Benefits and Drawbacks of the Anthropomorphization of Deities

In many religious traditions, deities are understood to be something fundamentally different from human beings (not in all cases, I recognize in some traditions – some forms of Chinese traditional religion for example – many deities are recognized as having once been human). However, in many, though not all religious traditions, deities are often represented in a human like way. In short, non-human deities are frequently represented as human-like beings.

I think there are very good reasons for this; after all, a tremendous amount of our cognitive capacity is associated with understanding and negotiating human relationships, so the fact that we try to understand the (I personally think) fundamentally unknowable natures of the Gods with a more familiar context is not surprising. I think there are benefits to this viewpoint – most importantly it allows us to create and sustain religious relations in a way that is somewhat comprehensible to us.

However, given that fact, I think there may also be some drawbacks to the anthropomorphization of deities. Firstly, I think such representations may cause us to overestimate the human-like qualities of deities – For example, we may expect benefits to result from worship on our part while deities may have a very different idea of what obligations are required of them as compared to a human in a similar context. Secondly, I think – depending on the deity and the worshipper – a non-anthropomorphized representation of a deity may be more effective in allowing us to establish relations. For example, though I sometimes think of Skadi as a woman, I far more often picture her as a mountain or a blizzard.

To try and be more clear, though I think there are tremendous benefits to worshipers of the anthropomorphization of deities, I don’t think that such representations necessarily work work for every person or every deity. My question for this thread is to what extent, and in what contexts, you find anthropomorphization to be a useful way of relating to deities.

Personally, I find I don’t frequently anthropomorphize deities which are primarily associated with natural phenomenon – Sunna, Mani, Nott, etc. Deities, which, conversely I associate more with human behaviours, say Frigg for example, I find difficult not to conceive of as humans.

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