Oh, God!

Article excerpt

RELIGION SEEMS TO BE a hot topic today, as the Evangelicals take credit for electing George W. Bush. Then, too, the old saw about evolution and creationism keeps coming up, despite hard evidence of the former. Likewise, there is the never-ending controversy over public buildings displaying the creche or the Ten Commandments. At the heart of religion is the "God Question" that seldom is addressed directly. A British wit, upon hearing two people argue--one claiming there is a God; the other denying it--tried to compromise by saying that the truth lies somewhere in between. We speak of God as though everyone understands the same meaning behind the word, but this is patently false as, even in the Old Testament, the word changes meaning. (Some scholars would claim it develops rather than changes.) The early God is a cosmic one, and Abraham never claimed that there is but one God, only that his God was the most powerful. The genesis of the God idea sees it moving to a Warrior God, to the Bride of Israel, to a Father God and, in the New Testament, a Brother God in Jesus. One wonders what the Christian God will look like a millennium from now.

The Hindu religion has myriad gods and Mormonism claims that each of us can be a god. The ancient Greeks had gods of nature, such as Neptune, Zeus, Mercury, Diana, etc. Prudently, they even set up a statue to the "unknown god" in case they missed one. Their gods had the characteristics of men, a trait called anthropomorphism. Intellectuals such as Thomas Jefferson, an Enlightenment thinker, at best favored Deism, the position that says God created things but now has no concern with his creation, letting it go where it will. In short, we are on our own. Calvinists see God as one who arbitrarily--and from the very beginning of time--chooses some to be saved and others to be damned. One cannot know in this life if one is included in the Elect or is one of the damned, but there are certain signs that might prove indicative of one or the other. The Native Americans had a Trickster God who, since being all powerful, could do whatever he wanted. There is a semblance of this trait in Christianity as the Bible tell us, "The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh away."

Sigmund Freud in his classic Future of an Illusion addresses the question of God and religion. He opines that early humans personalized the forces of nature so that man could deal and bargain with them. Psychologically, the acceptance of the gods had a threefold purpose. They served to "exorcize the terrors of nature"; "reconcile men to the cruelty of their Fate [death]"; and "compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them." For Freud, God simply turns out to be a projected father image, needed by some, but not others. Prayer becomes a way of trying to influence (bribe?) God. (In a certain sense, one might argue that prayer is virtually blasphemous, if by it we hope to change the immutable mind of God. …