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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #8A: Monotheism   Worldview Theme #8B: 

             Belief in a Personal God

Contrast Worldview Themes #8A and #10 --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!           

Contrast Worldview Themes #8A and #5A --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!         

agnosticism-- with respect to the question "Does God exist?" agnostics feel that they no relevant knowledge so they are neither believers nor skeptics--they simply don't know!

anthropomorphism -- a general term which refers to interpreting something that is not human by positing human characteristics; in theology, it refers to the belief that God is like human beings in at least some respect.

atheist--a person who doesn't believe in God.

Christianity -- a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. Christians believe Jesus, a Jew who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago, to be the son of God, sent to Earth to save mankind from sin.  For Christians, the cross symbolizes the cross on which Jesus was nailed to and killed.  They believe that three days later he rose from the dead, and some forty days after this resurrection ascended to Heaven.  Christians believe that God is a Trinity: the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.  Christian Church authority was originally (by the 4th century) centered in the Roman Catholic Church, headed by the Pope. Two schisms have since undermined that authority: 1) by the 14th century the Eastern Orthodox Church had completed its breakaway from Rome, and 2) the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century saw Catholicism splinter into what became various Protestant denominations.

creation ex nihilo--creation out of nothing: how God created the universe. This is what many Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe based on verses from the Bible and the Qu'ran.

creationism -- a belief shaped by religious sacred texts that all life and most notably the human species resulted from a specific act of creation performed by a supreme being, rather than from processes involving evolution. Biblical creationism attributes creation to God, a modern revision to an “Intelligent Designer”.

Critical God -- the 2006 Baylor Religion survey identified this as one of "America's Four Gods". God is seen as not interacting with individuals or involved with the world. Nonetheless God still views the world and is believed to be very displeased with its current state. This displeasure will become evident as appropriate in one's life after death (many feel that "divine justice may not be part of this world"). 

deism -- a monotheistic belief in God, who is believed to not interfere with the workings of the universe which proceed according to natural laws , combined with rejection of formal, organized religion

Distant God -- the 2006 Baylor Religion survey identified this as one of "America's Four Gods". God is seen as not interacting with individuals or involved with the world, but not angry. Rather God is viewed more in terms of a "cosmic force which set the laws of nature in motion" 

dualism of substance-- an answer to the classical One / Many problem that asserts that Reality is ultimately composed of two different kinds of substance, typically referred to as mind (or spirit) and matter.

evangelism--involving a militant or crusading zeal, for example, evangelical Christians efforts to convert others to Christianity.  According to Rick Warren, that was one of God's purposes in creating human life.   

Gaia / Gaia Hypothesis -- Gaia, the ancient Greek earth goddess, has been resurrected in recent years as a sort of presiding spirit of the Earth. According to the Gaia Hypothesis, the whole Earth is in some sense alive and functions as single self regulating organism.

God, arguments for existence of--from classical philosophy come three such arguments, summarized as follows: 1) cosmological--based on the assumption that every event has a cause, one looks back for causes behind events to the first event: the beginning of the universe. This "first cause" is linked to God.  2) ontological--based on defining God as a perfect being, realizing that such perfection requires God be complete and lack no attributes, certainly God must  exist!  3) teleological--given obvious evidence of design in the universe, it must have had a designer.  William Paley (1743-1805) provided the famous watch / watchmaker analogy often used here.  

God, omniscience and omnipotence of -- many conceive of God as all knowing and all powerful, with infinite knowledge and power.  Use of infinity, in both mathematical and philosophical conceptions, can lead to difficulty and contradiction.  Here's a relevant one, provided by cybernetic pioneer Norbert Wiener: "Can God make a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?  If He cannot, there is a limit to His power...if He can, this seems to constitute a limitation to His power too."  Those who value free will have qualified God's omniscience by restricting it to knowing everything that can be known--excluding the free choices human agents will make in the future.  Restricting God's knowledge in this regard can be avoided, but it comes at the expense of restricting His power: by assuming God knows everything that is to happen in the future, but lacks the power to doing anything to alter that future. 

God, word of--many monotheistic religions view their sacred text as being the word of God, if not literally, then certainly providing a lesson or message inspired by God.  Another interpretation of this phrase connects with the creation of the universe and the Greek term logos--which some Christians translate as "word". Thus the first verse in the Christian Bible (translated from Greek) can be read as "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Others in the West have connected logos with thought, reason, logic, the underlying order of reality, etc; in the East it's most notably been linked with tao and dharma.    

historical metaphorical interpretation -- the practice of interpreting sacred texts from both historical and metaphorical viewpoints, rather than from a literal / infallable God viewpoint. Biblical scholar Marcus Borg has most notably used this practice in interpreting the Bible.

immanence vs. transcendence -- this is a distinction between whether God exists within, remains within, and acts within the physical universe (immanence), or whether God is set apart from or transcends the physical universe (transcendence). Some religious philosophies (panentheism) seem to have it both ways!

intelligent design -- is, according to the Discovery Institute which has promoted it, the belief that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”

Islam -- a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Mohammad, an Arabian prophet who lived around 1400 years ago, as laid down in the Koran (or Qur’an).  Those who believe in Islam are called Muslims (or Moslems) and seek to live in submission (Islam means "submission" in Arabic) to the will of God (known as Allah).  Muslims believe in the "Five Pillars of Islam"-- faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage.  The crescent and star are Islamic symbols.  Most Muslims are either Sunnis (85%) or Shi'a (15%).  Their differences can be traced to disputes over who were the rightful  leaders of the Muslim community in decades after the death of Mohammad in 632.  Sufism is a mystical --ascetic brand of Islam.

Judaism -- the religion of the Jews, the oldest of the great monotheistic religions. Sacred texts include the Old Testament of the Bible, Torah, and Talmud. Jews believe that God revealed Himself to them and gave them rules to live by.  The Bible recounts how God made a covenant with Abraham (perhaps around 1900 BC) and how He sent Moses (around 1300 BC) to lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt.  The six pointed star and a candelabra (menorah) are symbols of Judaism.   

pandeism--an extension of deism which asserts that in the beginning there was God, who created the Universe, which, while now seemingly consists of multitudes of discrete separate entities, in its entirety equals God and will eventually condense back into a single entity.

placebo effect -- An observed effect in an experimental patient group, typically a slight positive improvement in their health when compared to a control patient group, that is caused by administering a placebo, defined as a preparation with no medical or pharmacological value. The effect is believed to be connected to patient expectations. 

polytheism--belief in more than one god

process theology--building on a non-deterministic philosophy that stresses the process of "becoming" rather than the state of "being,"  process theologians believe that God organizes and orders events in a universe of free agents by encouraging rather than coercing.  Many of their beliefs can be traced to British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), for whom God was less of an omnipotent creator / ruler and more of a participant in an ongoing creative process.

reason vs. faith—essentially the distinction here is between belief supported by facts and concepts, ultimately linked to observation and experience, which fit together in a coherent way as part of a useful, logical framework, and belief for which there is no such basis, but instead only one’s unshaken feeling of confidence, trust, and willingness to believe.  When one’s knowledge and experience is limited, belief can be extended based on trusting the authority of someone else, rather than doing one’s own investigation into the rational basis for belief.  Sometimes, there is no way to rationally or scientifically decide and anyone holding such belief holds it through faith.  In this way faith can be connected with belonging.  Some see faith as a valid basis for knowledge, others say it provides no such basis.  Some see reason as threatening faith--meaning as one increasingly relies on it, one’s reliance on faith diminishes.

religion, definitions of--one of those difficult to define terms. In his classic, The World's Religions, Huston Smith defines it broadly as "a way of life woven around people's ultimate concerns" or more narrowly as "a concern to align humanity with the transcendental ground of its existence."  Synthesizing, and building on these, religion can be defined as involving beliefs, behaviors, feelings and devotion or obligation to faith in the divine or what is held to be of ultimate importance. Two narrower definitions are: 1) the worship of, and service to, God or the supernatural, and 2) a belief system associated with traditionally defined or formally institutionalized ceremonies or rituals.  

religion, alternate definitions ofranging from positive / upbeat to negative / downcast, and associated with particular people are as follows: 1) "man's response to ultimate concerns in terms of the ultimate" (Tillich); 2) "adds strength to frailty, fulfillment to frustration, wholeness to incompleteness" (Bewkes);  3) "a feeling of creaturely dependence on God" (Schleirmacher); 4) about healing the "brokenness" that happens when ego triumphs over spirit producing a condition of being "terribly and tragically alone" (Collier); 5) "a technique for success...a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success" (Benedict & Pinker); 6) "the childlike condition of humanity...knowledge of God is self-knowledge" (Feuerbach);  7) "a childhood neurosis–God is a father projection" (Freud).

spirit-- another term difficult to define.  Here are three definitions:  1) an animating principle or vital force that gives life to organisms. It accounts for the difference between a living being and dead corpse.  2) A non-physical, non-quantifiable substance or energy present in living things   While spirit is sometimes considered synonymous with soul, for many this latter term implies having an immortal existence--something not necessarily attributed to spirits. 3) an apparition, ghost, demon, sprite, or supernatural being.  Of course God falls in this last category. It should be noted some conceptions of spirit include the belief that all individual spirits interconnect to form a greater unity, oneness, Cosmic Mind, etc.

spirituality--can be narrowly defined as the quality or state of being spiritual--which relates to matters pertaining to vital spirit or soul--or it can be much more broadly considered.  Definitions that fit into this latter category are: 1) "the process and result of nurturing one's soul and developing one's spiritual life" (David N. Elkins),  and 2) "one's spirituality is the range of one's emotional relationships to those questions that cannot be answered..."like  'What happens when you die?'"(Jaron Lanier).  Some confine their spirituality to the boundaries provided by traditional religion;  others look elsewhere to meet their spiritual needs.

teleology -- the idea that there is a design or purpose inherent in everything and belief that events unfold toward some divinely specified ultimate end or that everything strives to fulfill some purpose.

theology -- the rational study of religious faith, experience, and practice.

tolerant—sympathetic to or at least able to allow another individual’s  indulgence in beliefs, values, practices, and behaviors that differ from or conflict with one’s own.    

  Contrast Worldview Themes #8B and #10 --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!       

angel -- a bodiless, spiritual being, limited in power and intelligence, but nonetheless superior to man. In traditional belief in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, good angels live in heaven , are able to visit Earth (in both visible and invisible forms), are sometimes depicted with wings, and sometimes provide messages and / or offer protection. Dark angels, living in hell, are the evil counterparts of good angels.

Authoritarian God -- the 2006 Baylor Religion survey identified this as one of "America's Four Gods". God is seen as highly engaged with and involved in individual daily lives.  He (most identified God as such!) is believed to be very capable of punishing individuals and people in general, in particular those who are sinful or ungodly. Many God believe is quite angry. 

Benevolent God -- the 2006 Baylor Religion survey identified this as one of "America's Four Gods". God is seen as highly engaged with and involved in individual daily lives.  God is viewed as a force of positive influence and is believed to be less likely to punish or condemn people.  

bicameral mentality -- supposedly the mentality that existed long ago before modern human consciousness fully emerged, an idea proposed by Princeton psychology professor Julian Jaynes. Those possessing this mentality, were unable to introspect and heard voices just as some schizophrenics do today. The voices told them what to do when new circumstances were encountered, or in times of stress. These inner voices, heard as actual real voices and believed to be voices of gods, had their origin in the once heard real voices of parents, long dead relatives, leaders, kings, or other authority figures. Supposedly the bicameral mind slowly died out and was replaced by modern consciousness by the first millennium BC. It has been suggested that modern humans, to some degree, still possess remnants of this ancient mentality.

conscience--a sense of 1) what is morally / ethically right or wrong, and 2) which actions a) will produce more pleasure and happiness vs. more pain and suffering, b) will be praised vs. blamed, c)  potentially promise benefits vs. involve risks and potential liabilities.  When conscientious behavior and actual behavior diverge, guilt and feelings of remorse can result.  H.L. Mencken referred to it as "the inner voice that tells us that somebody might be watching." Some connect conscience with religion: it has been termed "God's voice."  Others make no such connection.  

consciousness  -- one of those difficult to define terms. Here are four definitions: 1) generally thought of as a process not a thing, held by religious tradition to reside in the soul or spirit, and identified with self awareness; 2) an inward sensibility of something -- knowledge of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, etc -- and comprising the sum total of mental processes occurring at any moment; 3) according to Roger Penrose, the non-algorithmic, judgment-forming ability to separate truth from falsity, beauty from ugliness, etc; 4) according to some in the artificial intelligence community, it merely passively accompanies a sufficiently elaborate control system (based on algorithms) -- but doesn’t do anything. To some consciousness is linked to intelligence; linguist Ray Jackendoff and philosopher Ned Block have distinguished three more specialized meanings: 1) self knowledge (including the ability to recognize one’s self in a mirror), 2) sentience (knowing “what is it like” to be someone because you are that someone), and 3) access to information. This last meaning ties into Freud’s distinction between the conscious and unconscious mind. If someone asks about what you are thinking / feeling or exactly how you did something, you have access to some information or details and can report, but much involving bodily processes or mundane routines happens automatically and more information or details are unavailable to you.

dark night of the soul--a phrase first used by 16th century Spanish poet and Christian mystic St. John of the Cross, it now refers to times--perhaps triggered by suffering associated with tragedy, or other painful crisis--when a spiritual person's faith is challenged by feelings of meaninglessness, desolation, and loneliness.  During such times, people may feel that God has abandoned them or no longer hears their prayers.  Some use the experience to transform their relationship with God and emerge from the ordeal with renewed strength to carry on.

faith -- firm belief, complete confidence and trust in something for which there is no proof, often associated with religion and typically linked more to the one's  feelings / emotions  than one's rational / analytical side. Some give this concept a deeper meaning.  Christian  philosopher Paul Tillich connected it with "ultimate concern" as in what should be the ultimate concern to which one's life should be devoted.  In his book Stages of Faith, James Fowler views finding faith as ultimately finding "an overarching, integrating and grounding trust in a center of value and power sufficiently worthy to give our lives unity and meaning."

fellowship--involves people communicating and sharing their lives and concerns with each other--not surprising given that humans are social creatures!  In some settings, such as churches, this companionship can involve mutual respect and perhaps unselfish love.  While the desire of lone individuals to share common interests or participate in activities requiring others fosters much fellowship, according to M.V.C. Jeffreys (in his 1962 classic Personal Values in the Modern World) "the natural and original context for fellowship is the family."  

grace -- a person’s belief -- sometimes difficult to sustain given hardships or evidence to the contrary -- that God , Nature or Reality is ultimately on his or her side and will occasionally gift one with unwarranted help. Those who more fully embrace its existence may use the term “miraculous” (or “amazing” as in the song!) in describing grace.

introspection -- the process of looking inside one’s mind, recalling events, memories, sensory experiences, etc, and, after this mental examination, perhaps reflecting on the experience.

Judeo-Christian-Islamic Conception of God -- this is based on likening the relationship between man and God to the relationship between a child and his father. Of course a child eventually grows up and becomes independent of his father, whereas, here, man does not: he is always subject to God’s authority and must obey his commands. 

miracle -- an act of God or some supernatural being that violates the laws of physics

panentheism -- unlike pantheism, which equates God and the universe, panentheism extends this with the following beliefs: 1) there is more to God than the material universe, as in “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”, 2) God is the animating force behind the universe, 3) as the Creator, God exists and remains within all Creation, and 4) God is the source of a universal morality.

paternalism -- a system in which adults are treated in a fatherly way like children, with their conduct regulated and their needs met. Typically in exchange for this care, the authority expects loyalty and that those receiving the care will accept their relinquishing personal control.

personal God -- the definition employed here is a narrow one: a God who takes a personal interest in the world and, in particular, in individual worshippers. (Many add to this the idea that a God who is so personally concerned with them will intervene on their behalf, performing miracles or whatever.) This is to be contrasted with a broader definition of this term in which God is conceived of as a person, and thus has a personality.

prayer, therapeutic effect of -- while accounts of faith healers' successes go back to ancient times, many modern investigators have cited evidence for a positive therapeutic effect on the health of people who pray or are prayed for. Skeptics have dismissed this suggestion or attributed an improvement to a placebo effect. In an attempt to use scientific methods to measure the effect of people praying for the well being of individuals undergoing heart bypass surgery, a three year study involving church groups praying for 1800 patients was conducted. The results, reported in the April 4, 2006 issue of the American Heart Journal, found no statistically significant difference in the survival or complication rates of heart patients who were prayed for versus those who were not.

praying -- to many, the making of a humble request of God -- often preceded by confession and accompanied by praise, evidence of adoration, expression of gratitude, promises, etc. To Ambrose Bierce, praying means asking “that the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy” In general, praying is initiating communication with God, a Deity, higher power, Cosmic Mind, etc.  Often it is done to seek guidance or a solution to a problem. 

purpose driven life, the--the title of a 2002 best selling book by Rick Warren that presents God's five purposes behind His creation of human life.  see also teleology  

sacrifice–giving up something precious or important as offering to honor or placate a god, deity

soul -- another term difficult to define. Here are three definitions: 1) the vital spirit in all human beings; 2) the part of a human being that is immortal; 3) the feeling /emotional domain of one’s personality.

theism-- a belief in God, gods or other deities, who actively interfere with the workings of the universe.

worship--the religious practice of reverently honoring, praising, and showing devotion to God or gods. 



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