The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
THE BELIEF IN GOD

1
MEANING OF THE BELIEF IN GOD

The objective study of religion the world over has proved beyond a doubt that the belief in God originated neither in speculative reasoning nor in any supernatural revelation. Gods have to be believed in before they can be beheld, imagined or proved to exist. Had this fact been recognized centuries ago, thinkers would have been spared an immense amount of mental effort to prove the existence of God. All that effort apparently was in vain, since unbelievers seldom become believers as a result of logical arguments.

To find the root of men's belief in God we have to note how man's will to live progresses from blind instinct to highly articulate purpose. In all living beings that will to live manifests itself in various hungers or drives for sustenance, shelter, a mate, migration, etc. Man, however, possesses the mental capacities which enable him to be aware of ends and means, of whole and part, of self and not-self. Thus he has come to think in general and abstract terms. This heightened awareness augments his chances for life, and brings to the fore of his consciousness his entire struggle for existence.

By the same token that man becomes aware of himself as a person engaged in a struggle against dangers and difficulties, he also becomes cognizant of the help of a Power or powers to conquer obstacles. That awareness finds expression in ideas. What is most distinctive about himself as a person is termed "soul," and what is most distinctive about the Power or powers upon whom he depends is termed "God." The correlation between ideas concerning soul and those concerning God explains why, with the changes in our conception of human personality, we necessarily change our conception of God. As men, for example, learn to think of the soul as independent of the body, they learn also to conceive an over-soul, or super-ego, or God as independent of visible reality.

In time, man's capacity to generalize, which is itself a manifestation of the will to live, led him to conceive of God as a universal God. This is the correlative of man's will to live in its most generalized form, in the

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