“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

Friday, August 20, 2010

Is the God of the philosophers like the gods of myth?

...Now, the atheist might object that our idea of God is really quite anthropomorphic - God is so much like a human in the way we think of him that it seems obvious that we invented him. There is simply no need to hypothesize his actual existence in order to explain belief in God. A naturalistic picture offers a thorough account of belief in God; to suppose anything more would be arbitrary and unnecessary.

It may be helpful to compare different ideas of God or gods to one another at this point. In particular, if we recall the gods of Greek or Roman mythology, we find a picture that is strikingly anthropomorphic, indeed so much so that one could only lightly alter the stories in order to make them about men instead of gods. The gods go to war with one another, they procreate, they fall in love, etc. - all human activities. C. S. Lewis writes in Reflections on the Psalms,

"Even in the creation myths, gods have beginnings. Most of them have fathers and mothers; often we know their birth-places. There is no question of self-existence or the timeless. Being is imposed upon them, as upon us, by preceding causes. They are, like us, creatures or products; though they are luckier than we in being stronger, more beautiful, and exempt from death. They are, like us, actors in the cosmic drama, not its authors."
The idea of God - that is, of an Author of all reality, a Supreme Being that is self-existent, infinite, eternal, uncreated, and transcendent, and who brought everything else into existence - is radically different from the gods of mythology. Lewis writes, "the difference between believing in God and in many gods is not one of arithmetic. As someone has said "gods" is not really the plural of God; God has no plural."

This "One God" of the monotheistic faiths, a God who is the foundation of existence itself and the origin of all truth, may be like human beings in that "He" is a being and presumably thinks or feels in some way, but the differences between God and man are not merely of degree, or even category. God is transcendent, eternal, beyond comprehension, on a completely different level of existence than man.

Chesterton suggests in The Everlasting Man that philosophers such as Plato and Socrates, and perhaps many men in the ancient world, did not seriously think that the gods existed. The idea of a Supreme Being, on the other hand, was different. Men had always had a vague sense of a great power behind the world, and they invented myths as an imaginative way of pursuing this mysterious power, but it was the philosophers who actually tried to articulate rationally what it might be.

The atheist may object that this idea of God, of a higher power and purpose affecting all things, is a natural invention of the human mind. But again, this by no means disproves God; if he is real, he might well cause us to know him in exactly that way. And as pointed out here, the idea of God only bears a superficial resemblance to human beings, or to the gods of myth, who were clearly invented by men.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I find it unbelievably cocky that humanity describes God as anthropomorphic. There is similarity because we're made in his image. Of course he resembles us; we resemble him! (Much as Lewis''s narnia had a truer, realer Narnia behind it.)

    I had been taught that in all likelihood at least a portion of the demi-gods had in fact been living men, and in the tradition of the time were immortalized in oral history then recorded by Homer and co.

    I realize that this is not what you're arguing here, but I picked on those threads as ones of interest. Excellent blog!