Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Etymology of "God" and "Religion"

If, by 'God', you mean an old man with a long white beard,
Sitting on a Cloud, then count me out...
I have sometimes wondered what it means when people say they believe in God. I, myself believe in a God. But my definition of ‘God’ may be very different from others. When Einstein famously said , “ Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”, religious leaders promptly and gleefully seized upon these words as proof that the greatest brain in the Universe believes in God. However, there are also many other words said by Einstein, which should be mentioned:

“ I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the Universe, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it”.

“ I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be anthropomorphic [* i.e. anything that causes God to be moulded in the human image, in my opinion , a result of the vanity of Man: my words]What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling in humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism”.

“ The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even na├»ve”

*Einstein’s words are taken from Max Jammer’s book “Einstein and Religion.

Richard Dawkin’s latest book “ The God Delusion”[Houghton Mifflin, 2006] made me ponder again on what I really mean when I say I believe in a God, and that I am a religious person. I agree with Dawkins that there are two types of God believers: The Einsteinian type and the Theistic type. When the Einsteinian type mentions God, he means to just hang a word on the structure and wonders of the Universe that he sees. He does not mean a God who, is directly involved in human affairs, dictating what is Good and what is Bad, and punishing and rewarding according to his set of rules. He also does not believe in Soul or an after-life, but does not outrightly reject the possibility that there may be such natural processes as soul and after-life which present-day science cannot explain yet. So, an Einsteinian type can be deeply religious in the sense of his intense awareness of God as defined by him. But the Theistic believer, thinks of God as someone who answers his prayers and performs miracles and rewards and punishes. The Theistic seeks to live his life according to these beliefs, and to congregate with others of the same bent of mind, in institutions that were created to support these beliefs

Perhaps it is best to summarize my idea about God by putting down a few quotations that express it most vividly, taken from the first chapter of Dawkin’s book. It Is quite a relief that someone already has the words that enable me to articulate my beliefs:

· Isn’t it enough to see a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom too? – Douglas Adams, Dawkin's friend. [ To which I might add my own words ; ' Being able to break a Rainbow down into it’s component light frequencies does not make it any less beautiful ' ]

· Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him….. If you want to say God is Energy, then you can find God in a lump of coal—Steven Weinberg, Nobel prize physicist.

. " To see the world in a grain of sand and Heaven in a wildflower, hold Infinity in the palm of your hands and Eternity in a hour"-William Blake, English poet

· If by “God” one means the set of physical laws that govern the Universe, then clearly there is such a God. [But] this God is emotionally unsatisfying….it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity-- Carl Sagan, astronomer and writer.

*Note: The last sentence is the reason for the existence of Theistic religion in all human culture all over the world and since the dawn of human history.
Afterthought: Actually, pure Buddhism and Hinduism, like Confucianism and Taoism are not religions but philiosophies. But once you have monks and priests to act as intermediaries and interpreters of the philosophy, to cater to the masses, then it becomes a religion. Unfortunately most people use religion like a psychiatric service, to help cope with feelings of insecurity and inadequacies. Also, without stories and images, prayers and miracles, rewards and punishment, the average person finds it diffficult to grapple with abstract concepts about living Life a certain way. For me I don't need such crutches.

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