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Tue Dec 26, 2017, 10:01 AM

GOD: A Human History

Source: Medium, by Reza Aslan

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It turns out that this compulsion to humanize the divine is hardwired in our brains, which is why it has become a central feature in almost every religious tradition the world has known. The very process through which the concept of God arose in human evolution compels us, consciously or not, to fashion God in our own image. In fact, the entire history of human spirituality can be viewed as one long, interconnected, ever-evolving, and remarkably cohesive effort to make sense of the divine by giving it our emotions and our personalities, by ascribing to it our traits and our desires, by providing it with our strengths and our weaknesses, even our own bodies — in short, by making God us. What I mean to say is that, more often than not, whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we’re believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves: a human being but with superhuman powers.

This is not to claim that there is no such thing as God, or that what we call God is wholly a human invention. Both of these statements may very well be true. I have no interest in trying to prove the existence or nonexistence of God for the simple reason that no proof exists either way. Faith is a choice; anyone who says otherwise is trying to convert you. You either choose to believe that there is something beyond the material realm — something real, something knowable — or you don’t. If, like me, you do, then you must ask yourself another question: Do you wish to experience this thing? Do you wish to commune with it? To know it? If so, then it may help to have a language with which to express what is fundamentally an inexpressible experience.

That is where religion comes in. Beyond the myths and rituals, the temples and cathedrals, the dos and don’ts that have, for millennia, separated humanity into different and often competing camps of belief, religion is little more than a “language” made up of symbols and metaphors that allows believers to communicate, to one another and to themselves, the ineffable experience of faith. It’s just that, throughout the history of religions, there has been one symbol that has stood out as universal and supreme — one grand metaphor for God from which practically every other symbol and metaphor in nearly all the world’s religions has been derived: us; the human being.

*****

Think about the way believers so often describe God as good or loving, cruel or jealous, forgiving or kind. These are, of course, human attributes. Yet this insistence on using human emotions to describe something that is — whatever else it is — utterly nonhuman only further demonstrates our existential need to project our humanity onto God, to bestow upon God not just all that is worthy in human nature — our capacity for boundless love, our empathy and eagerness to show compassion, our thirst for justice — but all that is vile in it: our aggression and greed, our bias and bigotry, our penchant for extreme acts of violence.

*****

Read it all at: https://medium.com/@rezaaslan/god-a-human-history-ba5e62e401e1

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Arrow 17 replies Author Time Post
Reply GOD: A Human History (Original post)
yallerdawg Dec 2017 OP
ms liberty Dec 2017 #1
yallerdawg Dec 2017 #3
AtheistCrusader Dec 2017 #2
marylandblue Dec 2017 #4
Voltaire2 Dec 2017 #9
marylandblue Dec 2017 #10
Voltaire2 Dec 2017 #12
marylandblue Dec 2017 #14
The Velveteen Ocelot Dec 2017 #5
MineralMan Dec 2017 #6
guillaumeb Dec 2017 #7
Voltaire2 Dec 2017 #8
guillaumeb Dec 2017 #11
Voltaire2 Dec 2017 #13
guillaumeb Dec 2017 #15
Voltaire2 Dec 2017 #16
guillaumeb Dec 2017 #17

Response to yallerdawg (Original post)

Tue Dec 26, 2017, 10:32 AM

1. I got this book for mr liberty's stepfather for Christmas

He's a retired Lutheran pastor, with a master's in theology and is a democrat, but has a very good ol country boy personality. Last year I gave him Reza Aslan's previous book, Zealot, which was about Jesus. His other book present this year from us was The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Dragging Dixie Outta the Dark by Trae Crowder, Corey Ryan Forrester and Drew Morgan.

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Response to ms liberty (Reply #1)

Tue Dec 26, 2017, 10:56 AM

3. Aslan did this short-lived CNN series, "Believers."

One of the episodes was about a number of offshoots from the official "Church of Scientology." They have taken the most meaningful and impactful parts of Scientology - like 'auditing' - and done away with all the official trappings, financial shenanigans and personal intrusiveness and control.

Aslan related this to early Christianity and the Protestant Reformation.

I really appreciate his thoughtful, informed, and uncensored observations on faith, humanity and religion.

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Response to yallerdawg (Original post)

Tue Dec 26, 2017, 10:34 AM

2. I don't agree that it is hard-wired.

I agree that it is so widespread as to be the assumed default, but there are a LOT of humans for which it doesn't appear to be the case. Statistically it's a small percentage, under 6% of the whole, but we're still talking a good 419 million people or more.

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Response to AtheistCrusader (Reply #2)

Tue Dec 26, 2017, 11:04 AM

4. Personification appears to be hardwired

We know full well that a computer is not a person, but many of us still take it personally when it crashes at a critical time.

So it makes sense that moat of our deities are humann like, but some versions are not, like the god of the philosophers, or the impersonal creator of Hinduism.

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Response to marylandblue (Reply #4)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 08:48 AM

9. Except when it isnt, for example Buddhists

don’t really have gods let alone personified gods, and animist beliefs also lack gods, and yet are cited here as proof that religion goes back 300000 years.

Theistic religions have existed for no more than around 10,000 years. “Hard wired” is not really applicable to theistic beliefs.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #9)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 09:02 AM

10. depends how you are defining these things

Prior to theism was animism, which has personified spirits aplenty. Buddhism officially theology has no gods, but the practice has personified representations of buddha, bodhisattvas and deities.

I don't think the definition of religion should be limited to theism, although that does make the spiritual practices of people living more than 10,000 years ago more problematic.

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Response to marylandblue (Reply #10)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 12:41 PM

12. well no, animism generally does not have anthropic deities.

"Animism (from Latin anima, "breath, spirit, life" is the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Potentially, animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork and perhaps even words—as animated and alive" -wiki

Everything has a spirit, but this is quite different from, for example polytheistic beliefs where personified gods and demigods rule all things. Instead of a personified "river god" the river itself has a spirit, but it is a river spirit, not some human like deity. Animism generally does not put humans at the center of everything with human like gods controlling the world. Instead we are just one of the many spirits in world, each expressing the unique form of their type.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #12)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 01:14 PM

14. Read further in the wiki article

And they present examples of the spirits acting human-like. They don't make a hard and fast distinction between human, animal and inanimate objects, so they often have stories of animals and rivers having intent, talking etc. And animism is hard to analyze using modern concepts because they are so culturally different from us. I think that without the hard and fast distinctions, rivers may be thought to act like humans, but humans may also act like rivers.

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Response to yallerdawg (Original post)

Tue Dec 26, 2017, 11:12 AM

5. I just finished reading this. It's very interesting.

Aslan notes that in religions that have a god or gods, they are almost always humanoid. I'm wondering if that's just because human imagination gets stuck at the idea of a non-human, completely incorporeal supreme or supernatural being. It's fair to say that man created god (gods) in his image, not the other way around. Whether or not you believe in god(s), it's a really interesting exploration of the history and development of religious belief.

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Response to The Velveteen Ocelot (Reply #5)

Tue Dec 26, 2017, 12:03 PM

6. Yes. The conceit that the deity is human in form is

pretty odd, really. Why would that be so? I understand that people want a deity that is like them, but how could such a being have the powers required of a deity?

A deity that was a massive cloud of energy would be far more believable, really. A deity like the initial explosion of the singularity that became the universe would be even more believable, but would such a thing have consciousness?

I tend to imagine a deity that exists completely outside of reality but that causes reality to exist. But, even then, I can't endow such a deity with the sort of personal identity that humans appear to assign to the deities they create.

It is in attaching human emotions to deities where humans fail to adequately formulate such an entity. There is no reason whatsoever that anything that powerful would have any such emotions at all. Our emotions are mostly related to our weaknesses, really. What kind of deity has such weaknesses?

I find it easier to simply believe that it's all a random coincidence that has occurred within natural rules we don't fully comprehend. That's simple. Then, I can focus on people's attempts to comprehend those rules. That's interesting. Human-like deities are no more interesting than my neighbor.

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Response to yallerdawg (Original post)

Tue Dec 26, 2017, 08:27 PM

7. I see 2 possibilities, at least.

1) God hard-wired us with a feeling for God. Not that we can know God, or know with certainty what God fully is, but that God exists. An essential part of our consciousness.

2) It is in our nature to anthropomorphize our deities, or to at least see them in a recognizable form. recognizable in the sense that a deity takes a form that we already can see.

As to violence, free will means exactly that. The ability to freely act, even in counterproductive ways.

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Response to guillaumeb (Reply #7)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 08:42 AM

8. 1) has you rejecting evolution in favor of id.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #8)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 10:56 AM

11. No, it does not.

Perhaps you will insist that it necessitates the ID position, but there is nothing in God as initiator of existence that requires any form of ID. It requires only a Creator that initiates the Big Bang.

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Response to guillaumeb (Reply #11)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 12:46 PM

13. "God hard-wired us with a feeling for God"

expresses a belief that consciousness is provided by gods, not evolved.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #13)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 02:59 PM

15. They were expressed as possibilities.

And, if one accepts sentience as "created in the image and likeness.", it fits with the Biblical, metaphoric, position.

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Response to guillaumeb (Reply #15)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 03:28 PM

16. So you now agree with me that 1) rejects evolution.

Oddly, just upthread you claimed it didn’t.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #16)

Wed Dec 27, 2017, 03:29 PM

17. No, I do not agree with you.

I have made this point many times in previous posts.

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