God (with capital "G"): a being that is worshipped and traditionally regarded as ►omnipotent, ►omniscient, and all-bountiful. The church father Augustine defined God as a Being with the capacity to comprehend the infinite:
"The infinity of number, though there be no numbering of infinite numbers, is not yet incomprehensible by him whose understanding is infinite. And thus, if everything that is comprehended is defined or limited by the comprehension of him who knows it, then all infinity is in some ineffable way limited to God, for it is comprehensible by his knowledge."
Encounters between God and human beings can take place in three different ways: through sacrifice or prayer, in revelations, and in death. In the first case, a human person typically communicates with God in order to express her desires or gratitude to the divine being. In the second case, God communicates with us. Sometimes He does so by mediation of a messenger such as an angel; at other times the revelations* consist in direct participation in some part of God's infinite wisdom. At still other times, God Himself is experienced directly and even might engage the believer in a wrestling match, as happened to Jacob and Moses according to the Bible. Finally, in the third case, the worshipper attains eternal life in the presence of God either immediately after death or, in some versions, after the Day of Judgment.
At present about 1500 gods or god-like beings are worshipped by human beings on Earth. The total number of known gods is far greater than that; however, the significance of most of them has been sadly reduced to the bare facts of ethnology and history. Interestingly, though the gods of natural religions and of antiquity were usually regarded as ►immortal, they tended to possess only limited power, knowledge, and moral goodness. Only the monotheistic world religions — Judaism, ►Christianity, ►Islam — postulated omnipotence, omniscience, and complete benevolence as characteristics of their god. Since these three characteristics together are incompatible with the suffering of innocent people in this world, (see the ►problem of evil), theology tends to place God beyond the limits of human logic and human morality: God's ways are inscrutable.
Religion Without God?
The view that we cannot in principle know whether or not God exists is called agnosticism, while the outright denial of God's existence is known as ►atheism. From a theological point of view, atheism tends to draw God's eternal punishment in ►hell. Contrary to the otherwise inscrutable ways of God, this is on some level rationally justified; for after all, the universal acceptance of atheism would mean the end of God's existence as an object of worship. And even a god should be permitted to take measures of self-defense.
A more humane way of converting atheists would be to invoke any of the various putative ►proofs of the existence of God. These, however, tend to convince only those who already believe in God — something that proponents of such proofs (Anselm, for example) have often emphasized is entirely in order, since God is to be believed in on the basis of faith, not rational argument. In any case, contrary to what most people think, atheism is not in principle incompatible with religion. Buddhism, for instance, was originally an atheistic religion and in many of its forms continues to be such, since Gautama Buddha rejected the belief in a god just as much as the idea that another being could give us salvation. Confucianism substituted a set of ethical principles for God and may, in fact, be more accurately classified as an ethics than as a religion (depending on what one makes of the ancestor veneration that is a key component of it). Taoism's highly mystical flavor seems to place it more securely in the religion camp, but its "divine entity" (so to speak) is more on the order of a metaphysical principle than a conscious being with volitions, thoughts, and magical powers. Even ►Christianity has recently begun to develop in an increasingly atheistic direction, as both Catholic and Protestant theologians strive to insulate the very concept of God from criticism by gradually removing all contradictory or morally questionable characteristics, which ultimately leads to a dissolution of the concept altogether.
Those who can't decide which side to take (that of the believer or that of the atheist) may take refuge in the religion of the Hottentots. For this is the only religion on Earth that is neither atheistic nor mono- or polytheistic; instead, it is semi-theistic. The Hottentots' half of a god (not to be confused with a half-god) Haiuri is only half there, that is, he has only one eye, one ear, one arm, and one leg.
* Georg Cantor was certain that his knowledge of actual infinity, which led to the mathematics of transfinite numbers, was revealed to him by God.
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