One of the most interesting and curious aspects of man’s obsession with and development of general religion is the associated anthropomorphism — or more specifically, the anthropotheism (the application of human characteristics to deities) — that seems to go hand-in-hand with fundamentalist religious belief systems.
There’s nothing wrong with metaphor.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using anthropomorphic metaphors: after all, mankind has always applied human characteristics to so various natural phenomena in an attempt to better understand them, explain them, communicate about them, and so on:
The wind "whispers" and "moans," our pets are our "children," and violent thunderstorms are "angry."
There has always been a strong temptation for man to anthropomorphize God and so many other deities throughout history — perhaps because man can’t even begin to understand the true source of all things — i.e., whatever truly rests behind the curtain of reality — as such forces surely operate on a plane far higher than and indiscernible from our own natural lives. It appears that the Bible God has likewise been anthropomorphized — just like all the previous ones — in order to make the concept of the Bible God easier to understand. It is simpler to describe the Bible God by assigning human qualities to it.
In truth, man cannot know whether a deity actually has anything resembling what we would call "feelings"; however, we can and do surmise and posit on such subjects quite often. So, rather than spend hours in creative attempts to suppose what a true deity might be like, we use metaphors to describe it. It makes Bible God more like us. When we anthropomorphize a Universal Intelligence by writing and speaking of the possible Creative Force in human terms, we feel closer to the Source or the Tao or God than we otherwise would. It brings a seemingly limitless universal force down to our level.
The sole caveat is: Such metaphoric anthropomorphization should not be taken or interpreted as literal truth.
IMHO, mankind is insulting, denigrating, and minimizing any real intelligent or universally creative force by ascribing such fallible human characteristics to it (whatever ‘it’ is, if ‘it’ exists — NO ONE REALLY KNOWS).
Metaphors are not reality.
When man begins to accept anthropomorphic metaphors as being literal truth or representing reality, it can lead to serious problems. For instance, some religious groups expect everyone else to adopt their interpretation and thus encourage others to fall victim to radical misinterpretation.
Folks who begin to accept those metaphors as being representative of literal truth, for whatever reason, begin to lose all sight of the original intentions of the teaching in the first place. The true message of spiritual living is lost in a soupy mess of dogmatism and fundamentalist constructions.
We gave Bible God hands, eyes, ears, feet, a heart, and so on. The idea of Bible God was molded into something that serves us. The Bible God is given desires for the things people want, like praise, children, gold, and jewels. Even heaven is described in the Bible as having streets of gold, despite the fact it could not be used for such a purpose; gold is a soft, malleable metal.
If you are beyond taking “streets of gold” literally, that’s certainly a step in the right direction. But how do you interpret all the other metaphors and anthropomorphization present throughout the Bible? Where do you draw the line?
Bible God as sexual being (male)?
Would a true universal creative force really be a "he"? What does it mean to be a male?
Being male means to possess male genes and sexual reproductive organs. When people choose to literalize their beliefs in anthropomorphic metaphors, then a supreme force is reduced to a superman-type character – complete with a DNA genotype and penis (which would be required, of course, for a deity to produce a literal physical child). Humanized deities are therefore subject to negative human emotions such as fear, jealousy, egotism, and the deep need to feel appreciated or be praised.
Gradually, from Old Testament times to New, the view of Bible God changed from a god of war, jealousy, fear, thunder, and lighting to a deity of love. Why hasn’t popular thinking about the Bible God changed accordingly?
Why do so many churches and other influential religious groups continue to place so much more importance on the divisive, supernatural aspects — the religious message — of the revealed religions rather than stressing the deeper, more practical, unifying spiritual message (to convey basic universal spiritual principles such as compassion, acceptance, tolerance, patience, etc.)? It’s rather amazing that so many people continue to think of the Bible God — e.g., the Source, the creative force, the Tao — as if it were a literal, testosterone-laden being?
IMHO, as the beliefs and traditions of mankind continue to evolve with the march of time, greater numbers/ percentages of people around the world will gradually adopt perspectives that are increasingly rational. There’s something to be said about the desire to align one’s deepest, most cherished beliefs with truth and reality — to the best of our ability, that is.
May we all move ever closer to unity and oneness, strive to practice & encourage respect, acceptance, and tolerance; actively engage in interfaith socialization and interspiritual contemplation; and deepen our friendships with a growing, eventually boundless variety of people from disparate cultures and divergent faiths.
Resources: Anthropomorphosis of God
- Free dictionary – anthropomorphization
- On the anthropomorphization of God
- The dangers of anthropomorphizing God
- We anthropomorphize God – why is that?
- Speculations and criticisms of anthropomorphizing God
- God is the anthropomorphization of nature…(a forum discussion)
- Man’s need to anthropomorphize God
- Anthropomorphization of God
- Is God just anthropomorphization…
It is truly bizarre and unfortunate.