Defining God

31 Oct

Last week, we took note of how difficult it is to define a word. Our own biases weigh so heavily into what we say, we’re always inclined to define a word in a way that best fits our own desires. So when we ask the question “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” we may disagree on the definition of the word ‘sound.’ To the person who wants to dismiss the spiritual relevance of that statement, they will define the word as a disruption of molecules in the air, whether or not those disruptions are interpreted by a living ear. But for those of us who have an appreciation for the impact of sound in our daily lives, we may find that definition maliciously inefficient.

If we can’t agree on the definition of sound, we certainly shouldn’t expect to agree on what we mean by the word God. But with ‘sound,’ though we may not agree that the definition above completely encompasses what it is to be ‘sound,’ we can all agree that sound encompasses at least that much. So then, let’s agree at a bare minimum what God is.

An atheist would likely start with a basic definition suggesting it was a delusion, or a symbolic metaphor of some kind, but since Christians obviously disagree with all of that, it doesn’t serve our purpose of being a universal definition. Christians may want to refer to God as the Creator of all things, Lord of man, etc. but an atheist would certainly disagree with all of that. A more neutral definition might be “the Creator of all things, according to a specific religion,” but that’s not giving a universal definition either, it’s specifically giving ownership of the definition to Christians. We come back around to atheists then, who might insist that there can be no definition that universally applies to God, because there is no God, and therefore ‘God’ means nothing. But atheists can certainly agree that when people refer to God, they’re certainly referring to something.

But what?

Of course, Judeo-Christian-Muslims are not the only people to refer to a god or gods. Native Americans refer to virtually everything as “the gods.” Egyptians had Geb and Nut and friends, Greeks had Mt. Olympus, pagans had spirits, and so on. Many modern Christians or “spiritualists” simply refer to a Higher Power, whatever That may be.

What do all of these gods have in common? Egyptians didn’t know where the sun went at night, which was a nuisance for them, since they relied heavily on the sun. Their ultimate explanation was that Horus and Set, two gods, were fighting between light and darkness, and day and night were the result. Early Greeks had a similar vision, with Apollo riding his chariot across the sky, which was much closer to how the sun actually worked, and in any case was understood by the Greeks as more of a metaphor. They didn’t literally believe that the big bright thing in the sky was Apollo. With many of their other gods, however, they were dead serious.

Many of the rules dictated in the Torah were reflections of things that the Hebrew people had observed, but didn’t fully understand. Things like hygiene and sociology. In Persia, people relied on the philosophy of Zoroastrianism, the philosophy of a successful people, until their land was violently taken over and they were driven into darker times, at which point the darker, more violent Muslim faith appeared. It explained what they did not understand — remember that the average farmer in Iran would know nothing of the Romans or Mongols, and would be unlikely to understand why their life would be changing in such a drastic way.

In this country, the predominant and most modern religion is Christianity. American Christians understand where the sun comes from. Most of us understand how we have ocean tides, earthquakes, and tornadoes. What we still don’t understand is where we came from. It’s a little difficult to wrap our heads around how chimpanzees and humans could be related, or why dinosaurs suddenly disappeared and mammals suddenly dominated. The Big Bang theory doesn’t explain how something could come from nothing. To Christians, this all points to one thing — God. Even with smaller things, God is involved. When a young child is killed for seemingly pointless reasons, they say that God works in mysterious ways. When a star athlete, raised to be humble, is asked to explain how he won the gold medal, he thanks God for his gifts. Any time that an atheist is unable to answer a Christian’s question about the world, they point to that as proof of a God.

Let’s take that last sentence and put it in its own context: any time we are unable to answer a question about the world, we point to it as proof of a God.

It is the one constant in all of history: God is what we don’t understand. God is our lack of answers. We laugh at the Hindu belief that mankind developed from a supernatural teardrop, because we know enough to know that it’s false. Christians who have disavowed many of the Bible’s stories (Eve coming from Adam’s rib, Noah’s Ark, the creation in six days) do so because we know at least enough to know what can and can’t happen. And as much as they have faith in God’s ability to heal, they still turn to modern medicine because they know it works. But as long as atheists can’t explain how the universe got here, Christians will still have an answer, and until atheists can provide an explanation for where man came from that adequately captures the grandeur of the human spirit, Christians will still have their own theory.

So if we want to disarm the Christian belief, we have to play by the Christian’s rules. As frustrating as it may be, the burden is in fact on atheists to explain everything, in a way that makes sense and still captures the grandeur of life, and until that happens, there will still be things that we do not understand.

There will still be a God.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized


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