In Whose Image?

In at least two conversations on the subject of religion in the past week for rejecting God, the reason was that God is merely a projection of the self onto an imaginary representation.  In other words, the qualities and attributes of the God people believe they worship aren’t really the attributes of the actual God — if one exists in the first place — but are instead the individual’s or culture’s own attributes projected onto the God they think exists.  I have heard this objection to religion/God from both skeptics (who use the idea to dismiss God) and religious pluralists (who use the idea to dismiss exclusivism).

I agree that some religious adherents do impose the self onto the deity.  These are usually people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious”.  People who don’t make appeals to a Holy writ, be it the Bible, the Qur’an, Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, etc. get their idea of God from somewhere, but where?  If it’s not from some source outside themselves, by process of elimination, it comes from within the self.  And for these people I think this is a valid complaint.  It certainly gives the skeptic a good reason to believe that God is an invented human convention.  For the “spiritual but not religious” person, their god is an invented human convention (See: Spiritual Atheism).

But coming from skeptics, I think this complaint rings hollow.  For them, it seems that they offer this objection to God (usually the God of the Bible) precisely because He isn’t enough like themselves!  Remember Richard Dawkins characterization of the God of the Bible:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

I just find this brow-furrowingly  strange.  The complaint seems to be: the God you say exists is like abc.  But if a God really exists then He would be like xyz (i.e., more like me).

This isn’t to say that if the Bible or what ever other religious Scripture portrayed a more tolerant and loving God they would just bend the knee.  But I have always found skeptic’s complaints against the character of God to be meaningless as it pertains to why they believe God doesn’t exist (See: The Price Of Tea In China, Emotional Problems).   And this one merely is guilty of its own accusation.

Comments

  1. “But I have always found skeptic’s complaints against the character of God to be meaningless as it pertains to why they believe God doesn’t exist ”

    The one is meaningless to the other.

    I have arguments and reasons why I don’t believe any god exists.

    But I also have reasons why I object to your religion and the god you believe exists.

    They’re two different issues.

    • This may be true…maybe. What I mean is while you may not offer this as a reason why God does not exist, many see God’s character as a reason to believe the God that is purported to exist, does not. It’s a woven objection in that it may not be primary, but it is a factor.

  2. “many see God’s character as a reason to believe the God that is purported to exist, does not.”

    That depends.

    If, for example, a Christian is telling me that the deity they believe in is all loving, all powerful, and all good…and then I read the Bible and find that deity (for one example) drowning everyone in the world, I’m going to say that this ‘all good’ deity doesn’t exist.

    Based on the Bible, a deity might exist that isn’t all good. But clearly not one that is.

    It isn’t a reason the disbelieve in God in general. It’s a reason to disbelieve in a particular kind of god. If that makes sense.

  3. “So basically, not good in the way you think is good.”

    True.

    Of course, if I found someone who thought drowning everyone in the world was good, I wouldn’t trust their definitions of ‘good and bad’, but maybe that’s just me.

  4. There are several confounding issues here, primarily existence and virtue. Does god exist? If so, is he/she worthy of worship? Virtue can be assessed within the context of a god who exists (for the sake of argument) or as an imaginary concept put forth by an individual. That latter situation, a god with qualities as stated by an individual, is easier to pin down for study as scripture is contradictory on many points.

    If god is all the things Richard Dawkins said (or really almost any of them even individually), that god would be a powerful but nefarious tyrant. The Bible I read speaks primarily of a tyrant to be opposed. Unfortunately the occasional genocide isn’t offset by having created man. Offering heaven isn’t offset by allowing hell.

    Fortunately, there is all the evidence against the existence of such a tyrant, not the least of which is the petty and unenlightened (ethically and scientifically) way in which the God of the Bible is portrayed. But even if we find a virtuous and caring god, that wouldn’t solve the bad science we find in scripture or general lack of god that we find in nature.

    “The complaint seems to be: the God you say exists is like abc. But if a God really exists then He would be like xyz (i.e., more like me). This isn’t to say that if the Bible or what ever other religious Scripture portrayed a more tolerant and loving God they would just bend the knee.”

    You say that your god both exists and is like abc. But that’s what you say. Scripture as I read it, scripture as read by other people who share your beliefs, secular ethics, and natural reality either contradict or don’t predominantly support your interpretation. “Like me” doesn’t enter into the equation.

    And if you (not scripture) portrayed a more tolerant and loving god, I would be less inclined to contradict your ethics, but the scientific and other concerns are still there. Worship is still a bit of a religious concept with little use in secular living.

  5. While you speak of “spiritual but not religious”, I find myself in another category. I do have faith in the Almighty (http://bizarreprodigy.com/2011/02/17/faith/); but I have stopped believing in “religion” or the “gurus” we have to day because of what they preach. I am a Hindu but have been following Sikhism since I can remember. I was brought up reading stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata but all along my Gurus (parents, elders and gurus in Temples and Gurudwaras) never explained to me why one thing was right than the others. Something that felt right in Ramayana was not followed up in Mahabharata. It was all confusing and still is.

    I do things what “feel right”. I also think, “if this was done to me, would I feel good about it?” also drives my actions. If that is how I see God, then it works for me, I have a belief system that keeps me content everyday. Religion around me tells me to do other things. I tend to ask why would God want me to be any different?

    So, if I dont find myself the need to visit a Temple or a Gurdwara why am I not doing the right thing? I have been asking “Why is religion important of one has faith?” or “Is God dependent on a Religion?”

    • Kapil

      Religious rites and rituals are not important. The religious system and God that is worshipped is. Its like having a specific disease in need of a cure. Any old medicine which numbs will not suffice to prevent death, you need the right medicine.

  6. I generally agree. But I would simply add some sort of inclusionary addendum to simply address the characteristics in which God necessarily has such-and-such trait – especially when considering many current philosophical arguments depend on these characteristics (i.e. Plantinga’s Ontological)

  7. Marshall Art says:

    NAS,

    Finding someone who thought drowning everybody in the world to be a good thing is not a relevant search. The real question is whether or not it was a good thing for God to do when He did it.

  8. “The real question is whether or not it was a good thing for God to do when He did it.”

    That’s not my question.

    A tyrant always has what they think are good reasons for their terrible actions.

    I don’t particularly care if you think your god did a good thing by drowning everyone on the planet. Because, clearly, it wasn’t a good thing. And the only thing that prevents it from being a horrible thing is the fact that it almost certainly didn’t happen.

  9. Marshall Art says:

    NAS,

    You believe it to be a bad thing because of your perspective, which doesn’t take into account the Creator/created dynamic. You judge God’s actions based on human human feelings, which, is pretty superficial and subjective.

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