The Concept of God
Creation myths and religious beliefs are a universal human trait. As old as mankind itself is man's desire to know or understand his Creator. Who are we? And how did we get here? An examination of the concept of God and man's universal quest for transcendent discovery.
The structural foundations of God and religion stem from man’s desire to understand himself and the world around him. So great is man’s need to believe in something greater than the self, that humankind has continually invested its faith in fulfilling the purposes of cosmic, supernatural forces which mankind itself has manifested. So desperate is man’s need to fulfill a purpose, that religion becomes central to hope, focus, direction, and knowledge. Yet man’s misinterpretation of religion has also served as breeding grounds for hatred, fear, intolerance, and war.
God’s name is everywhere. Not just in churches, synagogues, and mosques, but in schools, prisons, and public buildings. On monuments, in written law, in government documents, even on the face of the American dollar, the currency of a country which prides itself on the separation of church and state. Historians and scholars all over the world have searched for, read, interpreted, re-interpreted, and debated the religious scriptures which allegedly decree God’s word. God is worshipped. God is disputed. God is accepted, God is denied. God is celebrated through artwork and music. God is loved and feared. God is a source of strength and an inspiration to billions. And more lives have been taken in the name of God than in the name of any other cause known to man.
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines God as: “The Supreme Being, creator and ruler of the universe, conceived of as eternal, omniscient, good, and almighty.”
The Old Testament depicts God as a vengeful ruler, one who is jealous, almighty, and quick to punish the infidels. Yet in the New Testament, God is seen as a loving, kind, and benevolent Father. In the Qur’an, Allāh is viewed as a powerful and universal deity, and emphasis is placed on God’s oneness. While many Christians believe in God as a three-part structure – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Muslims reject the concept of the Holy Trinity, viewing it as polytheism. Many forms of Hinduism suggest that God takes on multiple human forms in order to help people through troublesome times. Zorastrianism, a Middle Eastern religion which pre-dates Islam, reveres Ahura Mazda as the one universal and transcendant God, the Creator of truth and order. In many indigenous religions throughout the world, God is referred to as “The Great Spirit” or “The Master of Life.” The Baha’i Faith, which teaches the oneness of all world religions, defines God as “an unknowable force.”
Irrespective of religious differences, world religions, for the most part, consider God to be all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, omnicient, omnipresent, and just. Yet millions have asked the question, “How could an all-knowing, all-loving Creator allow such evil to occur in the world?” People of faith often dispute this common question with the argument of “free will.” God gave man free will to choose between good and evil. In Christianity, this question is often answered with the story of Lucifer, God’s fallen angel who fell from faith and so, from Heaven. Christians now have a choice between good and evil; the path they choose will determine their eternal place in the afterlife: to live in peace and harmony in God’s kingdom of Heaven, or to burn in agony forever in the fires of Satan’s hell. So the choice lies within the consciences of men. Yet many skeptics can not help but ask the question, “Why?” And indeed, why would an all-knowing, all-loving Father create something he supposedly loves, yet give this creation such a capacity for evil? In the eyes and minds of the religious, these questions can only be answered with one word: “faith.” We can not know God’s master plan, they reason, so we must have faith.
What is faith? And why is it so important? Faith. Belief. Why? Why does man strive so hard to gain an acceptance of that which he can not know? Why does man have such an unquenchable desire to gain an understanding of that from which he came?
As old as mankind itself is the desire to explain our existance. Primitive foundings of religion date back before recorded history. Tales of man’s creation were encrypted on the walls of caves. Early Native Americans told tales of the earth’s creation; one such tale states that the world was born on the back of a turtle. One Aboriginal creation myth states that God sent the Sun Mother to earth to awaken the earthly spirits; her warmth melted ice into rivers and streams and gave birth to plants, animals, and eventually, to man. Early Greek mythology spins stories of multiple gods and goddesses who existed in a microcosmic universe; these deities held character traits and flaws very similar to those of humans, only they had the power to wield alongside their earthly desires. Pagan religions celebrate Mother Earth as the Creator of all, and prayers are offered to the sun and moon. Abrahamic traditions often believe in the story of Adam and Eve. Science has developed theories of its own, including the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory.
Regardless of culture, tradition, faith or disbelief, the development of creation myths is universal. Just as orphaned infants grow up to yearn for some knowledge of their biological parents, humankind yearns to discover that from which it came. This desire has given birth to countless manifestations of beliefs.
Why is it that humankind can not simply accept its existence? We are here; that’s really all that is for certain. Why can man not accept his unexplained condition, and simply devote himself to living life the best he can while he is here? So much effort has been devoted to uncovering the secret of God; one can not help but wonder where the world would be now if all of that time had been invested, not in the never-ending quest for transcendent discovery, but in the condition of humanity itself?
So powerful is man’s faith in that which he believes, that faith itself has been the cause of immeasurable bloodshed. Holy wars are waged all over the globe. Religious intolerance is the cause of insurmountable violence and devastation. Today, we look at holy wars as a thing of the past: the Crusades, the Spanish inquisition. Yet from the Jewish Holocaust to the Rwandan genocide to the present-day situation between Israel and Palestine, our very own generations have seen just as much bloodshed caused by intolerance as have our ancestors in the days of old. How did we come to this?
It is not the scriptures themselves that cause such attrocity, but rather, man’s misinterpretation of them. Indeed, if all of mankind were to live their lives by the words of Moses, Jesus, or Mohammad, we would all be living in relative peace and harmony; the ten commandments are by no means a “bad” prescription for life. Yet man is seemingly incapable of living by these words; it all turns into a contest of “My religion is right, and your religion is wrong, and might makes right!” Faith is therefore taken to a level which could not possibly have been the intention of the prophets who spoke of such messages as peace, love, and unity.
Thus, many have argued that the world would be better off without the concept of God and religion entirely. Others argue that religion has served as the founding principles of charity and good will. Yet what role does motivation play in all of this? Do people help people out of love for humanity, or to earn brownie points with God? Are missionaries really out to save the souls of the so-called heathens, or are they just attempting to earn their own tickets into the gateways of heaven? Or at the end of the day, does it even matter? If someone’s desire to earn brownie points with God results in food donations to starving children in under-developed countries, is the initial motivation really important? If a missionary’s quest brings inspiration to the hopeless, why should intention matter?
The real issue, as we move forward in this century, is not the structural origins of God, but rather, how these messages can best be utilized to better the course of humanity. With or without faith, the words of the prophets are a force to be reckoned with. Yet so long as world leaders continue to wield their faith as weapons, this overly-utopian ideal will remain to be seen.