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Chapter One: Defining God

Section 10: Your god or mine?

Believers create God in their own image.

God is knowable. God is unknowable. God is the compassionate God of the Quran. He is the angry God of the Old Testament. He is the loving Jesus. He is the many gods of Hinduism. He is the non-existent god of Buddhism.

1.10a Which god is yours?

Which God do you believe in? How does that God demand to be worshipped? Do believers have a direct line to him or must they go through intermediaries? Is he loving or vengeful? What is the relationship between that God and his scripture? Is the Bible or Quran or other text God's perfect and unalterable words or are the words subject to update and broad interpretation? Which sins does the God you believe in condemn and which does he ultimately forgive?

Your answer to these and many other questions determines not only whether you are Hindu, Christian or Muslim, Catholic or Protestant, Sunni or Shia, but which sect you belong to within these broad traditions. And if none of these correspond to your vision of God, then you can set up your own religion and persuade others that only you represent the True Faith.

1.10b The God of the parents is not always the God of the children

Most believers begin by worshipping the god of their parents and they continue to worship that god throughout their lives. At least, it seems to be the same god - the name is the same and the scriptures do not change. In reality, however, there are usually subtle differences between the God of the parents and the God of the children.

Some people emphasise God's love, others his justice. Some believers see certain human actions as minor sins or no sin at all, while others see the same actions as the worst of evils. For some, the scriptures are unalterable; for others the scriptures are little more than stories that reflect the language and beliefs of centuries or millennia ago.

They cannot all be right, yet every believer is convinced that his / her understanding of God and God's commandments comes closest to God's will. Sometimes discussion

Chapter One: Defining God

Does God exist? Before we try to answer that question we need to have a clear idea of who or what God is. How do we describe God? What versions of God are on offer?

1.1: God, faith and religion
Do they need each other?

1.2: What is God?
God comes in several styles and models

1.3: Perception and reality
Is what we see what we get?

1.4: The evolving God
From prehistory to today

1.5: El, Yahweh et al
The Old Testament family of gods

1.6: Three's company
The Christian Trinity

1.7: Allah
Over to Islam

1.8: Majors and minors

1.9: The unknowable God
Is he there?

1.10: Your god or mine?
Made in our image

1.11: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter Two
Problems with God

The real God – if such a thing exists – may be very different from the god portrayed by Jewish, Christian or Muslim scripture.

But whichever picture of God we look at - from the Bible and Koran to the images presented by other faiths and believers - we are confronted by problems. When examined closely, God's nature is so contradictory that it is unlikely, if not impossible, for him to exist.

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with other believers leads them to change their mind about this point or that. Sometimes their opinions will change radically and they may even quit the religion of their birth to join another, but at each stage on their "spiritual journey" they will be convinced that only they, and others who share their views, truly reflect God and his will.

1.10c The mirror that reflects ourselves

This situation arises because the idea of God is so vast and fluid, because there are so many scriptures and because these scriptures (as we will see in more detail in the next section) are so contradictory. There is no simple, easy definition of God that every believer (and every atheist) can accept. The idea of God is so vast and amorphous that it can only make sense when it is reduced to a concept that can be easily understood. In order to grasp the concept of God, each believer can choose - in fact, they have no option but to choose - a specific view of God.

Like children in a candy-shop, believers choose the aspects of God which attract them. They choose the god they feel comfortable with, the god they feel closest to. Each believer takes from scripture what he or she wants, at either a conscious or subconscious level; they choose the God that reflects their personality. In scripture they light on the passages that affect them personally and ignore or belittle the passages that do not meet their needs. In a congregation they seek a preacher and an ethos that reinforces their own point of view. In short, out of all the possible gods offered by scriptures, by churches, mosques and synagogues, and by tradition, sincere believers inevitably choose and worship the god that reflects their own personality - their own fears and desires. (In every congregation there are men and women who attend out of habit or from family or community pressure; their faith, if they have any, is not influenced by those around them.)

We saw in Section One that God and faith are independent of each other. God may or may not exist, but look into any individual's faith and what you see not is not the deity, but no more than that man's or that woman's personality.

Pat Robertson; Associated Press Desmond Tutu; Reuters

Pat Robertson and Desmond Tutu offer their believers very different versions of God. Unlike Tutu's God of Love, Robertson's deity is unforgiving and aggressive.

Christian preachers whose lives are dominated by anger or insecurity focus on the Old Testament and God's anger and retribution. Muslim preachers with the same emotions hammer insist that Allah condemns all thieves to amputation and infidels to violent death. Christian preachers whose personalities are dominated by love and self-worth turn their attention to the New Testament and Jesus' messages of acceptance and forgiveness. Their Muslim counterparts stress Allah's compassionate nature and the duties of respect and charity. The Archbishop of Canterbury moulds his God from the stories of the New Testament, the Spiritual Leader of Iran does the same from the Quran and Hadith. Liberal and Orthodox Jews make their own selection from the Bible and Torah. Every religious leader, every religious follower creates their own God.

1.10d In their own image

The question as to whether or not we were made in God's image is discussed elsewhere on this website. Whatever the answer to that question, it is clear that the opposite is true, believers create God in their own image.

for a summary of this chapter click here

or move on to

Chapter Two: Problems with God

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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