Friday, March 1, 2013

The Top Ten Definitions of God - 8

8. There is No God but God 
—The Qur'an, 610-632 A.D. 
Islam in many ways remains the least complicated of the major religions. Central to Islam is the oneness of God—no human attributes, no dimensions in time or space, no personalities, no images—Islam still emphasizes what God is not, not what God is. It could be argued that no definition better expresses God. As Reza Aslan says in his book titled the same as the definition, "Even the Quran . . . lacks the capacity to shed light upon God's essence. As one Sufi master has argued, why spend time reading a love letter . . . in the presence of the Beloved who wrote it?"

Islam may say it best, but I suspect (without studying every one) all religions contain this denial of knowing or understanding God. Buddhism even takes this a step further to the point where it is unclear if there is a God. For all other religions which profess the fundamental inscrutability of God, that's an enviable goal to follow. Religion is contradictory. What could be more so than Hinduism with its panoply of gods, and yet in Hindu writings one of the most common phrases is "neti, neti", not this, not this. In Christianity a central statement is the Apostles' Creed which begins "I believe" followed by a whole litany of objective truths about God. This completely contradicts practically all church leaders including Thomas Aquinas who said things like "We cannot know in what consists the essence of God". "There is no God but God" tries to counteract all the idolatries which inevitably keep popping up when you are trying to defined the undefinable.

In the spirit of Lent, the time when we interrupt our normal routine, this definition invites us to apostatize all our images and ideas of God, both from childhood and later study. A person—out; a being—out; creator—out; perfect—out; omniscient—out; omnipresent—out; great—out; vast tapioca pudding—out. And why not? We know for certain that our image of God is wrong. Once we can truly grasp this Islamic definition, then others will come easier and make more sense.

In good Islamic tradition I must include a few sufi quotes on God:
"Silence is the language of God,
all else is poor translation."   — Rumi

"Whatever you think concerning God—know that he is different from that!"   — Ahmad Ibn Ata'Allah

"What limits God? His name."   — Hazrat Inayat Khan

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James R said...

I'd like to add a couple of interesting discoveries I've made since I wrote the 'Top Ten Definitions of God', which seem to fit here. The first aligns with the "giving up" one's ideas of God for Lent. Fordham philosophy professor Merold Westphal (Why does Fordham have more than its share of good philosophy professors?) wrote a book called Suspicion of Faith, which became the basis for Peter Rollins' "Atheism For Lent". Basically, it is a call to read the severest critics of Christianity and religion, not to rebut them but to learn and address the things they criticize.

Secondly, something which has been addressed over and over again on this blog, especially by Myk— namely, the importance of the recognition of ignorance and uncertainty—is implicitly and explicitly referenced in this list of differing definitions of God. Everything here is about ignorance and uncertainty, which is a good thing. It seems that someone has been reading the blog, or at least Myk, and has a remarkable Ted lecture which brings it to a new level. Don't miss this lecture.

James R said...

Hmmm . . . the first try at a link did not take. Let me try again: Here is an interesting Ted lecture on ignorance and uncertainty.

James R said...

Third times the charm for This Link