Tuesday, October 28, 2014

So what is it the atheist doesn't believe in?

Or to put it another way, "What is a god?"  (Remember, "Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes!" )

Hopefully this one will last a while... Generally, believers tend to see atheists as being "against" their god and/or belief system - a popular question being "why do you hate God?" And the answer, "We don't hate what we don't believe in," tends to be looked at oddly. 
After all, "How can you not believe in God?" 

Well, let's do something here, and take that capital G away. "god." Making it nicely generic, and still true. Atheists don't believe in a god or gods. Why?

Well first, what *is* a god? 

If you ask someone that, they'll likely go into whatever the specifics of their chosen deity or deities are... but that's not the question. Atheists don't just not believe in *your* god, it's the entire class of beings known as gods we're disbelieving at. 

But why? I mean, we have to believe in *something,* right? Maybe it's the specifics that turn you off! 

Let's step back. I think if we look at the species as a whole, we can agree, generally, on what a cat is. Not if one's better than the other, but just what it *is.* Everything from the little fuzzy kitten in the pet shop to the lions and tigers most of us will never get closer to than a TV set or the zoo - they're all *cats.* Similarly, with a few outliers, we all have general agreement on what a "car" is, or a "tree." 

So if a god or gods are so fundamental to the universe, why don't we agree on what they are? About the only thing that can be agreed to is that something labeled a god is "divine." Which... is defined as "coming from a god" or "being godlike." 

Well, that's a fairly useless definition. Well, "Deity" is another word for a god. But it's defined, via Mirriam Webster, as... having the rank or essential nature of a god. Or someone exalted or revered as supremely powerful... which itself doesn't work, as there are plenty of examples of  gods who were decidedly not "supremely" powerful. (The defeats of Set and Osiris, Ragnarok, the fear of sun gods dying and thus requiring sacrifice and more.) 

We could just call a god the "supreme something," which allows usage like calling Clapton a "guitar god." But that's simply a rank. It works, honestly, but as a top rank, nobody worships a general (usually.) 

How about something "more than human?" It's a vague phrase, but understandable - that said, there have been plenty of everyday humans worshipped as gods (generally kings,) and plenty of natural phenomena with gods assigned to them. Not to mention plenty of tales of humans outwitting and defeating gods. So as part of the definition, it's kind of useless. 

How about "Having a supernatural component?" (Or more specifically belief that there is one.) Well, we'll start ignoring the use of things like "Clapton is a guitar god" then. The problem is defining what this "component" is and what it does. It's not innate - there are, after all, tales of humans being raised to the level of gods. There's no real definition of what this component is. It's certainly not the same between every one. But the belief it exists - sure. So we've got a "supreme something" with a "spiritual component." 

How about all knowing? No. Here we get into specifics of deities. And all it takes is a quick browse through mythology - including the bible - to show gods being taken by surprise. So they definitely aren't all knowing. 

All powerful? Nope. For the same reason. It doesn't take much looking for anyone to find stories of gods being overpowered or being unable to do something. Honestly, we can throw out almost everything that starts with omni- or all - ... because it's not consistent. 

 How about immortal? Again, no. There are plenty of acknowledged gods dying and not coming back in their myths. Though the idea is popular.

 We can't use definitions that include just (as there are plenty of unjust gods, tricksters, liars, cheats and the like,) or wise (different from all knowing, and there are plenty of gods that do stupid things.)

Which leaves us with what? A "something divine?" 

"I'll know it when I see it?" 

Just what is it that makes a god a god, other than belief that it is one?

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