Friday, February 27, 2009

The 'oneness' of God

Growing up as a muslim, the idea of more than one God seemed absurd to me. Who in their right mind could believe that there could be more than one God controlling the universe? This is an appealing idea. The Quran also says something to the effect that if there were more than one God, chaos would ensue in the universe. The belief that God must be 'one' was useful to me in that it allowed me to rule out a lot of apparently 'false' religions. But upon deeper reflection, there are problems with the notion of 'one' God.

There are several arguments through which we can justify the notion of more than one God as not being out rightly absurd:

1. We tend to anthropomorphize God -- we attribute humanly qualities to him, and we don't have any justification for that. The statement that the Quran makes assumes that Gods have human like qualities, that if there were more than one, they would fight for power, like humans do. This seems like an unreasonable assumption to make.

2. If no one has seen God, then every one is basically entitled to whatever he wants to say about God. We don't have any way of deciding who is right or wrong. Whether that God has three parts, or he manifests himself through hundreds of different ways, or is just one, we don't have a reasonable way to decide.

3. The notion of 'one' implies that something is a unity -- a single being. We treat many different things as 'one' in our daily lives, such as the chair you are sitting on, the table you are working on, and yourself. But none of these things are truly 'one'. They are made up of many many different parts. We just happen to treat them as one because treating them as a unity is a useful mental abstraction. We tend to treat ourselves as one, but our brains consists of millions of neurons, which change their patterns of connection from moment to moment -- something that you can hardly treat as a unity.

4. Given that nearly none of the things we encounter in our daily lives are true 'unities', and are always made up of different, even opposing parts, the notion of multiple Gods, such as in Hinduism, might actually make a lot of sense. There is a God for war, and a God for peace, a God for hate, and a God for love, and they all work together to balance out these different forces.

The point of these arguments is make you rethink about the 'obvious' and 'evident' truth of your position. It is to make you realize that the other positions aren't as absurd as you might have originally thought. Given that all of these positions can make sense, it becomes very difficult to decide which one is the right one.

20 comments:

  1. Sorry for my frequent commenting but would just like to mention that Hinduism is not polytheistic for all Hindus. The scholars tend to see all as being manifestations of one God: Brahman. In the Bhagavad Gita, for example, this is made clear.

    The polytheism is a kind of corrupt interpretation that the masses engage in, since they do not understand the true spirit of Hinduism.

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  2. No need to apologize :-) I appreciate that you take the time to comment.

    I have heard of Brahman from a Hindu friend of mine. But my point still remains. I was trying to argue that having the notion of multiple Gods wouldn't be out rightly absurd, and in fact might actually make sense.

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  3. Wanted to comment on "Location Dependent Truth" but the comment option is not working.

    I liked the points that Dawkins made in that video clip. However, the private funding of "scientific research" makes me leary of putting too much "faith" into any claims made by the "scientific community". Like the "medical field" is currently linked to the "pharmaceutical conglomeracy", we need to know who's behind what "theory" and why they want that one promoted over and above any other one.

    Anyway, my view of "God" or "religion" is not one that tries to pit spirituality against science. I do not see my religion as some sort of over-arching "absolute truth" meant for all peoples everywhere at all times.

    For me, my religion is a "personal modality".

    A modality is a "model of possibility".

    Nothing more, nothing less.

    Something like a "theory"...

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  4. @Anonymous

    I checked and the comment option is enabled for that post. Not sure what the problem was.

    My personal experience with the scientific community has left me with a lot of respect for it. Its surprisingly hard to get shaky claims passed through a process of rigorous peer review. I can imagine that there might be a bit of politics involved, and that false claims and results do get through every now and then, but that is the exception, not the norm. Like Dawkins says, there are disagreements on many issues, but people make their claims based on evidence and argument and those claims have to pass a process of peer review which is pretty good at filtering out a lot of nonsense. And everything is public, so you know who is behind which theory and why.

    I can relate to your views about religion. Spirituality and science are not opposites, and you can be spiritual while being rigorous and rational. You can even believe in some abstract notion of God if you want to. However, being religious and professing to hold fantastic and out-of-worldly beliefs without any evidence and argument whatsoever is an entirely different matter. I think Dawkins is referring to beliefs and views of this latter category in the video.

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  5. Well, I hold onto fantastic and out of worldly beliefs but I don't use them as a model of ABSOLUTE TRUTH. I use them as a model for developing an inner world, an interior landscape.

    My beliefs are my meditation visualizations. I don't seek to explain science through them or vice versa, and I think this is where alot of religionists go wrong. They are out to "proove" the existence of God. Why? If believing in God in your particular way works for you, then that's all it needs to do.

    You might like this fun animation;

    http://www.thirteen.org/sites/reel13/indies/indie-sita-sings-the-blues/241/



    Brilliant, clever, cute and funny animation, bridging the gap between ancient folklore and post-modern heartbreak.

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  6. Looks like a fun movie. I have bookmarked it and will watch it soon.

    Of course, you are entitled to whatever you want to believe in. I know you don't personally take them as absolute truth, but if some other people do start taking them literally, and that has an effect on your life, then I feel that we should say something about it. A case in point being the rise of the (often times violent) religious right in nearly all major religions.

    Ultimately, what we believe in has some trickle down effect on how we act, so its more intellectually hygienic to believe in stuff that is less likely to be false. Personal opinion :-)

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  7. I don't know where you live here but here in USA the scientists and their studies are linked with private companies and their financial agendas.

    The medical profession has become a farce due to this.

    Information is being surpressed because it can't bring in enough money for some private corporation or who/whatever.

    Forget peer reviews. If you don't conform to the status quo nobody will be willing to review you.

    There's alot of info on the net about this if you care to research it.

    You have to be a bit of a "skeptic" if you want to live here - about it all.

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  8. As you said We tend to anthropomorphize God. This question also confused me for sometime but through the help of Allah and his good people ive got the answer.

    Allah has created human beings in a special way and each one of has his part in us, i.e Soul along with our animal self. Otherwise we would have been just animals with little more intelligence. So we have a relation with God. The reason you have made this blog shows that you have subconscious relation with God but you want to realize it.

    So infact it is not human qualities it is attributes and names of Allah which we have in us on minute level. As the great sufis say each name of God is itself an infinite Sea.

    You can read 99 names of Allah but these 99 names are just small part of his names. We can call him from any beautiful name. some are known some are not.

    you said no one has seen Allah but you are forgetting God has sent a message for you through his prophets, the most good human beings.

    Finally, like a General manager, God doesnt need to distribute his qualities among many smaller Gods. God is like a sea everything in it is has a connection with water.

    Many things in Quran are told by Allah to strike our intellect so when he says that had there been many God there would have been Chaos then it is according to humans way of thinking. This beautiful argument shows how Allah is deeply aware of humans thought process and understanding.

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  9. I agree when you say that we tend to associate God with qualities such as love, devotion, truth and honesty, among others. I however have no reason to believe that these qualities are extrinsic to me, a reflection of a higher being, instead of being intrinsic to me.

    As for the prophets of Allah, the different Abrahamic religions have conflicting accounts of God and his commands. This has caused much suffering in our world, with the follower of each religion claiming their account to be the final and right one. Some people say that Muhammad made additions to THEIR religion. And people have claimed prophethood even after Muhammad.

    My point about multiple Gods was not that God needed other Gods, but the fact that nothing in our universe is a 'unity', a single being, and everything is composed of other things, so if someone believes in multiple Gods, you can think of the multiple Gods as being part of a larger whole, and thus, its not an unreasonable believe to have. You can say that 'larger whole' is your God, but my point still remains. My point was that it is not unreasonable to have a more finer grained understanding of 'God' in terms of multiple, even conflicting, Gods.

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  10. Quantam Physics says that there is indeed unity behind all things - everything is energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred or transformed. The one "becomes" many. Transformation. Everything is energy.

    In Islamic theology do animals have souls or not?

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  11. I don't know whether animals have a soul according to Islamic theology. Why does it matter?

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  12. I was asking ahmad above, who seemed to ininuate that they don't in his comment, which I thought was odd.

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  13. Hi desiskeptic,

    Just to elaborate on the first comment a little bit, Hinduism is, strictly speaking, polymorphic monotheism, or polymorphic nonduality is perhaps a more accurate way of describing it.

    The basic idea in Hinduism (and in certain forms of Sufism as well) is that God is both the One and the Many, simultaneously. To signify this, the Hindu sages, instead of saying that God is one, decided to say that God is not-two (nondual). This view might be called monistic panentheism -- that there is a single Being, which is unitary, but which is also the All, the Many. The idea of "gods" in Hinduism comes from the idea that the original Being divided itself in the manifestation so that it began to appear in many forms when in fact it is the sole Being that exists.

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  14. Thanks for the clear explanation anonymous. This makes a lot of sense. It ran counter to my intuition too as to how there could be many gods without there being a unifying force somehow.

    In a sense, I find the division of that unity into multiple forms to be a bit more satisfying because the destructive forces are anthropomorphized (or God'ified?) as well.

    Growing up as a muslim, and interacting with Christians, I always found that they talked about Hinduism in a somewhat mocking fashion. Almost ridiculing it because it had a God for everything. One purpose of this post was to make that crowd realize that the notion of God(s) in religions like Hinduism which they conveniently reject as being absurd aren't as absurd as their upbringing and teaching might make them believe to be.

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  15. Btw the anonymous commenter up there is also the person who commented as "stumblingmystic" on your very first post. I just discovered your blog via my girlfriend (kk0isonlymyname) above. Will definitely be sticking around here if that's okay with you.

    "In a sense, I find the division of that unity into multiple forms to be a bit more satisfying because the destructive forces are anthropomorphized (or God'ified?) as well."

    I find this view much more satisfying than monolithic monotheism as well, which usually becomes dogmatic and a kind of a "meta-tribalism" anyway. You'll find this idea of the One becoming the Many in many of the Greek philosophers too, like Plotinus, and also in the Egyptian mystery traditions. Still, there are mystical schools of thought even in the monotheistic religions that subscribe to this idea too.

    "Growing up as a muslim, and interacting with Christians, I always found that they talked about Hinduism in a somewhat mocking fashion. Almost ridiculing it because it had a God for everything."

    Oh, the monotheistic religions are hopelessly ignorant of the wisdom of the Vedic and other Eastern spiritual traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. etc.). Personally I have felt that in many ways the Eastern traditions are vastly superior to the Abrahamic religions. They're certainly much less anthropocentric, and much more pluralistic and inclusive.

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  16. My experience with the Eastern traditions has been similar to yours.

    It now amazes me as to how judgmental and biased I was before, solidifying my views on these religions without even having read anything about them, apart from what was written in school books (which were mostly very biased and gave a one-sided distorted picture).

    Interesting to see that the One becoming Many theme is more common than I originally thought.

    And finally, I always thought kk0isonlymyname was a guy. My apologies :-)

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  17. The Other AnonymousMarch 18, 2009 at 7:35 PM

    To be fair, the Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Islam and Christianity also have their share of poly. In the Quran Allah speaks of "we". You find similar in the Old Testament. The problem is that as these religions became "mainstreamed" they lost their mystical flavor or it went underground and what you get now is just the fanatical, sillified versions. However, within the last 20 years or so, more and more of the more mature and mystical views are coming out and exposing themselves.

    We now have access to gospels that were not known before that contain more "mystical" teachings of Christ and so on.

    The Muslims have their Sufis and the Jews their Kabbalists. The more these mystical schools in the Abrahamic faiths come forward, the better the conversations will be.

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  18. While I agree with your view of the mystical versions as in some sense being better than the more fanatical literal versions, I don't see how having the notion of more than a single God would make a difference.

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  19. The Other AnonymousMarch 19, 2009 at 5:33 PM

    It doesn't, the concept of God, like any other concept, is what you make of it. If it matters to you, it matters. If it doesn't matter to you, it doesn't matter.

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