For many educated believers, “God” is the Great Fuzzy . . . maybe an all-pervading force, maybe a mysterious agent outside the universe that created the universe. Who knows?
It’s hard to find fault in an entity lacking distinct characteristics. This type of a god is impossible to erase from a page because it has no boundary. Thus, there is nothing inside you can assert it is; nothing outside you can argue it isn’t. You can find fault in a god being white-skinned or having use for fingernails. But you can’t find fault with a god who is everywhere and/or nowhere, a god who is everything in this world and/or nothing in this world.
The generally-everything and specifically-nothing god is the god politicians are quick to pledge allegiance to. In effect, they worship an empty word. How else could so many politicians agree?
Here’s the problem: Once a believer starts to define their god — to give it form — suddenly there are bones to pick. Anything beyond the most vague, hence bullet-proof assertion (as fog is bullet-proof), such as “God is the creator of all,” will get you into potentially controversial territory.
For example, ex-president George W. Bush seemed especially fond of referring to a god who had blessed the United States of America. This claim rubbed some people in our country the wrong way, as it did multitudes in other countries. Why had Bush’s god blessed the United States? If a god had blessed the U.S., this raises other questions. Such as why a god singled out our nation. Why had a god not similarly blessed Ireland? Are the Irish unworthy of having a New York Stock Exchange? Why had this god neglected to bless Zaire and Tunisia and Haiti? Certainly, if Haiti had been blessed, it got blessed on a Friday just before the blesser punched out.
While many people pretend there is one god we are all happy citizens under, the god of Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad can’t be the same god. Each of these ancient prophets described a god with different preferences and plans for his people. If one god’s will — if what one god wants — doesn’t match the will of another god, how can a person reasonably claim that these gods are the same god? Do you fall back to the position that the great messiahs got the details wrong, and only in the fuzzy area of overlap did they get it right?
Sure, it is possible that the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god is a set of conjoined triplets with one heart and three talking heads. Yet I believe it is more likely that what we’ve got is an original mythical being whom groups of people multiplied into the distinct offspring that religious moderates and liberals fail to acknowledge today. Yahweh, meet your two sons: Jesus and Allah. This is no unified divinity, but a trio of contrasting divinities — each with its own divergent voice and conflicting agendas.
There are those believers who partly acknowledge the problem. The all-to-common response, however, is to duct tape the whole mess of different religions together and stress bland commonalities. Others tell us that all the religions express different faces of the same god. So all is One. Thus, we can put down our stones, swords and rifles and engage in one great, group hug.
No doubt, the fuzzy-fication of the idea of a god — the combing down of distinct characteristics, if you will — began a long time ago. Bible scholars have conceded that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, was likely written by four different authors. This explains why there are two accounts of Genesis and two sets of commandments. The horse of one tribe was bred with the donkey of another. While one tribe had a specific name for their god (Yahweh), the other had a more general term (Elohim). When we see the words used together, translated as LORD God (Yahweh Elohim), the Bible echoes the origin of the Judeo-Christian god’s breeding. God has undergone descent with modification, whether or not we choose to recognize it.
One can imagine that in polytheistic times too many gods divided a community. Monotheism had the power to unite. Is monotheism one of the things that unites our nation today? Perhaps. It is certainly debatable. Yet America is monotheistic in jargon alone. We are not a nation with a single god, “Under God,” as we are a nation with a single president. It would be more accurate to say that each of the 50+ varieties of religion in our country has its own, most high senator. When using god-talk, people are really saying these sorts of things: Of course Senator exists! Senator bless America. It was Senator’s will. The “our” gets left out.
I find it interesting, and a bit disheartening, that even scientists will give voice to the notion of our current-day, catch-all, almost entirely undefined “God.” As with politics, it is far easier to reach consensus when details are left out. A physicist, for example, may speculate, “If God had made the universe. . . .” Why does he or she not write, “If a god had made the universe”? This would be more honest and more scientific, for it leaves out one incredibly immense assumption: that all monotheists have the same conception of what the word god means. Which they don’t.
People the world over may use a single term, god, for what they worship, but behind the one term are different ideas about what this god provides and demands in return. Gods “A” and “A” are not identical if “A” and “A” are identical in name alone. Glue Porsche ornaments onto all the autos in a used-car lot and you haven’t suddenly created a Porsche dealership.
The real world is a polytheistic world. Though people may find some spurious unity in all the clamoring about a god, once you get into the details the consensus disappears. Sure, every believer thinks his or her god is the god of all. But what about the corollary? Does he or she also believe that the god of other people is their god? Not so much. Beyond the short-term social diplomacy and political peace-keeping it affords, the assertion that “we all worship the same god” is a tremendous barrier to human intellectual progress. In the least it helps legitimize an ultimately vacuous concept.