Monday, February 18, 2013

The Top Ten Definitions of God - Honorable Mention 1

In variance with the portrayals of some church bureaucrats and unimaginative atheists, the number of different definitions of God are ginormous. There are two principal reasons for this, and both are dogmatically insisted upon by every major religion (that I know):
  1. God refers to that which is beyond our understanding, so naturally it will be difficult to define. 
  2. God implies a relationship, so naturally it will be personal.
Thus, we have many, many definitions—possibly one for every person on the planet. Therefore, I feel justified in presenting a few honorable mentions, which did not make the top ten, but are nevertheless noteworthy.

What’s “God”? Well, you know, when you want something really bad and you close your eyes and you wish for it? God’s the guy that ignores you. 
— Steve Buscemi/James McCord from the movie “The Island”

[Picture goes here but for copyright privileges]

This definition is soon to be a classic, if not already. It echoes The Doors' Jim Morrison's decree:

And there's plenty of theology behind it. Of course, there's theology, on the other side, supporting petition prayer. (Just to be clear, theology is not necessarily esoteric; it simply means thinking about God.) The greatness of this operational definition is that it addresses our earliest childhood and teen notions that the world resolves around ourselves, and that God is, or should be, our own personal magic currant bun (i.e. wish dispenser). 

The idea here is not that God is a bungling manager, who needs to be roused and cajoled into correcting numerous godawful mistakes, but rather God is a bungling manager, who needs our concerted efforts in correcting those mistakes.


Big Myk said...

This is great: an easy way to get in my Lenten meditative reading.

Big Myk said...

Some other thoughts along the same lines. First from Kazantzakis:

God is imperiled. He is not almighty, that we may cross our hands, waiting for certain victory. He is not all-holy, that we may wait trustingly for him to pity and to save us. ... He cannot be saved unless we save him with our own struggles; nor can we be saved unless he is saved.

Also, from Jim Holt: "the universe was created by a being that is 100 percent malevolent but only 80 percent effective."

James R said...

A technical comment: I forgot a couple of paragraphs in copying my text. That has been edited. Hopefully, it flows a bit smoother now.

James R said...

I'm typically a bit nervous with episodic religious or philosophical posts for fear that Myk will steal the thunder. Seriously, all comments are welcome. Myk brings up an interesting view (from Kazantzakis) that God may not be as all powerful as is often assumed. We will visit this, at least tangentially, later—most directly with definition no. 9.

There is, via a dubious translation, a biblical passage where God declares, "I am with you in your troubles." This could be interpreted that God is in trouble too. However, I do not use this anywhere since, aside from the speculative translation, quoting scripture is often the worse possible evidence.

Anonymous said...

There is a type of octopus that absorbs bacteria. Now that is nothing special but these bacteria are luminescent and when agitated by their host they light up the host which is sort of special. Now when the octopus goes hunting, which is always at night, it rises from the sandy shallows and hovers over its hunting ground and now comes the interesting part; the octopus senses the amount of moonlight coming through the shallow water and agitates the bacteria just enough to compensate for the shadow it casts from the moon light, hence it casts no shadow, hence it is not seen by it prey.
There is a kind of fish, the name escapes me, or I never knew it, that eats the tongue from another certain fish, whose name escapes me, too, and then this nasty fish takes the place of the tongue and is fed by the host as the two work together in the act of mastication.
Now the problem with trying to understand god in a messianic religion, especially one that it part of the western tradition is, no matter how hard one tries, is one is stuck in the mindset that there is a beginning and an end. Whatever lip service one gives to the all encompassing Unconditional we here in the west limit it by time, consciously or not. I would venture to guess that any one brainwashed in this culture and these religions would have a much less chance of having an understanding the Unconditional than one brought up in the timelessness of a non western, non messianic religion. And beyond that those who believe in a “founder’s” religion would, too, have a difficult time exploring the depths of absolute by the mere fact that religion is defined (limited) through the teachings of the founder.
Telomeres, the region of DNA at the end of a chromosome that protects the start of the genetic coding sequence against shortening during successive replications gets shorter and shorter as one ages. If one could stop the shortening of the telomeres, could we live forever, except, of course, being the consequence of an fatal accident. Oh, yes, telomeres shorten faster due to stress and lack of exercise…. maybe. Telomeres and Teletubbies are similar but are not the same.
Finally, for every one swordfish caught four blue sharks are hooked and killed. Because there are not that many swordfish caught this particular way it is called a “sustainable” sword fish harvest but if it were called “blue shark fishing” it would not be sustainable. Remember that when looking a the “sustainable harvest” sign above the swordfish at Whole Foods.

James R said...

I agree with your assessment of the difficulties in messianic and founder religions, and western thought in general in seeking a concept of God. As I mention with St. Anselm (the next part), we have a harder time given our Greek and Roman traditions. Additionally, and I apologize that this list will have a western slant, if for no other reason than the accident of my birth. But I do include some non western definitions from non western religions in the top ten. (How could I not?) I wish I had the expertise to include more. Also, throughout the whole list we will constantly deal with, or should I say struggle with, time. I agree it is immensely important and, for us, immensely difficult to 'think different' about.

Your comment on the limitation of founder religions also struck a chord. I occasionally get the feeling that some Christian theologians seem to awkwardly append the Christian myth onto otherwise eastern metaphysics.