And Man Created God

Robert Banks, an Associated for the Centre for the History of Christian Though and Experience at Macquarie University, one of Australia’s leading universities, located in Sydney, has written an interesting book, And Man Created God: Is God a Human Invention? (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2011).

I have not yet read this book, but the information about the book released by Lion Hudson grabbed my attention:

“This book addresses one of the oldest questions posed to religious believers: if God made everything, who made God? Most recently levelled by the New Atheists, the question was asked in ancient Greece and has preoccupied religious believers in the centuries since. Here, renowned scholar Robert Banks explores the history of the objection – from its earliest vocalization in the ancient world to its most famous opponents, Freud, Marx, and others. Ideal for anyone with a general interest in new atheism, for those studying religion, or wanting to sort out what (if any) elements of their idea of God are man-made.”

The following excerpt from the book was published by ABC Religion and Ethics:

The idea that we invented God rather than God inventing us is often regarded as a modern one. While it only came to full expression in the last two centuries, its roots actually lie almost three millennia back.

Those who are aware of its earlier origins generally trace it back to several ancient Greek thinkers in the sixth century BC. But closer investigation points to another group altogether – one whose identity comes as something of a surprise.

The first to broach the idea of human beings having created gods were a number of Old Testament Jewish prophets from the eighth century BC onwards. Why has their role here been overlooked? Perhaps it is because it was assumed that a serious critique of religion could only arise from outside a religious perspective.

However, some of the most fundamental challenges to religion down through the centuries have come from radical believers who criticized its distortion and co-option from within.

Israel’s religion differed from that of its neighbours in its commitment to one God. Although there was a short-lived experiment with the sole worship of the sun god Amun-Re in fourteenth-century BC Egypt, it was only in Israel that a fully fledged monotheistic belief took hold. While at the popular level some did not always hold to this, from the time of Moses (around the twelfth century BC onwards) monotheism became the official belief.

The few references in the Old Testament that seem to acknowledge the reality of other gods, such as the Canaanite deity Baal, mainly recognize the existence of foreign religions or mention them in an ironical or rhetorical way.

What begins to surface in the writings of eighth-century BC prophets – such as Amos, Micah, Nahum, and Isaiah – is the claim that these gods were manufactured by human creators. Humankind physically makes representations of the gods and then regards what is actually lifeless and unfeeling as real.

This attitude to images leads others to start to place their trust in them. This critique may equate too simply the work of religious craftsmen and the gods they seek to portray. But perhaps this sprang from observing the behaviour of such people and of the adherents of such deities.

While these prophets continued to believe in their own God, what they have introduced here is a quite extraordinary historical development in attitudes towards religion. It is the first time we come across a declaration that other nations create their own gods and that consequently these are “not gods” at all.

It was the major prophets of the sixth century BC who articulated this critique most fully. Since their country had been conquered and most of its populace exiled, they were confronted more directly with foreign religions. As a result they came to have a more profound grasp of the man-made character of these gods. This was particularly the case with the following three prophets.

Jeremiah adds some vivid descriptive and comic touches. Since the Israelites’ gods cannot speak or act they are worthless, deceitful, and of human rather than divine origin. Instead of basing his views on descriptions of how they are made, Jeremiah throws out a range of highly satirical questions and analogies. This springs, he says, from a loss of memory of the real God’s character and uniqueness.

He is also the first to suggest that by engaging in worship of these man-made creations their followers run the risk of losing their sanity and humanity.

Ezekiel underlines the irony in people making these gods out of the real God’s own “most beautiful of jewels” of gold and silver, and then sacrificing their own sons to them. He argues that this false religious behaviour stems from blurring the distinction between creature and creator. This drains their worshippers of any vital spiritual life and divides them from their real selves.

The author of Isaiah 40-66, who lived among the exiles in Babylonia, ridicules foreign gods more than any other Old Testament writer. Despite the apparent victory of foreign deities over Israel, he laughs their makers and worshippers to scorn. He also notes how rivalries between these made-up gods divide people’s religious allegiance.

His final judgment is that “they are all a delusion” and “their deeds amount to nothing.” They are merely a projection of people’s own blindness.

The importance of this breakthrough in religious insight is highly significant. Here, for the first time, the possibility of humans creating gods comes to expression. Even if the emphasis is more on physically manufacturing rather than mentally constructing gods, it implies the latter.

Some of the ideas that appear in related modern critiques also begin to be hinted at. For example, how worshipping these gods unconsciously deflects what is essentially human onto what is imaginarily divine; how it leads to less rather than more genuine life and spirituality; how it results in loss of sanity and humanity. For these prophets, this is the very opposite of what belief in the real God should do.

What Banks wrote should be emphasized again. When people worship gods of their own creation they worship only an image of themselves.  This kind of worship “leads to less rather than more genuine life and spirituality,” and in the end “it results in loss of sanity and humanity.”

People need God, but only the true God will satisfy the basic needs of humanity. The prophets of the Old Testament recognized that man-made gods have no power to transform the life of an individual.  Jeremiah said those who went after worthless things became worthless themselves (Jeremiah 2:5).

Secular people and those who have created their own gods need to learn that the worship of man-made gods leads to “loss of sanity and humanity.”

I think I will read Banks’ book.

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