An entity to worship

Aslam asked:

Existence of God in Islam.

Answer by Gideon Smith-Jones

Ignoring the fact that this isn’t a question, or a statement, I shall treat this as an invitation to consider, from a philosophical standpoint, what it means to assert the existence of God within the monotheistic tradition of Islam, comparing this with Christian and Judaic teaching.

You can’t talk about the existence of God without making some claim about God’s nature. ‘God’ is just a word, until you give some account of why this word is so important to you.

An observing Jew will never write the word I have just put down as it breaks the 4th Commandment. ‘Adonai’ is not the name of God but a marker indicating something that one is forbidden to name.

I have personally seen Protestant demonstrators at the revered Catholic shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham, waving placards saying ‘Idolators!’ and accusations of a similar nature.

However, the 3rd Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not make any graven images’ is taken most seriously and literally in Islam. The prohibition extends to the Prophet, and has incited murder in the streets of Paris.

What to make of this? Evidently, the entity in question is something tremendous, so awe-inspiring that it is at least questionable whether one is permitted even to name it or represent it in any form whatsoever.

Writing 500 years before the Common Era, the Greek Presocratic philosopher Xenophanes — possibly influenced by the filtering through of the Hebrew tradition as a result of the vast increase in trade in that region — was the first philosopher in the Western tradition to put forward an a priori argument for a singular deity.

The Greek ‘gods’ were too much like human beings in their quarrels and arrogance to be worthy of worship, remarked Xenophanes. To allow even two ‘gods’ would be to limit the power of each because they would first have to agree a course of action before doing anything. According to Xenophanes, the one deity does not require physical force to act, as earth-bound beings or even the gods on Olympus do. ‘He shakes all things by the thought of his mind.’

Abraham, working in his father’s idol business, came to a similar conclusion. Although perhaps in his case it was not philosophical argument but just disgust at the absurdity of bowing down before a piece of granite.

Then again, it all depends on what role this object is playing in your belief system, what exactly it is that you think you are doing, or whom you are addressing. Why do you look to the sky when you address the Lord, or Allah, or Adonai? Isn’t God everywhere?

It’s pretty clear that whatever human beings do, however they express their religious beliefs, what they are looking for is something sufficiently elevated to be worthy of worship. The best argument I have seen for belief in God is that if you don’t worship God, then you will make a ‘god’ out of something else, something more mundane, something absurd, an idol.

As an atheist, the argument leaves me unmoved, but I grasp its sense. All the evidence seems to show that the human race is still in its infancy. We cannot get by without ‘worshipping’ something. If not God, then iPhones or Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’. Why? Why the need to bow down? I don’t have an answer to that question.


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