Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Ad-Hoc Taxonomy of God

Found on the web. An interesting rundown of several, although not likely all, of the various conceptualizations of God found in the United States.

I think the real problem is that everyone has a different definition of God.

Therefore, I propose an ad hoc taxonomy of gods along with my own fanciful naming of each. Let’s start with the most abstract and work our way toward the specific. This isn’t meant as a complete survey, but is centered on the Abrahamic religions. There are many other versions of God, many of which would not fit into this taxonomy, but that is beyond the scope of this initial description.

1. God is just a name to describe the physical laws of the universe. I like to think of this as The Atheist God.
2. God is beyond knowing and completely outside description. I like to think of this as The Agnostic God (based on the literal translation of “unknowable”).
3. God is the creator who set everything into motion and is now sitting back and watching everything unfold. This is a god that no longer interacts with the universe she is The Watcher God. A slight variation on this is that history is unfolding as a predestined plan from the creation point, in which case I refer to him as The Clockmaker God (after Newton’s clockwork universe).
4. God interacts with people (and perhaps animals), but does not directly alter the world in a physical way. This god provides people with divine inspiration, but to actually affect the world she relies on people to act as agents. This is The Inspirational God.
5. God directly interacts with the world physically. This is The Interventionist God. This version of god can come in many different versions, a sample of which I list here.
5a. God acts in nearly imperceptible ways, nudging things to suit his will. I think of this as The Little Miracles God.
5b. God used to do big flashy miracles, but as history progresses he intercedes directly less often and almost never in the modern era. I think of this as The Age of Miracles God.
5c. God controls everything and everything that happens is a result of her will. Bad things happen to bad people as a punishment, and to good people to test their faith. Good things happen to good people as a reward and to bad people as an act of grace and mercy. I like to think of this as The Activist God.
5d. God is omnipotent and he isn’t afraid to use it. He can alter people’s memories, plant fossils in the ground and alter reality without anyone noticing, unless she wants people to see it. I think of this as The Magic God.

This is just a start, but I think it might be useful so that we're all on the same page when we make claims about what is or isn't compatible with science.

It occurs to me that perhaps there is another type.

x. God, while an incredibly powerful force, has mortal enemies, and to a certain extent, relies on other mortal agents to neutralize his Earthly opposition. I think of this as The Armchair General God.

I suppose that this could be considered a subset of 4, The Inspirational God, but I'll leave that to the reader to determine for themselves.

There is also a conceptualization of God that I recall from dealings with some of my relatives growing up. It may be particular to specific communities, because I don't hear as much about it these days.

y. God has a Plan for the Universe, but it is not predestined, as in The Clockmaker God. Instead, people have to actively choose whether or not they are going to follow the plan. (This strikes me as an answer to the retort that: "If God has a plan, my current actions must be a part of it.") I think of this as The Project Manager God.

Of course, I could go on like this for quite some time, and I suppose that's really part of the point. For all of the idea that God is a singular being, people's experience of it are quite different from one another. As was said, "everyone has a different definition of God." This has been true for perhaps as long as the concept of God has been around, and has been the cause of a lot of conflicts. Of course, a unified understanding of God would do away with this, but everyone in invested in their own conceptualization. But where, I wonder, does this leave the idea of God?

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