Which God is REAL?
Some viewers of this website may inclined to ask: OK, assuming that there is a God, how can you be so arrogant as to believe that YOUR God is the true God and that every other concept of God is wrong?! How utterly closed-minded, ethnocentric, naive, and parochial!! Further, what evidence do you have that Jesus is who he said he was? The testimony of some writings from 2000 years ago?!
Well, the first crucial point is that the Judeo/Christian concept of God has emerged throughout history in far more instances than just in Judaism and Christianity. In fact, the Judeo/Christian concept of God is utterly transcultural and transhistorical:
It’s interesting the spin that can be put on facts. This same point is used as evidence against Christianity, with just as much justification. Simply using dramatic trans- prefixed words does not change that.
For two alternative explanations (not every possibility, as will be said), the first more likely in my view, see here:
- Tales of those myths were spread among multiple people and cultures, and the writers of other belief systems were inspired by those tales.
- A God of another religion is in fact the true God, and inspired Christianity, in the same way this supposes that the Judeo/Christian God essentially inspired the other deities.
MY REPLY: How exactly are you going to use this as evidence against Christianity. You do not develop your argument. In alternative explanation #1, you suggest that “those myths” were spread among multiple people and cultures. However, you fail to notice that many of the cultures that Schmidt’s research mentions were nomadic cultures that had no contact with other cultures. From what culture, for example would native American tribes have absorbed “those myths”? Further, these primeval peoples existed on continents that were isolated from one another.
In alternative explanation #2, you reveal your fundamental misunderstanding of the object/symbol relationship. Human concepts can only serve as representations of God. So when we ask “which God is the right God?,” we are really asking “which concept of God provides the most accurate representation of God?”
As a parallel, when we examine various maps of California, we do not ask “which map is the true map of California?” Rather, we ask, “Which map provides the most accurate representation of the territory that makes up California.” If a given map represented California as a circular island, for example, we could reasonably judge that such a map is garbage.
So one way that we judge the accuracy of a map of California is by comparing its agreement to other maps of California, which were made by other people that surveyed the territory that makes up California. If many different people(s) completed a survey of California and each made a map that had areas of agreement with maps made by others, we could reasonably argue that these points of agreement correspond to accurate representations of the territory.
But no matter how accurate a map is, it can NEVER be the territory itself. Even the most accurate map is an incomplete representation. The same is true of human concepts of God. Your reasoning fails to make the simple distinction between a symbol and the object which is represented by the symbol.
Roy Abraham Varghese notes in his book The Christ Connection: How the World Religions Prepared the Way for the Phenomenon of Jesus:
“No one has chronicled the belief of…primeval peoples in as much detail as [Wilhelm] Schmidt in his twelve-volume The Origin of the Idea of God. Schmidt points out that the African and Asiatic Pygmies believed in a supreme being. The same is true of the Bushmen in South Africa; the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego in South America; the Aboriginies of Australia; the Samoyeds, Koryaks, and Eskimos of the Arctic; and major Native American tribes. The notion of a supreme being is truly global.
And Greece, Rome, Norway, Egypt, Canaan… featured polytheistic religions: most with, say, water gods: sea, rivers… Does that mean those water deities are also ‘transcultural and transhistorical’? Or just that it was just a nice, poetic idea that several people came up with? Or, in the case of Poseidon and Neptune, was plagiarized?
As for the religions there mentioned, they’re clearly henotheistic, rather than monotheistic, like the text heavily implies. Often the ‘supreme being’ is little more than someone such as Zeus: a ruler among the gods, no more. In many cases, as well, this is also the Creator-deity of the religion: an understandable trait, to mark them as ‘supreme’. The act of Creation is where the similarities end, for the most part (more on that later).
Back to the map parallel: As time passes, maps become more accurate. Imagine comparing maps of California made today with the very first maps of California made by Spanish explorers. Although these original maps were very flawed, they did get some things right…but the more recent maps are far more accurate. Much like maps, human concepts of God follow a progressive trajectory.
Further, the more prevalent an aspect of human representation of God is, the more likely it is to be accurate. Do you have any research showing that these polytheistic representations are “truly global,” as are the 8 attributes that Schmidt cites? I’ll bet not.
The names most commonly given to the supreme being, says Schmidt, denote his ‘fatherhood, creative power and residence in the sky.’
Creative power, yes, and fatherhood is unsurprising given the patriarchal societies that came up with these deities. Odin too was the ‘all-Father’: however, he was not the Creator in Nordic myth. That title could best be given to an also-male giant.
As for residence in the sky, it varies. Anguta (the Supreme Being of the Eskimo people mentioned) resides in the sea: and in some myths, was just a human.
Past these exceptions, you just have to think like the people of the time. At night, you’d see numerous points of light: at day, one great one. In fact, it’s easy to find many religions with a Sun-god (Sol Invictus, Surya, Utu, Mithras… for starters), demonstrating not only how something impressive can give rise to a view of a god, but also why living in the sky wasn’t really too special. Even beyond Sun gods, the sky was a huge, awe-inspiring sight: where else would you suggest a god live?
One also wonders why that claim is made. I know of few Christians that state God lives in the sky.
I don’t exactly know where you are going with this. Could you elaborate? God “living in the sky” is a metaphorical representation, not intended to be literal.
The primeval peoples also highlight key attributes of the supreme being:
1) Eternity, 2) Omniscience, 3) Beneficence, 4) Morality, 5) Omnipotence, 6) Creative power, 7) Giver of the moral code, 8)Author of moral rewards and punishments.”
Ok, so, where is he getting this from?
True, some have some of these traits: we’ve already covered point 6, as I’ve said, Creator-deities are incredibly common, and often (by this act) made ‘Supreme’. This would often make point 1 a necessary continuation (though admittedly it is often not).
Numbers 3, 4, 7 and 8 all seem to say essentially the same thing, which is rather dishonest. Half the points are summarized by ‘in charge of what is good’. It is also actually not too common: many Creator-Deities are also Trickster-Gods, more in line with the classic devil-figure than the God of the Bible.
That just leaves the two omni- traits. Omniscience and omnipotence: and you would not believe just how rare some of those traits were pre-Christianity.
For omniscience, while wisdom can be common, that is by no means omniscience. It is relatively close to non-existence in polytheistic belief systems, such as those mentioned: those religions rely on the interactions of the gods. Omnipotence also is rare: there may be great power, or total power over certain things (such as sea-gods and the sea), but how is that omnipotence?
After a bit of research, I could see little resemblance between the portrait painted by these eight traits, and any religion that comes before Christianity.
Probably the best link is the afterlife: often it involves some form of judgement, and occasionally this is administered by the Supreme Being. Given the human fear of death, an afterlife is an unsurprising component in any religion; and a desire for justice would no doubt create a place of punishment or reward. Unless a God is presupposed, this means a little.
Beneficence and morality are the same thing? What about a morality that is not beneficent? Like a morality that says the strong should prey upon the weak? Giver of the moral code is the same thing as author of rewards and punishments? Are the legislators who make our laws the same as the judges who issue punishments when the laws are broken? Your reasoning is bizarre.
You say that “many Creator-Deities are also Trickster-Gods.” Are you going to provide any research to back this up, or will you just merely assert this? Further, if we don’t know HOW many, how can we know how significant a phenomenon this is? Is is a GLOBAL phenomenon like the concepts of God with the 8 attributes that Schmidt cites?
You say that omniscience is almost non-existent in polytheistic representations of God. But of what use is this point? The point of my citing Schmidt is to call attention to the attributes of God that come up again in culture after culture throughout time. The fact that there are anomalies is of little significance. Nobody is arguing that omniscience is 100% consistent. Would we need 100% consistency among maps of California to argue that a western coastline is an accurate depiction?
You write, “Given the human fear of death, an afterlife is an unsurprising component in any religion.” But this is a double-edged sword. Given the psychological need for not being answerable to a higher power, it is unsurprising that atheist belief systems do not feature an afterlife.
These same above eight attributes are the crucial attributes of the God of the Bible.
One wonders how these civilizations found the idea. Are they meant to have just sensed it, or did they have a revelation? Why do their religions diverge so wildly from Christianity once you go from ‘good and creating’ to ‘polytheism and trickery’.
Here again, you fail to cite any research about the prevalence of “polytheism and trickery” to counteract Schmidt’s research which shows the global prevalence of concepts of God that include beneficence. You seem to think that you can use assertion in place of logically supported argument.
Considering this, one would be inclined to ask: If the concepts of God emerging in separate cultures have the same attributes, by what means could one reasonably argue that these cultures are referring to anything other than the same God?
Aside how this still fails to answer the question of ‘Which God?’, as it could be any of these (even if the points were accurate), there’s also the matter of confirmation bias.
I’ve looked through each of the belief systems mentioned, and while I’d hardly count myself as an expert, the terms used to describe deities work only in the loosest sense. In addition, it’s interesting that many of the religions mentioned are truly obscure: it was hard to find decent information on some of them. Add into that, however, the sheer number of religions, and even if every piece of information here was utterly accurate, it would mean next to nothing. Aside from how you’d expect those related to the true religion to be more major, it is singularly unimpressive when, among hundreds of belief systems, some are similar.
Also, incorporate plagiarism. I’ve already covered small details that are apparently copied by early Christians, but it’s simple fact that any transference of myths from some places, would easily explain these similarities.
- This still fails to answer the question of ‘which God?’ I’ve seen the same argument made by Muslims: and, even should a deity be needed to answer this, it could be any of those mentioned. Presumably the quoted book attempts to answer this: but the post fails.
- The vast majority of religions with no such figure are ignored.
- Those mentioned are sometimes misrepresented.
- It ignores the possibility that plagiarism could be behind at least some of these shared ideas.
- The countless belief systems created by humanity, with all the deities therein, make it as good as certain that some will have similarities.
1) When you ask the question “Which God,” you are failing to make the basic distinction between human representations of God, and God as he actually is. In other words, you are failing to make the basic distinction between symbol and object. When we ask “Which God is Real,” we are really asking which human concept of God is most accurate. Your reasoning is misleading because it conflates symbol and object.
2) You cite “vast majority of religions” with no scholarly citations to back up your assertions. Here, again, we see a display of your penchant for confusing assertion with argument. Without any scholarly citation to back up your claim that “the vast majority of religions have no such figure,” you have not actually produced an argument…just an assertion. Further, even if the “vast majority of religions” featured no such deity, this would have no impact on the global nature of the concepts of God described by Schmidt. The vast majority of religions could have no such concept of God, but the concept of God described by Schmidt could still have a global presence.
3) “Those mentioned are sometimes misrepresented”?? What is misrepresented? What do you mean? Any examples? This is not coherent.
4) “The possibility that plagiarism could be behind at least some of the ideas”? Here, you fail to make the basic distinction between a counter-argument, on one hand, and a counter-proposition, on the other. You propose that plagiarism could be responsible, but unless you develop this with evidence and reasoning, you have merely made a proposal…not a logically coherent argument.
Further, as I mentioned, many of the cultures Schmidt mentions are nomadic and isolated on different continents. Lastly, even if “plagiarism” were behind some of the ideas, what would this really prove. Why did so many cultures choose to plagiarize these ideas and not others? It could be because they recognized these ideas as ACCURATE.