Wednesday 24 December 2014

Why do people revere god/s? Three reasons to revere a god who is *not* defined as an omni-god


Not all of the following need or should apply in any particular instance.


1. Power

Historically, this must surely have been the main reason. A god is worshiped because he or she is powerful; not to worship might cause punishment, to worship may be rewarded.

A powerful god need not be good, but might indeed be evil. So, worship of power is not 'good' but rather expedient.

This is much the same psychological mechanism as applies to attitudes to a Chief, King or Emperor.


2. Parent

A god may be reverenced because he is Father or she is Mother - either personally and/or to the group, the nation. God is our creator; such a god made us Men.

The reverence of a parent is natural, spontaneous; and that this reverence is a good thing has been implanted into us (although it can, of course, be over-ridden by other factors.)

Love between parent and child can be regarded as good if we assume that its goodness comes from the goodness of god - otherwise it is just a contingent by-product of natural selection.


3. Creator of all things

A god may be revered because he created not only us as persons, but also the world we inhabit.

Such reverence is based on gratitude - what is has been made, was made by God and 'given' to us.

The concept of creation implies that god made things as they are, made them into what they are - it does not imply they were made from nothing. Indeed, creation is spontaneously understood as an act of shaping and forming pre-existent 'stuff'.


4. By rational necessity

This is the philosophical doctrine that god is necessary, and that therefore (by a chain of reasoning) it is necessary to worship god.

Not to worship god is regarded as a product of ignorance or confusion. Not to worship god is regarded as not-so-much evil as illogical.

This is associated with the omni concept of God who can do anything rational and is outside time and space: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent; and who created everything from nothing.


Personally, I revere God because of 1, 2 and 3 - but not 4.

The point is that there are still at least three reasons to revere/ worship, be grateful to a god - even when the validity of an omni-god is denied.



Wm Jas said...

Love between parent and child can be regarded as good if we assume that its goodness comes from the goodness of god - otherwise it is just a contingent by-product of natural selection.

This implies that parenthood as such may be a psychological cause of our worship of God but cannot be the moral reason for that worship.

Worshiping God is good because reverence for parents is good, but reverence for parents is (you say) good only insofar as it comes from the goodness of God. Therefore, ultimately, worshiping God is good because God is good, not because he is our Father.


Another question: What exactly is "worship"? It is not mere reverence or obedience or prayer or praise. Christians revere and obey their parents, praise good men, and may pray to saints, while still maintaining that they worship one God only. I've never been able to pin down exactly what the word is supposed to mean.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William- That's an accurate summary of what I was trying to express.

Worship is tricky - and many kinds of worship are - I think - inappropriate to be directed at a loving Father (as Christians should understand Him to be); and betray a view of God much closer to the other major monotheism.

It may well be that worship is a concept that has evolved by serial revelation, and which has suffered corruption at times. Perhaps the word is now irretrievably tainted - that is why I used reverence in the title.

The main point is that our attitude to God *should be* a consequence of our understanding of His nature, and the nature of our relationship with Him - and then we call *that* worship.

Adam G. said...

Bruce C.,

I like this. Mostly, I think people who insist on number 4 do so because they think 1-3 entail it (and they may be right). There is an emotional response and a responsive act appropriate to each of 1-3. 1 is awe, worship, fear and the appropriate action is submission and obedience. 2 is love, and the action is emulation. 3 is gratitude, and the action is praise. But what is the proper response to a logical necessity? I'm not sure. Which is why I, though I mostly agree on the question of logical necessity of the omnis, I just don't care that much about it.

Wm Jas,
I gnawed at a definition of worship a bit ago. The result is less clear than I'd like, but for what it's worth--

Adam G. said...

It's interesting how well fatherhood borrows from the other two, power especially. the father's power in relation to his children is part of the base experience of having a father. A father is also a creator, by definition.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Thanks - and I agree about the link between the reasons and the emotional response.

I suppose some of these responses are pretty much mutually exclusive (e.g. fear and love don't sit well together) - so the response will depend on which is dominant in a person; or which is dominant at a particular time.

TE said...

I can see why under certain circumstances someone would want to revere and also even love a non "omni" god, but to truly worship only seems proper to an "omni" God.

The reason not to worship a non "omni" god is because I can conceive (even if not fully, and not entirely correctly) of an omni God, therefore, even if an "omni" God did not exist (of course I believe He does), I would necessarily find my own "imaginary" conception of an "omni" God more suitable for worship than the "actual existing" (under these hypothetical conditions) non-omni god.

So even under the hypothetical case in which an "omni" God does not exist BUT a good, even great, even very very great "non-omni" god does exist, the non-omni god is not a suitable being to worship because I can conceive of something higher than him.

Whereas an "omni" God is always suitable for worship-- even under the extreme hypothetical condition of the non existence of such a God-- since He is the highest thing that can be conceived of or imagined He is the only being suitable for worship.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TE - This is why it is a good thing that there are several real Christian denominations - Christianity has room for more than one theological understanding/ philosophical concept of God.

ajb said...

@Wm Jas,

I think a good start for understanding worship is as valuing something (from 'having worth').

In this case, to put God in first place (value Him first) is a basic Christian idea.

The Old Testament commandment is to have no other gods before me, i.e., to value them more.