CONCEPTIONS OF GOD -- A and M
Food For Thought
By Wor. Bro. A.E. WEBB
Heading Note from UML:
In the selection of papers an endeavour is made to meet all tastes, and it is recognised that each reader will find that some are more attractive to him than others. While it is hoped that some papers attain a genuine research standard, others are simpler ones, intended for the average reader.
The opinions expressed by the authors of the various papers are their own personal opinions, and are not put forward as the considered opinion of the Lodge.
CONCEPTIONS OF GOD - A and M
Read 30 March 1944
THUS he showed me, and behold the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline,, with a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me "Amos what. seeth thou?" and I said "A plumbline." Then said the Lord "Behold I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel, I will not again pass by them any more." When one comes across passages such as this, and realises. that thousands like it are read by unthinking people, one might very well call a halt, and ask himself whether God really did stand upon a wall, and many other similar relevant questions. And from this questioning he might lead himself on to some study as to the possible and the probable nature of God. The Oxford Dictionary defines God as "A superhuman person (regarded as Masculine), who is worshipped as having power over Nature and the fortunes of mankind." An English writer in 1616 wrote, "God is an essence intellectual, a perfect substance incorporeal."
Another in 1714, "God the all gracious, the all good, the all bountiful, the almighty, the all merciful God" and another in 1877 "For by this name God we understand an infinite mind, everywhere present, the source and foundation of all other existence, possessed of all possible power, wisdom and excellence." The earliest types of men were probably incapable of imagining such a personal deity, and without trying to solve the mystery of God as we know it, they had enough to do in trying to account for the natural phenomena about them, such as shooting stars, eclipses, wild beasts, lightning and thunder, and so on. Their contemplation of these led them on to seeing Gods or devils in practically everything in nature, so that our earliest ancestors had the God of Day, the Sun God, the Thunder God, the War Gods, and River Gods, such as the Nile and the Ganges. All these Gods, Nature Gods, were not benevolent, many were demons inextricably mixed up with his existence Man then passed on to new ideas such as in Pantheism, that is that the universe taken as a whole is God. Theism: belief in superhuman powers or spiritual agencies in one or many gods, and deism, that is belief in the existence of a personal god The earliest conception of a personal deity was that of "the Great Mother," the personification of fertile maternity, and this conception is traced back to about 15000 B.C. It might be mentioned here that the conception of a personal God has varied between Masculine and feminine. Where the woman was the stronger partner, Matriarchy developed; and Deity was conceived as the great Mother, where man dominated, Deity was the old man of the Sky or The Great Chieftain.
Practically all the conceptions that we 'now have of Deity were conceived before Christ, by such men as Moses, Amos and the prophets Zarathustra, Pythagoras, Confucius, Socrates, Pluto, Aristotle, The Buddha, and some others who lived between the birth of Christ and Moses, who is reputed to have lived about 1300 B.C. Subsequent to Christ there have been practically no new ideas that have taken a big hold, apart from those expounded by Mohammed, who was born about AD. 570.
About the times between 800 B.C. and 100 B.C., there passed over the world an intense stirring of mind, which produced in a number of different spots on the earth prophetic individuals, who created a series of new starting points for human living and thinking. I will endeavour to sort some of these movements out, and will commence with Zarathustra, be was a Persian prophet, born about (150 B.C., who did much to turn the Persians from their Nature religion to the worship of Ahuramazda, the name used by his followers for Deity. Ahuramazda was the supreme deity, the principle of good, creator of the world and guardian of mankind. He was the opponent of Apriman, the spirit of evil, both being sprung from Eternity. Ahuramadza was supposed to be attended by angels and archangels, He was represented as a bearded man enclosed in a winged circle. Zarathustra had much influence with the poor of his days. Against wickedness he was unrelenting, and he constantly urged his people to give up their low forms of demon worship, and to follow his "one good God." Zarathustra was supposed to have been miraculously conceived when his mother was aged fifteen. All Nature rejoiced at his birth. Attempts were made to kill him. He retired into the mountains for meditation, and was led by an archangel into the presence of God, and received a revelation, and was thereafter tempted by the evil one. It sounds something like the life of Christ, but there was this difference: Zarathustra was never regarded as the incarnation of deity. Persia slipped from Zarathustra's teaching, became Christian, and later Moslem.
Among the earliest of the Greek philosophers was Xenophanes (Zeenofanez), of about 550 B.C. He proclaimed the existence of a single deity, who was all sight, all hearing, and all intelligence. Yet not akin to man in either mind or form.
The Greek Protagoras of about 415 B.C. wrote, "In the matter of the Gods I have not been able to attain the knowledge of their existence, or of what form they are, for many things hinder the attainment of this knowledge, both the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life." He held that the ultimate element in the universe was "mind," that it was unlimited, and had universal power. The Greek Plato spoke of "God" and "the Gods", Socrates about 400 B.C. affirmed that we had an "inner guide" or spiritual being within us. Teno, 300 B.C. the founder of Stoicism, taught at Athens that Deity is the universe, he also taught a kind of universal brotherhood-that all are the citizens of one Great Commonwealth, and have the obligation of mutual service, yet only , as a duty and not from any motive of love or goodwill. The later stoics, such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, were earnest preachers of righteousness, and their writings contain many passages which resemble some of those in the Sermon on the Mount. Some stoic writings are of interest such as Seneca's "God has a fatherly mind towards good men and loves them stoutly, and saith he let them be harrassed with toils, with pains, with losses, that they may gain true strength." Epictetus wrote "when you have shut your door and darkened your room, say not to yourself that you are alone. God is in your room, and your attendant likewise. Think not that they need the light to I see what you do." Pity to the stoic was a sign of weakness, and compassion a misuse of elemency, Suicide was an act of sublime virtue, if self respect demanded it. It was a Stoic who first said, "All men are born free." Stoicism of pre-Christian date taught man to prize integrity, self discipline and virtue, and to put God first. We certainly owe much to pre-Christian Greeks. From the Greeks, we will turn to India with its Hindus, Buddhists and Moslems. The Earliest known Indians, the Dravidians of about 3000 B.C . appear to have worshipped many gods, and to have held certain types of horned cattle sacred. They indulged in tree worship and animal worship, and believed that there was a subterranean kingdom inhabited by man-faced serpents. Between 1500 and 800 B.C. successive waves of Nordics invaded India. They brought polytheism with them, introducing Brahma the "high god,” the supreme soul or essence of the universe. Their most popular God was Indra, who wielded the thunderbolt, brought down rain, overcame enemies and rewarded his worshippers with booty. He was supposed to be fond of liquor, and sometimes drunk. Agni was their God of fire, and Varuna their sky god and bestower of rewards and punishments for good and ill.
Hinduism sprang from the Nordic settlers. Hinduism is now divided into many sects, which worship a variety of things, ranging from the forces of nature to modern machinery, it has sects which enjoin the sternest forms of asceticism, and sects which revel in promiscuous debauchery. Through all these Hindu creeds there is a pervading pessimism, and a fading that life, and more especially a succession of lives, is the heaviest burden that can be laid upon man. There are 216 million Hindus in India. The 11 million Buddhists of India are Atheistic. Their religion was founded in the 6th century B.C. by Gautama surnamed Buddha.
Buddha's "Four Truths" are (1) that life is sorrow; (2) that the chain of reincarnation results from desire; (3) that the only escape is through annihilation of desire; (4) that the way of escape is "the eight fold path" of right belief, right resolve, right word, right act, right life, right effort, right thinking, right meditation.
India's 68 million Moslems are the only ones who have a conception of a god such as Christians have. Moslem means "the submissive," and they submit to the will of "Allah." - Allah is the supreme being. Allah wills all things he wills good and he wills evil, so that to the Moslem there is no fixed moral standard. He does evil and if he were questioned his defence would be “Allah willed it." Allah's two main attributes are "the compassionate" and "the merciful." The Moslems must call upon Allah, and for this purpose Allah has beautiful names. He has 99 of them, and the Moslems use rosaries of 99 beads to enable them to call upon Allah in all his names.
From India, which is perhaps more deeply interested in religion than, any other country, we will turn to China, which perhaps is the lest interested; even though it has the oldest continuous Culture in the world. From 3000 to 1200 B.C., like most other countries in those times, it was pluralistic in the matter of Gods There were spirits of heaven and earth, spirits of departed ancestors, and demons of storm; and drought. Mostly they were concerned with ancestor worship and the Cult of the dead. About 1200 B.C., following invasion from the West, Chou religion, associated with the worship of Hao-Tien, a Supreme Sky god, was introduced.
Tien was not regarded as a creator, but rather as "Providence." Chinese written words are symbols. The symbol for Tien looks like a capital Y inverted with a dot on the top like a head and a bracket going through the stem of the Y, giving the idea of a man standing with legs apart, and arms extended, so that in those early times they gave their "providence God" the form of a man. The symbol nowadays means "one great thing." It is worth noting that the founder of the Chou religion was believed to have been miraculously born. His mother reverently offered up sacrifice that she might not be without children, then she stepped in a foot print made by Tien, and conceived. During the next period 1200 to 300 B.C. China turned to philosophy. Kung-fu-tza better known under his latinised name of Confucius was born, about the year 551 B.C. Another of their famous 5philosophers; Lao-tzu, was born a little earlier. Lao-tzu, like the founder of the Chou religion, was reputed to be virgin born. The systems of Confucious and of Lao-tzu make use of the idea of the Great Tao. Tao means the course of nature, an impersonal deity, Reason, the principle of the universe. Tao taught that contemplation and reasoning, avoidance of force and disregard of mere ceremonies, are the means of regeneration. Lao prescribed a passive attitude to the world. Confucius prescribed an active attitude. Confucius had no idea of a man god, in referring to Deity he uses the word Heaven. To Confucius the whole duty of man consisted in preserving the right relationship towards each one's fellow beings. Confucius set up no ceremonies or sacrifices. He was of this world. His teaching declared that every man possesses in himself the four principles of benevolence, justice, propriety and wisdom, and that man has only to obey the law written within himself to be perfect. It is evident, that Chinese philosophers about this time were not all so this-worldly and so practical as Confucius, for 100 years after his time the philosopher Tuo-tzu said orthodox Confucian doctrine was erroneous because agnostic. Tuo-tzu declared "we can know .God, and we must base our conduct upon his moral character." His will is love, universal and without distinction; war is against his nature, and nothing will work except love." This was written about 400 years before Christ. In the sixth century A.D. Buddhism entered the country, and brought home to the Chinese the indestructibility of the soul.
Buddhism adapted itself to Confucianism, and the two run side by side quite well.
When the Chinaman is well and strong, he thinks of the practical outlook of Confucius. When he is about to die, he thinks of the emphasis upon compassion, love and purity urged by Buddhism. The Chinese are not a religious people, their thoughts do not turn naturally to mysticism. They are a practical people, and although they acknowledge something indescribable as the background of life, their chief concern is with their material welfare. In Japan prior to A.D. 522, when Buddhism was introduced, the Japanese were heathen. Buddhism ran side by side with Shintoism, which practised the worship of the spirits of tribal ancestors and of dead heroes. Shinto's central dieties are the ancestral dieties of the imperial family.
The story of the creation, as actually taught in the Government manuals for the schools, is that the world is the product of the copulation of two divinities Izanagi and Izanami from whom was born Amaterasu the sun-goddess. She in turn is the ancestress of the Mikado. Shintoism is hardly a religion, but it is encouraged as it is a great force in promoting loyalty and patriotism. Shintoism is regulated by a State Department, there is also a State department to control Buddhism. Japanese Buddhism is more practical than Indian. The Yen Buddhist of Japan hold that the disciple must never separate himself from life and regard it in a detached way, but that the Great Self wihtin one's self is to be discovered not by meditation, but by doing one's ordinary menial tasks. Lastly we come to the Hebrew and Christian conception of God. The Hebrews comprised a group of Semetic tribes including the Israelites, Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites. Each tribe normally 6worshipped one God only; the God of the Tribe. This tribal God from whom the tribe believed itself to be descended was conceived as a kind of invisible king, its champion in war; its guardian in peace. The tribal God was not concerned with the personal morality of his people, except insofar as it affected the political or military efficience of the tribe. The various tribes did not deny the existence of the Gods of the other tribes, and this led to some complications. Take the case of Solomon, he made alliances with many neighbouring tribes, and to back these alliances up and to show his good faith he would invariably marry, two or three, or perhaps more of the ladies of these tribes, which meant that he had to build many temples to which his wives could go to worship their own peculiar tribal Gods. I think that somewhere in the Scriptures Solomon is rebuked for building temples for Gods other than the God of Israel. It was on a background such as this that message of deliverance to his distressed and enslaved Moses had to work. Moses came from the desert with a fellow-countrymen. His message was that Jehovah, the God of Mount Sinai away in the desert would help them to freedom if they would first bestir themselves and face the enormous risks of insurrection. The miracle of rebellion after centuries of slavery was accomplished. Moses led the Israelites into the desert, and there, we are told, a solemn covenant was made between God and His people. This event marks the birth of the Hebrew Nation, and of the religion from which Christianity is descended. For the five centuries following Moses the Israelites did not go over wholly to Jehovah, the God of Moses. Jehovah was only one God among many, and he was regarded mainly as the leader of Israelite's host (who was apt to resent honour given to other gods. Of His moral requirements we hear comparatively little He is first and foremost a "Lord of Hosts," champion of Israel's hosts fighting both just and unjust wars against their neighbours. After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites settled in the promised land of Canaan, and here our God was nearly lost to us for ever for very many of the Israelites were attracted to the worship of the Caananites' god of Baalim. Baalim was an agricultural god, who was supposed to make the soil fertile and the harvest plentiful. The festivals of Baalim were marked by gross indulgence in feasting and drinking and immorality.
Had not the Israelites regarded Jehovah as a, great military god rather than a moral one, it is almost certain that they would have forsaken Jehovah, and gone over entirely to Baalim. In times of peace the Israelites went over to Baalim, in times of war to Jehovah. But there were men among the Israelites, such as Gideon and Samuel, who could see that if the nation was not to be lost they would need to unite under one god To this end Gideon tore down the Altar of Baal, and set up in its place the altar of Jehovah, and Gideon routed the enraged idolaters, the cry of him and his followers being "the sword of the Lord and of Gideon." But it is written in Judges 8-83 "And it came to pass after Gideon was dead that the children of Israel turned again and went a whoring after Baalim and made Baal their god." However the cause of Jehovah was not lost, for Samuel conceived the idea of restoring Israel through a king, and to this end had David made king, that he might fight the nation’s trials, as did the l6th and 17th century kings of England fight England’s trials against Rome. The building of Solomon's Temple may be taken as the final triumph of the religion of Jehovah over the Canaanite Baalim.
The gods of the other nations still existed, as did the gods of Solomon's wives, but they were no longer to prevail over the Israelite nation. So far Jehovah has been recognised as the deliverer of the Israelites from their bondage, and as an ever present help to the Israelites in their battles. The prophets, however, have enlarged that conception of God. Elijah about 850 B.C. preached (1) Jehovah is the only God with whom Israel may have dealings, (2) Jehovah will punish wickedness.
Amos about 760 B.C. saw what had not been seen before. He preached (1) Jehovah is not the God of Israel only. He is God - God of all the world. (2) That because of its sin Israel would fall. Forty years after Israel fell, and disappeared for ever from human history. Amos has been called the Prophet of Justice. He was followed in 736 by Hosea, who is called the prophet of Love, he was the first to say "God is Love." The God of Amos punishes in a spirit of anger almost a spirit of vengeance. The God of Hosea punishes only to purify, to save. These were the last of the Israelitish prophets. Fifteen years after Hosea, the king of Assyria, Sargon, slaughtered the Israelites, save some few who were carried captive and scattered over his empire. Henceforth our prophets are of the House of Judah, the first being Isaiah 700 B.C. He prophesied the return from Captivity of the Israelites, and their formation into a kingdom under the rule of the House of David, into which house would be born an Ideal Prince who should be called "Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Seventy years later Jeremiah was born. To Jeremiah God was a Spirit to be worshipped in the Spirit. It might be well now to summarise and reiterate.
1. That God as known to us was never previously conceived of or known until he called to Moses from the midst of a burning bush and said: "Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." God was then conceived as a deliverer of the Israelites and a Lord of Hosts.
2. Elijah takes the conception further, and shows that God is interested in the moral character of the people of Israel and will punish wickedness.
3. Amos, accepting all that had gone before presented God as the Universal God - The God of all the world. A just God.
4. Hosea, added to all the other conceptions the greatest of all that "God is Love." And now we come to the time of Christ For centuries the Jews had been looking for a Messiah and for a kingdom, of God, which kingdom would be accompanied by political and military glory. Christ came, but He never claimed to be Messiah and his teaching was a disappointment to the Jews for his greatest message was The Kingdom of God is already established - "That the Kingdom of God is within you". He had nothing to say of a political kingdom, of which membership comes by right of birth or by conquest. He taught that "The kingdom of God is not a kingdom in another world into which entry is only through the grave: the kingdom extends beyond the grave and those who enter it here do not forfeit their citizenship when they die; but it's establishment is on earth and if you will, you may enter it now.” That was the message of Christ.
It has been said in St. John's Gospel, "God is a spirit." I believe the proper translation should have been "God is Spirit and perhaps that conception best satisfies present day enquiring minds.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The UML note at the start of this article should be read. It is also salient to read this article with the wisdom of hindsight.
Firstly - That is that we all know far more about our fellow humans and the civilzations that they come from. Thus one or two instances that could be racist in today's world were not 70 plus year's ago. Such instances should remind us of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.
And secondly that the world has changed dramatically since W.Bro. Webb wrote this, and also several new countries formed - including Israel, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Ed.
SOURCE: United Masters Lodge UML 1944 March