A Philosophical correspondent (Sam) discusses definitions of “God” and a critics objection:
Our secular critic criticized John’s definition of God as infinite power, intelligence, and goodness by noting that this defines God as a collection of abstract concepts. Perhaps what he meant was that there’s something wrong with defining God in terms of abstract concepts, even if we mean them figuratively rather than literally. If so, I think he’s right. It makes of God an object of the understanding and encourages rationalists to frame the problem of God as if it is just another challenge for science to tackle. This puts human understanding in a god-like position while putting God in a position of object in relation to humanity’s god-like subjectivity. That kind of thinking, which is typical of the Enlightenment concept of reason, was the target of Kant’s First Critique. But not many people seem to have got the message, retaining the Enlightenment concept of reason in their understanding of science.
Then Sam offers a “better definition”:
” … here is my suggestion for a better definition of God. God is love. That, of course, is not my original idea. It’s a platitude. It is expressed in a familiar hymn that says, ““God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.” Even the Beatles said “All You Need Is Love.” St. Paul’s famous discourse on love in Corinthians, 13 spells out the nature of love.
” If God is love, we do not understand God; we feel Him. We know what love is because and to the extent that we feel it. Fortunately our biology inclines us to fall in love, and everybody who falls deeply in love gets a lesson on what love is. I would describe it as a kind of happy energy. The description of God as energy is not bad, for energy is the source of nature. And it is not hard to see that true happiness is not in being loved, but in loving. When I love, I abide in God, and God abides in me. That is more a matter of experience than of faith.
“When Jesus was challenged to name the most important commandment, he said that it is to love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. I think of that less as a commandment and more as advice. It’s the best advice you can get, because it yields the greatest happiness. For the love of God is an all-inclusive love. That’s why the second commandment, to love your neighbor, is “like it.” But loving God does not come easily or naturally. I work at it every day. Little by little, I succeed more and more, and the more I succeed the happier I become. The great thing about marriage is that it gives you, in your spouse, a concrete focus for your practice. Your spouse is by your side every day, all the time. If you feel a growing love for your spouse, your love for God is growing. Even if you don’t believe in God, to grow in love is to grow in God.”
Then I responded that despite my low estimate of much theology and most god talk. I would indulge in a form of anthropology of god belief. I entered the arena.
When I questioned John’s list of abstract ‘powers’ as definitive of God, I was not thinking along the lines that Sam suggests. I was not rejecting John’s definition because it makes God a subject for the understanding rather than one for ‘feeling.’ Yes, it is true that some people who indulge in god talk advance this notion of god as an object for feeling, particularly, an object of love. But much of Catholic theology, especially as advanced by Thomas Aquinas, sticks with the notion of God as accessible to reason and subject to rational philosophy. It is strange to me that anyone dedicated to philosophy would propose the “theology of feeling” as the best bet for stating what theists mean by “God.”
Continuing with my anthropological critique of god talk, I’ll point out that the only basis for saying anything about any alleged ‘god’ is by taking note of the behavior of those committed to that ‘god.’ When we do (looking at the long, bloody history of god belief), we find anything but expression of love. What we find is violence, aggression, and the use of ‘god’ as a club to beat down the opposition. If we try to infer the ‘god’ at issue, it is not one in which God is Love, at all. This does not rule out exceptions, people who try to practice their religion as a form of love for humanity. And, yes, there is much expression of this sentiment in much religious literature, starting with scripture.
But as a philosophical statement of the nature of God, the God-is-Love proposition does not sound very promising. Yes, it might make sense that some people try to follow the advice to “love God with whole heart, mind, and soul.” (Good luck with that one!) But the reciprocal love of God for his creatures surely smacks of a cruel caricature when you consider that Christian God is ready to commit the bulk of humanity to eternal fires of Hell. (God’s love means often having to say you’re sorry: “Sorry, you poor, imperfect human schmuck, but it is to Hell that I send you!”) Even the good, loving Jesus hardly expresses love for all (despite Christian propaganda); consider his condemnation of all (e.g. the pharisees and scribes) who don’t accept his word as the Word of God. This is hardly the mark of love.
Maybe the ‘God is Love’ is a comforting sentiment for some, but it hardly stands up to the least level of scrutiny. (The intellectual conscience is left wanting, to say the least!)
(So much for venture into the anthropology of god talk.)