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How do we know there's a God? What is he like?

Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby Miramax » Wed May 09, 2018 3:59 pm

There is no consistent definition of Deity that simultaneously includes Zeus, Loki, Hades, etc. while excluding Satan, Angels, Demons, etc.

To me, it seems that most Christians put other supernatural beings (especially The Devil) on such a high pedestal that they might as well be gods, making Christianity more of a monolatry (or, if the definition of deity is changed, then the ancient Greeks would be atheist).

For the purposes of this debate, I am ignoring the trinity.

If you can give me a consistent definition of deity that includes the polytheistic pantheons and excludes all non-God entities in Christianity, I'll happily concede the debate. But I will hold you to your definition.

Common definitions I expect to hear:

Deities are eternal, or omnipotent, or omniscient: then Zeus, Hades, etc. are not deities, and the Greeks are atheist.

Deities are what the religion says they are. This is a trivial definition, "X means what people say X means." It makes words like "theist," "atheist," "god," "deity," etc. meaningless. Points for ignosticism.

Deities have an independent will, and the Devil, angels, etc. are just will-less "robots" of God. This seems to go against traditional Christian theology (how can an angel fall without an independent will?). Also, are the immortal, willful souls of humans deities?

Note: I'm Jewish in upbringing and culture, since it reflects my knowledge and traditions, but my beliefs are more agnostic atheist.
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby jimwalton » Wed May 09, 2018 4:19 pm

I define God simply as a supreme supernatural divine being. As such, Zeus, Hades, etc. are not deities, but theological constructs to satisfy the spiritual quest of persons who refuse to subscribe to the worship of the only true God. The ancient Greeks considered themselves to be theists, but what they were worshipping was simply fictional beings invented to explain spiritual reality to themselves. In practice they were theists; in reality they were atheists because they were worshipping something that didn't exist.

> put other supernatural beings (especially The Devil) on such a high pedestal

I don't put such beings on a high pedestal at all. They are more intelligent and stronger than humans, but where the distance between us and them might be 10 to 100, we have to put God at a million billion jillion, so there's no comparison. When God deals with Satan, it's more like shooting fish in a bucket than any kind of contest. It's more like God swatting a mosquito on his arm than any kind of cosmic battle. Therefore we have to reject the whole idea of "making Christianity more of a monolatry" because the powers are powerful to us, but not to God. There is no comparison.

> the Devil, angels, etc. are just will-less "robots" of God.

This is incorrect also. The Devil never shows up in the Tanakh. "The adversary" of Job (the satan) is not a personal name but an accuser poised to present a prosecution in court. The serpent of Gen. 3 is never identified with Satan in the Tanakh. In the NT, the Devil is portrayed as a personal, spiritual power with a will in opposition to God. The angels are also portrayed as beings of will (Jude 6). The demons are portrayed as moral wildcards: they do what they do. They are non-volitional, but they do have will. Non-volitional doesn't mean they can't make choices; it means they are what they are and cannot choose to be anything else. They make requests (indicating they are self-aware and self-directed). They can communicate and react. In the worldview of the ancient world, they are chaos creatures (in the non-order category)—they can be dangerous and destructive, but it's not accurate to call them "evil." They have a negative effect, just like illness.
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby Charro » Thu May 10, 2018 2:10 pm

> The ancient Greeks considered themselves to be theists, but what they were worshipping was simply fictional beings invented to explain spiritual reality to themselves.

If someone described you and your beliefs this way how would you refute them?
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 10, 2018 2:10 pm

The mythological figures were never intended to be historical. There is no interaction with history. Instead, they are theological constructs to explain life.

Christianity, on the other hand, is historical. It only finds meaning as God interacts with human history. Secondly, There is no evidence for Zeus, but there is for Jesus, so I would say that the evidence is what needs to be considered.
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby Poot in Tang » Thu May 10, 2018 2:41 pm

> "in reality they were atheists because they were worshipping something that didn't exist."

This betrays a complete misunderstanding of the word "atheist." The word denotes a lack of belief in gods; it does NOT denote people who mistakenly believe in false gods.
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 10, 2018 2:41 pm

Thanks. I'll accept that correction. I was just tapping off the terminology of the original post without thinking that part through very much. But you're right. Therefore the original poster and myself were wrong to identify the ancient mythologists as atheist. They were, instead, mistaken theists worshipping fictional deities. Thanks for the correction.
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby One fish Bluefish » Thu May 10, 2018 3:01 pm

> what they were worshipping was simply fictional beings invented to explain spiritual reality to themselves.
> in reality they were atheists because they were worshipping something that didn't exist.

Oh boy. You can’t see how anyone could say this about your god? Couldn’t a Muslim say the same thing about you?
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 10, 2018 3:01 pm

Of course they could. Anyone can say anything they want. That's why it comes down to evidence, not just claims.
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby Charro » Thu May 10, 2018 3:20 pm

What is the evidence for Jesus you mentioned?
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Re: Give me a consistent definition of deity

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 10, 2018 3:34 pm

Tacitus, Roman historian and Senator, generally regarded as the greatest historian of the Roman Empire, writing in about AD 110, mentions Christus, the founder of the sect popularly known as "Christians." He says that this "Cristus" was put to death by Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, while Tiberius was emperor.

Josephus, a questioned by not disregarded Jewish historian, mentions Jesus twice in his book called Antiquities. He also mentions Jesus' execution at the hands of Pilate.

Ignatius, a Christian, writing in about AD 100 give or take, mentions Jesus as being crucified and dying by order of Pontius Pilate.

Suetonius, another Roman historian highly lauded for his accuracy and objectivity, writing in about AD 100, writes of the followers of "Chrestus" who had instigated disturbances against Rome.

Pliny the Younger (AD 61-112), a Roman author, lawyer, and magistrate, three times mentions a man named "Christ" as the focus of the Christian faith.

Lucian of Samosata (AD 125-180) mentions a "man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world."

Saul of Tarsus (c. AD 1 - AD 65ish), a man hostile to Christianity, writes extensively in the 50s about this historical Jesus's death on a cross. He, of course, began to believe in Jesus, and we know him as the Apostle Paul.

And, of course, we have the record of the four Gospels, which contain many accurate historical records.

There is so much scholarly agreement on Jesus's crucifixion that it is considered to be historically indisputable, and therefore we have evidence for the historicity of a man from Nazareth named Jesus who founded Christianity.
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