By Jim Taylor
It started as a casual email chat among editorial colleagues, about the virtues of knowing other languages and cultures. Somehow, it morphed into a discussion about the relative merits of the gods of various cultures, and the way every religion felt that its god was superior to any other god or gods.
And someone asked, “Who’d want to worship an inferior god?”
The concept intrigued me. An inferior god? Why not?
After all, most criticisms levelled at religion are based on the assumption of a superior god. You can’t have a multitude of superior gods, because then they wouldn’t be superior. Therefore your deity must be superior to other gods. Which forces you to reject any claims that other religions may make. Which leads to the intolerance, bigotry, and prejudice that critics accuse religion of fostering.
A superior god has to be superior to everything. Nature. Chance. Fate. Probability. A superior god, in fact, has to be Almighty. (It feels like time to introduce capital letters.)
Belief in an Almighty God leads to some dangerous assumptions. Because God is Almighty, His will must prevail. Therefore the Agents of the Almighty’s will have the right – indeed, the obligation — to impose God’s Will on inferior beings. Such as misguided believers in other religions. Also on other races. Other genders. And the whole natural world.
The more rigid the religion, it seems, the more this mindset applies.
Historic Christian creeds make the superiority of their God specific:
Apostles Creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth….
Nicene Creed: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen…
The creeds also assert that God is fully revealed in Jesus. My church’s constitution declares that God “has perfectly revealed Himself in Jesus Christ…”
But I don’t see an Almighty God in Jesus. What comes through to me from reading the gospels is that if Jesus had power, he didn’t use it.
From the disciples’ perspective, it seems, he could become shining, transcendent. He could walk on water. He could heal disabilities and incurable diseases. He could pass through locked doors. He could feed thousands from nothing.
But as the story goes, Jesus himself rejected the temptation to produce food from stones, to control nations, to perform supernatural acts.
The disciples also mistakenly believed he could call down fire from heaven, as the prophet Elijah did for a giant barbecue. No doubt they believed he could have wiped out the court that judged him in a blast of flame; he could have demolished Herod’s court with an earthquake; he could have struck his executioners with a lightning bolt.
But he didn’t.
If he had power, he didn’t use it.
Does that make him powerless? Or perhaps a representative of an inferior God?
What difference might an inferior God make?
Presumably an inferior God would have to work cooperatively, rather than authoritatively. An inferior god could not, would not, enforce its will from a distance; it would have to achieve its will through the actions of its agents.
Like the disciples. And like us.
I kinda like that kind of God.
Author Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: firstname.lastname@example.org