STUDY ONE: THE GODS OF HUMAN RELIGION
© Rosemary Bardsley 2007, 2016
Post-modernism, with its accompanying relativism, subjectivism and loss of absolutes, has made the word ‘god’ a meaningless term, in which there is no fixed content, no common meaning, no clear definition. Not only does the Christian witness have to speak of ‘God’ in distinction from the ‘God’ of Islam or the ‘gods’ of Hinduism, for example, but also we have to define ‘God’ in distinction from the multitude of changing personal concepts of ‘god’ that have resulted directly from the denial of the existence of absolute truth.
In this study you will investigate the meanings and concepts portrayed by the word ‘god’ in contemporary society.
A. BASIC FRAMEWORKS USED FOR UNDERSTANDING THE WORD ‘GOD’
Research a dictionary and/or the internet for a concise definition for each of the following worldviews in which the word ‘god’ is understood:
Question: Which of the above twelve perceptions of ‘god’ do you identify as - [give reasons for your answer]
The biblical perspective
The most common contemporary perspective
B. ‘GOD’ IN TODAY’S RELIGIONS
Leaving aside the atheistic denial of the existence of any objective ‘god’, and the agnostic denial of the possibility of knowing ‘god’ even if such a being does exist, your major task in this section is to research the ‘god’ concepts of those in our society who still believe that there is a being or power which they refer to as ‘god’. Before moving to that task, read the following quote from Karl Barth:
‘We must be clear that when we are speaking of God in the sense of Christian faith, He who is called God is not to be regarded as a continuation and enrichment of the concepts and ideas which usually constitute religious thought in general about God. In the sense of Christian faith, God is not to be found in the series of gods. He is not to be found in the pantheon of human piety and religious inventive skill. So it is not that there is in humanity something like a universal natural disposition, a general concept which we Christians call God and as such believe in and confess; so that Christian faith would be one among many, an instance within a general rule. A Christian Father once rightly said that Deus non est in genere, “God is not a particular instance within a class”. When we Christians speak of ‘God’, we may and must be clear that this word signifies a priori the fundamentally Other, the fundamental deliverance from that whole world of man’s seeking, conjecturing, illusion, imagining and speculating. It is not that on the long road of human seeking and longing for the divine a definite stopping-place has in the end been reached in the form of the Christian Confession. The God of the Christian Confession is, in distinction from all gods, not a found or invented God or one at last and at the end discovered by man; He is not a fulfilment, perhaps the last, supreme and best fulfilment, of what man was in course of seeking and finding. But we Christians speak of Him who completely takes the place of everything that elsewhere is usually called ‘God’, and therefore suppresses and excludes it all, and claims to be alone the truth. Where that is not realised, it is still not realised what is involved when the Christian Church confesses, “I believe in God”. What is involved is man’s meeting with the reality which he has never of himself sought out or first of all discovered. “What no eye hath seen nor ear heard, what hath not entered into the heart of any man, God hath given to those who love Him”, is St. Paul’s way of speaking of this matter. And there is no other way in which we can speak of it. God in the sense of the Christian Confession is and exists in a completely different way from that which is elsewhere called divine. And so His nature, His being is different from the nature and being of all alleged gods.’ [Dogmatics in Outline, p35,36]
Question: How does Barth distinguish between the concept of God arrived at by human conjecture and the concept of God as he really is?
RESEARCH TASK: Research the ‘god’ concept in the following human religions. If you are part of a group share this task around the group and report your findings to the group.
 Description of the ‘god’ concept taught in these human constructions of god.
 Comparison and contrast of this with God’s self-revelation in the Bible.