A philosophical view of religion

Holy Bible

HUMANS are egocentric. Too much so.

Either through preference or fault we view all things not as they are, but as we deem they ought to be. This trait can in the consideration of things of cosmic proportions lead us to base so much on false assumptions.

An example of this failing is that the average person honestly and wholeheartedly believes that the Earth and humanity are the centre of the universe and creation. The conceited supposition is that we are our Creator’s sole focus, only labour of love and reason to be. From a human perspective this is understandable because a human being should and ought not to love, care for more than one thing at a time.

But God is obviously not human. This is the mega point we miss.

We view our Gods as humans.

Most religions, if not all, are guilty of the anthropomorphism of their God or gods. This is an egregious failing and is the root cause of all religious extremism, bigotry and misdirection. This is understandable, though not excusable, given the potential of harm that lies therein.

In order to understand and master their environment, human beings have adopted a reductionist and positivist approach to knowledge. That is to say that we always try and breakdown any phenomenon, physical or otherwise into its smallest constituent parts so that we can then understand these in detail and from thence the whole. This serves us well in science, but not in religion.

It is immanently self-contradictory to try and understand God(s). But that is the insidious corruption of all religions that has been going on for millennia.

For example we Christians, have created a God who has a gender, hates/loves, cares, gets angry and even works for six days, gets tired and rests on the seventh day.

To all intents and purposes, God passes off as your average patriarch, which is perhaps the picture of the God we worship we want to have and hold on to rather like William Blake’s awe inspiring Ancient of Days. A God who loves us, hates our enemies, provides for us in short one we can be very comfortable with and around.

This is religious anthropomorphism; we have projected our human qualities on to our God (or Gods) and made that God very much a man or at best a superhuman. This is an unfortunate development in all religions because we have constructed a supreme being not only out of our positive traits, but also our negative. We do this to a being we all avow as being the supreme authority; that which supersedes all national, moral or legal dictates.

In other words, nothing can and should hold us back from doing the will of our Creator. As a result, a man can call laughing children to a bomb laden cart and then detonate it because they believe that their God is angry at, hates or has condemned these children. A person who does this genuinely believes that the immorality and inhumanity of a deed such as this are not an issue because this is done at the pleasure and behest of a supra being. This being the case all moral, legal and humanistic considerations no longer apply.

And as it is done in the name of the Creator then a wrong can cosmically be redefined as good and faithful service.

Human beings can and do project their sexual and racial bigotry, religious extremism on to their God(s) and then use those very same Gods they have just made up themselves as the reason to hate, kill and discriminate. It is only on human cognisance that God hates and gets angry because that is what we do as humans.

This anthropomorphism of God not only leads to the propagation of hate, discrimination, in short it is evil, but has also spawned a religious disenchantment that may just one-day doom all religion to be an artefact or idiosyncrasy of human history. Religious leaders have preached a human-like God with great authority and thus by extension religions have preached Gods of their creation. They have then demanded that this/these God(s) be found in their preachings; where and when exactly they have preached.

The problem is that the faithful have then set out on a religious journey to find this God. Our God we are told loves us, cares about us, yearns to do us good etc. But to the ordinary person wallowing in abject misery of war or famine, this God cannot be found. People are looking for a God they have defined, whose picture like, Blake they have drawn. They are looking for a God where they have stipulated He should be found, namely in the fulfilment of their desires and the destruction of their enemies. But this memo, penned an infinity after His existence has apparently not reached Him.

Nor the one that says that God(s) exists to serve the will of humankind and not the other way round.

Instead the reality we have is of a God or gods who preside over the deaths of 50 000 plus men, women and children through a 45 second burst of an earthquake’s rage. Or a quarter million in a tsunami or who watches as a vulture bides its meal time waiting for a starving Sudanese child to die. Can these experiences of God be reconciled to our fantasy?

The most telling religious text or phrase has to be Exodus 3:14 “I am who I am.” This verse does not attempt to give God a form, sex or nature. He does not attempt to reduce “Himself” to cognitively manageable bits. Nor does He invite us to enquire or speculate about Him. It presents an amorphous ineffable God. This statement rings like a full stop to all possible human efforts to understand God. It declares that human enquiry ends where our knowledge tradition quite clearly becomes child’s play.

God would not be known by man. Therefore, all theology has perhaps been a fool’s errand. If our religious supposition is that God created the universe and we as human beings with all our science cannot explain conclusively the origins of it, what can we master of God?

The quoted verse is a rejection of all religious anthropomorphism on our part. God is God and cannot be understood or described because, a deity represents the end of the material knowable world and a transition to a spiritual one. It is a rejection of the rational for the irrational, facts for beliefs and is really not a realm for the human mind. The mind needs cognitive building blocks to go on in any encounter with its environment, the labels and tags we have given God are just that: Tags to help us understand that which we worship. But they are misplaced and a contradictory attempt to understand that which ought not to be understood.

Tragically, it is in religious anthropomorphism that money is to be made and great political power gained. Therefore, men and women of the cloth irrespective of religion will continue to preach human like Gods that demand a quota of a man’s labour and the death of unbelievers; which is generally, the preaching of evil in righteous terms.

  • Ignatius Tsuro is a commentator on social and political issues. He writes in his personal capacity.

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