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About God

Part 3: How concepts of God have developed:
God's shrinking role. God's survival. Conclusions.

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See also an earlier essay about concepts of God:
Fertililty religions, monotheism, polytheism, etc.

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The shrinking role of God:

Five hundred years ago, supernatural beings played a major role in the world. For example:

bulletThe earth was the center of the universe. Angels pushed the stars, planets and moon across the sky.

bulletGod controlled the weather and the changing of the seasons. He sometimes set aside natural laws and created miracles.

bulletDemons caused damaging hail, mental illnesses, and physical disease -- often in punishment for sin.

But then science grew from infancy and started to explain the true, natural causes of many phenomenon. Bishop Spong comments that "The theistic God first became the gap-filler, explaining things that humans could not." 1 (He defines the theistic God as "a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside this world and invading the world periodically to accomplish the divine will.") 2

With the advent of such major scientific advances as Newton's laws of physics, the germ theory of disease, Darwin's theory of evolution, Einstein's laws of relativity, critical analysis of the Bible, archaeological discoveries in Palestine, etc., these gaps started to fill up. Academic Michael D. Goulder boldly observed: "God no longer has any work to do." Bishop Spong notes that "The theistic god is becoming irrelevant with no real purpose. Theistic power has become impotent...Theism is dying." 7

We have seen an accelerating march towards secularism for the past few decades. Friedrich Nietsche proclaimed the death of the theistic God in the 19th century. Some radical theologians picked up the theme in the 1960s. It is finally being accepted by large numbers of people. Spong suggests that as people abandon their belief in a personal, protective God, that the anxiety experienced by our ancient ancestors is returning. He notes increasing addiction to caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, other addictive drugs, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. He also notes an increase in the suicide rate, mass murders, and road rage as byproducts as a death in belief of a theistic God. Polls regularly show that about 40% of American adults say they attend religious services weekly; data from Canada is about half that. These same polls show that that attendance is dropping. A particlarly ominous sign is that on the order of 60% of older teenagers and young adults abandon their religious affiliation. 3,4

 

The actual situation is more serious for the future of religion. People tend to lie when asked motherhood-type questions by pollsters. In reality, actual nose counting reveals that only about 20% of American adults and 10% of Canadian adults regularly attend a church, mosque, synagogue, temple or other religious service weekly. Meanwhile the NOTAS -- those who accept None Of The Above religionS are steadily increasing in numbers.

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Can God survive in a postmodern, post-Darwinian world?

Atheism is one possible choice for people who have abandoned belief in a theistic God. Atheists have no belief in the existence of a supernatural deity.  According to American Atheists, 9% of adults in the U.S. no longer have a belief in God. 5 According to an Ipsos-Reid poll released on 2000-APR-21, about 14% of Canadian adults are Atheists;  6

Agnosticism is another option. The same Ipsos-Reid poll found that 2% of Canadian adults are Agnostics. A City University of New York found that the percentage of Agnostics in the U.S. ranged from 0.0% in Delaware and Louisiana, to 3% in Kentucky. Other national surveys have put the percentage between 0.7 and 5%

Bishop Spong argues that there is another response to the loss in belief in a personal theistic God. He suggests that belief in a non-theistic God can continue -- a God with the following descriptions:

bulletLove is God.

bulletGod is in each individual.

bulletGod "is a symbol of that which is immortal, invisible, timeless." 7

bullet"God is Being -- the reality underlying everything that is." 8

But he suggests that a number of historical Christian beliefs and practices must be dropped -- or at least be totally redefined. These include:

bullet God as a personal deity -- supernatural or otherwise.

bulletThe virgin birth.

bulletThe incarnation.

bulletThe atonement.

bullet The "fall" of Adam and Eve.

bulletOriginal sin.

bulletThe miracles of Jesus.

bulletThe resurrection of Jesus.

bulletThe ascension of Jesus to Heaven.

bulletThe Trinity.

bulletPrayer.

He admits that Christianity might not be able to make the transition from a theistic to a non-theistic God. It might be destroyed by the changes required.

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Conclusions:

bulletMany mental health professionals believe that, with the possible exception of their own personal faith, all religions were originally created by humans in order to alleviate their chronic anxiety. Their angst was created by their feelings of helplessness in a dangerous universe, their lack of control of the environment, and the knowledge of their own impending deaths.

bulletMost people, whether they follow Animism, a fertility religion, Neopaganism, or a monotheistic, polytheistic, or henotheistic religion believe that their own religion is accurate:
bulletTheir own God(s) and/or Goddess(es) are real, but the deities of other religions are false.

bulletTheir own religious texts were inspired by their God. They alone know the true attributes of God. God revealed to them alone his expectations for his followers. God give them alone the correct behavior and moral codes to be followed. The religious texts of other religions are works of fiction, written by humans, and partly or fully in error.
bulletOne source states that there are 19 major world religions, which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and tens of thousands of  smaller ones (including 34,000 separate Christian faith groups). 9 These tens of thousands of theistic faith traditions teach different beliefs about deity, moral codes, behavioral codes, etc.
bulletIf God exists, then only one group, at most, can reflect his will.


bulletIf God does not exist, as some Atheists believe and some Agnostics suspect, then none of the tens of thousands of theistic faith traditions are valid.
bullet The chances of a given person belonging to God's "true" religious institution is rather small. Some people are willing to accept this conclusion. However, most are quite certain that their faith tradition is the one that is God's. Sadly, many find it quite difficult to extend equal human rights to members of other religions. A few are quite capable of denying human rights to, and even killing, those that they consider to be infidels in order to further what they perceive to be their God's wishes.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. J.S. Spong, "A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being Born," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001), Pages 53. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Ibid, Page 22 & 23.
  3. "Table 3-1: Religious Composition of State Populations, 1990 (%). Self-identification of religious loyalty, phone survey w/ 113,000 people; by City U. of New York" cited in: Kosmin, B. & S. Lachman, "One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society," Harmony Books, (1993), Pages 88-93. See Ref. 13.
  4. Adherents.com has collected results from a number of surveys at: http://www.adherents.com/Na_12.html
  5. The American Atheists home page is at http://www.atheists.org/
  6. "Canada: A Nation of Believers," Ipsos-Reid, at: http://www.angusreid.com/media/
  7. Adherents.com has collected results from a number of surveys at: http://www.adherents.com/Na_12.html
  8. Op cit. Spong, Page 71.
  9. David Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book.

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Copyright © 2001 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-OCT-7
Latest update: 2011-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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