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Author Topic: How do you define a god?  (Read 1707 times)

Corr

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How do you define a god?
« on: June 07, 2017, 07:52:18 am »
I was going to ease into conversations here, but I recently had a conversation with someone and I wanted to run some concepts past folks to get other people's take on this.  Also, this might be a bit of a hot topic for some folks, so people were warned.

One of the things that frustrates me when talking to both Abrahamic followers and Atheist (in the US) is that there are several conditions that they associate with divinity that when you look at it from a polytheistic perspective don't add up.  I have had many years of study of anthropology and philosophy and while studying tribal societies in both the Amazon and Australia, it dawned on me that these people worshiped forces of nature, transcendent beings, and ancestors.  It also became obvious that it was the relationship that people decided to have with these things that determined their position as gods within the community, not necessarily the thing themselves.

My current definition that I use for a god is:

A person, place, or thing, that exist here in this world, in a state of transcendence, or a mix of the two that forms of worship are given to with either the expectation or the hope or some form of reciprocity and benefit.

Worship can also come in many forms including praise and veneration, libations and gifts, asking for assistance, Dedication of acts, ect.

I am wondering if others have come to similar conclusions and have dealt with similar frustrations.  I usually get blank looks and either are ignored or they come up with some justification to insist that they are right.

Like I said, I am starting to wonder if I am the only one who sees this........
Corr

Darkhawk

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2017, 10:28:34 am »
One of the things that frustrates me when talking to both Abrahamic followers and Atheist (in the US) is that there are several conditions that they associate with divinity that when you look at it from a polytheistic perspective don't add up.

Every so often when I want to practice my invisibility skills, I drop some polytheistic theology into a Christians-vs-atheists flamewar and watch how nobody can actually seem to see the posts at all, let alone respond to them.

My current short quip definition of a god is one I gave Oldest:  "Gods are stories that are alive."

The longer, more philosophical definition is that a god is an entity that possesses sia - divine knowledge.  Divine knowledge is not omniscience per se, but it is a very comprehensive awareness of something.  That something is specific and irreducible, and an entity with sia knows all about that something in all its forms.  What that means is a different matter.

(Consider fire: some would consider that elemental, specific, irreducible.  But that is not the case, on the level where gods operate: consider fire in the form of the phoenix, that burns down and allows rebirth; that is a different fire than the one that simply destroys, or fire as illumination, knowledge, and creation, or fire as a manifestation of light, or the fires of industry, or... a being that has "fire" among its attributes will have a particular approach, attitude towards it, will extend it in particular metaphorical directions, and one 'fire' may be very different from another 'fire'.  Etc.  Is water dissolution, drowning, nourishing, obliterating, life-energy, wisdom, emotion?  Is the wilderness freedom or danger or both or other?  ETc. etc.  A storm-god who nurtures the fields is not possessed of the same sia as a storm-god who destroys them, even if they might both be described as "storm god".)

Also note that 'sia' is a thing that can scale.  Consider the spirit that has complete, comprehensive knowledge of that tree there.  Is that a god?  It possesses sia.  It is a very small sia, very local, but it has it.  The boundaries of 'what is a god' are never tidy.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Sefiru

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2017, 06:13:49 pm »
a god is an entity that possesses sia - divine knowledge.  Divine knowledge is not omniscience per se, but it is a very comprehensive awareness of something.  That something is specific and irreducible, and an entity with sia knows all about that something in all its forms. 

The way you worded this reminds me of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and its concept of "grokking the fullness". I wonder if there's a soupspace connection there?

Riothamus12

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2017, 07:29:42 pm »

Like I said, I am starting to wonder if I am the only one who sees this........
To sum up my own thoughts....

A Deity is a Deity. That is the essence. They have always been and never shall they cease to be. They are the most powerful, transcendent, yet very imminent beings in the universe. The most perfect of all of existence. Even the outwardly menacing ones are so. A beast may be outwardly terrifying to humans, yet that does not make them wicked. Those beasts serve a vital function in the world. In truth, they may be beyond any words that humans can utter in many regards.

The way I often describe them is as a mighty, sapient, cosmic force. Imagine if you will, a law of physics(except not physics, though the Deities are connected to all of existence) was not only alive, but sapient, and risen to the greatest possible measure of Divinity. The forms we know them by is simply the closest symbolic representation that humans can grasp. Even this may be inadequate to describe them. As certainly as the universe is full of infinite answers, it is also filled with infinite mystery. Such is the way of things. Such is the way of the Divine.
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Altair

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2017, 10:13:55 pm »

My current short quip definition of a god is one I gave Oldest:  "Gods are stories that are alive."


That fits. I think of gods as stories about these big forces that flow through us and around us, forces too big for our limited human perspective to really grasp...yet through these stories, which are totally made up by us, we can glimpse something of the truth of those forces, however imperfectly, and get a bit of a handle on them.

Or maybe it's more accurate to say that myths are stories that are alive--stories about these big forces--and gods are the metaphors embodying the big forces that these stories illuminate.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2017, 10:16:15 pm by Altair »
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Henzelli

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2017, 08:06:57 pm »
One of the things that frustrates me when talking to both Abrahamic followers and Atheist (in the US) is that there are several conditions that they associate with divinity that when you look at it from a polytheistic perspective don't add up.

I don't think I have an elegant, concise definition of what a god is, but this touches on something that I've been poking at intellectually for a few years now. It's not just the conditions of divinity the Christian v Atheist lobby, it's conditions on what is religion itself. I used to debate evangelicals all the time when I was still Catholic, and the back and forth always pushed me towards having to ask them to set aside all faith discussions for a moment while I tried to explain the fundamentally different philosophical framework Catholicism was using. This was something they were never willing to do, or at least they would pretend to engage in the non-religious philosophical discussion and would just revert back to scripture to prove Plato wrong.

In a similar vein, I am coming to the conclusion that Paganism in general is experiential whereas Christianity is revealed (by definition it is a revealed religion, but for philosophical conjecture, let's pretend this is some hot new take for a second). These two starting points necessarily create very different assumptions about the metaphysics involved in either faith, and approaching questions that seem self-evident often reveals that they aren't. For a Christian or an Atheist (which, philosophically speaking for the West at any rate, is as much a product of the Western Christian Tradition as the Catholic Answers radio program) the word "god" is preconceived. I see this in discussions about pantheons, as well, where "god" carries an implicit definition inherited from the robust and static vision of the Christian and their god. Compare this to Chinese Traditional Religion, where figures like Shennong and Nu Wa are often classified as gods by Western scholars but aren't generally seen as much more than cultural and ancestral heroes (their associated worship, including pig sacrifices to Shennong, also rarely registers as 'religion' to those practicing it) by the people who are engaging with them.

So, even though we are operating in a newly-blossoming worldview that is still taking the baby steps towards creating its own philosophical tradition, we aren't completely outside the baggage of the dominant Christian philosophical heritage that has dominated the West. So when examining the conditions put upon what is and is not a "god" by Christians and Atheists, it only makes sense that these things wouldn't necessarily jive with our own experiences. In my worship of my ancestors, are they gods? When I offer a passing nod and a thank you to my wall hanging of Shennong, am I engaging a god or a cultural hero? All of the terms I can describe these things with are wrapped up in that Christian philosophical heritage, and I don't think I have the mental fortitude to come up with something new. But it's fun thinking about how my understanding of the gods of my practice is fundamentally different from how I would have defined god as little as five or six years ago.

The longer, more philosophical definition is that a god is an entity that possesses sia - divine knowledge.  Divine knowledge is not omniscience per se, but it is a very comprehensive awareness of something.  That something is specific and irreducible, and an entity with sia knows all about that something in all its forms.  What that means is a different matter.

This is really cool and something I didn't know. Is sia related to gnosis? Or is sia something completely different? (I'm assuming it's Greek--my knowledge of Greek is rudimentary at best so I'm grasping) I encountered concepts of specific knowledge (specifically memory) when writing up a short essay on what the ancestors are, and conceptually divided up the human organism into materia, pneumia, and anima. Materia being the shell, anima being the animating force that allows ambulation, and pneumia being the breath (specifically borrowing the early Christian/Gnostic concept that pneumia is equivalent to the soul and holy spirit), that death occurs when anima leaves the body, and pneumia vacating the materia once this happens (hypostatic union and all that jazz--all three are necessary but only sufficient when together) making pneumia the localized specific memories and knowledge of the ancestors and the "thing" to which we offer up honor and prayers when engaging with the ancestors. This is all a bit off-topic, I know, but I sort of think of gods in a similar way--they are just a much "larger" pneumia, and maybe a pneumia that is able to exist outside materia and anima, a sort of "hyperpneumia" or "superpneumia", but then we get into cosmological hierarchies and that's something for another time.

Darkhawk

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2017, 11:27:18 pm »
This is really cool and something I didn't know. Is sia related to gnosis? Or is sia something completely different? (I'm assuming it's Greek--my knowledge of Greek is rudimentary at best so I'm grasping)

I'm Kemetic; the terminology is Egyptian.

My specific interpretation of it is my own.  I'm not at all sure anyone has any clear idea what the ancient Egyptians would have used as a definition of "sia" other than that it was an attribute possessed by gods.  (Often paired with "hu", divine utterance.  Keep in mind that Egyptian magico-theology is heavy on The Power Of Names.)
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

Sefiru

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2017, 10:23:04 pm »
Keep in mind that Egyptian magico-theology is heavy on The Power Of Names.)

Aaand now I want to read the Earthsea books again.

Darnit, Darkhawk, stop adding to my to-read pile!

I do have some on-topic thoughts about this, but they must wait until I am more awake.

Henzelli

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Re: How do you define a god?
« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2017, 07:28:29 pm »
I'm Kemetic; the terminology is Egyptian.

My specific interpretation of it is my own.  I'm not at all sure anyone has any clear idea what the ancient Egyptians would have used as a definition of "sia" other than that it was an attribute possessed by gods.  (Often paired with "hu", divine utterance.  Keep in mind that Egyptian magico-theology is heavy on The Power Of Names.)

Thanks for the clarification! That opens a new rabbit hole for me to explore. The power of names was fairly common as far as I understand, even outside the Indo-European world (the School of Names in the pre-Han period in Chinese history was "names have power" meets grammar nazis). A divine utterance paired with divine-exclusive knowledge makes sense to me.

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