|Saturday, March 8, 2008
Does Our God Have a Future?
This essay was first published as an article in the Springfield News-Leader on January 18, 2006. It was picked up and republished on the internet in 2007 and again in 2008 by the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs. It will appear as one of the essays in a book that will be published by Wipf & Stock Publishers later this year. The book is tentatively titled: "Household of Faith or Enchanted Forest? Religious Belief in an Age of Reason."
It sounds like a dumb question. How could God not have a future? If anyone or anything has prospects, surely God does!
From the perspective of world history, however, the question is obvious, for history is littered with decayed temples dedicated to obsolete gods whose religious communities did not survive the passage of time. In Judeo-Christian tradition, and modern popular imagination, all other gods are "false" or imaginary gods, created in the minds of ignorant and misguided people. In their heyday, however, these gods were powerful and controlled the lives of masses of people for many years; they were loved, feared, and their grace invoked through prayer just as devoutly as the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is today. Their believers were as convinced in their faith as devout believers of the Judeo-Christian God are today.
Every religion assumes that its god has eternal prospects. But the idea that "our God is eternal" is not true, as history shows. A particular god's character and personality exist principally in the mind, apart from any existence the god may have as an objective reality.
For example, the Protestant God did not exist before the 16th century. He was conceived and born along with Protestantism. The Roman Catholic God was very different - and still is. God as he exists in the minds of Episcopalians today is essentially different from the God of Protestant fundamentalists and Unitarians. The gods of these groups have different views on required ritual, ethical values, sin, forgiveness and the future - provided we assume (as each group tells us) their teaching derives from God.
If tomorrow, fundamentalism, for example, ceased to exist, the God of fundamentalism also ceases to exist. Since no group would exist to serve his interests, his rites would no longer be available in the marketplace of religions. To be a force in society he would need to be rediscovered all over again.
So it is with all religions and gods. All gods share a potential for obsolescence. Apollo and Zeus are no longer invoked in the warm language of faith as once they were. Their oracles are silent. Mithras and Dionysus once possessed the keys to eternal life and graciously bestowed that gift throughout the ancient world. Their altars are now cold, their temples empty, their rites abandoned. Yet in the day of their popularity, their believers would have been shocked at the idea their god would one day be obsolete.
Does God have a future? Clearly belief in God has a definite future. If history shows anything, it shows human beings as incurably religious. We likely will always have a greater power we worship and serve. Too many mysteries exist in the universe and our scientists have been unable to answer them all.
Yes, "God" has a future. Only so long as a god has believers will he influence society. Thus a god without temples and worshippers to remember his holy days does not exist, at least not in any practical sense. And this observation raises an annoying question: Does the demise of even one god foreshadow the eventual demise of all gods?
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 1:35pm
Thanks for the new information...It warms my heart to see your name in print, then I read what you say and think on it awhile. That's what you expect me to do, isn't it? Yes, "the church" is very comfortable with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...maybe too comfortable?
Kant does make sense at least in this case. Unless I misremember, he first basically said that there is no god. Then he wrote that since man needs to delude himself with the idea that god exists to make himself happy, he guessed that was ok.
This is great. Keep up the good work. Is there any thinking out there?
I am sure I am skipping over much history, but I do have thoughts on your latest offering.