the vast and varied differences in the nuances might make you think that each person believes in a god that is different from all others or one of their own conception or contrivance.
For instance, a few people might use the term that their god (or gods) is “great” or “merciful” or even “holy.” Yet what it means for their god to be great or merciful or holy is a subjective matter. Very often the terms used by god believers to describe the attributes of their gods can be contradictory not only with people of other faiths or religious groups but also within groups of the same general faith or religious denominations. Most likely their description of god fits well within their comfort zone of what attributes their god must have and how this god idea can serve their best interests.
How is it that the god of, say, the Westboro Baptist Church is the very same god of some of my gay christian friends? Do they worship two different gods or do each of those groups view god in a different way than the other? If it’s the same god then why are there differences in what this god is saying, what it is prohibiting or what it is permitting?
I propose that both believe that they are right in their own minds about their own version of god. That is, each individual sees their god in the way that they want to see their god. Their god acts and speaks in the way that each believer wants their god to act and speak. In other words, the idea of god is a personal concept or construct to the extent that everyone creates an image or a character of god in their own minds which is subject to, and reinforced by, their own biases. The god of the individual isn’t really the lord of that individual; rather, the individual is the lord of their own god.
God, gods or goddesses are nothing more than characters or notions, idols if you will, in the minds of those who attached some sort of veracity and belief onto those ideas of what or who a god might be.
Enduring faith in a god is nothing more than a tenacious confirmation bias toward the god idea as conceived by each individual believer. To give you some perspective on what confirmation bias is, I offer an entry from a Princeton website which explains this very human psychological phenomena: (emphasis mine ~ j.)
“Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way. The biases appear in particular for emotionally significant issues and for established beliefs. For example, in reading about gun control, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. Biased search, interpretation and/or recall have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a stronger weighting for data encountered early in an arbitrary series) and illusory correlation (in which people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).
Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Hence they can lead to disastrous decisions, especially in organizational, military, political, religious and social contexts.”
I’ve learned that, in most cases, when I’ve challenged the long held and biased notions of the god idea of an individual that, in spite of overwhelming evidence, logic and reason, believers will dig in their heels, so to speak, and double down on their confirmation bias. After all, who wants to be found wrong about anything, especially about something as significant as one’s own religious beliefs, theologies and god ideas? The cost for admitting that belief in an idea, an idol or a mental image of god is wrong is a price that is far too dear for most people to pay.
In an article titled: “Flaws in Reasoning and Arguments: Confirmation Bias~Selective Use of Evidence to Support Our Beliefs” Austin Cline writes:
“Confirmation bias occurs when we selectively notice or focus upon evidence which tends to support the things we already believe or want to be true while ignoring that evidence which would serve to disconfirm those beliefs or ideas. This bias plays a stronger role when it comes to those beliefs which are based upon prejudice, faith, or tradition rather than on empirical evidence.
For example, if we already believe or want to believe that someone can speak to our deceased relatives, then we will notice when they say things which are accurate or pleasant but forget how often that person says things which are simply incorrect [such as in the case of the pseudo psychic huckster John Edward ~j.]. Another good example would be how people notice when they get a phone call from a person they were just thinking about but don’t remember how often they didn’t get such a call when thinking about a person. The act of prayer is rife with confirmation bias.
The confirmation bias is simply a natural aspect of our personal biases. The confirmation bias is perhaps worse than most because it actively keeps us from arriving at the truth and allows us to wallow in comforting falsehood and nonsense. This bias also tends to work closely with other biases and prejudices; the more emotionally involved we are with a belief the more likely it is that we will manage to ignore whatever facts or arguments might tend to undermine it.
Why does this sort bias exist? Well, it’s certainly true that people don’t like to be wrong and that anything which shows them to be wrong will be harder to accept. Also, emotional beliefs which are involved with our self-image are much more likely to be defended selectively.”
One of the methods of arriving at the truth of a hypothesis within scientific discipline is to subject that hypothesis to brutal scrutiny, honest criticism and the unforgiving fires of refutation. What would happen if humans could subject their own god idea to such testing and criticism?
For many, the god idea has melted away or has been discarded when it was challenged by tests, analysis, data, reason and logic in search of empirical evidence to confirm that their god hunch or that their god notion was true.
Others, less courageous and intrepid, have retreated from the brutality of such honest inquiry and continue to fortify their idea of god in a holy shrine within the imagination of their minds.
Seekers and scholars who begin their critical research with no emotional investments in religion present the most unbiased conclusions on religion simply because they are more open during their studies to accept evidence that contradicts the prevailing conclusions and ideas about doctrine, dogma and the reality of a god being. Just as a used car salesperson will be hesitant to acknowledge and relay information that is damaging to the quality of his vehicles, the biased adherent to religion will be resistant to acknowledge and relay information that is damaging to the veracity of his religion and their concept of god. The opinions of individuals with ego involvement, emotional investments, or other vested personal and material interests in the outcome of a debatable issue are less likely to change when confronted with new information because people have an innate inclination to seek only evidence that confirms their pre-established beliefs.
There are, however, a rapidly growing number of theists who are taking the brave steps out beyond the perimeter of their cognitive dissonance and biases and honestly and humbly accepting the truth that their gods have been nothing more than a mental image of their own creation.
“God is a Concept…” ~ John Lennon
How did the idea of god come to be?
Imagine, if you can, a single point in human history when one or more of our primitive ancestors huddled in fear at the inhuman, external, seemingly otherworldly and powerful natural force of a severe thunderstorm. Seeking some sort of meaning for the event, seeking some sort of explanation for the causes and reasons for that yet unexplained phenomenon, they created and propagated a speculative idea or self authored scenario which, when couched in a seemingly plausible narrative, was void of scientific knowledge and data but was rich in theism and deistic legend. That is, they believed that something so impossible to create and replicate, such as the thunderstorm, must be the work or creation of something or someone beyond themselves that possessed and manifested extraordinary power and intelligence.
Thus, gods were born in the minds of humans.
From there, stories began to emerge which attempted to describe this god, or these gods, and how everything which could be observed, experienced or felt was a result of the work of these gods. Superstitions, rituals and supplications appeared as mere mortals began to weave their theologies and anthropomorphized their god ideas while seeking ways to understand, placate, motivate, manipulate and please their gods in order to bring about good, favorable and benevolent circumstances in a world of evil and hardship.
During the Fifth Solvay International Conference on Quantum Mechanics, held in Brussels Belgium in 1927, French physicist Paul Dirac said: “If we are honest – and scientists have to be – we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of god is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions.” And as if Dirac could see the present contemporary negative social regard for atheists, he concluded that “the honest assertion that god is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.”
“Did You make mankind after we made You? And the devil too?…the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is just somebody’s unholy hoax.” ~ Andy Partridge (from the band XTC)
Mankind gives birth to, and breathes life into, their conceptions of god. The seminal thoughts are usually introduced into the minds of the innocent and the childishly gullible by people who are in trusted positions of authority. From there those god thoughts incubate and are nurtured until the story becomes a reality. And even when the god notion is kept viable and brought to maturity, it cannot be denied that there is no god more powerful than the strength of the human within whom the idea resides.
For example, an extremist fundamentalist Muslim will shout “God is Great!” just before he or she blindly thumbs the detonator button on their suicide bombing vest. Such an activity begs the question “If god, or allah, is so great, then why does such a god require human assistance in carrying out some sort of divine mandate or fatwa?”
During the Second World War the German Wehrmacht wore belt buckles stamped with the phrase “God with Us.” While on the other side of the lines Allied soldiers uttered supplications and promises to the same god ideas held by those Germans facing them. The Allies won and the Germans were defeated. Who was god really with? The victors usually lay claim to the favor of their particular notion of god and a confirmation bias is reinforced.
Given that there were men with equal measures of faith in the same idea of god wearing the uniforms of all sides in that conflict why didn’t an omnipotent god just step in and slay those who incurred its wrath and disfavor? Why did it take the weapons and work of humans to smash forth the apparent favorable outcome of the same common god?
Opposing participants in sporting events pray and seek divine assistance in order to prevail over their opponents and, despite years of training and discipline on their own part, they credit a god for the success which came by way of their own efforts. Why? Even without the notion of a god they would have prevailed given the same set of circumstances.
With the exception of, perhaps, an emotional religious motivational component, a person devoted to the veracity of their god idea has no greater advantage over someone who discards belief in the stuff of legends. And even then the unbeliever can find ways to boil up the beneficial emotions which can occasionally render a competitive edge.
No work of a god can be done without the involvement of a human. Any work that is done within a human is nothing more than a marvelous human work, be it physical, emotional or mental.
History has shown time and time again that prayer to and faith in a personal conception of god can’t move a grain of sand without human effort. Mountains are not moved by faith but are, rather, shifted and altered by the will, contrivances and contraptions of man. It makes no difference whether the administration of medicine is supplemented with intercessions to a god, the medicines, treatments and procedures will do what they will do. A devout believer and an atheist stand on level ground in all physical and Universal matters of life and Being.
All gods or goddesses are too human to be divine. No matter the religious source, every god or goddess or pantheons of gods act no better than the humans who imagined them. Mankind animates their gods. Stay the hand of a human acting in the name of their god and the works of their gods upon the Earth would cease. Human Beings are the very hands of the gods that they’ve contrived.
Consistent with the selective characteristics attributed to the personal idea and conceptions of a god, a human can peaceably exonerate him or herself for doing something harmful to themselves or others. With the permission and blessing of a god conceived and formed in the imagination a human can exonerate them self of anything. Some may call this divine grace but this grace is a purely human gimmick and convenience to assuage an injured conscience, to alleviate guilt and to absolve oneself from various personal and social obligations and responsibilities. Gods can be, can say and can do anything that their creators want them to be, to say or to do.
All of the attributes of the gods are granted to them by humans. This must be. Otherwise gods would not yield to the will, the wants, ambitions and lusts of men.
I’ll state here and now that I have better morals than do most gods. Throughout the epochs the gods which were contrived and hewn out of human ignorance and imagination have killed, slaughtered, cursed and have exercised brutality and despotism for a panoply of selfish reasons. All of them are, of course, ‘holy’ reasons. One god states that it is wrong to kill and yet is said to have drowned the entire world, babies, Mommies, little kittens, cute puppies and all, sparing only a select family to repopulate the Earth and to continue doing the same things which provoked the wrath of this god to begin with.
Not once have I raised my hand to kill or destroy another human Being. Not once have I sought to impose my own will upon another by threat or force. Not once have I made demands of those who loved me. Not once have I withheld assistance to another when it has been in my power, ability, desire and means to render aid to them. Not once have I sought unquestioned devotion under the threat of eternal damnation.
Throughout the relative contemporary history of mankind the gods of certain people have chosen those certain peoples over others. Gods have shown selective and conditional mercy on some while smiting others, non-withstanding that the smiting came by the hands of the devotees of those gods.
If we held our god ideas to the same statutory and judicial standards and procedures by which we exercise justice and hold our fellow man accountable, we would sentence our gods to life in prison without parole if not promptly execute them for crimes against humanity.
In fact, many former theists have done just that. Their god idea was placed in the scale of reason, morality, humanity, compassion and logic and was found lacking and guilty. Those ideas, notions, images and mental and emotional idols were put to death never to live again.
Gods are human ideas.
And they are terrible ones at that.
It’s time to bravely reason as adults and put away our childish notions.
When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.(1 Corinthians 13:11 CEV)