In any small social group, there is always the most active, interesting and intelligent individual. Of course, in this case, one’s “intelligence” and “interestingness” is only determined by the degree of “unintelligence” or “uninterestingness” of the other members of this social group. Nevertheless, since ancient times people are used to addressing some difficult questions to the so-called “wise men”. And if in an undeveloped society most questions still have a pragmatic orientation regarding everyday’s issues, the developed countries, on the contrary, tend to ask much more complicated and even intentionally difficult questions.
So, one of the most popular philosophical questions today is the question concerning the meaning of life. But the paradox of this question is not only in its uncertainty and the many assumptions associated with it, especially regarding the use of the word “meaning”. Thus, the inquirer does not understand oneself what does he or she ask about. The paradox also lies in the fact that people that ask this question often do not bother to get acquainted with the already provided answers.
The question dealing with the existence of God is as popular and as problematic as the previous one. And it’s not only the existence question but mostly the relation towards God and the various possible consequences of this relation for all others.
As we can see, the question of the existence of God or belief in God is still quite relevant. Active debates on this subject rarely contribute to the expansion of one’s mindset or attempts to sort something out. Despite this, I think it is important to familiarize yourself with the major religions of the world and their symbols.
In the modern world, 86 % of the world’s population believe in God (or gods). It’s about 6 billion and 20 million people. It is worth saying that this number does not include secular humanists, agnostics and people who reported the absence of religion, although none of these definitions is concerned with faith. Therefore, the actual number of believers is even higher. It might seem that their number decreases, but it’s not.
Also, it is necessary to understand that the main problem regarding the existence of God is concerned with the relationship between God and the individual. In this regard, to determine which philosophy is closest to you or to understand what types of relations to God already exist, you can see in the table below.
Perhaps, you are already familiar with the two basic stances towards the existence of God. The first of them is “theism” (from Greek “theos” — “God”) and the second is “atheism” (from Greek “atheos” — “without God”, “godlessness”). Hence, theism includes the belief in many gods — “polytheism” and the belief in one God — “monotheism”.
Atheism is divided into: “explicit” — when a person has purposely and deliberately decided to not believe, and “implicit” — when a person does not believe unconsciously. The second case is typical to children or people who never think about God. Generally speaking, we could add animals in this category. On the other hand, implicit atheists are not necessarily atheists, however, as a fact, they do not display any religious activity during their life.
Also, an implicit atheist a priori cannot claim that there are no gods, at least because he or she have never thought about it. That means that an implicit atheist is always a “weak” (“negative” or “soft”) atheist.
Let’s elaborate on the two latter categories — “weak” and “strong” atheism. As you could already figure it out, this division applies to claims about the existence of gods. A “strong” (“positive” or “hard”) atheist claims that gods do not exist, a “weak” (“negative” or “soft”) atheist, on the contrary, does not claim that.
Thus, a “weak” atheist is more subjective — he believes that there are no gods, but, for example, is not trying to denounce religion. A “strong” atheist believes that there are no gods and states that this is a relic of the past, a speculation or, for example, a fallacy.
There are also a number of intermediate or additional philosophies regarding the existence of God.
“Apatheism” or “pragmatic” atheism is apathy towards the belief in gods; the view is associated with Denis Diderot, the French philosopher who stated that: “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.”
“Transtheism” is the belief in transtheistic creatures that are not gods. The view is related to the German linguist and an Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, who with the help of transtheism tried to explain the Indian religion “Jainism”. In Jainism, the most revered are “Tirthankaras”, who are enlightened people (somewhat close to the term “prophet”), but not gods. Thus “Tirthankaras” are transtheistic creatures. Gods in Jainism are not honored at all.
“Apeirotheism” is not a popular philosophy about an endlessly dividing number of gods that exists on the different levels of existence.
The table also shows two unpopular views relating to the existence of God with a few additions.
A suitheist considers himself a God and worships only himself. Suitheists are also characterized by the assignment of the divine potential to every human or even thing. A suitheist does not deny the existence of other gods. Close to this is the concept of Satanism as well as some areas of paganism and neo-paganism.
“Misotheism” includes the belief in God, but a contemptuous or a hateful attitude towards him. Mainly because of the misfortunes and injustices that are happing at the Earth.
Examples of Polytheism
“Polytheism” can be categorized by considering the subjects of deification and worship. For example: “animism” (spiritualization of objects), “totemism” (tribe’s connection with an animal), the cult of ancestors, the cult of “chthonic” creatures (creatures of a wild ancient nature), and so on.
Since we are now trying to understand the types of relationships to the gods, therefore we should characterize some branches of polytheism, associated with the relationship of an individual to the pantheon of gods, who were also given their names.
Thus, we see that even in polytheism the worship rules or ideas about the many gods are different.
“Kathenotheism” — the belief in many gods, but worship them as one. The term was coined by the German philologist Max Müller to describe the Vedic religion, which is characterized by the assignment of the Supreme traits to one of the gods after the completion of the religious ritual. So, being assigned to the Supreme, the God includes all the attributes of the other gods and can replace them all.
“Tritheism” means that God is divided into three hypostases. Appears in Christianity, where God is one but includes three incarnations: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this case, tritheism is used in a monotheistic religion, thus creating certain questions, however, this is explained by the incomprehensibility of the Trinity by the humans.
It is also worth mentioning the belief in many gods, but worshiping one of them at the same time. When a person willingly chooses a “favorite” deity and worships it without denying others and, perhaps, exerting (much smaller) honors to other gods — this is called “henotheism”. “Monolatry” or “monolatrism” allows one to pray to only one God, admitting the existence of others. The term was introduced in connection with the study of ancient Egyptian religion, which in combination is the most typical example of monolatrism. The worshiped god was usually Ra, the god of the sun.
Faith and the Possibility of Knowledge
It is also worth to consider questions that bring up the following issues: the faith in God and the possibility of knowledge of God.
A large number of philosophies can be explained using the opposite terms “theism” / “atheism”, but often to clarify the point of view of the interlocutor two additional terms are introduced: “Gnosticism” and “agnosticism” (from Greek “gnosis” — knowledge).
So, while “theism” / “atheism” bring up the question of belief in the existence of God, “Gnosticism” / “agnosticism” are concerned with the possibility of knowledge and understanding of God.
Thus, a “Gnostic theist” believes in God because he knows that he exists. As a “theist” he believes, as a “Gnostic” he thinks that God is knowable. A Christian or an Islamic scholar can be considered examples of this type.
In contrast, a “Gnostic atheist” does not believe in God, because he knows that God doesn’t exist. As an “atheist” he doesn’t believe in God and as a “Gnostic” he thinks that it is possible to know God, or rather to know that God does not exist.
An “agnostic theist” believes in God but doesn’t know whether God exists. As a “theist” he believes in God, as an “agnostic” he denies the possibility of knowledge of God and, accordingly, cannot know if God exists.
And, finally, the “agnostic atheist” does not believe in gods because he doesn’t know whether they exist. As an “atheist” he does not believe in gods, as an “agnostic” he denies the possibility of knowledge of God and, therefore, cannot know if God exists.
I hope I explained these concepts quite clearly. The following table will help to visualize these combinations.
The Definition of “God”
It is also important to address the question of the existence of God from the definition of the term “God”.
“Ignosticism” argues that people, who argue about gods, make too many assumptions and it is impossible to talk about their existence unless someone will explain what a “God” is. The term was introduced by the American philosopher and rabbi — Sherwin Wine.
“Itnosticism” claims that it is impossible to define “God” and so it is meaningless to talk about God’s existence.
Attitudes Towards Religion
The next division is concerned with the attitudes towards religion.
“Omnism” is a view that recognizes and respects all religions. This philosophy is covered quite well in the “I Believe” song by Lyapis Trubetskoy, a Belarusian band.
Many religious characters from different religions and myths are mentioned (or even mixed) in the song: Saint Peter (Christianity), Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ (Christianity, Islam), Helios, the Oracle of Delphi, Helen of Troy, Vulcan (Greek mythology), Buddha (Buddhism), Garuda (Hindu), Jah (Rastafarians) and Thor (Norse mythology).
On the contrary, “Ietsism” is a view that rejects all religions.
Philosophical “Location” of God
The concepts of transcendence and immanence belong to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. “Transcendence” is “going beyond”, something that is inaccessible to human knowledge and not based on experience, otherworldly. “Immanence” — “divine presence”, means an inner connection, the opposite of transcendental.
“Pantheism” claims that the Creator is absent, but the universe is a single organism, which, in fact, is a kind of God. It includes the sanctity of nature and the denial of human peculiarity.
“Panpsychism” is a view that extends the pagan motifs and believes that nature has spiritual qualities. The term was introduced by the Italian philosopher Francesco Patrizi. Essentially, the human brain is a consciousness that is present in all animals, plants and lifeless things, though our brain is just a bit more advanced. However, panpsychism does not claim that all matter is living (“hylozoism”). That is, not everything has consciousness according to panpsychism, but a rather large range of objects.
“Panentheism” means that the world is in God but God does not dissolve in the world, although he is present in some of the things. Therefore, he is transcendental and immanent at the same time. The term was introduced by the German philosopher Karl Krause.
“Deism” is the doctrine according to which God created the world but left it and does not manage its processes, or manages, but not completely. Deism denies the supernatural and divine interventions.
That’s about it. We got acquainted with the basic concepts concerning God and the various individual attitudes towards God. As you can see, some views and philosophies are more popular than others. It is also worth noting the complex structure of man’s relationship with the God, which for the most part was built by the people themselves. It is, therefore, evident that the man himself is rather complicated and ambiguous, not to mention the gods. Either way, it is up to you to choose your own view and philosophy regarding this complicated topic.