Humanists Perspective (31st WRC)
Introduction to Humanism (Atheists and Agnositics) (5 minute Opening Speech)
Who is God? Nature and Characteristics
Humanist (Atheist and Agnostic) Perspective
by Doug Thomas
Retired Teacher, Canadian Historical Fiction Novelist
President, Society of Ontario Freethinkers
Abstract of Theme Speech
God is a Metaphor
In the absence of any empirical evidence, we non-believers do not think about gods or any supernatural beings as real entities, but rather the product of mankind’s psychology and imagination. God is a metaphor for all the unexplained occurrences that have confronted human beings ever since our brains became sophisticated enough to facilitate self awareness and to make connections between the environment we have been adapting to all these millennia and our future. That metaphor has several corollaries including: God the creator, God the controller of seasons, God the leader, God the judge, and God the scapegoat. All of these modes are at the behest of the human beings who have created him, or her, or it in all its thousands of forms and attitudes over the millions of years of human development and in all of them we see the direct reflection of the culture and knowledge of the society that created
them and worshipped them.
God the creator has had many forms, but I will use the one in the Bible primarily, even though there are some really interesting ones in other religions. In Genesis, God creates the Heavens and Earth in six days and rests on the seventh. From a non-believing perspective, this seems very human. Why would an omnipotent being need to rest after six days of rather nominal labour? After all, when he said, “Let there be light” there was light. Rubbing two cosmic sticks together or even flicking a divine Bic would have required more energy. This God of creation had the kind of human weaknesses that his creators also had.
God the controller of seasons, Father or more popularly, Mother Nature, explained, in the absence of Environment Canada, why the frost came earlier than expected or why there was a drought. Ancient agricultural cultures spent quite a bit of time trying to appease the Gods of nature. Of course, the gods of early societies were intimately involved with nature. Even the sophisticated Greeks ascribed lightning to Zeus, and storms at sea to an angry Poseidon. My ancestors whom those Greeks named Keltoi – the outsiders – had Druid priests who constructed serious mechanisms to determine the exact day of winter solstice in an attempt to give farmers a better chance in northern Europe’s shorter growing season. They were, of course supported by their culture in the manner to which they aspired and sacrificed a few human beings along the way to ensure their positions of power – a religious tradition that has been carried on in one form or the other since.
God the leader is a constant in all of the Gods invented, but to stick with the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God, we must go back to His discovery in the person of an obscure Egyptian war god named – you guessed it – Yahweh. He was exactly the kind of God a rebelling Hebrew slave culture needed to terrorize Egyptians in to granting them freedom; unfortunately he wasn’t much of an economist since he led the Jews to the only place n the Middle East with no oil. Nevertheless his war leader qualities come to the fore often enough. In both of the 20th centuries major wars, German soldiers wore belt buckles embossed with “Got ist mit uns” – “God is with us” and every allied regiment that landed at Normandy brought with it a coterie of chaplains to remind the allied soldiers that He was with them. The Japanese warlords who took over that country in the late 1930s and 40s made sure the Shinto Gods were on their side.
God the judge is an important one even to us non-believers. The rules that were given to Moses, tribal thought they were, are still quoted, after suitable interpretation by one of the 33,000 Christian sects, as rules for behaviour. Naturally, we non-believers are assumed to be evil sinners by default, because we don’t accept these as rules from and divine being. This assumption has nothing to do with us really. We Humanists consume less alcohol per capita than the Canadian average and more of us are vegetarian than the Canadian average, to name but two very inaccurate measures of goodness. Theists tend to define goodness as obeying those Ten Commandments. Of course, they don’t cover such problems as racism, and slavery. To be fair, neither do Epicurus’ forty principles. They are, after all, all rules made up by men of their time. One thing separates God the judge from the other metaphoric existences – He
seems to need help in the form of the Devil, another human creation who lives, like the Druid Dragon beneath the Earth’s surface and keeps those hell fires going for eternity – or until the Leafs win the Stanley Cup – whichever comes first.
God the scapegoat is the worst of the metaphoric projections. Whenever there is a disaster, large or small, some theist is likely to use the magic phrases, “God’s will” or “He works in mysterious ways” so salve the angst of the victims. Thus, the tsunami that ripped into the Philippines was a demonstration of God’s wrath because not enough people were going to Mosque regularly and a little girl was injured by farm machinery was a part of God’s will and plan rather than of her father’s inattention – at least, that’s what he said to a reporter.
So, God the metaphor is omnipresent by virtue of the ubiquitous imaginations of human beings, all trying to cope with the harshness of a universe into which we have evolved and in which we have little significance except as a parasitical organism that insects will have to clean up after when we have finally relied enough on the metaphoric meanderings of our minds to really mess up the planet.