God Versus the Idea of God

God Versus the Idea of God

by Thomas Richard Harry


Publisher BalboaPress

Published in Christian Books & Bibles/Christian Living, Christian Books & Bibles/Theology, Religion & Spirituality, Nonfiction

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Book Description


This book is about one of the most a profound skepticism - individual religious doubt - up close and personal. It scratches the surface pretty deeply in some areas. It's by no means the first to do so, but it's possibly the first to pose the issue in the manner presented for laypersons and suggest possible explanations to many of the religious "I wonder" questions people ask themselves.

Sample Chapter

A Steep Hill to Climb

"Only one thing is certain - - that is nothing is certain. If this statement is true, it is also false."

-Ancient Paradox

Thesis: Yes, there is a God.

Antithesis: No, there is no God.

Synthesis: After a very prolonged period, nothing yet.

Where do your thoughts fall on this scale of belief? Is there, isn't there or what else might there be? Perhaps what follows will shed some light on this long-debated issue. Maybe not. In any event, for many the search for belief can be a steep hill to climb.

When I use the term "God" I mean what the Church teaches, a divinity considered the Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe; something numinous and transcendental. Something well beyond man's untrained ability to imagine. I do not mean a deified person or object. Such Supreme Being has historically assumed various forms, expressions, or characteristics for various peoples in various cultures. It has been pointed out that every culture develops its own idea of God.

Why does man believe in, or need to be taught to believe in, God? There are good and demonstrable reasons why, and we will delve into them. They explain just why we believe, or at least try and believe, in such a Supreme Being. It's really a matter of self-interest.

So, while rationally we do not know the does or does not of God itself, there is demonstrably a rational (does exist) idea of God (Chapter Five). There is also a rational purpose (does exist) for the god of that idea (Chapter Six), and a questionably rational institution, the Church, (Chapters Three and Four) which defends and promotes its version of the god of the idea. We will explore this idea of God in depth here as I have come to hold that it is this idea itself as opposed to its subject that defines what it is we hold as belief. I have also come to the conclusion that God, as Christian mankind holds it in its subjective and collective mind as the result of the idea (belief), is both a reality and more importantly a human necessity. As someone has famously said, if God didn't exist, we would have to invent it. That's a provocatively interesting statement, and one we will pick up again.

I believe strongly in the concept of God. However, whether or not there is a god, independent of the idea, rationally we have yet to figure out how to either demonstrate this, or to finally refute it. In this sense we are all non-corroborated agnostics, no matter what we might believe, or the degree of confidence (faith) we have in that belief. We start here from that position; we don't know.

What we do know, religiously speaking, we learn from the Church. The Church in turn relies on the Bible, the received word of God, for its teaching. For centuries, this chain of knowledge was both stable and authoritative. Then, the apparent results of what we today call science began to cast doubt on biblical "truths." This was and is a challenge for the Church.

In the case of scientific conclusions vs. religious beliefs (reason vs. faith), don't let anyone fool you: Western religion and science have since classical Hellenistic times been at odds on significant worldly matters. This is not a new issue. While that may not come as news to most, both cannot be right in their opposing conclusions. Under the law of contradiction two opposing propositions cannot both be true. One of them has it wrong. Which is the best horse to bet on here, the seen or the unseen? That might depend upon the context of their positions.

Western religions — Christianity for purposes here — have for centuries been playing defense as the physical, and lately even the social sciences have progressively demonstrated pragmatic concepts of knowledge and understandings of worldly matters. These not infrequently differ sharply from the revealed religious presentation of those same events as described in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Our world and the heavens most probably weren't made in six days of spiritually creative activity. Earth most likely isn't about 4,004 years old — more like 4.5 to 4.6 billion years, give or take a hundred million years, according to science — and man as we know him today most probably didn't appear on earth fully human in one day, no assembly required. From a historical scholarly viewpoint, it seems highly improbable that the first century Jewish charismatic eschatological preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, was a god, or "God," in the divine Christian sense of the word. He was so anointed well after the fact by a minority of Church elders who looked to him as their religious inspiration and raison d ètre. Admittedly this was done, as we might say, in an evolving and generally good faith way. We'll go into these matters more in the pages to come, citing specifics where the Church has attempted to reconcile these differences within its own teachings.

Religion (the Church) is built and sustained upon faithful belief in the unseen by the revealed divine word of its God, the Bible. It has no other authentic evidence or source to quote. To have the biblical word of God questioned is to challenge the basis of religion itself. God, as presented by the Church, is a powerful conceptual as well as practical influence on man. But the historical presentation of God by the Church has problems associated with it, exacerbated by the accumulated findings of science. On the other hand, as Lord Jonathan Sacks (Former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth) pointed out, "No society has survived for long without either a religion or a substitute for religion." Many, many on this third rock from the sun take monotheistic religion as a given. Should we? Belief in a religion is a conviction based on a matter of faith, which represents trust. How far can/should this be taken in matters of a worldly nature?

As a product of my time I favor rational verified explanations of worldly matters based upon evidence sufficient to be accepted as truth by a reasonable person. I consider such explanations organic, and evolutionary. That is, as knowledge expands and accumulates, explanations are fine-tuned to represent the best and most current evidence and thinking, or modified or discarded as and if new evidence disproves the earlier understanding. Under this hypothesis, nothing is definitive — even for science — but everything we currently believe we know about worldly matters is subject to change if and as necessary. This is how mankind has slowly experienced worldly progress over the past few thousand years in spite of spiritual claims often to the contrary. It has only been in relatively recent times (see below) that such biblical claims have been challenged, and in the minds of not just a few, questioned or discredited.

Some call this thought process materialistic. Materialism is simply a philosophical theory. It regards matter and its motions as constituting the universe. All phenomena, including those of the mind, are considered as due to material agencies and without spiritual implications. The alternative to this philosophy is one of Biblicism which holds that the Judeo-Christian Bible provides the truth about our material world and its inhabitants. At its most conservative, it relies exclusively and literally upon what the Bible says about worldly issues.

The basis for my choice of philosophies is experience, not mine personally but the history of Western man. For almost two millennia (from about 300 BCE to about 1500 CE), the dominant institution in non-oriental developed societies was the Church. It was in the main the exclusive institution of learning and repository of knowledge, libraries for example, during this period. People were taught, if taught they were, and learned what the Church wanted them to learn, which was a God-based curriculum focused upon the Bible. Within the institution of the Church itself learning and knowledge was no doubt somewhat broader, but still focused on a God-based curriculum. There was no incentive to look beyond such curriculum for knowledge. Under such a static outlook there was little change, or desire for change, in a status quo.

Over the past six or seven hundred years, beginning about the 13th century, man, at least Western man, has increasingly demonstrated a curiosity regarding his surroundings. That led him to question the status quo of his time. Today we, you and I, are largely the beneficiaries of this curiosity and its resultant benefits, materialistically speaking. But, you may ask, is that all there is to it, the materialistic? The answer here has to be yes ... and no. It seems that man is at once an optimist and a pessimist regarding himself and the world he inhabits.

It's not, and never has been, a naturally "kind and gentle" world for most of us although we do seem to be moving towards a kinder and more gentle world as time — lots of time — goes by. That's the optimistic view. The more pessimistic view is perhaps a shorter term consideration that we look at as we face our own mortal lifetimes, and man's sometimes inhumanity to man. Progress toward that kinder, gentler world isn't always apparent on this time frame. Therefore, to sustain and support ourselves we have developed a non-materialistic approach of looking at things. We generally refer to this as religion, the alternative to materialism.

Religion, broadly speaking, is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe. It is usually presented as the creation of a divinity, or superhuman agency (a god), and usually involving devotional and ritual observances. It often has a moral code for the conduct of human affairs. This non-materialistic approach to what is, why it is and what caused it is supportive of man's personal needs when and if the materialistic seems to offer or provide little or no encouragement or answers to life's difficult questions. It fulfills an apparent spiritual (psychic) need as well as the more visible materialistic needs of humanity. Some religions also address the issue of man's mortality.

Over time, it has come to be common and normal, at least in the West, for most to recognize both a materialistic and spiritual demand in life in some proportion. One purpose here as we move through these pages is to ask just what that proportion should be, perhaps even should it be. That is, does Western religion — today — fill a meaningful and even necessary role in the lives of humanity as we struggle to continue to move toward that more kinder, gentler world most would favor?

I would propose that generally it does. But I do so with the caveat that it would behoove it to reevaluate its purpose or role today as well as its credulity under current day conditions and future expectations. This might possibly affect its teachings. Actually, I see signs that this is underway in at least some quarters. The question is, as with some of the more progressive recommendations of the mid-twentieth century's Roman Catholic convocation of bishops known as Vatican II (1962-1965) for example, will proposed change be embraced, or strongly resisted by the beneficiaries of the status quo?

A case in point here might be the promulgation following Vatican II of Nostara Aetate, one of the shortest but conceivably among the most influential of the major documents to come out of this conclave. It is by many considered a watershed in the field of Christian-Jewish relations, not merely for what it said, but because of the radically new direction it encouraged. Some fifty years on now, it is still a work in process. It's not easy to modify religious policies, beliefs and teachings held for centuries. But this example shows it may be possible. Let's hope so.


Looking Back to Look Ahead

Human history is replete with stories of "spirits" and "gods." Earliest man accepted spirits, both good and evil, for the worldly happenings he could not understand or explain. Myths were passed down by word of mouth. Rituals were developed to try to appease, or please such spirits and gods. A class of individual, the shaman, or witchdoctor or soothsayer and subsequently the priest developed to act specifically as an intermediary between people and gods. In all this, the spirits and gods were not necessarily thought of as supernatural but part of nature, initially. Often, sacrifices were called for to appease these spirits and gods, either to gain favor or to avoid disaster. This became a natural way of life in antiquity. Few probably questioned it. Gods served a human need for causality.

In pre-Christian (and in Christian) times both the Greeks and Romans had pantheons (temples) of gods. Often, these gods could take on human form. They acted and behaved in many ways like humans did; had faults and favorites. They lived in these temples, or on top of mountains. They were believable because they acted in many ways as humans but with superhuman powers to account for the physical events still a mystery to ordinary man. That was their primary difference. These gods were often transplants. If someone else's god appeared better or more powerful than a local god, it might be adopted, or at least some of its attributes bestowed upon the local deities. Significantly, these gods were at times said to interact with normal people.

In time, these spirits and gods were said to be active in history. That is, they walked with and spoke with humans. The Hebrew Bible is full of such interactions in the books of Genesis and Exodus. They are harder to find thereafter. In the New Testament, the closest such direct interaction in history is the saying attributed at the baptism of Jesus: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." It's not clear from the New Testament's three Synoptic Gospels, just who heard these words.

The biblical book of Exodus goes back at least 3,200 years; Genesis even further back, perhaps 4,500 years. These were not codified back then but rather the events that are depicted in these books date from these times. The books themselves are considered to be the recording of stories passed down by word of mouth over hundreds and hundreds of years, and from within the entire Middle East (Mesopotamia), and by multiple authors. Historical evidence today finds duplicates, if not exact duplicates very similar ones, in the histories and stories of different peoples at different times (the Flood and Creation narratives, for example).

With the Hebrew Bible we get a story of the development and subsequent history of a tribal people, the Jews, and the particular part that a god (or gods) plays in their history. From the story of Abraham (Genesis 17 for example), it would appear that this particular god — who referred to itself as "God Almighty" — was out evangelizing and as an enticement to him made a covenant with Abraham that if he would keep God Almighty's commandment (circumcision, at this point) and worship It, this god would make him a father of many nations; very fruitful. This god would make nations of him and kings would come from him. The covenant would be everlasting between this god and Abraham and his descendants for the generations to come. The whole land of Canaan, where Abraham was then an alien resident, this god would give as an everlasting possession to him and his descendants, and this god would be "their god." Now that's quite a promise, but with stipulations: follow me, obey me. That sounds suspiciously like what today we might call a Godfather's offer you can't refuse. One could speculate that this God Almighty must have been pretty hard up for followers to offer so much.

This was the beginning of a rocky history for the Jews. This god's promises were not immediately forthcoming, and it appears that not all of the descendants supported and followed this God Almighty all the time. At any rate, we jump forward in time and history to about the year 1,246 BCE to the prophet Moses and the exodus from Egypt. Biblically it appears that the God of Abraham (?) at this point is leading them out of captivity in Egypt by his agent, Moses, and towards the promised land of Canaan. Again, the journey is not direct, and the Jews seem less than united in their acceptance, commitment to or maintenance of covenantal requirements of this God Almighty.

During this exodus Moses, the acknowledged leader of and judge for most of these people, spends an inordinate amount of time resolving disputes between individuals brought to him by the Israelites (or Jews): "They stood around him from morning till evening. His-father-in-law Jethro said, 'what is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?' Moses answered him, 'because the people come to me to seek God's will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws.'" 2 It would seem Moses was privy to these divine guidelines even before he spent those forty days on the mountain formally receiving them.


Excerpted from "God Versus the Idea of God" by Thomas Richard Harry. Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Richard Harry. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Thomas Richard Harry

Thomas Richard Harry

Now semi-retired, "TR" and his wife live in Windsor, CA. Writing, while not his vocation, is his avocation. The author of four books since 1999, his most recent one prior to "God Versus the Idea of God" is the political polemic, "BOOM! A Revolting Situation", published in 2012. For additional information, visit his website at

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