Conceptions of God
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- as a powerful, human-like, supernatural being, or as the deification of an esoteric, mystical or philosophical entity or category;
- as the "Ultimate", the summum bonum, the "Absolute Infinite", the "Transcendent", or Existence or Being itself;
- as the ground of being, the monistic substrate, that which we cannot understand; and so on.
The first recordings that survive of monotheistic conceptions of God, borne out of henotheism and (mostly in Eastern religions) monism, are from the Hellenistic period. Of the many objects and entities that religions and other belief systems across the ages have labeled as divine, the one criterion they share is their acknowledgement as divine by a group or groups of human beings.
- 1 Hellenistic philosophy and religion
- 2 Abrahamic religions
- 3 Eastern religions
- 4 Early Modern and new religious movements
- 5 Modern philosophy
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Hellenistic philosophy and religion
In his Metaphysics, Aristotle discusses meaning of "being as being". Aristotle holds that "being" primarily refers to the Unmoved Movers, and assigned one of these to each movement in the heavens. Each Unmoved Mover continuously contemplates its own contemplation, and everything that fits the second meaning of "being" by having its source of motion in itself, moves because the knowledge of its Mover causes it to emulate this Mover (or should).
Aristotle's definition of God attributes perfection to this being, and as a perfect being can only contemplate upon perfection and not on imperfection, otherwise perfection would not be one of his attributes. God, according to Aristotle, is in a state of "stasis" untouched by change and imperfection. The "unmoved mover" is very unlike the conception of God that one sees in most religions. It has been likened to a person who is playing dominos and pushes one of them over, so that every other domino in the set is pushed over as well, without the being having to do anything about it. Although, in the 18th century, the French educator Allan Kardec brought a very similar conception of God during his work of codifying Spiritism, this differs to the interpretation of God in most religions, where he is seen to be personally involved in his creation.
"The All" is the Hermetic version of God. It has also been called "The One", "The Great One", "The Creator", "The Supreme Mind", "The Supreme Good", "The Father" and "The Universal Mother". The All is seen by some to be a panentheistic conception of God, subsuming everything that is or can be experienced. One Hermetic maxim states that "While All is in THE ALL, it is equally true that THE ALL is in All." (Three Initiates p. 95) The All can also be seen to be hermaphroditic, possessing both masculine and feminine qualities in equal part (The Way of Hermes p. 19 Book 1:9). These qualities are, however, of mental gender, as The All lacks physical sex.
According to The Kybalion, The All is more complicated than simply being the sum total of the universe. Rather than The All being simply the physical universe, it is said that everything in the universe is within the mind of The All, since The All can be looked at as Mind itself (Three Initiates pp. 96–7). The All's mind is thought to be infinitely more powerful and vast than humans can possibly achieve (Three Initiates p. 99), and possibly capable of keeping track of every particle in the Universe. The Kybalion states that nothing can be outside of The All or The All would not be The All.
The All may also be a metaphor alluding to the godhead potentiality of every individual. "[God]... That invisible power which all know does exist, but understood by many different names, such as God, Spirit, Supreme Being, Intelligence, Mind, Energy, Nature and so forth." In the Hermetic Tradition, each and every person has the potential to become God, this idea or concept of God is perceived as internal rather than external. The All is also an allusion to the observer created universe. We create our own reality; hence we are the architect, The All. Another way would to be to say that the mind is the builder. Freemasonry often includes concepts of God as an external entity, however, esoteric masonic teachings clearly identify God as the individual himself: the perceiver. We are all God and as such we create our own reality. Although others believe God to be abstract. Meaning he is not seen in reality, but understood through deep contemplation. He is all around us every day, just hiding in the miracles and beauty of our Earth.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam (and also the Bahá'í Faith) see God as a being who created the world and who rules over the universe. God is usually held to have the following properties: holiness, justice, sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence and omnipresence. It is also believed to be transcendent, meaning that God is outside space and time. Therefore, God is eternal, unchangeable and unaffected by earthly forces or anything else within its creation.
Jewish monotheism is a continuation of earlier Hebrew henotheism, the exclusive worship of the God of Israel (YHWH) as prescribed in the Torah and practiced at the Temple of Jerusalem. Strict monotheism emerges in Hellenistic Judaism and Rabbinical Judaism. Pronunciation of the proper name of the God of Israel came to be avoided in the Hellenistic era (Second Temple Judaism) and instead Jews refer to God as HaShem, meaning "the Name". In prayer and reading of scripture, the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) is substituted with Adonai ("my Lord").
Judaism traditionally teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. God is the creator of both, but is himself neither, and is beyond all constructs of space and time. There are two aspects of God: God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and the revealed aspect of God, which created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. In Judaism, the principle statement of monotheism is the Shema, a passage in the Torah which states, "Listen, Israel, HaShem is our God HaShem is one." Maimonides stated in his 13 principles of faith that God is the Creator and Guide of everything that has been created, that he is one, there is no unity in any manner like his, and he alone is God; that he is free from all the properties of matter and that there can be no (physical) comparison to him whatsoever; that he is eternal, and is the first and the last; that he knows all the deeds of human beings and all their thoughts; that he rewards those who keep his commandments and punishes those that transgress them; and that at a time when it pleases God, he will revive the dead.
Some Kabbalistic thinkers have held the belief that all of existence is itself a part of God, and that we as humanity are unaware of our own inherent godliness and are grappling to come to terms with it. The standing view in Hasidism currently, is that there is nothing in existence outside of God – all being is within God, and yet all of existence cannot contain him. Regarding this, Solomon stated while dedicating the Temple, "But will God in truth dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You."
Modern Jewish thinkers have constructed a wide variety of other ideas about God. Hermann Cohen believed that God should be identified with the "archetype of morality," an idea reminiscent of Plato's idea of the Good. Mordecai Kaplan believed that God is the sum of all natural processes that allow man to become self-fulfilled.
Within Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is a single being that exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a perichoresis of three hypostases (i.e. persons; personae, prosopa): the Father (the Source, the Eternal Majesty); the Son (the eternal Logos ("Word"), manifest in human form as Jesus and thereafter as Christ); and the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete or advocate). Since the 4th Century AD, in both Eastern and Western Christianity, this doctrine has been stated as "One God in Three Persons", all three of whom, as distinct and co-eternal "persons" or "hypostases", share a single divine essence, being, or nature.
Following the First Council of Constantinople, the Son is described as eternally be gotten by the Father ("begotten of his Father before all worlds"). This generation does not imply a beginning for the Son or an inferior relationship with the Father. The Son is the perfect image of his Father, and is consubstantial with him. The Son returns that love, and that union between the two is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is consubstantial and co-equal with the Father and the Son. Thus, God contemplates and loves himself, enjoying infinite and perfect beatitude within himself. This relationship between the other two persons is called procession. Although the theology of the Trinity is accepted in most Christian churches, there are theological differences, notably between Catholic and Orthodox thought on the procession of the Holy Spirit (see filioque). Some Christian communions do not accept the Trinitarian doctrine, at least not in its traditional form. Notable groups include the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Unitarians, Arians, and Adoptionists.
Within Christianity, Unitarianism is the view that God consists of only one person, the Father, instead of three persons as Trinitarianism states. Unitarians believe that mainstream Christianity has been corrupted over history, and that it is not strictly monotheistic. There are different Unitarian views on Jesus, ranging from seeing him purely as a man who was chosen by God, to seeing him as a divine being, as the Son of God who had pre-existence. Thus, Unitarianism is typically divided into two principal groups:
- Arianism, which believes in the pre-existence of the Logos, and holds that the Son was God's first creation.
Even though the term "unitarian" did not first appear until the 17th century in reference to the Polish Brethren, the basic tenets of Unitarianism go back to the time of Arius in the 4th century, an Alexandrian priest that taught the doctrine that only the Father was God, and that the Son had been created by the Father. Arians rejected the term "homoousios" (consubstantial) as a term describing the Father and Son, viewing such term as compromising the uniqueness and primacy of God, and accused it of dividing the indivisible unit of the divine essence. Unitarians trace their history back to the Apostolic Age, arguing, as do Trinitarians and Binitarians, that their Christology most closely reflects that of the early Christian community and Church Fathers.
Binitarianism is the view within Christianity that there were originally two beings in the Godhead – the Father and the Word – that became the Son (Jesus the Christ). Binitarians normally believe that God is a family, currently consisting of the Father and the Son. Some binitarians[who?] believe that others will ultimately be born into that divine family. Hence, binitarians are nontrinitarian, but they are also not unitarian. Binitarians, like most unitarians and trinitarians, claim their views were held by the original New Testament Church. Unlike most unitarians and trinitarians who tend to identify themselves by those terms, binitarians normally do not refer to their belief in the duality of the Godhead, with the Son subordinate to the Father; they simply teach the Godhead in a manner that has been termed as binitarianism.
The word "binitarian" is typically used by scholars and theologians as a contrast to a trinitarian theology: a theology of "two" in God rather than a theology of "three", and although some critics prefer to use the term ditheist or dualist instead of binitarian, those terms suggests that God is not one, yet binitarians believe that God is one family. It is accurate to offer the judgment that most commonly when someone speaks of a Christian "binitarian" theology the "two" in God are the Father and the Son... A substantial amount of recent scholarship has been devoted to exploring the implications of the fact that Jesus was worshipped by those first Jewish Christians, since in Judaism "worship" was limited to the worship of God" (Barnes M. Early Christian Binitarianism: the Father and the Holy Spirit. Early Christian Binitarianism - as read at NAPS 2001). Much of this recent scholarship has been the result of the translations of the Nag Hammadi and other ancient manuscripts that were not available when older scholarly texts (such as Wilhelm Bousset's Kyrios Christos, 1913) were written.
In the Mormonism represented by most of Mormon communities, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "God" means Elohim (the Father), whereas "Godhead" means a council of three distinct entities; Elohim, Jehovah (the Son, or Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The Father and Son have perfected, material bodies, while the Holy Spirit is a spirit and does not have a body. This conception differs from the traditional Christian Trinity; in Mormonism, the three persons are considered to be physically separate beings, or personages, but indistinguishable in will and purpose. As such, the term "Godhead" differs from how it is used in traditional Christianity. This description of God represents the orthodoxy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), established early in the 19th century. However, the Mormon concept of God has expanded since the faith's founding in the late 1820s.
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Islam's most fundamental concept is a strict monotheism called tawḥīd. God is described in the Qur'an as: "Say: He is God, the One; God, the Eternal, the Absolute; He begot no one, nor is He begotten; Nor is there to Him equivalent anyone."." Muslims deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and divinity of Jesus, comparing it to polytheism. In Islam, God is beyond all comprehension or equal and does not resemble any of his creations in any way. Thus, Muslims are not iconodules and are not expected to visualize God. The message of God is carried by angels to 124,000 messengers starting with Adam and concluding with Mohammad. God is described and referred in the Quran by certain names or attributes, the most common being Al-Rahman, meaning "Most Compassionate" and Al-Rahim, meaning "Most Merciful" (see Names of God in Islam).
Muslims believe that creation of everything in the universe is brought into being by God’s sheer command “‘Be’ and so it is.” and that the purpose of existence is to please God, both by worship and by good deeds. He is viewed as a personal God who responds whenever a person in need or distress calls Him. There are no intermediaries, such as clergy, to contact God: “He is nearer to his creation than the jugular vein”
Allāh (Arabic: الله Allāh), without plural or gender is the divine name of the lord mentioned in the Quran, while "ʾilāh" (Arabic: إله ellāh) is the term used for a deity or a god in general.
Bahá'ís believe in a single, imperishable God, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe. In Bahá'í belief, God is beyond space and time but is also described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty." Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of creation, possessing a mind, will and purpose. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will at all times and in many ways, including Manifestations, a series of divine "messengers" or "educators". In expressing God's intent, these manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world. Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, nor to create a complete and accurate image. Bahá'u'lláh often refers to God by titles, such as the "All-Powerful" or the "All-Loving".
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Some Jewish, Christian and Muslim Medieval philosophers, including Moses Maimonides and Pseudo-Dionysius, as well as many sages of other religions, developed what is termed as apophatic theology or the Via Negativa, the idea that one cannot posit attributes to God and can only discuss what God is not. For example, we cannot say that God "exists" in the usual sense of the term, because that term is human defined and God's qualities such as existence may not be accurately characterized by it. What we can safely say is that it cannot be proven empirically or otherwise that God is existent, therefore God is not non-existent. Likewise God's "wisdom" is of a fundamentally different kind from limited human perception. So we cannot use the word "wise" to describe God, because this implies God is wise in the way we usually describe humans being wise. However we can safely say that God is not ignorant. We should not say that God is One, because we may not truly understand Gods nature, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being. In the Quran it is stated that God possess no quality of God's creation, which means that there cannot be a He or She used to describe God. To say that God is angered or feels any kind of emotion is a misunderstanding. Emotion is in common to all humans; it is what gives them their essence, though to feel love, anger, jealousy, or happiness clouds and misguides our judgment and may lead us to make a weak decision or do something unfair. Therefore, One who sees all and can feel all does not need any emotion to make a decision. God is beyond emotion and other human biases.
The reason that this theology was developed was because it was felt that ascribing positive characteristics to God would imply that God could be accurately described with terms that were used to describe human qualities and perceptions. As humans cannot truly comprehend what kind of wisdom an eternal transcendent being might have, or what infinity might be like, we cannot in fact know or characterize his true nature. It is beyond human ability and would only mislead people. The proponents of this theory often experienced meditation, which they viewed as the only effective way of having a personal relationship with God. It involved trying to reach beyond the words commonly used to describe him and his more ineffable characteristics, and to comprehend in a mystical manner the truths about him which could not be achieved through religious language. Thus many sages and saints of both monotheistic and other traditions described mystical trances, or raptures and stated they were unable to describe God or their visions fully.
Jainism does not support belief in a creator deity. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents—soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion—have always existed. All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws. It is not possible to create matter out of nothing and hence the sum total of matter in the universe remains the same (similar to law of conservation of mass). Jain text claims that the universe consists of Jiva (life force or souls) and Ajiva (lifeless objects). Similarly, the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.[a]
The Jain theory of causation holds that a cause and its effect are always identical in nature and hence a conscious and immaterial entity like God cannot create a material entity like the universe. Furthermore, according to the Jain concept of divinity, any soul who destroys its karmas and desires, achieves liberation/Nirvana. A soul who destroys all its passions and desires has no desire to interfere in the working of the universe. Moral rewards and sufferings are not the work of a divine being, but a result of an innate moral order in the cosmos; a self-regulating mechanism whereby the individual reaps the fruits of his own actions through the workings of the karmas.
Through the ages, Jain philosophers have adamantly rejected and opposed the concept of creator and omnipotent God. This has resulted in Jainism being labeled as nastika darsana (atheist philosophy) by rival religious philosophies. The theme of non-creationism and absence of omnipotent God and divine grace runs strongly in all the philosophical dimensions of Jainism, including its cosmology, concepts of karma and moksa and its moral code of conduct. Jainism asserts a religious and virtuous life is possible without the idea of a creator god.
The non-adherence to the notion of a supreme God or a prime mover is seen as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religious views. In Buddhism, the sole aim of the spiritual practice is the complete alleviation of distress (dukkha) in samsara, called nirvana. The Buddha neither denies nor accepts a creator, denies endorsing any views on creation and states that questions on the origin of the world are worthless. Some teachers instruct students beginning Buddhist meditation that the notion of divinity is not incompatible with Buddhism, but dogmatic beliefs in a supreme personal creator are considered a hindrance to the attainment of nirvana, the highest goal of Buddhist practice.
Despite this apparent non-theism, Buddhists consider veneration of the Noble Ones very important although the two main schools of Buddhism differ mildly in their reverential attitudes. While Theravada Buddhists view the Buddha as a human being who attained nirvana or arahanthood through human efforts, Mahayana Buddhists consider him an embodiment of the cosmic dharmakaya (a notion of transcendent divinity), who was born for the benefit of others and not merely a human being. In addition, some Mahayana Buddhists worship their chief Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara and hope to embody him.
Buddhists accept the existence of beings known as devas in higher realms, but they, like humans, are said to be suffering in samsara, and not necessarily wiser than us. In fact, the Buddha is often portrayed as a teacher of the gods, and superior to them. Despite this, there are believed to be enlightened devas on the path of Buddhahood.
In Buddhism, the idea of the metaphysical absolute is deconstructed in the same way as of the idea of an enduring "self", but it is not necessarily denied. Reality is considered as dynamic, interactive and non-substantial, which implies rejection of brahman or of a divine substratum. A cosmic principle can be embodied in concepts such as the dharmakaya. Though there is a primordial Buddha (or, in Vajrayana, the Adi-Buddha, a representation of immanent enlightenment in nature), its representation as a creator is a symbol of the presence of a universal cyclical creation and dissolution of the cosmos and not of an actual personal being. An intelligent, metaphysical underlying basis, however, is not ruled out by Buddhism, although Buddhists are generally very careful to distinguish this idea from that of an independent creator God.
In Hinduism, the concept of god is complex and depends on the particular tradition. The concept spans conceptions from absolute monism to henotheism, monotheism and polytheism. In vedic period monotheistic god Concept culminated in the semi abstract semi personified form of creative soul dwelling in all god such as Vishvakarman, Purusha, and Prajapathy . In majority of Vaishnavism traditions, He is Vishnu, god, and the text identifies this being as Krishna, sometimes referred as svayam bhagavan. The term isvara - from the root is, to have extraordinary power. Some traditional sankhya systems contrast purusha (devine, or souls) to prakriti (nature or energy), however the term for sovereign god, ishvara is mentioned six times in the Atharva Veda, and is central to many traditions. As per Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy the notion of Brahman (the highest Universal Principle) is akin to that of god; except that unlike most other philosophies Advaita likens Brahman to Atman (the true Self of an individual). For Sindhi Hindus, who are deeply influenced by Sikhism, God is seen as the omnipotent cultivation of all Hindu gods and goddesses.[clarification needed] In short the soul paramatma of all gods and goddesses are the omnipresent Brahman and are enlightened beings.
Brahman is the eternal, unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being and everything beyond in this Universe. The nature of Brahman is described as transpersonal, personal and impersonal by different philosophical schools. The word "Brahman" is derived from the verb ((brh)) (Sanskrit: to grow), and connotes greatness and infinity. Brahman is talked of at two levels (apara and para). Para-Brahman is the all inclusive - he is the head from which all concepts including the alphabets emerge. The honey of all knowledge (i.e. the universal set of all concepts like mind, intellect, speech, alphabets, etc.) to denote this, a special term - not originating from alphabets - called OM is used. He is the fountainhead of all concepts but He Himself cannot be conceived. He is the universal conceiver, universal concept and all the means of concept. Apara-Brahman is the same Para Brahma but for human understanding thought of as universal mind cum universal intellect from which all human beings derive an iota as their mind, intellect etc.
Ishvara is a philosophical concept in Hinduism, meaning controller or the Supreme controller (i.e. God) in a monotheistic or the Supreme Being or as an Ishta-deva of monistic thought. Ishvara is a transcendent and immanent entity best described in the last chapter of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita, known as the Ishavasya Upanishad. It states "ishavasyam idam sarvam" which means whatever there is in this world is covered and filled with Ishvara. Ishvara not only creates the world, but then also enters into everything there is. In Saivite traditions, the term is used as part of the compound "Maheshvara" ("great lord") later as a name for Siva.
Lord Shiva is more often considered as first Hindu God. Mahadeva literally means "Highest of all god". Shiva is also known as Maheshvar, the great Lord, Mahadeva, the great God, Shambhu, Hara, Pinakadhrik, bearer of the axe and Mrityunjaya, conqueror of death. He is the spouse of Shakti, the goddess. He also is represented by Mahakala and Bhairava, the terrible, as well as many other forms including Rudra. Shiva is often pictured holding the damaru, an hour-glass shape drum, shown below with his trishula. His usual mantra is om namah shivaya.
This must not be confused with the numerous devas. Deva may be roughly translated into English as deity, demigod or angel, and can describe any celestial being or thing that is of high excellence and thus is venerable. The word is cognate to Latin deus for "god". The misconception of 330 million devas is commonly objected to by Hindu scholars. The description of 33 koti (10 million, crore in Hindi) devas is a misunderstanding. The word koti in Sanskrit translates to 'type' and not '10 million'. So the actual translation is 33 types and not 330 million devas. Ishvara as a personal form of God is worshiped and not the 33 devas. The concept of 33 devas is perhaps related to the geometry of the universe.
Bhagavan literally means "possessing fortune, blessed, prosperous" (from the noun bhaga, meaning "fortune, wealth", cognate to Slavic bog "god"), and hence "illustrious, divine, venerable, holy", etc. In some traditions of Hinduism it is used to indicate the Supreme Being or Absolute Truth, but with specific reference to that Supreme Being as possessing a personality (a personal God). This personal feature indicated in Bhagavan differentiates its usage from other similar terms such as Brahman, the "Supreme Spirit" or "spirit", and thus, in this usage, Bhagavan is in many ways analogous to the general Christian and Islamic conception of God.
Early Modern and new religious movements
The Western Wisdom Teachings present the conception of The Absolute (unmanifested and unlimited "Boundless Being" or "Root of Existence", beyond the whole universe and beyond comprehension) from whom proceeds the Supreme Being at the dawn of manifestation: The One, the "Great Architect of the Universe". From the threefold Supreme Being proceed the "seven Great Logoi" who contain within themselves all the great hierarchies that differentiate more and more as they diffuse through the six lower Cosmic Planes. In the Highest World of the seventh (lowest) Cosmic Plane dwells the god of the solar systems in the universe. These great beings are also threefold in manifestation, like the Supreme Being; their three aspects are Will, Wisdom and Activity.
According these Rosicrucian teachings, in the beginning of a Day of Manifestation a certain collective Great Being, God, limits himself to a certain portion of space, in which he elects to create a solar system for the evolution of added self-consciousness. In God there are contained hosts of glorious hierarchies and lesser beings of every grade of intelligence and stage of consciousness, from omniscience to an unconsciousness deeper than that of the deepest trance condition.
During the current period of manifestation these various grades of beings are working to acquire more experience than they possessed at the beginning of this period of existence. Those who, in previous manifestations, have attained to the highest degree of development work on those who have not yet evolved any consciousness. In the Solar system, God's Habitation, there are seven Worlds differentiated by God, within Himself, one after another. Mankind's evolutionary scheme is slowly carried through five of these Worlds in seven great Periods of manifestation, during which the evolving virgin spirit becomes first human and, then, a God.
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Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some have no belief in any gods (atheism); others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some believe that the question of the existence of any god is most likely unascertainable or unknowable (agnosticism). Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendent reality. Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), an Abrahamic god, or a god manifested in nature or the universe (pantheism). Many UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of the "spirit of life" that binds all life on earth. UUs support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of spirituality. Historically, Unitarianism was a denomination within Christianity. The term may refer to any belief about the nature of Jesus Christ that affirms God as a singular entity and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. Universalism broadly refers to a theological belief that all persons and creatures are related to a god or the divine and will be reconciled to a god (Universal Salvation).
The term for God in Sikhism is Vahigurū. Nānak describes God as niraṅkār (from the Sanskrit nirākārā, meaning "formless"), akāl (meaning "eternal") and alakh (from the Sanskrit alakśya, meaning "invisible" or "unobserved"). Sikhism's principal scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, starts with the figure "1", signifying the unity of God. Nānak's interpretation of God is that of a single, personal and transcendental creator with whom the devotee must develop a most intimate faith and relationship to achieve salvation. Sikhism advocates the belief in one god who is omnipresent (sarav vi'āpak), whose qualities are infinite and who is without gender, a nature represented (especially in the Gurū Granth Sāhib) by the term ik ōaṅkār.
Nānak further emphasizes that a full understanding of God is beyond human beings, but that God is also not wholly unknowable. God is considered omnipresent in all creation and visible everywhere to the spiritually awakened. Nānak stresses that God must be seen by human beings from "the inward eye" or "heart" and that meditation must take place inwardly to achieve this enlightenment progressively; its rigorous application is what enables communication between God and human beings.
Sikhs believe in a single god that has existed from the beginning of time and will survive forever. God is genderless, fearless, formless, immutable, ineffable, self-sufficient, omnipotent and not subject to the cycle of birth and death.
God in Sikhism is depicted in three distinct aspects: God as deity; God in relation to creation; and God in relation to man. During a discourse with siddhas (wandering Hindu adepts), Nānak is asked where "the Transcendent God" was before creation. He replies: "To think of the Transcendent Lord in that state is to enter the realm of wonder. Even at that stage of sunn, he permeated all that void" (GG, 940).
Some comparatively new belief systems and books portray God as extraterrestrial life. Many of these theories hold that intelligent beings from another world have been visiting Earth for many thousands of years and have influenced the development of our religions. Some of these books posit that prophets or messiahs were sent to the human race in order to teach morality and encourage the development of civilization (see, for example, Rael and Zecharia Sitchin).
The spiritual teacher Meher Baba described God as infinite love: "God is not understood in His essence until He is also understood as Infinite Love. Divine Love is unlimited in essence and expression, because it is experienced by the soul through the soul itself. The sojourn of the soul is a thrilling divine romance in which the lover, who in the beginning is conscious of nothing but emptiness, frustration, superficiality and the gnawing chains of bondage, gradually attains an increasingly fuller and freer expression of love and ultimately disappears and merges in the Divine Beloved to realize the unity of the Lover and the Beloved in the supreme and eternal fact of God as Infinite Love."
Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, espoused the view that "god" is a creation of man, rather than man being a creation of "god". In his book, The Satanic Bible, the Satanist's view of god is described as the Satanist's true "self"—a projection of his or her own personality—not an external deity. Satan is used as a representation of personal liberty and individualism. LaVey discusses this extensively in The Book of Lucifer, explaining that the gods worshipped by other religions are also projections of man's true self. He argues that man's unwillingness to accept his own ego has caused him to externalize these gods so as to avoid the feeling of narcissism that would accompany self-worship.
"If man insists on externalizing his true self in the form of "God," then why fear his true self, in fearing "God,"—why praise his true self in praising "God,"—why remain externalized from "God"
in order to engage in ritual and religious ceremony in his name?
Man needs ritual and dogma, but no law states that an externalized god is necessary in order to engage in ritual and ceremony performed in a god's name! Could it be that when he closes the gap between himself and his "God" he sees the demon of pride creeping forth—that very embodiment of Lucifer appearing in his midst?"— Anton LaVey, The Satanic Bible, pp. 44–45
Process philosophy and open theism
Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), while open theism is a similar theological movement that began in the 1990s.
In both views, God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of a coercive being. Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God and creatures co-create. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. Process theology is compatible with panentheism, the concept that God contains the universe (pantheism) but also transcends it. God as the ultimate logician - God may be defined as the only entity, by definition, possessing the ability to reduce an infinite number of logical equations having an infinite number of variables and an infinite number of states to minimum form instantaneously.
A posthuman God is a hypothetical future entity descended from or created by humans, but possessing capabilities so radically exceeding those of present humans as to appear godlike. One common variation of this idea is the belief or aspiration that humans will create a God entity emerging from an artificial intelligence. Another variant is that humanity itself will evolve into a posthuman God.
The concept of a posthuman god has become common in science fiction. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said in an interview, "It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him." Clarke's friend and colleague, the late Isaac Asimov, postulated in his story "The Last Question" a merger between humanity and machine intelligence that ultimately produces a deity capable of reversing entropy and subsequently initiates a new Creation trillions of years from the present era when the Universe is in the last stage of heat death. In Frank Herbert's science-fiction series Dune, a messianic figure is created after thousands of years of controlled breeding. The Culture series, by Iain M. Banks, represents a blend in which a transhuman society is guarded by godlike machine intelligences. A stronger example is posited in the novel Singularity Sky by Charles Stross, in which a future artificial intelligence is capable of changing events even in its own past, and takes strong measures to prevent any other entity from taking advantage of similar capabilities. Another example appears in the popular online novella The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect in which an advanced artificial intelligence uses its own advanced quantum brain to resolve discrepancies in physics theories and develop a unified field theory which gives it absolute control over reality, in a take on philosophical digitalism.
The philosopher Michel Henry defines God from a phenomenological point of view. He says: "God is Life, he is the essence of Life, or, if we prefer, the essence of Life is God. Saying this we already know what is God the father the almighty, creator of heaven and earth, we know it not by the effect of a learning or of some knowledge, we don’t know it by the thought, on the background of the truth of the world ; we know it and we can know it only in and by the Life itself. We can know it only in God."
This Life is not biological life defined by objective and exterior properties, nor an abstract and empty philosophical concept, but the absolute phenomenological life, a radically immanent life that possesses in it the power of showing itself in itself without distance, a life that reveals permanently itself.
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- The term with its distinctive Mormon usage first appeared in Lectures on Faith (published 1834), Lecture 5 ("We shall in this lecture speak of the Godhead; we mean the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."). The term "Godhead" also appears several times in Lecture 2 in its sense as used in the Authorized King James Version as meaning divinity.
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- Bhikku, Thanissaro (1997). Tittha Sutta: Sectarians.
Then in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of a supreme being's act of creation... When one falls back on lack of cause and lack of condition as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought], 'This should be done. This shouldn't be done.' When one can't pin down as a truth or reality what should & shouldn't be done, one dwells bewildered & unprotected. One cannot righteously refer to oneself as a contemplative.
- Thanissaro Bhikku (2004). "Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile". Access To Insight.
Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of distress.
- Thanissaro Bhikku (2004). "Anuradha Sutta: To Anuradha". Access To Insight.
Both formerly & now, it is only distress that I describe, and the cessation of distress.
- Thera, Nyanaponika. "Buddhism and the God-idea". The Vision of the Dhamma. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.
In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world; as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, etc. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the kammic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.
- Bhikku Bodhi (2007). "III.1, III.2, III.5". In Access To Insight. The All Embracing Net of Views: Brahmajala Sutta. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.
- Thanissaro Bhikku (1997). "Acintita Sutta: Unconjecturable". AN 4.77. Access To Insight.
Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it.
- Thanissaro Bhikku (1998). "Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya". Access To Insight.
It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short... The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him. In the same way, if anyone were to say, 'I won't live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that 'The cosmos is eternal,'... or that 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata.
- Dorothy Figen (1988). "Is Buddhism a Religion?". Beginning Insight Meditation and other essays. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. pp. Bodhi Leaves.
So to these young Christians I can say, "Believe in Christ if you wish, but remember, Jesus never claimed divinity either." Yes, believe in a unitary God, too, if you wish, but cease your imploring, pleading for personal dispensations, health, wealth, relief from suffering. Study the Eightfold Path. Seek the insights and enlightenment that come through meditative learnings. And find out how to achieve for yourself what prayer and solicitation of forces beyond you are unable to accomplish.
- Nyanaponika Thera (1994). Buddhism and the God-idea. The Vision of the Dhamma. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.
Although belief in God does not exclude a favorable rebirth, it is a variety of eternalism, a false affirmation of permanence rooted in the craving for existence, and as such an obstacle to final deliverance.
- Mahasi Sayadaw,Thoughts on the Dhamma, The Wheel Publication No. 298/300, Kandy BPS, 1983, "...when Buddha-dhamma is being disseminated, there should be only one basis of teaching relating to the Middle Way or the Eightfold Path: the practice of morality, concentration, and acquisition of profound knowledge, and the Four Noble Truths."
- Buddhists consider an enlightened person, the Dhamma and the community of monks as noble. See Three Jewels.
- Thera, Nyanaponika (1994). Devotion in Buddhism. Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the Buddha disparaged a reverential and devotional attitude of mind when it is the natural outflow of a true understanding and a deep admiration of what is great and noble.
- Bhikku, Thanissaro. "The Meaning of the Buddha's Awakening". Access to Insight. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
- Donald K. Swearer (2004). Becoming the Buddha: The Ritual of Image Consecration in Thailand. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-11435-4.
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- John T Bullitt (2005). "The Thirty-one planes of Existence". Access To Insight. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
The suttas describe thirty-one distinct "planes" or "realms" of existence into which beings can be reborn during this long wandering through samsara. These range from the extraordinarily dark, grim, and painful hell realms all the way up to the most sublime, refined, and exquisitely blissful heaven realms. Existence in every realm is impermanent; in Buddhist cosmology there is no eternal heaven or hell. Beings are born into a particular realm according to both their past kamma and their kamma at the moment of death. When the kammic force that propelled them to that realm is finally exhausted, they pass away, taking rebirth once again elsewhere according to their kamma. And so the wearisome cycle continues.
- Susan Elbaum Jootla (1997). "II. The Buddha Teaches Deities". In Access To Insight. Teacher of the Devas. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Archived from the original on 2013-02-04.
Many people worship Maha Brahma as the supreme and eternal creator God, but for the Buddha he is merely a powerful deity still caught within the cycle of repeated existence. In point of fact, "Maha Brahma" is a role or office filled by different individuals at different periods.", "His proof included the fact that "many thousands of deities have gone for refuge for life to the recluse Gotama" (MN 95.9). Devas, like humans, develop faith in the Buddha by practicing his teachings.", "A second deva concerned with liberation spoke a verse which is partly praise of the Buddha and partly a request for teaching. Using various similes from the animal world, this god showed his admiration and reverence for the Exalted One.", "A discourse called Sakka's Questions (DN 21) took place after he had been a serious disciple of the Buddha for some time. The sutta records a long audience he had with the Blessed One which culminated in his attainment of stream-entry. Their conversation is an excellent example of the Buddha as "teacher of devas," and shows all beings how to work for Nibbana.
- Bhikku, Thanissaro (1997). Kevaddha Sutta. Access To Insight.
When this was said, the Great Brahma said to the monk, 'I, monk, am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be... That is why I did not say in their presence that I, too, don't know where the four great elements... cease without remainder. So you have acted wrongly, acted incorrectly, in bypassing the Blessed One in search of an answer to this question elsewhere. Go right back to the Blessed One and, on arrival, ask him this question. However he answers it, you should take it to heart.
- Bryant, Edwin H. (2003). Krishna: the beautiful legend of God; Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa, book X with chapters 1, 6 and 29-31 from book XI. Harmondsworth [Eng.]: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044799-7.
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- Reender Kranenborg, "Brahma Kumaris: A New Religion?", Free University of Amsterdam. Retrieved 2007-07-27.
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