What or who is God?


By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

I think most will agree, whilst it’s debatable that God needs religions, religions are wholly dependent on God. The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as the belief in and/or worship of a superhuman controlling power. I would add that this power is both benevolent and divine. Why? Because most traditions the world over, and indeed folk lore more generally, speak of malevolent demonic entities, such as the Devil, Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Iblis, ‘Kaljug’, along with a plethora of evil spirits and monsters in all shapes and sizes.

One might suggest, given their seeming universality, ideas associated God’ (good) and the ‘Devil’ (evil), are cultural constructs reflecting a basic human trait/need to develop and express complex emotions and thoughts. Indeed, even in totalitarian societies where religion was all but banished, such as in former communist countries, religion and religious beliefs prevailed and in some senses flourished, albeit underground.

In my experience, though people express an allegiance to a specific religion, their belief in ‘God’ is deeply personal and therefore it doesn’t matter how God is defined in academic terms. Whether one believes in ‘God’ or not, personal or not, given the pervasiveness of ideas associated with faith in some kind of divine entity, believer or non-believer, we all need to develop literacies associated with religious beliefs.

Below I have attempted to provide a summary of the ways in which the main religions traditions conceptualise ‘God’. Please note, these are significantly simplified summaries that inevitably ignore the many variations and nuances within each religion’s conception of God.

Christianity: In Christianity, God is seen as a trinity – the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Christians believe that God is the creator of the universe and that he is all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good.

Islam: In Islam, God is known as Allah, and is believed to be the only God, who is eternal, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining. Muslims believe that Allah is merciful, compassionate, and just, and that he has revealed his will through the prophet Muhammad and the holy book, the Quran.

Judaism: In Judaism, God is seen as the creator of the universe and the source of all life. Jews believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and completely just, and that he has a special relationship with the Jewish people as his chosen ones.

Hinduism: In Hinduism, there are many gods and goddesses, each with their own unique qualities and attributes. The ultimate reality, however, is believed to be Brahman, a single, supreme being who is the source of all existence.

Buddhism: In Buddhism, there is no concept of a creator God, but rather a belief in an ultimate reality or truth that can be realized through the practice of meditation and the cultivation of wisdom and compassion.

Sikhi: In Sikhi God is Akaal Moorat, i.e formless and timeless entity that manifests itself in human consciousness as divine wisdom. It’s physical manifestation is the whole universe. God existed before the university started and will exists after its end. The attributes of the divine entity are set out by Guru Nanak in the first line of the Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. These are, all pervasive, universal, creative, fearless, loving, formless, timeless, graceful, divine entity.

Marxism: Marx rejects the existence of a supernatural deity and suggested God was a tool used by those in power to keep the ‘masses; complacent and accepting of their exploitation. However, some scholars argue that Marxism displays characteristics of a religion, such as a belief in a utopian future, a system of ethics and values, a sense of community, and a set of rituals and practices. The philosopher and Marxist theorist Ernst Bloch, for instance, argued that Marxism represented a “secularized Judeo-Christian messianism” and that it provided a “mythical structure” that gave meaning and purpose to people’s lives. Marxism can thus be seen as an atheistic faith system that offers followers a eutopian vision of the future.

In conclusion, whilst each of the faith traditions can be seen to have a different conception of God and divinity, there is definitely a powerful universal human need to believe in some transendent spirit or force that can both understand and help to resolve pain and suffering. Ultimately, as Gurbani says, given that the physical world out there is represented in the inner world (Jo brehmanday, soee puinde), ‘God’ or the divine spirit is ultimately about self realisation and eutopian hope. That is an optimistic belief or aspiration for a perfect and ideal society or world. It is the desire for a better future, free from the imperfections and shortcomings of the present reality. When we begin to realise this, I am sure we can avoid religion being the source of so much conflict in this world.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


Dealing with the contradiction of religion (Asia Samachar, 7 March 2023)

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