Re: [asa] D'Souza vs. Hitchens - Surrending the debate

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Oct 31 2007 - 19:28:08 EDT

This is not the way scripture speaks. The 1st Commandment is not about some abstract "God" to whom people they can ascribe any characteristics & actions they please but about YHWH, the God of Israel. This would be clearer if there were not the unfortunate practice of quoting it apart from introduction to the decalogue. "I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me." I.e., God is defined by what God does. & in the NT this God isfurther identified as the One revealed in the cross & resurrection of Jesus.

You seem to assume that "names" of God are more or less arbitrary labels which people give to the concept of God. Many are but the Bible speaks of YHWH as God's own self-designation, as in Exodus 3:13-15. & Matthew 28:19 in the same way can be regarded as the self-designation as "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" of the God revealed in Christ.

With all that I am not saying -
    (a) that we have to address God always by correct names, or
    (b) that knowledge of these names distinguishes good people from bad. The fundamental sin that we are all guilty of to some extent is idolatry, violation of the 1st commandment - the point again that Paul is making in Romans 1. Christians can have idolatrous Christian images - e.g., the KKK's flaming cross. But this does not make Hindus, Wiccans &c any less idolators. It seems to me that OTOH you are making the common mistake of using "idolatry" for only the crassest forms of that sin & defining the more serious away. The serious ones are what God spoke of to Ezekiel, "Son of man, these people have taken their idols into their hearts," & what Calvin meant when he said that the human imagination is a factory of idols.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Armstrong" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 2:15 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] D'Souza vs. Hitchens - Surrending the debate

> epistemologically
> Sender:
> Precedence: bulk
> Well, there's no question that we will differ on this point. However, my
> sense is that the the reality of the divine creator is neither defined
> by a name nor by the particular model one might use for
> conceptualization.
> With respect to name, Creator God is who he is. "God" is just our
> particular name for a supreme creative being who probably needs no name
> at all [the Bible seeming to commend existence, "I am", rather than
> title].
> Nearly every human being recognizes the existence of such a supreme
> being who is responsible for creation, and responsible for their
> existence in specific. They have a variety of names for that being,
> understandably embodied in their own language. We call Him (Her, It)
> "God", but we use many other names as well (apparently numbering about
> 100 for the Abrahamic traditions, though mostly differing in language
> specifics). Many of these we share with Judaism, and we are not troubled
> by expressions like G-d or (the somewhat distorted) Jehovah, or probably
> even "hashem" if its use is understood. However, we would lose some
> fellow travellers (though not all, particularly among missionaries!), if
> we were to use a name from another Abrahamic tradition like "Allah".
> And yet these are all conveniences of address for the same Abrahamic
> God. Noteably, the choice among them does not change the Creator in
> any way.
> Though perhaps a little harder to accept at the outset, by extension it
> would seem that the name assigned to the divine one would have
> essentially nothing to do with who God is in reality, or with the
> legitimacy of the quest of the seeker who uses any particular
> (presumeably reverential) name. Our Scripture puts it this way, "...for
> he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder
> of them that diligently seek him." It does not say that we must come
> using the correct name.
> The model used for conceptualizing God is a somewhat different matter.
> We all have a variety of understandings (even among Christians who
> belong to one of some 30,000 identifiable denominations) about the exact
> nature and character of the transcendant being that is assigned our name
> "God". No two of these understandings are exactly alike in detail,
> sometimes differing in very significant detail. But if truth be told,
> even when we speak of "one God", we really don't know with certainty
> whether it/he/she is just a single entity, or whether this numbering
> thing even makes any sense with respect to the transcendant nature of
> God.
> In most of our Christian traditions, we are taught to have a problem
> with people groups making painted or wood or clay or stone images of
> what they think God might look like. The images are idols and those who
> reverence them are idolaters. We in our traditions prefer to stay with
> mental models, not physical ones - but they are models nonetheless
> whether physical or mental. If they are the "other guy's" models, we are
> inclined to call them "idols". If they are ours, we call them "icons" or
> "art".
> But with perhaps rare exceptions, those objects of pigment or wood or
> clay or stone are not the deities themselves, but representations. So
> are our "icons" and "art".
> And that is true of our mental models as well. They too - even the best
> or most acceptable-to-us mental models - are essentially inferior
> representations, sharing extreme shortfall with respect to the reality
> of transcendent God (continuing to use our more familiar appellation).
> Most people groups throughout the world have in common an understanding
> that they specifically are a people that were created in special
> preferred relationship and favor with that supreme being.
> At least some people groups understand that that supreme being has also
> given them a special task in the world (usually in the nature of
> conquerer or ambassador).
> Most people groups have an understanding that they must do something(s)
> to stay in favor (avoid getting out of favor) with that supreme being.
> But at the end of the day, none of the specifics of these understandings
> have any effect whatsoever on who/what that supreme being is in reality,
> the one whom they seek.
> All of these people groups and individuals within them work the same
> essential spiritual problem, namely how to conceptualize, relate to and
> communicate with the transcendant being who is the Creator (to use
> another name as an example).
> I think we can reasonably presume that most are also sincere, whatever
> degree of devotion they might manifest. But there is nothing in the
> preceeding distillation of essentials that says they are seeking
> different supreme beings.
> What IS different (in some cases, clearly very different) is the human
> side of the equation, the name(s), nature, story and history, holy
> writings, traditions, understanding of purpose, and practices.
> Since every conceptualization of God varies down to a specific
> individual, it is pretty clear that no human understanding of a
> transcendant being and his/her/its nature and intent can be complete or
> wholly accurate, even though those purported 30,000 identifiable
> Christian denominations (alone) are doing their best to do so. But in a
> broader view, so are the rest of the folks. It seems to be our need for
> uniqueness (collective and individual ego, if you will) that underlies
> the dismissive characterizing of other religions as seeking (idolizing)
> something other than the true supreme being (God, in our language). But
> each of those other people groups is equally quick to affirm that their
> quest is for the "one true God", just as ours.
> A major difficulty in our time (and probably in all times) is - at the
> core - how people act in the context of their version of the quest (or
> an all too common perversion of it).
> But that STILL has nothing to do with the reality of the supreme being
> (God as we call "him"), or his position as the "one true God".
> The crux of the matter is that there is nothing that would say that the
> prayers of anyone intending to reach the "one true God" are somehow
> deflected by what someone else might think or understand or say about
> them or their prayers. We understand that to be a "direct line". Again,
> from Hebrews: "...for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and
> that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." The name "God"
> in the passage is our name (and a translation at that), not in any
> measure the full reality, but intended to point to that divine reality.
> In this discussion, I had no intent at all to dismiss the specific
> tenets of Christianity. What I speak of is the universal yearning for
> understanding and relationship with the Creator. In that light, it seems
> to me unnecessarily dismissive and alienating to categorize those who
> seek the Creator with names and models different than ours as
> "idolaters". The apostle Paul evidently understood that. Such
> dismissive characterization and labelling does nothing constructive to
> "...draw all men unto ... [Him]"
> P.S. In the extreme case of one who understands that the physical world
> is all there is, the label is atheist, not idolater.
> Or so it seemeth to me
> Blessings - JimA
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Received on Wed Oct 31 19:31:44 2007

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