god ≠ the source

Have you ever noticed that we’re all supposed to know who “god” is? For example: “I was talking to god the other day.” “You were talking to whom?” is an impolite response. We’re supposed to know already who “god” is. Not “my god” or “the god I believe in” or “the supreme being,” but just…god.

It’s offensive of me to write god’s name in the lowercase. He (and He’s a He for sure) spells his name with a capital “G.” For our christian culture, it’s ok to speak of “the gods,” or “a god,” but if you are talking about the god that we all apparently know and address our prayers to, it’s a capital “G.” This is how we know we’re talking about the true god and not any false gods.

I remember that the first author I noticed resorting to this tactic was Martha Nussbaum, the philosopher and polymathic scholar. I don’t remember where she wrote it.

We get our god-consciousness from the apostle Paul:

We know that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords,  yet for us there is only one God, the Father, from which whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. However, not all people have this knowledge.

1 Corinthians 8:4-7

Today, all people do have this knowledge, or are considered strange if they don’t.

What can we say about the meaning of the word “God”? It is a proper name, just as Michael Jackson is a proper name. It denotes a person. But at the same time, and equally, it is a concept. God is that from which all things are. Both meanings are affirmed by theism, but only the second meaning is affirmed by pantheism, which denies the first.

Take note. I changed to uppercase “God,” because I am shifting the “from whom” to a “from which” in the translator’s rendering of 1 Corinthians 8:6, which I am perfectly entitled to do on account of the non-specificity of the relative pronoun in the original, ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα. Paul shows here his indebtedness to Greek wisdom, the philosophical wisdom about the true nature, the pantheistic nature, of God “the father.” There is in fact the very same ambiguity (or duplicity) in the scriptural sacred name “the father” or “the Father” as there is in our modern word “God.”

In NT scripture, “the father” is “our father.” This is true for Paul just as for the Jesus of the Gospels. But what we get in this important verse from 1 Corinthians is a suggestion of a more hidden meaning of the term “father,” which is pantheistic, pagan, profane.

The father is that from which The All is. In other words, THE SOURCE. This is a subtle, and un-Jewish way to speak of God.

The source of all things is not necessarily a creator. Even pantheists admit that the All, the universe, must have a source that is transcendent infinite. Affirming that there is something or other from which the All originates is not the same thing as believing in God, since “God” is that person that people all know and talk to.

Returning to the beginning theme of this post, “God” is a proper name of a person in our Western Christian/Post-Christian civilization. “God” is also the creator, and a creator can only be a person. Only a person creates, since creation implies decision and intention and a plan. The Biblical and theistic model of a divine creator of the universe is inherently anthropomorphic, based implicitly on the human model of what it means to create something.

The mere idea that the universe is not self-explanatory, that there must be an ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα, a that-from-which-all-things, i.e., a SOURCE, does not amount to the One Creator God idea that defines Western religion. A creator is a person. A source is not by definition a person.

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