The Ever Retreating Notions of the Western View of God

Western believers used to claim God (or Zeus) lived on Mt. Olympus, pictured below. But then someone climbed up there and he wasn't to be found.

Then they claimed God lived just beyond the sky dome that supported the water, called the firmament, argued for here. But we flew planes and space ships up there and found he wasn't there either. Believers now claim God exists in a spiritual sense everywhere. What best explains this continual retreat? Doesn't it sound more like the attempt to defend what one already believes rather than progressively understanding what God is like?

Now contrast this retreating notion of the Occidental God with the Oriental notion of God. Oriental notions of God did not start by affirming an embodied deity in the first place, as I understand them. Their God was indescribable and inscrutable...the ONE. So they have not experienced a retreating notion of God because their starting point was different.

What best explains the current Western notion of God? I think it's because Western notions began by affirming God was embodied and such a notion continually retreated in the face of the arguments and evidence. It sure sounds like the progression of human thought (not divine revelation) beginning with one falsely stated assumption.

17 comments:

Logismous Kathairountes said...

Christianity never thought that God lived on top of the sphere of the heavens or on a cloud or something. Judaism never thought that. Both have always claimed that God is omnipresent. See Psalm 139, particularly verse 8: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=23&chapter=139&version=31

Also, in fact, the ancient Greeks (or some important ones), who were Western, believed in God as the ONE. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monad_%28symbol%29

Jennifer said...

Ditto LK.

One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that God is Incorporeal. The word incorporeal is Latin(Roman)...if there was not a belief in a non-physical reality it seems they would need no word to describe such a notion.

zilch said...

I've been to the top of Mt. Olympus, and I can tell you that not only is Zeus not there, just a lot of litter left by Greek tourists (sorry for the characterization, but it's unfortunately true), but the ancient Greeks must have known Zeus wasn't there too: Mt. Olympus is a massif, with very gentle slopes, very easy to climb.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly (the comments above)...

I am quite curious though....
John, you seem astute enough to understand what the Bible says of God, and what it says about his characteristics, so whats the point of this little article?

zilch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zilch said...

oh, and by the way: logismous, your links don't work. The way to make links here at blogger.com is thusly:

[a href="desired url"]name of link[/a href], but substitute <> for [].

For instance, if I want to link to TalkOrigins, I could write:

[a href="http://www.talkorigins.org/"]Talk Origins[/a href], but of course with <> instead of []. Don't forget the quotation marks.

nick said...

lk:
"Christianity never thought that God lived on top of the sphere of the heavens or on a cloud or something. Judaism never thought that. Both have always claimed that God is omnipresent. See Psalm 139, particularly verse 8: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=23&chapter=139&version=31"
Christainity wasn't invented before psalms was it?


"Also, in fact, the ancient Greeks (or some important ones), who were Western, believed in God as the ONE. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monad_%28symbol%29

Is Wikipedia now the supposed inspired word of god? duh!

I guess where ever you can go to get support fot your belief, you'll gladly tread.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for the info on Mt. Olympus. Never been there before. But what I had in mind can be seen here, and then also here.

goprairie said...

I have recently had discussions with Christian friends and when my points seem to refute their claims about their God, they soon retreat to a position of God being some force or power that we cannot explain - one went to far as to tell me God was some sort of wave of light involved in holding string theory together - thus moving the discussion into details of physics that I did not know enough specifically about to argue. But in the process, that God seems to have moved away from one who might hold a personal interest in answering prayer, for example, but that apparent inconsistency seemed not to bother him, as he had found a place for God that I could no longer debate. And when physicists figure out a way to explain the place he has retreated his God to, I assume he will retreat that God to whatever physics still has not explained.

Shygetz said...

One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that God is Incorporeal. The word incorporeal is Latin(Roman)...if there was not a belief in a non-physical reality it seems they would need no word to describe such a notion.

That's like saying people really believe in Munchkinland, since we have a word for Munchkinland. The existence of a word does not entail existence of belief. The ancient Jews did not have wholly consistent beliefs in the nature of God. Start in Genesis 3:8-13. God walks in the garden, God asks questions to which He seems not to know the answer ("Where art thou?"; "Who told thee that thou wast naked?"), Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God. God sends angels to find out if Sodom has 10 righteous people; He doesn't just know, He sends angels to find out. He can be argued with, persuaded, angered, is jealous, loving, and gets tired. Jewish traditions later written in the OT and the Talmud suggest that they thought of God as sometimes corporeal, sometimes incorporeal, but almost always heavily anthropomorphized. To suggest otherwise by selective quotation is misleading.

Christianity never thought that God lived on top of the sphere of the heavens or on a cloud or something. Judaism never thought that. Both have always claimed that God is omnipresent.

Both thought that Heaven was above the firmament, and both thought that God's realm was in Heaven. Yes, God could exist everywhere, but His realm was above a dome that curved around the sky. Gen. 1:6, Gen. 7:11, Gen. 8:2, Gen 11:4, Job 27:18, Job 38:22, Ezekiel 1:22, Daniel 8:10, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:25, Rev. 6:13-14, Rev. 8:10, Rev. 9:1, Rev. 12:4, 3 Baruch 3:7-8.

Also, in fact, the ancient Greeks (or some important ones), who were Western, believed in God as the ONE.

A few, but not most and not until 6th century BCE. That's like saying Americans (or some important ones) were deists; it's true, but misleading, as the VAST majority of even important Americans were not, and society as a whole was/is not.

John, you seem astute enough to understand what the Bible says of God, and what it says about his characteristics, so whats the point of this little article?

The Bible says lots of stuff, some of which the Bible disagrees with. The point of the article to me was that, as knowledge advances, the role of God retreats. Do you deny this? Do you go to the local faith healer or to the doctor when you are sick? Do you pray for a bountiful harvest, or do you use fertilizer? Do you still believe in the existence of the firmament?

Jennifer said...

Shygetz,
Shall we dig? My comment was far from being based upon selective quotation. Have you read the Talmud? If you have, then kudos to you, it's tough to get through. You must know that one of the reasons the Jews rejected Jesus was that He claimed to be one with God. That was blasphemy and worthy of death because their historic belief was/is that God does not have form and that He is one. They believe it is idolatry to give any form to God.

The word incorporeal is used to describe a perceived reality, not a fantasy story. You may think of God as a fantasy story, but reasonable people have good reasons for believing in Him, which is different from dreaming up a fairy world.

Sean Vedder said...

Jennifer said...
The word incorporeal is used to describe a perceived reality, not a fantasy story. You may think of God as a fantasy story, but reasonable people have good reasons for believing in Him, which is different from dreaming up a fairy world.

Since the word incorporeal means without physical or material existence, how are you able to "perceive" the existence of your god? By what means do you do this? How do you know you are not merely imagining your god? Your world of invisible angels and demons, and magical, supernatural powers sounds exactly like a fairy tale.

Harry McCall said...

No only does God evolve in the Hebrew Bible via anthrophic traits, his essence (if not Yahweh himself) lived in a box called the “Ark of the Covenant” made popular in modern times by the hit movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Thus, this God in a Box /Ark could be stolen by the Philistines which (with such an act) left Israel without a god (1 Samuel 4 – 5). It is only when the local god Yahweh is finally merged with EL, Ba’al and the attributes of several more Canaanite gods do we finally have a Jewish sky god.

This “God in a Box” is the god that “Tented” with Israel in the wilderness and was the concept of god which the deported Jews carried into exile and, later, formed the bases of the Synagogue of the Diaspora after the Romans burnt him out of his house in 70CE..

Logismous Kathairountes said...

Oh, thanks, Zilch.

And to point out the obvious:

If God is omnipresent, then He is everywhere, including (if He wants) walking around corporeally in Eden or Jerusalem. Everywhere includes any particular place.

Also, anybody can ask a question that they already know the answer to - As a father who catches his child in red-handed disobedience might ask - So it's not necessarily a contradiction for an omniscient being to ask questions. Just because God sometimes sends messengers to do things on His behalf doesn't mean He couldn't do them Himself - And that includes gathering information.

Also, in case anybody wants to bring it up, I have, personally, in the past, been surprised by something I already knew was going to happen, so being surprised by something is no proof that one didn't know it was going to happen.

Also: Wikipedia is just an easy way to point people to a quick summary of the facts. The idea of the One is very important in Pythagorean thought, in which the entire universe is made of numbers. One is the first (or 'primary', if you will) number - So Unity, or Monad, or (as Plato would say) The Form of the One, was one of the closest things they had to the Christian idea of God.

That's just to point out that the idea of the One and the idea of God are very closely linked in Western thought, and the roots of those ideas are as early as the Pythagoreans, who were some of the earliest of Greek thinkers. Anybody can look this up, and wikipedia is a good place to start.

Ben said...

Eastern Orthodox Christians don't believe in the Incarnation? Strange.

Jennifer said...

Sean,
My answer to your question is in the book, Recapture the Wonder by Ravi Zacharias, which a friend who comments here sometimes sent me. There isn't enough room here and he says it way better than I.

paulj said...

The idea progression outlined in the original post is, perhaps, overly simplistic. It also describes popular belief more so than formal theological writings.

A good example of developed Eastern Orthodox thought is 'An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith' by John of Damascus. A 19th century translation can be read, starting at

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf209/Page_1b.html

John lived around the 8th century, shortly after the Muslims took over Damascus from Constantinople. He is best known for his defense of icons (during the Iconoclast controversy).

I find his discussion of the 'natural sciences' particularly interesting, especially as a contrast to modern 'creationist' thought. But for the purposes of this thread, his description of God in the last paragraph of the 1st page is applicable. I count 25 descriptors of the 'in-' or 'all-' type.

paulj