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In monotheism and henotheism, God is conceived as the Supreme Being and principal object of faith. The concept of God as described by theologians commonly includes the attributes of omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, while in deism, God is the creator, but not the sustainer, of the universe. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God or in the oneness of God. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. In atheism, God does not exist, while God is deemed unknown or unknowable within the context of agnosticism. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the "greatest conceivable existent". Many notable medieval philosophers and modern philosophers have developed arguments for and against the existence of God.
There are many names for God, and different names are attached to different cultural ideas about God's identity and attributes. In the ancient Egyptian era of Atenism, possibly the earliest recorded monotheistic religion, this deity was called Aten, premised on being the one "true" Supreme Being and Creator of the Universe. In the Hebrew Bible and Judaism, "He Who Is", "I Am that I Am", and the tetragrammaton YHWH are used as names of God, while Yahweh and Jehovah are sometimes used in Christianity as vocalizations of YHWH. In Judaism, it is common to refer to God by the titular names Elohim or Adonai, the latter of which is believed by some scholars to descend from the Egyptian Aten. In Islam, the name Allah, "Al-El", or "Al-Elah" ("the God") is used, while Muslims also have a multitude of titular names for God. In Hinduism, Brahman is often considered a monistic deity. Other religions have names for God, for instance, Baha in the Bahá'í Faith, Waheguru in Sikhism, and Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism.
The many different conceptions of God, and competing claims as to God's characteristics, aims, and actions, have led to the development of ideas of omnitheism, pandeism, or a perennial philosophy, which postulates that there is one underlying theological truth, of which all religions express a partial understanding, and as to which "the devout in the various great world religions are in fact worshipping that one God, but through different, overlapping concepts or mental images of him."
- Etymology and usage 1
General conceptions 2
- Oneness 2.1
- Theism, deism and pantheism 2.2
- Other concepts 2.3
Non-theistic views of God 3
- Anthropomorphism 3.1
- Existence of God 4
Specific attributes 5
- Names 5.1
- Gender 5.2
- Relationship with creation 5.3
- Theological approaches 6
- Distribution of belief in God 7
See also 8
- In specific religions 8.1
- References 9
- Further reading 10
- External links 11
Etymology and usage
The earliest written form of the Germanic word God (always, in this usage, capitalized) comes from the 6th-century Christian Codex Argenteus. The English word itself is derived from the Proto-Germanic * ǥuđan. The reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form * ǵhu-tó-m was likely based on the root * ǵhau(ə)-, which meant either "to call" or "to invoke". The Germanic words for God were originally neuter—applying to both genders—but during the process of the Christianization of the Germanic peoples from their indigenous Germanic paganism, the words became a masculine syntactic form.
In the English language, the capitalized form of God continues to represent a distinction between monotheistic "God" and "gods" in polytheism. The English word God and its counterparts in other languages are normally used for any and all conceptions and, in spite of significant differences between religions, the term remains an English translation common to all. The same holds for Hebrew El, but in Judaism, God is also given a proper name, the tetragrammaton YHWH, in origin the name of an Edomite or Midianite deity, Yahweh. In many translations of the Bible, when the word LORD is in all capitals, it signifies that the word represents the tetragrammaton. Allāh (Arabic: الله) is the Arabic term with no plural used by Muslims and Arabic speaking Christians and Jews meaning "The God" (with a capital G), while "ʾilāh" (Arabic: إله) is the term used for a deity or a god in general. God may also be given a proper name in monotheistic currents of Hinduism which emphasize the personal nature of God, with early references to his name as Krishna-Vasudeva in Bhagavata or later Vishnu and Hari.
There is no clear consensus on the nature of God. The Abrahamic conceptions of God include the monotheistic definition of God in Judaism, the trinitarian view of Christians, and the Islamic concept of God. The dharmic religions differ in their view of the divine: views of God in Hinduism vary by region, sect, and caste, ranging from monotheistic to polytheistic to atheistic. Divinity was recognized by the historical Buddha, particularly Śakra and Brahma. However, other sentient beings, including gods, can at best only play a supportive role in one's personal path to salvation. Conceptions of God in the latter developments of the Mahayana tradition give a more prominent place to notions of the divine.
Monotheists hold that there is only one god, and may claim that the one true god is worshiped in different religions under different names. The view that all theists actually worship the same god, whether they know it or not, is especially emphasized in Hinduism and Sikhism.
Islam's most fundamental concept is tawhid (meaning "oneness" or "uniqueness"). God is described in the Quran as: "Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." Muslims repudiate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and divinity of Jesus, comparing it to polytheism. In Islam, God is beyond all comprehension or equal and does not resemble any of his creations in any way. Thus, Muslims are not iconodules, and are not expected to visualize God.
Theism, deism and pantheism
Theism generally holds that God exists realistically, objectively, and independently of human thought; that God created and sustains everything; that God is omnipotent and eternal; and that God is personal and interacting with the universe through, for example, religious experience and the prayers of humans. Theism holds that God is both transcendent and immanent; thus, God is simultaneously infinite and in some way present in the affairs of the world. Not all theists subscribe to all of these propositions, but each usually subscribes to some of them (see, by way of comparison, family resemblance). Catholic theology holds that God is infinitely simple and is not involuntarily subject to time. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, although this belief raises questions about God's responsibility for evil and suffering in the world. Some theists ascribe to God a self-conscious or purposeful limiting of omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Open Theism, by contrast, asserts that, due to the nature of time, God's omniscience does not mean the deity can predict the future. Theism is sometimes used to refer in general to any belief in a god or gods, i.e., monotheism or polytheism.
Deism holds that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world beyond what was necessary to create it. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and neither answers prayers nor produces miracles. Common in Deism is a belief that God has no interest in humanity and may not even be aware of humanity. Pandeism and Panendeism, respectively, combine Deism with the Pantheistic or Panentheistic beliefs. Pandeism is proposed to explain as to Deism why God would create a universe and then abandon it, and as to Pantheism, the origin and purpose of the universe.
Pantheism holds that God is the universe and the universe is God, whereas Panentheism holds that God contains, but is not identical to, the Universe. It is also the view of the Liberal Catholic Church; Theosophy; some views of Hinduism except Vaishnavism, which believes in panentheism; Sikhism; some divisions of Neopaganism and Taoism, along with many varying denominations and individuals within denominations. Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, paints a pantheistic/panentheistic view of God—which has wide acceptance in Hasidic Judaism, particularly from their founder The Baal Shem Tov—but only as an addition to the Jewish view of a personal god, not in the original pantheistic sense that denies or limits persona to God.
Dystheism, which is related to theodicy, is a form of theism which holds that God is either not wholly good or is fully malevolent as a consequence of the problem of evil. One such example comes from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, in which Ivan Karamazov rejects God on the grounds that he allows children to suffer. Another example would be Theistic Satanism.
In modern times, some more abstract concepts have been developed, such as process theology and open theism. The contemporaneous French philosopher Michel Henry has however proposed a phenomenological approach and definition of God as phenomenological essence of Life.
God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the "greatest conceivable existent". These attributes were all supported to varying degrees by the early Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologian philosophers, including Maimonides, Augustine of Hippo, and Al-Ghazali, respectively.
Non-theistic views of God
Nontheism holds that the universe can be explained without any reference to the supernatural, or to a supernatural being. Some non-theists avoid the concept of God, whilst accepting that it is significant to many; other non-theists understand God as a symbol of human values and aspirations. The nineteenth-century English atheist Charles Bradlaugh declared that he refused to say "There is no God", because "the word 'God' is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation"; he said more specifically that he disbelieved in the Christian god. Stephen Jay Gould proposed an approach dividing the world of philosophy into what he called "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA). In this view, questions of the supernatural, such as those relating to the existence and nature of God, are non-empirical and are the proper domain of theology. The methods of science should then be used to answer any empirical question about the natural world, and theology should be used to answer questions about ultimate meaning and moral value. In this view, the perceived lack of any empirical footprint from the magisterium of the supernatural onto natural events makes science the sole player in the natural world.
Another view, advanced by Richard Dawkins, is that the existence of God is an empirical question, on the grounds that "a universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference." Carl Sagan argued that the doctrine of a Creator of the Universe was difficult to prove or disprove and that the only conceivable scientific discovery that could disprove the existence of a Creator would be the discovery that the universe is infinitely old.
Stephen Hawking and co-author Leonard Mlodinow state in their book, The Grand Design, that it is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God. Both authors claim however, that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings. Neuroscientist Michael Nikoletseas has proposed that questions of the existence of God are no different from questions of natural sciences. Following a biological comparative approach, he concludes that it is highly probable that God exists, and, although not visible, it is possible that we know some of his attributes.
Pascal Boyer argues that while there is a wide array of supernatural concepts found around the world, in general, supernatural beings tend to behave much like people. The construction of gods and spirits like persons is one of the best known traits of religion. He cites examples from Greek mythology, which is, in his opinion, more like a modern soap opera than other religious systems. Bertrand du Castel and Timothy Jurgensen demonstrate through formalization that Boyer's explanatory model matches physics' epistemology in positing not directly observable entities as intermediaries. Anthropologist Stewart Guthrie contends that people project human features onto non-human aspects of the world because it makes those aspects more familiar. Sigmund Freud also suggested that god concepts are projections of one's father.
Likewise, Émile Durkheim was one of the earliest to suggest that gods represent an extension of human social life to include supernatural beings. In line with this reasoning, psychologist Matt Rossano contends that when humans began living in larger groups, they may have created gods as a means of enforcing morality. In small groups, morality can be enforced by social forces such as gossip or reputation. However, it is much harder to enforce morality using social forces in much larger groups. Rossano indicates that by including ever-watchful gods and spirits, humans discovered an effective strategy for restraining selfishness and building more cooperative groups.
Existence of God
Countless arguments have been proposed in attempt to prove the existence of God. Some of the most notable arguments are the Five Ways of Aquinas, the Argument from Desire proposed by C.S. Lewis, and the Ontological Argument formulated both by St. Anselm and Descartes. Even among theists, these proofs are debated, and some, such as the Ontological Argument, are highly controversial. Aquinas spends a section of his treatise on God refuting St. Anselm's proof.
St. Anselm's approach was to define God as, "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". Famed pantheist philosopher Baruch Spinoza would later carry this idea to its extreme: "By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence." For Spinoza, the whole of the natural universe is made of one substance, God, or its equivalent, Nature. His proof for the existence of God was a variation of the Ontological argument.
Some theologians, such as the scientist and theologian A.E. McGrath, argue that the existence of God is not a question that can be answered using the scientific method. Agnostic Stephen Jay Gould argues that science and religion are not in conflict and do not overlap.
There are many philosophical issues concerning the existence of God. Some definitions of God are nonspecific, while others can be self-contradictory. Arguments for the existence of God typically include metaphysical, empirical, inductive, and subjective types, while others revolve around the order and complexity in the world and perceived holes in evolutionary theory.
Arguments against the existence of God typically include empirical, deductive, and inductive types. Conclusions reached include views that: "God does not exist" (strong atheism); "God almost certainly does not exist" (de facto atheism); "no one knows whether God exists" (agnosticism); "God exists, but this cannot be proven or disproven" (weak theism); and that "God exists and this can be proven" (strong theism). There are numerous variations on these positions.
Different religious traditions assign differing (though often similar) attributes and characteristics to God, including expansive powers and abilities, psychological characteristics, gender characteristics, and preferred nomenclature. The assignment of these attributes often differs according to the conceptions of God in the culture from which they arise. For example, attributes of God in Christianity, attributes of God in Islam, and the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy in Judaism share certain similarities arising from their common roots.
The word God is "one of the most complex and difficult in the English language." In the Judeo-Christian tradition, "the Bible has been the principal source of the conceptions of God". That the Bible "includes many different images, concepts, and ways of thinking about" God has resulted in perpetual "disagreements about how God is to be conceived and understood".
Throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles there are many names for God. One of them is Elohim. Another one is El Shaddai, meaning "God Almighty". A third notable name is El Elyon, which means "The Most High God".
God is described and referred in the Quran and hadith by certain names or attributes, the most common being Al-Rahman, meaning "Most Compassionate" and Al-Rahim, meaning "Most Merciful" (See Names of God in Islam).
The gender of God may be viewed as either a literal or an allegorical aspect of a deity who, in classical western philosophy, transcends bodily form. Polytheistic religions commonly attribute to each of the gods a gender, allowing each to interact with any of the others, and perhaps with humans, sexually. In most monotheistic religions, God has no counterpart with which to relate sexually. Thus, in classical western philosophy the gender of this one-and-only deity is most likely to be an analogical statement of how humans and God address, and relate to, each other. Namely, God is seen as begetter of the world and revelation which corresponds to the active (as opposed to the receptive) role in sexual intercourse.
Biblical sources usually characterise God as male, except Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 123:2-3, and Luke 15:8-10 (female); Hosea 11:3-4, Deuteronomy 32:18, Isaiah 66:13, Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 42:14, Psalm 131:2 (a mother); Deuteronomy 32:11-12 (a mother eagle); and Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 (a mother hen).
Relationship with creation
hadith states God would replace a sinless people with one who sinned but still asked repentance. Christian theologian Alister McGrath writes that there are good reasons to suggest that a "personal god" is integral to the Christian outlook, but that one has to understand it is an analogy. "To say that God is like a person is to affirm the divine ability and willingness to relate to others. This does not imply that God is human, or located at a specific point in the universe."
Adherents of different religions generally disagree as to how to best worship God and what is God's plan for mankind, if there is one. There are different approaches to reconciling the contradictory claims of monotheistic religions. One view is taken by exclusivists, who believe they are the chosen people or have exclusive access to absolute truth, generally through revelation or encounter with the Divine, which adherents of other religions do not. Another view is religious pluralism. A pluralist typically believes that his religion is the right one, but does not deny the partial truth of other religions. An example of a pluralist view in Christianity is supersessionism, i.e., the belief that one's religion is the fulfillment of previous religions. A third approach is relativistic inclusivism, where everybody is seen as equally right; an example being universalism: the doctrine that salvation is eventually available for everyone. A fourth approach is syncretism, mixing different elements from different religions. An example of syncretism is the New Age movement.
Theologians and philosophers have attributed to God such characteristics as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, perfect goodness, divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. God has been described as incorporeal, a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the greatest conceivable being existent. These attributes were all claimed to varying degrees by the early Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars, including Maimonides, St Augustine, and Al-Ghazali.
Many medieval philosophers developed arguments for the existence of God, while attempting to comprehend the precise implications of God's attributes. Reconciling some of those attributes generated important philosophical problems and debates. For example, God's omniscience may seem to imply that God knows how free agents will choose to act. If God does know this, their ostensible free will might be illusory, or foreknowledge does not imply predestination, and if God does not know it, God may not be omniscient.
However, if by its essential nature, free will is not predetermined, then the effect of its will can never be perfectly predicted by anyone, regardless of intelligence and knowledge. Although knowledge of the options presented to that will, combined with perfectly infinite intelligence, could be said to provide God with omniscience if omniscience is defined as knowledge or understanding of all that is.
The last centuries of philosophy have seen vigorous questions regarding the arguments for God's existence raised by such philosophers as Immanuel Kant, David Hume and Antony Flew, although Kant held that the argument from morality was valid. The theist response has been either to contend, as does Alvin Plantinga, that faith is "properly basic", or to take, as does Richard Swinburne, the evidentialist position. Some theists agree that none of the arguments for God's existence are compelling, but argue that faith is not a product of reason, but requires risk. There would be no risk, they say, if the arguments for God's existence were as solid as the laws of logic, a position summed up by Pascal as "the heart has reasons of which reason does not know." A recent theory using concepts from physics and neurophysiology proposes that God can be conceptualized within the theory of integrative level.
Distribution of belief in God
- God (male deity)
- God the Father
- God the Father in Western art
- List of deities
- Pantheon (gods)
- Science and God
In specific religions
- God in Buddhism
- God in Christianity
- God in Gnosticism
- God in Hinduism
- God in Islam
- God in Jainism
- God in Judaism
- God in Sikhism
- God in the Baha'i Faith
- God in Caodaism
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- Concept of God in Christianity
- Concept of God in Islam
- God Christian perspective
- Hindu Concept of God
- Jewish Literacy
- Mystical view of God
- Relation of God to the Universe