“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, August 23, 2010

The God of Christianity: Invented by Man?

...In Christianity we find a strong affirmation of God as the Author and Creator of all: the eternal Supreme Being of the philosophers and the one true God of the monotheistic Jews, identified as the same God. But the remarkable thing is that Christianity also describes this God as an actor within his own Story, and in that sense a character who shares some of the anthropomorphic qualities of the mythical gods. Specifically, this Supreme Being is described as being born as a man and living a human life, and the characteristics of this life do bear some striking resemblances to myths.*

Is the story of Jesus discredited because of its similarities to these man-made stories of human-like gods? I think not - while there are similarities, there are also crucial and striking differences. The gods are invented by men, and thus they are not men, but very much like men. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is a man. The gods, being like men, are actors in the drama, not its Author; like us, they are creatures, not God (see previous post). But Jesus Christ is God - he is one with the Father, the Word who was with God in the beginning. He is both the eternal, self-existent Creator of the universe, and...a man. This is the shocking new idea of Christianity, and there is no precedent for it in myth. The gods were always like us - they were like a different race, one that could interbreed with humans, producing offspring that were half man and half god. But Jesus is unlike the gods in two incredible ways: he is a man, and he is God - not a god, but God, of Whom there is no plural (again, see above). It is easy to imagine men inventing the gods, but men inventing a man who was the one with the eternal Supreme Being? That is not exactly a natural anthropomorphism, and it begs a question (a historical question): where did this idea come from?

There is another scandal in Christianity: the Trinity. First we find the blasphemy that a man is one with the Father, and then the rigid monotheist's ultimate abomination, a God that is three persons! How, one might ask, did man conjure up the idea of a God that exists in three persons, yet remains One Being? I do not mean to imply that we must immediately conclude "only by revelation!," but merely to suggest that this idea in particular, which is central to the Christian idea of God, can hardly be explained away as an anthropomorphism. The question that must be asked, then, is indeed "where did this idea come from?"

In summary, then, Christianity's idea of God can hardly be explained away as a natural invention of the human mind. The story of Jesus is similar in ways to the clearly anthropomorphic pagan myths, but it is shockingly different in its theology. If we brush it aside into the same category, we are not thinking carefully.

Our good friend Richard Dawkins is fond of saying that the Christian God is no different from the gods of mythology. No one believes in Zeus or Thor, so why believe in any God at all? The Christian God is, in Dawkins' view, just another Apollo or Poseidon. What I have suggested in the previous post is that the Christian description of God (while sharing some important similarities with myths in the ideas of the incarnation, death, and resurrection) as self-existent, eternal, and existing in three persons is so radically different that a few moments of rational thought reveals the absurdity of putting this God in the same category as the gods. Anyone with a basic understanding of Christian theology will see Dawkins' pathetic ignorance.

*How we are to understand those similarities I discuss here.

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