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Maciamo
07-11-05, 07:11
Most discussions about religion are set to cause misunderstandings. One of the main reason is that the words the most commonly used, such as "god", "soul", "nature" or "universe" have various definitions, and different understanding in different religions AND languages.

The word "god" in English can have dozens of different meanings, some of which have absolutely nothing in common.

Those who believe in only one (omnipotent) god, that created the universe, may understand it in one of these ways :

1) an unorganic supreme being outside the universe that human cannot comprehend (+ usually : does not judge humans because morals is a subjective and relative concept, varying in time and space, and proper to reasoning life beings like humans)
2) a supreme being present in everything that exist. It is the soul of the universe, we are part of it and can enter in communion with it through meditation.
3) a supreme being, neither male nor female, but with feelings and thoughts like human beings (+ usually : judging humans based on those feelings and thoughts)
4) a supreme being with the appearance of a man, and similar feelings and thoughts to humans (typically judging, punishing or rewarding humans for following his will)

Type 1 is the Deistic god. Type 2 is the Pantheistic god (including some Buddhist sects). Type 3 could be Christian (esp. Protestant) or Muslim. Type 4 is Christian (esp. Catholic) or Jewish.

For people who believe in more than one god, the word can have these meanings :

5) spirit of nature, influencing the forces of nature. They rarely interfere with humans, but may cause their harm (or good).
6) supreme beings with no human appearance, controlling the forces of nature. Each god has an attribute (e.g. wind, fire, fertility...)
7) supreme beings with human appearance, controlling the forces of nature. Each god has an attribute (e.g. money, fertility, chaos...). One of these gods may be the creator of the universe. There may be a hierarchy between gods.
8) supreme beings with human appearance. They think and feel like humans intervene frequently in human activities, sometimes helping them, sometimes tormenting them. They may each have attributes, and "sponsor" some humans. They may play with humans like with the pawns of a chess game. They may even have sex with humans and have half-god descendants. Those gods typically can die or suffer by quarrelling with each others. There may be a hierarchy between gods.
9) a human being descended from one or several gods and enjoying the status of living god from generation to generation.
10) a human that has reached a divine status (like in 8) after dying.
11) a human being acquiring a similar respect to a god through his/her achievments.


Type 5 are the "kami" of Shintoism or the gods of any animist religion.
Type 6 is similar to type 5, except that the gods have more powers and may have names. Exist in some pagan religions.
Type 7 is like Hindu gods (and maybe also Egyptians ones)
Type 8 is like Greco-Roman gods.
Type 9 is like the former status of Japanese or Inca emperors.
Type 10 is like some Shinto or Taoist deities (Hachiman, Laozi...)
Type 11 is the way Japanese (or other) people refer to great atheletes like some sumo wrestlers.

There are of course many variants of these. Gods can be have feelings/thoughts or not, be omnipotent or not, be omniscient or not, be immortal or not, have a human form or not, have a hierarchy or not, interfere with humans or not, have special attributes/powers or not, be able to reproduce with humans or not, be real humans or not, etc.

We can see how Type 1 or 2 have nothing in common with Types 7 to 11.

I am a bit annoyed that there aren't more words to define each type of god unambiguously. We could refer to Type 1 and 2 as "Supreme Being", Type 3, and 4 as "God", Type 5 as "Spirit of Nature", Type 6 to 8 as "Deity" and 9 to 11 as "Superhuman". People who claim they believe in god usually only believe in one of these and not in the others (well, the Japanese may believe in Types 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10 and 11 at the same time, but that's not really "believing" either).

So some "believers" of various types may think they share more in common together than with Atheists. Yet, that is not true. Strong atheists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strong_atheism) are far closer to Type 1 or 2, than any others, and the reverse is true as well.

The difference between a Deist (type 1) and an Atheist is just whether one needs an explanation for the creation of the universe or not. An Agnostic shares the same basic beliefs, except that he/she does not decides whether to be a Deist or an Atheist. One can easily switch from ot the other without fundamental change in conceptions of the world, morals or lifestyle anyway. So, it's fundemantally a difference of personality : need a symbol of power (Deist), doesn't need one (Atheist), indecisive (Agnosticist).

The difference between a Pantheist (type 2) and an Atheist is even more subtle. It's just a matter of definition as what we call "god". For a Pantheist, all the universe is "God". For an Atheist, all the universe is "Nature". That's basically the same. Pantheists are just more "spiritual" or "romantic" in their approach, while Atheists are more "rational" and "realistic". Again, that's just a difference in personality, not belief.

Types 5, 6, and to a lesser extent also 7 and 8, occur among people who do not understand (or accept) the scientific functionning of nature. Types 9 to 11 are just an exaggeration of a status symbol, and ultimately join Type 3 or 4 : the idealised image of the almighty (human) ruler.

Kinsao
07-11-05, 14:19
It's a good analysis!

Hmmm... I think of something like a combination of
2) a supreme being present in everything that exist. It is the soul of the universe, we are part of it and can enter in communion with it through meditation.
and
6) supreme beings with no human appearance, controlling the forces of nature. Each god has an attribute (e.g. wind, fire, fertility...)

I think these are actually very similar ideas, except that (6) is for more than one "god" whereas (2) acknowledge only one. Personally, I think of a god to be only one, but no reason why not with many attributes. :p

IMHO, (11) is almost using the word of "god" as a metaphor for supreme achievement, rather than an actual belief - rather like the way you might refer to someone as a "guitar god", but wouldn't actually build a church for them! :giggle:

Tsuyoiko
07-11-05, 14:21
I made a similar (though less detailed) point on this thread (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19562). I can't decide if I am an atheist beacuse I don't know if what I understand about Nature counts as a god. What I see in Nature is pretty close to
2) a supreme being present in everything that exist. It is the soul of the universe, we are part of it and can enter in communion with it through meditationbut again, I am unsure of what is meant by 'supreme being', 'soul' and 'communion'. I don't believe Nature has a separate consciousness, but I do think it should be respected.