Saturday, February 18, 2017

A history not of God, but of the idea of God

By Moristotle

[Originally published on March 19, 2008]

Karen Armstrong’s 1993 book, subtitled “The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,” has the misleading but catchier title A History of God. She herself refers in the Introduction to “this history of the idea and experience of [emphasis mine] God in the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” [p. xix]. She admits that God might not really exist and that she wished, “when I was starting out in the religious life” [in the 1960’s], that she had been told to “deliberately create a sense of him for myself.”
The human idea of God has a history, since it has always meant something slightly different to each group of people who have used it...Indeed, the statement “I believe in God” has no objective meaning, as such, but like any other statement only means something in context...[E]ach generation has to create the image of God that works for it. [p. xx]
    ...Note that sly little word has, as though one could not do without an “image of God”! Buy that assumption and you’ve piled a load of baggage on yourself.
The same is true of atheism. The statement “I do not believe in God” has meant something slightly different at each period of history. The people who have been dubbed “atheists” over the years have always denied a particular conception of the divine. Is the “God” who is rejected by atheists today the God of the patriarchs, the God of the prophets, the God of the philosophers, the God of the mystics, or the God of the eighteenth-century deists? [p. xx, starting immediately after the previous quotation]
    In the nine years since reading Armstrong’s Introduction, I have not had any patience to concern myself with the creations of mankind’s religious imagination qua mental constructs. And I have continued to detect in myself no need parallel to Armstrong’s to “create a sense of him for myself.”

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Moristotle

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