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kuwisdelu
03-03-2014, 11:47 PM
I know we already have a God thread, but I mean this to be more of a god thread.

Basically, what is a god anyway, especially when comparing different belief systems?

Generally, when one talks about (a) god, the default assumption tends to be the monotheistic one, of a Supreme Being, who is omniscient and omnipotent.

But what about other conceptions of gods and goddesses? At what point can we call a supernatural being a "god" as opposed to something else? Can a powerless god be a god?

If something is worshipped, is that enough for it to be a god? If something is prayed to, is that enough for it to be a god? If that worship or prayer is ceased, does it cease to be a god?

What separates a "god" from other supernatural entities?

gothicangel
03-04-2014, 12:42 AM
If something is worshipped, is that enough for it to be a god? If something is prayed to, is that enough for it to be a god? If that worship or prayer is ceased, does it cease to be a god?



I would argue that in Graeco-Roman religion, the gods where not 'worshipped', but something to appease to prevent something bad happening. You went to the local shrine of a water nymph, and tossed in a votive to persuade her not to send heavy rains that would ruin your crops.

I think worship is an idea that comes from Judeo-Christian (and Islam) traditions.

kuwisdelu
03-04-2014, 12:47 AM
I would argue that in Graeco-Roman religion, the gods where not 'worshipped', but something to appease to prevent something bad happening. You went to the local shrine of a water nymph, and tossed in a votive to persuade her not to send heavy rains that would ruin your crops.

I think worship is an idea that comes from Judeo-Christian (and Islam) traditions.

Good point, which also raises the question of what exactly constitutes worship.

In Christianity, people often pray to saints and revere them, but this apparently does not constitute worship.

robjvargas
03-04-2014, 12:54 AM
A god, somewhat like spirits, is an explanation of apparently intelligent/random action in the world around. Does the weather seem malicious or capricious of late? There's a god for that.

The universe has shape, form, and pattern. Something that alters that must be a being.

kuwisdelu
03-04-2014, 01:50 AM
A god, somewhat like spirits, is an explanation of apparently intelligent/random action in the world around. Does the weather seem malicious or capricious of late? There's a god for that.

The universe has shape, form, and pattern. Something that alters that must be a being.

A problematic issue with this definition is that it's anthropogenic, and comes with the implicit assumption that the god(s) in question do not exist, so you are defining them in terms of why humans imagined them.

Is it possible to express a similar idea in terms of something inherent to gods, rather than what we attribute to them?

Moreover, if a god no longer interferes with the world, does the god remain a god? What separates a god from other interfering spirits and supernatural entities?

RichardGarfinkle
03-04-2014, 02:07 AM
I tend to think of gods as personifications of processes either human or natural. So that (to start in Greek) Athena is wisdom in action. Eros is Love. Etc. In the case of monotheistic religions, the God involved is essentially all ways things happen.

But, as an atheist, I don't regard these as actual external beings, rather human conceptions of how things work. On the other hand when writing books or running RPGs, I usually use this idea as the basis for any theism in my worlds.

kuwisdelu
03-04-2014, 02:29 AM
I tend to think of gods as personifications of processes either human or natural. So that (to start in Greek) Athena is wisdom in action. Eros is Love. Etc. In the case of monotheistic religions, the God involved is essentially all ways things happen.

What is was thinking about when I started this thread is "what is the difference between gods and supernatural beings who are not gods?"

In many polytheistic religions (and monotheistic ones!), where supernatural spirits abound, the line between what is a god and what is not a god sometimes becomes unclear. Such religions and mythologies often include supernatural beings who may even fulfill the role of personifying natural phenomena, but who may not be considered gods.

For example, in the Judeo-Christian religions, there are angels, which are supernatural beings with power greater than humans, yet they are not considered gods. Why are angels not gods?

I guess part of my question is if it's even possible to convey the idea of a "god" across cultures, or if this is a problem of language, or whether we think about the sacred and supernatural in fundamentally different ways?

Maybe it's not a distinction that matters to an atheist?

RichardGarfinkle
03-04-2014, 03:03 AM
Whether it matters depends on the atheist. I've always been interested in religions, and I do find the question interesting.

The question of whether a spirit is a god is a tricky one. Theologically, an angel is quite literally a messenger, so its actions are conveying the actions of another being. A saint, in Catholicism is a dead human privileged to ask for intercession from God. In both of these cases, the divine being who acts is God, the secondary spirts are respectively bearers of messages wnd requesters for intercession. But in terms of practical everyday religion, Angels bring blessings, and Saints receive prayers. So, what matters more the theology or the way people live their religious lives?

Note: An even bigger can of worms exists in Buddhism with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

There's also the degeneration of gods into lesser spirits as folklore changes. The turning of Celtic myths into fairy stories over the centuries has shrunk deities down into oddities.

Siri Kirpal
03-04-2014, 03:03 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Not being a person who has much experience with "gods," my best guess is that a god has powers that humans don't.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

kuwisdelu
03-04-2014, 03:18 AM
The question of whether a spirit is a god is a tricky one. Theologically, an angel is quite literally a messenger, so its actions are conveying the actions of another being. A saint, in Catholicism is a dead human privileged to ask for intercession from God. In both of these cases, the divine being who acts is God, the secondary spirts are respectively bearers of messages wnd requesters for intercession. But in terms of practical everyday religion, Angels bring blessings, and Saints receive prayers. So, what matters more the theology or the way people live their religious lives?

And yet Hermes/Mercury is also literally a messenger for the gods, but is also a god himself.

As for what matters more, what matters to me, in terms of why I started this thread, is communicating ideas across different religions and cultures, and understanding how other people understand the idea of gods and goddesses.

In a comparative religious discussion, I often find myself struggling with what to call certain spiritual beings, when the word "god" is so loaded with Judeo-Christian baggage and implications, and the idea I want to convey is radically different from that concept of a god. Likewise, I often find myself floundering when trying to understand what another person means when they describe other polytheistic gods. The word "god" is so inadequate and vague.

I'm also curious about what exactly constitutes "worship," since that's a big sticking point with the Judeo-Christian god, yet as gothicangel points out, there are many religions where I would hardly characterize believers as "worshipping" the gods. After all, prayer alone cannot constitute worship, right?

RichardGarfinkle
03-04-2014, 03:19 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Not being a person who has much experience with "gods," my best guess is that a god has powers that humans don't.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

I don't know how useful that is.
Birds can fly. Fish can breath underwater. Blue green algae can photosynthesize and convert planetary atmospheres. Are they gods?

Arcadia Divine
03-04-2014, 03:30 AM
I don't know how useful that is.
Birds can fly. Fish can breath underwater. Blue green algae can photosynthesize and convert planetary atmospheres. Are they gods?

That's a little different. Those make sense. I think he's talking about powers that otherwise wouldn't make sense in the real world.

kuwisdelu
03-04-2014, 03:30 AM
Whether it matters depends on the atheist. I've always been interested in religions, and I do find the question interesting.

I suppose approaching this as if I were an atheist, the multitudinous notions and conceptions of a "god" calls into question the worthwhileness of even asking the question of whether it's possible to prove or find evidence for the existence of (a) god(s).

Do any atheists believe in any kind of supernatural phenomena? (Honestly, I don't know.) I understand atheism as rejecting the existence of deities, but in that case, how does each atheist define a "deity"? And does that leave room for believing in the supernatural?

If there were evidence of the supernatural, and the manifestation of the supernatural fit a certain culture's idea of a deity, but not another's, I wonder how atheists would react?

I can imagine some might say that that particular supernatural manifestation doesn't fit their idea of what it means to be a god. I wonder if any would accept it as a deity?

robjvargas
03-04-2014, 03:36 AM
A problematic issue with this definition is that it's anthropogenic, and comes with the implicit assumption that the god(s) in question do not exist, so you are defining them in terms of why humans imagined them.

Is it possible to express a similar idea in terms of something inherent to gods, rather than what we attribute to them?

OK, I think I can. A god is an element of existence made aware. He (gender isn't important, but English gives me no real neutral) derives from that element, which makes him one with it, and therefore is "born" to control it. Since the god is so integrally bound to the element, the god and the element take on the personality of each other.

How's that? :)


Moreover, if a god no longer interferes with the world, does the god remain a god? What separates a god from other interfering spirits and supernatural entities?

Hmm... here's how I see it. A nymph or a sprite, a supernatural being, derives power from an element of existence, and may even be tied to it, but they are never truly one with it. From our mortal perspective, the difference may be too subtle to observe. But it is, to that being, the difference between itself and a god.

And, because a god is one with the element, if the element exists, the god exists.

Arcadia Divine
03-04-2014, 03:54 AM
And, because a god is one with the element, if the element exists, the god exists.

Am I off base here assuming that you need some followers or a strong sense of what you should and shouldn't do, at the least, for anything like that to even be considered a god? I mean, just because the element exists doesn't mean that entity "born" from the element is a god. After all, what good would it do if this god has no followers or strong sense of right and wrong (to them).

RichardGarfinkle
03-04-2014, 03:57 AM
And yet Hermes/Mercury is also literally a messenger for the gods, but is also a god himself.

As for what matters more, what matters to me, in terms of why I started this thread, is communicating ideas across different religions and cultures, and understanding how other people understand the idea of gods and goddesses.

In a comparative religious discussion, I often find myself struggling with what to call certain spiritual beings, when the word "god" is so loaded with Judeo-Christian baggage and implications, and the idea I want to convey is radically different from that concept of a god. Likewise, I often find myself floundering when trying to understand what another person means when they describe other polytheistic gods. The word "god" is so inadequate and vague.

I'm also curious about what exactly constitutes "worship," since that's a big sticking point with the Judeo-Christian god, yet as gothicangel points out, there are many religions where I would hardly characterize believers as "worshipping" the gods. After all, prayer alone cannot constitute worship, right?

On the matter of worship, I can't help you. It's a concept I've never really understood.

The translation problem you bring up is interesting and difficult. As far as I can tell from reading, there seems to have been a shared concept of what a god is that was common through Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia at least as far back as the Homeric era.

But there were also ideas of divinities that were meant to stand out against this shared backdrop. The Torah has a number of passages that are meant to distinguish God qualitatively from the gods other peoples worshipped. There are similar elements in the Platonist conception of God and in the Bhagavad Gita's discussion of Krishna.

But there are also cultures that seem to have a more continuous range of spirits. Japanese Kami are an obvious example. Is Amaterasu qualitatively different from the kami of an eccentric looking stone or only bigger and more important?

kuwisdelu
03-04-2014, 03:59 AM
After all, what good would it do if this god has no followers or strong sense of right and wrong (to them).

Many mythologies are rife with stories about lesser gods losing power or fading away because people no longer believe or pray to them or pay respects to them.

This is one of my inspirations for asking if a powerless god is still a god, and what a god needs (prayer, worship, believers, etc.) in order to be a god.

Arcadia Divine
03-04-2014, 04:08 AM
Many mythologies are rife with stories about lesser gods losing power or fading away because people no longer believe or pray to them or pay respects to them.

This is one of my inspirations for asking if a powerless god is still a god, and what a god needs (prayer, worship, believers, etc.) in order to be a god.

This doesn't really seem to even matter for a god in this day and age. One would think the answer depends on the mythology, time period, and area of the world the people live.

I don't know. I'll admit to knowing nothing about religion or the gods that populate them. I just wanted to give a few people some things to think about.

kuwisdelu
03-04-2014, 04:16 AM
This doesn't really seem to even matter for a god in this day and age.

Doesn't it? Religions die every day. Through imperialism and globalization and cultural genocide and the tide of history, cultures disappear or forget.

What happens to their gods when there is no longer anyone to believe in them?

And when religions are born... is the Flying Spaghetti Monster not really a god if people only believe in him ironically? Or does he become a god because people believe in him?

A ridiculous example, perhaps, but I suppose that's why it exists.

Arcadia Divine
03-04-2014, 04:24 AM
Doesn't it? Religions die every day. Through imperialism and globalization and cultural genocide and the tide of history, cultures disappear or forget.

What happens to their gods when there is no longer anyone to believe in them?

And when religions are born... is the Flying Spaghetti Monster not really a god if people only believe in him ironically? Or does he become a god because people believe in him?

I wish I had an answer for you. Unfortunately this is WAY beyond my reach. Hopefully people that are actually religious or that study religion can shed some more light on this because I'm not one.

PS: The Flying Spaghetti monster is kind of ridiculous in concept but it's still something to consider. At what point do we draw the line? Should we draw the line at all? People have to have something to believe in, you know?

RichardGarfinkle
03-04-2014, 04:56 AM
I wish I had an answer for you. Unfortunately this is WAY beyond my reach. Hopefully people that are actually religious or that study religion can shed some more light on this because I'm not one.

PS: The Flying Spaghetti monster is kind of ridiculous in concept but it's still something to consider. At what point do we draw the line? Should we draw the line at all? People have to have something to believe in, you know?

Actually, they don't. But that's another thread.

robjvargas
03-04-2014, 05:15 AM
Am I off base here assuming that you need some followers or a strong sense of what you should and shouldn't do, at the least, for anything like that to even be considered a god? I mean, just because the element exists doesn't mean that entity "born" from the element is a god. After all, what good would it do if this god has no followers or strong sense of right and wrong (to them).

This is more of an intellectual exercise for me, because while I believe in a more or less judeo-christian concept of God, my belief is based in a metaphysical representation of the universe I inhabit that does not have bearing on the physical world.

But gods are almost integrally tied to creation myths and explanations. It therefore follows to me that what the god created, he (reiterate: convenient pronoun here) remains a part of.that creation.

"I don't believe in God." "That's okay. He believes in you."

Sort of like that. Belief didn't make the god. Not if you believe the attached creation story. So belief doesn't destroy the god either.

The god just is.

blacbird
03-04-2014, 07:46 AM
Terry Pratchett provides some excellent examples.

caw