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It’s Time to Abandon “God”

AbandonGod

My apologies to anyone who feels hurt by my title. It would have been safer for me to avoid this subject entirely, but I’m convinced that it matters a great deal. So, let’s get to it:

The word “God” has become confusing, distracting, and counterproductive. It carries immense baggage, and it’s time we let it go.

Please understand that this is not an angry-atheist argument. I am not, in fact, an atheist. This is an argument for clear communication, for human understanding, and even for spiritual development. The word “God” is a problem, and I think it’s crucial that we face that fact.

And by the way, I think Jesus would agree with me.

Who Is God?

Ask a dozen clergymen to define God, and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers. Ask a random person on the street, and you’ll get a ball of confusion.

Is God the all-seeing being? Does he control every molecule in the universe? Did he merely put the universe into motion? Is God a he? A she? An it? Does God send people to hell? Does he merely allow them to go to hell? Does he forgive everyone? Does he save everyone? Does he decide in advance who is saved and who is damned? Does he share his complete nature with holy men?

A long list can be made of such questions, and all of them – as answered by both yeses and noes – are used to define “God.”

A word with no fixed meaning is a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding. And if we link to that word a choice between eternal torture and eternal bliss, those misunderstandings involve the highest stakes imaginable.

Can you see how this sows immense trouble in the world? Can you see how it poisons even well-intended theology?

Whoever’s to blame for making “God” unusable in our time, the word clearly is unusable. The only logical choice is to let it go. Forcing a single definition upon the entire world is a practical impossibility.

So, I think we should stop using this word. It’s fine as a generalized appeal to an ultimate – “God bless you,” “Thank God,” and so on – but it’s inadequate for meaningful discussion.

Jesus and God

Here are a few lines of theology to support this argument:

If you count all the times Jesus refers to “God” in the gospels, it comes to 173; for “father,” it’s 167, roughly equal. This is significant by itself, because the people Jesus spoke to expected him to say “God.” The scribes and pharisees, for example, almost never use the word “father.” Even the disciples seldom used it. Jesus alone used the word with any frequency.

But here’s where it really gets interesting: If you count only the times Jesus was speaking to his disciples, you get “God” 78 times and “father” 115 times. That’s a significant difference; when speaking to his students, Jesus used “father” roughly 50% more frequently than “God.”

So, when I say that Jesus didn’t much like using the word “God,” I have some basis for saying so.

Now, with that detour into theology complete, let’s return to the subject of retiring “God.”

What Then Shall We Say?

Laying “God” aside, what to say instead is simple: We say things that convey clear meanings. If we mean “creator of the universe,” we say “creator of the universe.” If we mean “controller of everything,” we say “controller of everything.”

Here are a few suggestions:

Creator: I like this one because it removes truckloads of theological implication. Our universe clearly came from something (unless we turn back to a belief in spontaneous generation), and nothing we see could have made what we see. So, saying “creator” may not describe much about the nature of this being, but it is very clear on the central act of the being. That provides a context for a conversation. If we specify “creator,” we at least begin on solid ground.

Father: Father is a reasonably good word, meaning “from whom we’ve taken our existence.” In a Christian context, this can also be used as in “Jesus’ father.” Again, it doesn’t imply too much and it provides a clear starting point.

Author of life: This is fairly close to “father,” but it focuses on all life – on the essence of life, whatever that may actually be – and not on any one life-form.

Source: Another fairly useful term, with a meaning like “father,” though broader.

Yahweh: For biblical conversations, this one actually works. It veers too closely to the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many people, but it does approximate the name that appears in the Hebrew Bible. Disagree with the Witnesses all you like, but at least this word refers to a specific being.

Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t suggest using “King” or “Lord,” since they imply some kind of violent dominator. I’d like to see humanity outgrow that.

So…

What you do with this will be your choice, but I think it needed to be said. Discussions centered on “God” are more or less doomed at their start these days, making discourse on spirituality an inarticulate mess, or even a minefield. Tradition isn’t worth that price. It’s time to let “God” go and get specific.

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Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com

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  • http://fexl.com Patrick Chkoreff

    I define God as identical with all of Reality.

    That includes the physical universe we see now. It includes every physical, logical, and mathematical law or potentiality which existed before the advent of this universe some 14 billion years ago, and which led to its creation and sustain it now. It includes the phenomena of consciousness, soul, and spirit — whether those are emergent properties of material systems or something more. It includes every conceivable aspect of reality, and even aspects which might in principle be inconceivable by human beings or any other conscious entity smaller than Reality Itself. It is the entirety of all unfathomably profound Reality. It has always existed and will exist forever, neither created nor destroyed. This particular universe will be destroyed, but not Reality itself.

    So why do I view God and Reality as identical? Well, if God is real, then God is a part of Reality, since Reality includes everything real. However, I cannot imagine defining God as anything less than all of Reality. Therefore the only logical alternative I see is to define God as identical with all of Reality, since that is the greatest totality there is.

    • Paul Rosenberg

      Hi Patrick,

      Anything’s fine by me, so long as it is clear, specific and easy to use. Nothing confusing, nothing requiring analysis before using liberally.

      I think confused and difficult terms have kept spirituality from evolving for a long time.

      • http://fexl.com Patrick Chkoreff

        “You know, things that never had names before are now easily described. Makes conversation easier.” — David Byrne, True Stories

        • Paul Rosenberg

          Indeed.

          • http://fexl.com Patrick Chkoreff

            Though might say that’s a very bloodless definition of God. What about a personal, conscious God?

            So if God is the totality of all Reality, then is that a personal, conscious thing? Short answer: I think so.

            I know there is no way to prove whether or not Reality itself, taken as a whole, is conscious. However, I know that at least parts of Reality are conscious, since obviously I am a part of Reality and I am conscious. So if my brain and soul are complex enough to be conscious, they why wouldn’t the infinitely profound Reality of which I am a tiny part also be complex enough to be conscious?

            Others would say no, Reality as a whole is a thoroughly unconscious substrate within which only isolated pinpricks of consciousness arise, like small sparks here and there. I cannot rationally dispute that idea, but I am indelibly marked with the opposite idea that Reality (God) itself is conscious, and there’s nothing I can do to shake that belief — though I’ve tried on a few occasions.

  • Shadow Warrior

    I look at God this way. If God is organized religions example for morality, then they are all delusional. How could such a being allow the untold suffering of innocence? If anyone wants to argue this point, or give any explanation, then that proves their delusions. How can anyone answer this? They can’t answer for God. It’s his way, or he’s mysterious are nothing more than non answers to which they base their faith in. Another point to note is that the reason religion had lasted as long as it has is because of the fear based teachings and the abuse of children’s implicit trust by parents community and church. If they taught children to just be moral without the fear of going to hell then things would dramatically change. The church being a for profit business doesn’t help either.

  • Rodger Phuquett

    ? – you state that – ““God” in the gospels, it comes to 173; for “father,” it’s 167, roughly equal.” – are you assuming that the gospels are a first person encounter and assuming that this fictional first person encounter is transcribed and translated correctly? There was nobody taking notes and the tape recorder wasn’t invented. Way too many ASSumptions for even the Village Idiot to belive.

    • http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/political_reading_room/ disqus_3BrONUAJno

      The entire Christian premise is way too assumptions for anyone to assimilate.

  • Chris Tesi

    I have always viewed “God” as something that is ultimately unknowable to mortal man – at least as we exist in this corporal state. If we accept that God is a transcendental entity that is at all times everywhere and everything then we must also assume that the basis of all existence is God. God is at all times all that ever has been, all that is and all that will ever be. Given that this is all I can know on the topic I accept that my goal is to strive to know God with what limited ability I possess. In short, to seek God is to me simply a quest for truth.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/political_reading_room/ disqus_3BrONUAJno

    I have wrestled with a multitude of labels to apply to myself when asked about my religious beliefs. I have finally settled on Christian atheist. I believe that Jesus Christ lived and said most of the things ascribed to him. I can’t understand why, with a universe full of spiritual energy and entities, why it would have required a single deity to come to exist, so I don’t believe in any deity. I think that “father” might be the closest thing to what I could call a deity, if I believed in one. Since I think there’s a committee, and there is a precedent in the “House of Lords”, if it needs to be singular, I’ll go with Lord, and let them figure out which one to assign it to…

  • David S

    What I find most interesting in your commentary is the obvious bias towards god as something OUTSIDE of us all. Words like “creator”, “author”, and even “father of life” imply that an activity happened, all this happened, and now somebody is watching over it all. What is wrong with the term “the divine” as is used by some? Surely if everything came from some original “point” and there is NOTHING other than all that it, surely all of it must be god/the divine. And if so, there IS NO SEPARATION, except in our minds and perceptions, between the divine and ourselves. This tends to be the great separation between so-called western religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.) and so-called eastern religions (Buddhism, HInduism, Taoism, etc.) although even eastern religions seem to imply a separation between the divine and man or all that is. Seems like the word use is one thing, but defining what you ACTUALLY mean by the term god (or whatever you use) is equally as important. Myself, I prefer The Divine – and it includes everything. How could it not?

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