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Why do we humanize God?

A very religious pastor said recently:

“The sin of society is the sin of humanizing God.”

He went on to say that if we bring God down to the human level, we automatically put man up to God’s level. And I suppose this would be true if God were “up there” and man were “down here.” But what if God is not up? What if we don’t know what we’re talking about when we talk about God? Isn’t anthropomorphism a natural human reaction?

Mankind has always been anthropomorphic. That’s what this Greek word means: “Morphing into, or taking the form of, an Anthropos (human).” The Greeks did this all the time. Poseidon (or Neptune, if you’re a Roman) carries a three-pointed trident as he strolls down the beaches or dives into the deep. Zeus has a neatly trimmed gray beard, stormy eyes, and carries a dangerous looking thunderbolt in his right hand. Man-made gods.

The ancient Hebrews tried desperately to fight against this trend. They presented their god as a fire in a bush and then as a loud voice and finally they refused to even print his name. They had no statues or pictures of Yahweh; no descriptions of a long beard and fancy robes. However, he did speak Hebrew and he did get angry and jealous and sad, just like any other human of their time. Hard to avoid the human touch, isn’t it?

So — is this very religious pastor right? Is it sinful to think of God in human terms? Of course not. But then how can it be sinful to think of God in agnostic terms? The agnostic says: I don’t know what God is. What’s wrong with that? Nobody knows what God is — that’s why we’ve tried so desperately for centuries to make him-or-her a human. The agnostic is simply saying what we all know but won’t acknowledge.

How about the atheist? Is it wrong for him to deny the physical existence of mythical gods just because they carry Christian labels? When that very religious pastor shoves the book of Revelation in the atheist’s face and says to him: “God has seven angels standing around his throne,” (Rev. 8:2) is it sinful for the atheist to answer: “I don’t believe in your God with all his angels.”? I don’t think so.

On April 8, 1966, Time Magazine’s cover read: IS GOD DEAD? And, if you were living in Berkeley, California, at that time, you would have answered: Hell, yes! The God of your parents and grandparents was gone; the God who punished you with everlasting hellfire was banished from your life. The God “from above” was gone “from below.” You read Nietzsche and Hegel and William Blake, and found some comfort in Paul Tillich’s “ground of being.” But at the end of the day, you were simply a happy, flower-loving, hippie-type secularist.

R. Kirby Godsey, in his beautiful but controversial book “The God Particle,” makes it clear that the recent scientific discovery of the Higgs Boson showed that it may have been a particle, but it was not God. They gave it that name to draw attention, which, of course, it did.

Dr. Godsey goes on to tell us how he imagines God:

“(God is) right here within us and among us… in the encouraging call of a friend’s voice …in the awesomeness of the distant galaxies … in the togetherness of our every coming together.” (pg.45) “God is the divine energy that we experience as sacred mystery.” (pg.66-67-68).

All of us imagine God, whether we’re agnostics, atheists, Christians, Muslim, Buddhists, hippies or whatever. Each one of us has an “experience of holiness” — maybe in the eyes of our beloved or the birth of our child or the death of our hero, or a glimpse of the galaxies through a telescope. We can use the myths and stories of our religions to enliven and color our experience — or not as we wish — but we can never either deny or make human that experience. It will always remain an unexplainable mystery. That’s just God for you.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.