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This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism. See deity or goddesses for details on polytheistic usages. See Names of God for terms used in other languages or specific faiths. See God (disambiguation) for non-religious abbreviations.

The term God is capitalized in the English language as a proper noun when used to refer to a specific monotheistic concept of a supernatural Supreme Being in accordance with Christianity.



Look up God on Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Common traits attributed to most conceptualizations of God are absoluteness and other superlative qualities. However, many other definitions of the word exist. For example:

  • God may be Supreme but is not necessarily a Being.
    • Some concepts of God may include anthropomorphic attributes, gender, particular names, and ethnic exclusivity (see Chosen people), while others are purely transcendent or philosophic concepts.
    • The concept of God is often embedded in definitions of truth, where the sum of all truth is equated to God.
    • There are variations on defining God either as a person, or not as a person but as an ambiguous impersonal force (see Absolute Infinite). Also at stake are questions concerning the possibilities of human/God relations. There are countless variations in traditions of worship and/or appeasement of God.
    • Some concepts of God center on a view of God as ultimate, immanent, transcendent, eternal Reality beyond the shifting and constantly mutable multiplicities of the sensible world.
  • God exists in most cultures in one form or another. Human belief in God has been said by some to be a basic birth intelligence/imprint innate to all humans.
  • In much religious and philosophic thought, God is considered the creator of the universe.
  • Some traditions hold that the creator is also the sustainer (as in theism), while others argue that their God is no longer involved in the world after creation (as in deism).
  • The common definition of God assumes omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. However, not all systems hold that God is necessarily morally good (see summum bonum). Some hold that God is the very definition of moral goodness. Others maintain that God is beyond morality. Not all combinations of attributes 'work'; some can entail a falsum. For example, if God is the Creator, Omnipotent, Omniscient, and the Ultimate Judge, then he created all people, including atheists and pagans, knowing exactly what he was doing and then sends them to Hell. This God cannot also be "good", from the point of view of all humans - just as all humans are not "good" from his point of view. Of course this idea fails to take into account God's respect of His creations' Free Will; He wants mankind to come to Him because they want to. As a Good and Loving God He would not force anyone to Him. So atheists and pagans come about through mankind wronging his own soul, not because God 'created' them so.
    • Alternatively, God created mankind, and gave him freedom of choice. Even though some turn out to be atheists and pagans, this is the freedom that God gave man. But the way man chooses to use or abuse this freedom determines the end result (either heaven or hell). This view assumes that God knew Satan would try to tempt man into sin, and succeed in deceiving some, but that God didn't want to change man's freedom of choice. Furthermore, in this view, Hell was created for Satan and the spirits that help him. Sin (sometimes defined as "that which separates us from God") is what gave men a ticket to hell fire; man was not created to go there at first.
  • Negative theology argues that no true statements about attributes of God can be made at all, while agnostic positions argue that limited human understanding does not allow for any conclusive opinions on God whatsoever. Some mystical traditions ascribe limits to God's powers, arguing that God's supreme nature leaves no room for spontaneity.
  • The concept of a singular God is characteristic of monotheism, but there is no universal definition of monotheism. The differences between monotheism and polytheism vary among traditions (see also trinity, dualism, and henotheism).
  • Some espouse an exclusionist view, holding to one sole definition of God. Others hold an inclusionist view, accepting the possibility of more than one definition of God to be true at the same time.
  • Comedian-philosopher George Carlin has summed up a popular conception of God as follows: "Religion convinced the world that there's an invisible man in the sky who watches everything you do. And there's ten things he doesn't want you to do or else you'll go to a burning place with a lake of fire until the end of eternity. But he loves you! ... And he needs money! He's all powerful, but he can't handle money!"
  • There are also atheistic explanations for the concept of God that can include psychological and/or sociological factors.

See also theology below.


Earliest attestation of the Germanic word in the 6th century Codex Argenteus (Mt 5:9)
Earliest attestation of the Germanic word in the 6th century Codex Argenteus (Mt 5:9)

The word God continues Old English/Germanic god (guþ, gudis in Gothic, gud in modern Scandinavian and Gott in modern German). The original meaning and etymology of the Germanic word god has been hotly disputed, though most agree to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form *khutóm, which is a passive perfect participle from the root *khu-, which likely meant "libation", "sacrifice". Compare:-

The connection between these meanings is likely via the meaning "pour a libation". Another possible meaning of *khutóm is "invocation", related to Sanskrit hūta.

The same root appears in the names of three related Germanic tribes, the Geats, the Goths and the Gutar. These names may be derived from an eponymous chieftain Gaut who was subsequently deified, who sometimes appears in Medieval sources as a name of Odin (or which may even be, through the Proto-Germanic form *Ȝuđán, an alternate cognate to Odin/Wotan itself), a former king of the Geats (Gaut(i)), an ancestor of the Gutar (Guti), of the Goths (Gothus) and of the royal line of Wessex (Geats) and as a previous hero of the Goths (Gapt).

The word God was used to represent Greek Theos, Latin Deus in Bible translations, first in the Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. For the etymology of deus, see *dyeus.


KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of "Lord" (and "God" in the heading)
KJV of 1611 (Psalms 23:1,2): Occurrence of "Lord" (and "God" in the heading)

The development of English orthography was dominated by Christian texts. Capitalized "God" was first used to refer to the Judeo-Christian concept, and may now signify any monotheistic conception of God, including the translations of the Arabic Allāh and the African Masai Engai.

In early English bibles, the Tetragrammaton was rendered in capitals: "IEHOUAH" in William Tyndale's version of 1525. The King James Version of 1611 renders

  • YHWH as "The Lord"
  • Elohim as "God"
  • Adonay YHWH and Adonay Elohim as "Lord God"
  • kurios ho theos as "Lord God" (in the New Testament)

The use of capitalization, as for a proper noun, has persisted to disambiguate the concept of a singular God from pagan deities for which lowercase god has continued to be applied, mirroring the use of Latin deus. Pronouns referring to God are also often capitalized and are traditionally in the masculine gender, i.e. "He", "His" etc.

Names of God

YHWH, the name of God or Tetragrammaton, in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300), Aramaic (10th Century BC to 0) and modern Hebrew scripts.
YHWH, the name of God or Tetragrammaton, in Phoenician (1100 BC to AD 300), Aramaic (10th Century BC to 0) and modern Hebrew scripts.
For more details on this topic, see Names of God.

The noun God is the proper English name used for the deity of monotheistic faiths. Different names for God exist within different religious traditions:

  • Allah is the name used in Islam, although not exclusively so. "Allah" is Arabic for "the God", and is used by non-Mulsim Arabs.
  • Yahweh Hebrew: 'YHVH' (יהוה) and Elohim are some of the names used for God in the Bible. Others include El Shaddai, Adonai, Amanuel, and Amen.
  • See The name of God in Judaism for Jewish names of God. (Note: when written or typed as a proper noun, some observant Jews will use the form "G-d" to prevent the written name of God from becoming desecrated later on. Some Orthodox Jews consider this unnecessary because English is not the Holy Language.)
  • The Holy Trinity (meaning the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit/"Holy Ghost") denotes God in almost all mainstream Christianity.
  • God is called Igzi'abihier (lit. "Lord of the Universe") in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
  • Jah is the name of God in the Rastafari movement.
  • Some churches (United Church of Canada, Religious Science) are using "the One" alongside "God" as a more gender-neutral way of referring to God (See also Oneness).
  • The Maasai name for "God" is Ngai, which occurs in the volcano name Ol Doinyo Lengai ("the mountain of God").
  • The Mi'kmaq name for "God" is Niskam.
  • Ishvara is the term used for God among the Hindus. In Sanskrit, it means the Supreme Lord. Most Hindus worship the personal form of God or Saguna Brahman, as Vishnu, Shiva, or directly as the Supreme Cosmic Spirit Brahman through the Gayatri mantra. A common prayer for Hindus is the Vishnu sahasranama, which is a hymn describing the one thousand names of God. Ishvara must not be confused with the numerous deities of the Hindus. In modern Hindi, Ishvara is also called Bhagwan.
  • Buddhism was initially agnostic, but one major branch later accepted a divine substance called Bodhisattva. Hence Buddha the Śakyamunī as an incarnation of Bodhisattva came to be regarded as God. Since the goal of Buddhism is not to exist, life is considered to be something evil, therefore anyone who thinks life is a gift from God is termed an "anti-Bodhisattva" in Buddhism.
  • Jains invoke the five paramethis: Siddha, Arahant, Acharya, Upadhyaya, Sadhu. The arhantas include the 24 Tirthankaras from Lord Rishabha to Mahavira. But Jain philosophy as such does not recognize any Supreme Omnipotent creator God.
  • Sikhs worship God with the name Akal (the Eternal) or Onkar (See Aum). Help of the gurus is essential to reach God.
  • In Surat Shabda Yoga, names used for God include Anami Purush (nameless power) and Radha Swami (lord of the soul, symbolized as Radha).
  • Ayyavazhi asserts Ekam,(The Ultimate Oneness) as supreme one and Ayya Vaikundar the Incarnation of Ekam. There are also several separate lesser gods who were all later unified into Vaikundar.

Orthodox Jews believe it wrong to write the word "God" on any substance which can be destroyed. Therefore, they will write "G-d" as what they consider a more respectful symbolic representation.

History of monotheism

See also monotheism, Abrahamic religion.

The religions that are monotheistic today are often thought of as having been of relatively recent historical origin -- although efforts at comparison are usually beset by claims of most religions to being very ancient or eternal. Eastern religions, especially in China and India, that have concepts of panentheism, are notably difficult to classify along Western notions of monotheism vs. polytheism.

In the Ancient Orient, many cities had their own local god, though this henotheistic worship of a single god did not imply denial of the existence of other gods. The Hebrew Ark of the Covenant is supposed (by self-described scholars and experts) to have adapted this practice to a nomadic lifestyle, paving their way for a singular God.

The iconoclastic cult of the Egyptian solar god Aten was promoted by the pharoah Akhenaten (Amenophis IV), who ruled between 1358 and 1340 BCE. The Aten cult is often cited as the earliest known example of monotheism, and is sometimes claimed to have been a formative influence on early Judaism, due to the presence of Hebrew slaves in Egypt. But even though Akhenaten's hymn to Aten offers strong evidence that Akhenaten considered Aten to be the sole, omnipotent creator, Akhenaten's program to enforce this monotheistic worldview ended with his death; the worship of other gods beside Aten never ceased outside his court, and the older polytheistic cults soon regained precedence.

Other early examples of monotheism include two late rigvedic hymns (10.129,130) to a Panentheistic creator god, Shri Rudram, a Vedic hymn to Rudra, an earlier aspect of Shiva, which expressed monistic theism, and is still chanted today; the Zoroastrian Ahuramazda and Chinese Shang Ti. The worship of polytheistic gods, on the other hand, is seen by many to predate monotheism, reaching back as far as the Paleolithic. Today, monotheistic religions are dominant, though other systems of belief still exist.


Theology is the study of religious beliefs. Theologians attempt to explicate (and in some cases systematize) beliefs; some express their own experience of the divine. Theologians ask questions such as, 'What is the nature of God?' What does it mean for God to be singular? If people believe in God as a duality or trinity, what do these terms signify? Is God transcendent, immanent, or some mix of the two? What is the relationship between God and the universe, and God and mankind?

  • Theism holds that God is both transcendent and immanent; thus, God is simultaneously infinite and in some way present in the affairs of the world. Catholic theology holds that God is infinitely simple and is not involuntarily subject to time. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, although this belief raises questions about God's responsibility for evil and suffering in the world. Some theists ascribe to God a self-conscious or purposeful limiting of omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Open Theism, by contrast, asserts that God has limits. "Theism" is sometimes used to refer in general to any belief in a god or gods, i.e., monotheism or polytheism.
  • Deism holds that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world beyond what was necessary for God to create it. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and does not literally answer prayers or cause miracles to occur.
  • Monotheism holds that there is only one God, and/or that the one true God is worshipped in different religions under different names. It is important to note, however, that monotheists of one religion can, and often do, consider the monotheistic god of a different religion to be a false god. For instance, many Christian fundamentalists consider the God of Islam (Allah) to be a false god or demon. However, theologians and linguists argue that "Allah" is merely the Arabic word for "God," and not the literal name of a specifically Muslim God (this is more clearly shown by the fact that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews refer to God as "Allah" with no problem whatsoever). To Muslims, the Bible is a holy scripture and Jesus is a Holy Prophet, so Islam is considered a continuation of Christianity. Many Jews consider the messiah of Christianity (Jesus) to be a false god and some monotheists (notably fundamentalist Christians) hold that there is one triune God, and that all gods of other religions are actually demons in disguise (as in 2nd Corinthians 11 verse 14). Eastern religious believers and Liberal Christians are more likely to assume those of other faiths worship the same God as they. Muslims believe that Jesus is not the son of God, because relating God to any partners or spouses or offspring is considered blasphemy and apostasy. They believe that Jesus is the Messiah of his people and a Holy Prophet.
  • Pantheism holds that God is the universe and the universe is God. Panentheism holds that God contains, but is not identical to, the Universe. The distinctions between the two are subtle, and some consider them unhelpful. Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, paints a pantheistic/panentheistic view of God, which has wide acceptance in Hasidic Judaism, particularly from their founder The Baal Shem Tov. It is also the view of the Liberal Catholic Church, Theosophy, Hinduism, Ayyavazhi some divisions of Buddhism, and Taoism, along with many varying denominations and individuals within denominations.
  • Dystheism is a form of theism which holds that God is malevolent as a consequence of the problem of evil. Dystheistic speculation is common in theology, but there is no known church of practicing dystheists. See also Satanism.

Most believers allow for the existence of other, less powerful spiritual beings, and give them names such as angels, saints, Djinn, demons, and devas.

Conceptions of God

Jewish, Christian conceptions

Michelangelo's view of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the  Sistine Chapel)
Michelangelo's view of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the Sistine Chapel)
16th century Christian view of Genesis: God creates Adam (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel)
16th century Christian view of Genesis: God creates Adam (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel)

Judaism, Christianity and Islam see God as a being who created the world and rules over the universe. God is usually held to have the properties of holiness (separate from sin and incorruptible), justness (fair, right, and true in all His judgments), sovereignty (unthwartable in His will), omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), omnibenevolence (all-loving), omnipresence (everywhere-present), and immortality (eternal and everlasting).

Jews, Christians and Muslims often conceive of God as a personal God, with a will and personality. However, many medieval rationalist philosophers of these religions felt that one should not view God as personal, and that such personal descriptions of God are only meant as metaphors. Some within these three faiths still accept these views as valid, although many of the laity today do not have a wide awareness of them.

In Eastern Christianity, it remains essential that God be personal; hence it speaks of the three persons of the Trinity. It also emphasizes that God has a will, and that God the Son has two wills, divine and human, though these are never in conflict. However, this point is disputed by Oriental Orthodox Christians, who hold that God the Son has only one will of unified divinity and humanity (see Miaphysitism). The personhood of God and of all human people is essential to the concept of theosis or deification.

Biblical definition of God

God according to the Bible is characterized not just as Creator, but also as the "Heavenly Father".

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) characterizes God by these attributes: "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:6–7)

The Hebrew Bible contains no systematic theology: No attempt is made to give a philosophical or rigorous definition of God, nor of how God acts in the world. It does not explicitly describe God's nature, exemplified by God's assertion in Exodus that "you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live". Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible are the words omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent used to define God in a systematic sense.

Although Scripture does not describe God systematically, it does provide a poetic depiction of God and His relationship with people. According to the Biblical historian Yehezkal Kaufmann, the essential innovation of Biblical theology was to posit a God that cares about people, and that cares about whether people care about Him. Some people believe that the Bible should be viewed as humanity's view of God, but theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel described the Biblical God as "anthropopathic", which means that one should read the Bible as God's view of humanity, and not as humanity's view of God.

Similarly, the New Testament contains little systematic theology: no philosophical or rigorous definition of God is given, nor of how God acts in the world; however the first of John's letters states: "God is light" (1 John 1:5), before he states: "God is love" (1 John 4:8).

The New Testament provides an implicit theology as it teaches that God interacted directly with people, in the person of Jesus, and that he subsequently sent the Holy Spirit. In this view, God becomes someone that can be seen and touched, and may speak and act in a manner easily perceived by humans, while also remaining transcendent and invisible. This appears to be a radical departure from the concepts of God found in Hebrew Bible. The New Testament's statements regarding the nature of God were eventually developed into the doctrine of the Trinity.

Kabbalistic definition of God

Mainstream Orthodox Judaism teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. They teach that God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. But if God is so different from his creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted early Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God who created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another.

This view has been developed further in Hasidic and anti-nomian circles, however. Kabbalah teaches that in order to create the universe, God "withdrew," and created the universe within the space from which "He" contracted. It is taught in the Zohar that God, at the beginning of creation, shattered ten ספירות ("sephiroth") or כלים ("kaylim" or "vessels") scattering their fragments throughout the universe. (Physicist-theologian Gerald Schroeder makes a correlation between this view and Big Bang theory in Genesis & The Big Bang.) The sephiroth — represented by the so-called עץ חיים ("Etz Hayim" or "Tree of Life") — are comprised of different vessels embodying various emanations of God's being.

With this in mind, the Kabbalist Isaac Luria, explained that all creation contained ניצוץ ("nitzutz" or "holy sparks") — the remnants and shards of the sephiroth/kaylim which God had shattered — and offered a theological purpose known as תיקון עולם ("Tikkun Olam" or "healing the world") which states that humanity's duty is to recognize the holy sparks inherent in all creation and to elevate them by performing מצות ("mitzvoth"), otherwise regarded as the fulfillment of Biblical obligations. This view gave rise to the concept of panentheism in Judaism: The notion that God is inherent in all things, and is corroborated by the Jewish principle בצלם אלוהים ("b'tzelem Elohim" or "in the image of God"), inferring that all humanity is created with God inherent. The concept derives from Genesis 9:6 (serving as a Biblical proof-text for the position), "For in the image of God He made man." Thus, suggested Luria, by doing mitzvoth directed towards our fellow human being, we recognize the nitzutz within them, and thus sanctify and elevate their inherent Godliness.

This notion is exemplified rather well by a Jewish nursery school song:

Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere. Up, up, down, down, right, left, and all around. Here, there, and everywhere, Hashem is truly there.

Over time, this view evolved into the belief that all of creation and all of existence was in fact God itself, and that we as humanity are unaware of our own inherent Godliness and are grappling to come to terms with it. The standing view in neo-Hasidism, currently, is that there is nothing in existence other than God. I.e., all being is God. As it is stated in the ancient Kabbalistic incantation, אין עוד מילבדו ("Ain od milvado") — "There is nothing but God." Thus, it has become understood that God used God's self to form the universe. Rather than a contraction and the creation of something "other" in the void which God created, it is as though God punched a doughnut-hole in God's self and used the remaining "munchkin" to form all of creation.

This paradigm shift is well documented by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi and founder of Jewish Renewal and its neo-Hasidic progeny, in his book Wrapped In A Holy Flame:

I'd like to say we are in the shift to the place where everything is God, pantheism. The understanding that has come from mysticism and from people on the cusp of periods moving from past to present, people talking about primary experience, is that the body and the soul cannot be separated. It shouldn't be that they should be fighting one another, that you have too get rid of one in order to get the other. We want Wholeness, a holistic understanding, now. I believe that people are moving from theism to pantheism. There are some who don't like the word pantheism, the idea that God is everything. They prefer the word panentheism, which means that God is in everything. I, however, don't think that the distinction is real. What was the objection that people had to pantheism, God is everything? "Are you going to tell me that the excrement of a dog is also God?" And the answer to this would be—"Yes." What is wrong with that? It is only from the human perspective that we see a difference between that and challah. On the sub molecular level, on the atomic level, they all look the same. And if you look from a galactic perspective, what difference is there between one and the other? So if "God is everything," why are you and I here? Because we are the appearance of God in this particular form. And God likes to appear in countless forms and experience countless lives.

If you would have mentioned this point of view when theism was dominant, you might have been killed. The theists would complain, "What you are saying is that there are no differences anymore? Does that mean that everything is right, everything is kosher? Where are the differences?" And those are good questions. We are not so far advanced yet that we can explain all these things, but deep down, the deepest level of the pattern is that God is everything. So it's not that God created the world but that God became the world.

Pantheistic and panentheistic views are also echoed in the כלל גדול ("Klal Gadol", literally "big everything" meaning "highest value") of Judaism, as relayed by the sage Rabbi Akiva in Sifra Kedoshim: ואהבת לרעך כמוך ("V'ahavta l'rekha kamokha") — one should "Love their fellow as themselves" — and also by Hillel the Elder, who stated that "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." Neo-Hasidic interpretation has taken this to mean that you should love your fellow as yourself because you and your fellow are the same entity: God manifest. This view is also echoed later by Episcopal priest cum Zen Buddhist, Alan Watts, who stated that "We are all apparatures through which the universe is observing itself."

Another progenitor of neo-Hasidism, Rabbi Arthur Green, further describes the evolution of pantheistic thought in the Hasidic world, as well, in his book Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology.

Quranic definitions of God, i.e. Allah

Main article: Allah

Allah (Arabic allāhu الله) is traditionally used by Muslims as the Arabic word for "God" (not "God's personal name", but the equivalent of the Hebrew word El as opposed to YHWH). The word Allah is not specific to Islam; Arab Christians and Arab Jews also use it to refer to the monotheist deity. Arabic translations of the Bible also employ it, as do the Catholics of Malta who pronounce it as "Alla" in Maltese, a language derived from and most closely related to Arabic, as well as Christians in Indonesia, who pronounce it "Allah Bapa" (Allah the Father).

Many linguists believe that the term Allāh is derived from a contraction of the Arabic words al (the) + ilah (male deity). In addition, one of the main pagan goddesses of pre-Islamic Arabia, Allāt (al + ilāh + at, or 'the female deity'), is cited as being etymologically (though not synchronically) the feminine linguistic counterpart to the grammatically masculine Allah. If so, the word Allāh is an abbreviated title, meaning 'the deity', rather than a name. For this reason, both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars often translate Allāh directly into English as 'God' especially the Quran Alone Muslims; however, some Muslim scholars feel that "Allāh" should not be translated, because it expresses the uniqueness of God more accurately than "God", which can take a plural "Gods", whereas "Allāh" has no plural. This is a significant issue in translation of the Qur'an. This also explains why Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians freely refer to God as Allāh.

Most of the 99 names of God found in the Qur'an are not actually names, but attributes. One, however, Al Haq, meaning The Truth, seems to equate to absolute truth as that which cannot be negated. Al Haq is more than a reflection of faith in the existence of The God, and links the concept of God to all creation forever. Thus Allah transcends the prophetic origins of Islam and is thus universal in all time and applies to all existence -- past, present, and future.

Negative theology

Main article: Negative theology.

Some Jewish, Christian and Muslim medieval philosophers developed what is termed as negative theology, the idea of approaching knowledge of God through negative attributes. For example, we should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; all we can safely say is that God is not nonexistent. We should not say that God is wise, but we can say that God is not ignorant. We should not say that God is One, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being.

God as Unity or Trinity

Muslims, Jews, and a small fraction of Christians are unitarian monotheists. The vast majority of Christians have been and still are Trinitarian monotheists.

  • Unitarian monotheists hold that there is only one "person" (so to speak), or one basic substance, in God. Some adherents of this position consider Trinitarianism to be a form of polytheism.
  • Trinitarian monotheists believe in one God that exists as three distinct persons who share the same substance/essence; the Christian version of this is called the Trinity, the Hindu version Trimurti, differs from Christianity in holding that God has three aspects rather than being three distinct persons. Trinitarians hold that the three persons have the same purpose, holiness, and sovereignty, and therefore each can be worshipped as God, without violating the idea that there is only one God to which worship belongs. The Smarta denomination of Hinduism also hold that belief and believe that worship of any aspect of God is equivalent. Although not a perfect analogy, the other denominations of Hinduism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism would be considered be unitarian monotheistic faiths.
  • Ayyavazhi says Ayya Vaikundar as the unity of Ekam, Narayana and human (See:Ayyavazhi Trinity)
  • Mormons believe that there are three separate divine personages. One of these personages is a spirit without a body referred to as the Holy Ghost. The other two personages are resurrected beings with perfected or glorified (often called celestial) bodies referred to as Heavenly Father (or less commonly "Elohim") and his son, Jesus Christ. Mormons hold that God is a Holy Man who advanced to his divine status through a repeatable process of progression. They believe that by following their religion's teachings, humans can literally become gods (sometimes phrased as "become like Heavenly Father") at some point after death and resurrection; this is also called Exaltation.
  • Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie is both God the Father and God the Son, made manifest in human flesh as the reincarnation of Jesus, while the Holy Spirit is seen to dwell within all believers (of Rastafari), and within all people (believed by some).
  • Hasidic Jews hold that there are ten Sefirot (emanations) of God. Each of these are more distinct than a characteristic, but less distinct than a separate personage.
  • Monism is the metaphysical position that all is of one essential essence, substance or energy, that being a pantheist, or panentheist, immanent God. Monism can be inclusive of other interpretations of God.
  • Dualism is the idea of two, nearly equal divine entities, one being the good God, and the other being an evil god, or Satan. All beings are under the influence of one side, or the other, if they know it or not. Zoroastrianism is an example of dualism.


Binitarianism: A view within Christianity that there were originally two beings in the Godhead--the Father and the Word that became the Son (Jesus the Christ). Binitarians normally believe that God is a family, currently consisting of the Father and the Son. Some binitarians believe that others will ultimately be born into that divine family. Hence, binitarians are nontrinitarian, but they are also not unitarian. Binitarians, like most unitarians and trinitarians, claim their views were held by the original New Testament Church. Unlike most unitarians and trinitarians who tend to identify themselves by those terms, binitarians normally do not refer to their belief in the duality of the Godhead, with the Son subordinate to the Father, as binitarianism--they simply teach the Godhead in a manner that has been termed as binitarianism.

"The word “binitarian” is typically used by scholars and theologians as a contrast to a trinitarian theology: a theology of “two” in God rather than a theology of “three”... it is accurate to offer the judgment that most commonly when someone speaks of a Christian “binitarian” theology the “two” in God are the Father and the Son...A substantial amount of recent scholarship has been devoted to exploring the implications of the fact that Jesus was worshipped by those first Jewish Christians, since in Judaism "worship" was limited to the worship of God" (Barnes M. Early Christian Binitarianism: the Father and the Holy Spirit. Early Christian Binitarianism – as read at NAPS 2001). Much of this recent scholarship has been the result of the translations of the Nag Hammadi and other ancient manuscripts which were not available when older scholarly texts (such as W. Bousset's Kyrios Christos, 1913) were written.

Although some critics prefer to use the term ditheist or dualist instead of binitarian, those terms suggests that God is not one, yet binitarians believe that God is one family.

Conceptions of God in Hinduism

Aum. Found first in the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism, Aum has been seen as the first manifestation of the unmanifest Brahman (the single Divine Ground of Hinduism) that resulted in the phenomenal universe
Aum. Found first in the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism, Aum has been seen as the first manifestation of the unmanifest Brahman (the single Divine Ground of Hinduism) that resulted in the phenomenal universe
  • The Sanskrit and Hindi word for God, that is used most commonly, is Ishvara, lit., the Supreme Lord, pronounced as "īshvərə". All Hindus believe that Ishvara is only One. This must not be confused with the numerous deities or demi-gods of the Hindus known as Devas, which can number upto 330 million.
  • The Vedantic school of Hindu philosophy also has a notion of a Supreme Cosmic Spirit called Brahman, pronounced as "brəhmən". Brahman is (at best) described as that infinite, omnipresent, omnipotent, incorporeal, transcedent and immanent Reality that is the diving ground of all Being in this universe. Brahman is actually undescribable. It is at best, "Sat" + "Chit" + "Ananda", ie, Infinite Truth, Infinite Conscioussness and Infinite Bliss. Brahman may be called as God, or better, as Godhead.
  • A major branch of Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, served as the fertile grounds from which one of the first monistic philosophies of God was developed. According to Advaitins, Brahman is the only Ultimate Reality in this world, and everything else is an illusion. They believe that Māyā is that complex illusionary power of Brahman which causes the Brahman to be seen as the distinct material world. When man tries to know the attributeless Brahman with his mind, under the influence of Maya, Brahman becomes God (Ishvara as described as above). God is Brahman with Maya. He is Saguna Brahman or Brahman with positive attributes. He is omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, Creator of the world, its ruler and also destroyer. He is eternal and unchangeable. He rules the world with his Maya. However, while God is the Lord of Maya and she (ie, Maya) is always under his control, living beings (jīva, in the sense of humans) are the servants of Maya (in the form of ignorance). This ignorance is the cause of the unhappiness and sin in the mortal world. While God is Infinite Bliss, humans are misereable. God (Ishvara) always knows the unity of the Brahman substance, and the Mayic nature of the world. There is no place of a Satan or devil in Hinduism, unlike Abrahamic religions. Advaitins explain the misery because of ignorance. God or Ishvara can also be visualized and worshipped in anthromorphic form like Vishnu, Krishna or Shiva. The Advaita Vedanta philosophy continues with the view that once one becomes aware of the unity of being of Godhead, he will then be able to see beyond the illusions of division and separation from Godhead, and recognize his or her own inherent unity with the Brahman. See Advaita Vedanta.
  • In the two largest branches of Hinduism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism, it is believed that Ishvara and Brahman are identical, and God is in turn anthromorphically identified with Shiva or Vishnu. God, whether in the form of Shiva or Vishnu has six attributes. However, the actual number of auspicious qualities of God, are countless, with the following six qualities being the most important.
  • The number six is invariably given, but the individual attributes listed vary. One set of attributes (and their common interpretations) are:
    • Jnana (Omniscience), defined as the power to know about all beings simultaneously;
    • Aishvarya (Sovereignty, derived from the word Ishvara), which consists in unchallenged rule over all;
    • Shakti (Energy), or power, which is the capacity to make the impossible possible;
    • Bala (Strength), which is the capacity to support everything by will and without any fatigue;
    • Virya (Vigour), or valour which indicates the power to retain immateriality as the supreme being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations; and
    • Tejas (Splendour), which expresses his self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by his spiritual effulgence.; cited from Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, by Swami Tapasyananda.
  • Other important qualities attributed to God are Gambhirya (grandeur), Audarya (generosity), and Karunya (compassion).
  • Chanted prayers, or mantras, are central to Hindu worship. Among the most chanted mantras in Hinduism are the Vishnu sahasranama (a prayer to Vishnu that dates from the time of the Mahabharata and describes him as the Universal Brahman), Shri Rudram (a Vedic hymn to Rudra, an earlier aspect of Shiva that also describes Him as Brahman) and the Gayatri mantra, (another Vedic hymn that initially was meant as a prayer to the Sun, an aspect of Brahman but has other interpretations. It is now interpreted as a prayer to the impersonal absolute Brahman).
  • The followers of Shaktism like to concieve the divine power of the Devas as a female goddess, the divine mother called Devi or Durga. Another famous hymn, Lalitha Sahasranama, describes the 1000 names of Devi, worshipped as God the Divine Mother.
  • It is important to add that in Hinduism (Sanatana Dharama) God is considered the Supreme Being, and many views of God range from panentheism to dualism to monism. His appearance, in its entirety, cannot be comprehended by the common man. His appearance with form is only a manifestation of certain characteristics. The various Devas or deities which apparently give Hinduism a character of polytheism, are regarded as mundane manifestations of One Brahman or Ishvara, only to facilitate his devotional worship.
  • Ayyavazhi propagates almost a similar theory to Advaita Vedanta. However, Kashmir Shaivism, one notable Saivite branch disagrees and focuses on panentheism. Furthermore, it rejects the maya illusion theory by stating that if God is real, then His creation must be real and not illusory.

In Hinduism there are two methods of worship:

  1. To worship God through meditation on an icon (murti).
  2. To worship God without icon worship.(eg. non-anthromorphic symbols such as linga, saligrama, Ayyavazhi, or through meditation)

In the early Upanishads the conception of the Divine Teacher guru on earth first manifested from its early Brahmin associations. Indeed, there is an understanding in some Hindu sects that if the devotee were presented with the guru and God, first he would pay respects to the guru since the guru had been instrumental in leading him to God.

Prathamam tu gurum pujya tatas caiva mamarcanam
Kuran siddhim avapnoti hy anyatha nisphalam bhavet
One does not directly worship one's God. One must begin by the worship of the Guru. Only by pleasing the Guru and gaining his mercy, can one offer anything to God. Thus, before worshiping God, one must always worship the Guru.

See also Guru.

Christian Monism

Within the body of Christian belief, the only well-known developed system of monism is found within the recently developed (1975) teachings of the book known as A Course In Miracles (or ACIM). The philosophical system of ACIM presents what appears to be a unique synthesis of Hindu monistic Advaita Vedanta teachings, blended with the early Christian teaching of the universal-fatherhood-of-God belief. In this philosophy God retains the traditional Christian role of an All loving, all forgiving Father, as portrayed in the Christian allegory of the Prodigal Son, yet God is also attributed with the qualities of complete oneness with all of mankind. The apparent contrast between the existence of this oneness with God, and the common belief in human separation from God, is explained by the belief that man's apparent separation from God is a mere illusion, an illusion that can be overcome by gaining a full understanding of, and by adopting an unfailing practice of, the dynamics of Christian forgiveness.

The Ultimate

Arguably, Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate (this, too, has many different names), except for Shaivism and Vaishnavism, which do focus on a personal God, are not conceptions of a personal divinity, though certain Western conceptions of what is at least called "God" (e.g., Spinoza's pantheistic conception and various kinds of mysticism) resemble Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate.

Aristotelian definition of God

Main article: Aristotelian view of God.

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle discusses meaning of "being as being". Aristotle holds that "being" primarily refers to the Unmoved Movers, and assigned one of these to each movement in the heavens. Each Unmoved Mover continuously contemplates its own contemplation, and everything that fits the second meaning of "being" by having its source of motion in itself, moves because the knowledge of its Mover causes it to emulate this Mover (or should).

Modern views

Process philosophy and Open Theism definition of God

In both views, God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of a coercive being. Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God and creatures co-create. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. See the entries on Process theology, Panentheism, and Open theism.

Posthuman God

Similar to this theory is the belief or aspiration that humans will create a God entity, emerging from an artificial intelligence. Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer, said in an interview, "It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him." Clarke's friend and colleague, the late Isaac Asimov, postulated in his story "The Last Question" a merger between humanity and machine intelligence that ultimately produces a deity capable of reversing entropy and subsequently initiates a new Creation trillions of years from the present era when the Universe is in the last stage of heat death.

Another variant on this hypothesis is that humanity or a segment of humanity will create or evolve into a posthuman God by itself; for some examples, see cosmotheism, transhumanism, technological singularity.


Some comparatively new belief systems and books portray God as Extraterrestrial life. Many of these theories hold that intelligent beings from another world have been visiting Earth for many thousands of years, and have influenced the development of our religions. Some of these books posit that prophets or messiahs were sent to the human race in order to teach morality and encourage the development of civilization. (See e.g. Rael). One famous espouser of such views was the late Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA. Confronted with the statistical improbability of the origin of self replicating and purposeful life in the allegedly miniscule timeframe physicists allot for the creation of planet earth, Crick suggested life on earth originated far away. (See Mark Steyn's obituary for the scientist: http://www.steynonline.com/index2.cfm?edit_id=29 )

Phenomenological definition

The philosopher Michel Henry defines God in a phenomenological point of view. He says : "God is Life, he is the essence of Life, or, if we prefer, the essence of Life is God. Saying this we already know what is God, we know it not by the effect of a learning or of some knowledge, we don’t know it by the thought, on the background of the truth of the world ; we know it and we can know it only in and by the Life itself. We can know it only in God." (I Am the Truth. Toward a Philosophy of Christianity).

This Life is not biological life defined by objective and exterior properties, nor an abstract and empty philosophical concept, but the absolute phenomenological life, a radically immanent life which possesses in it the power of showing itself in itself without distance, a life which reveals permanently itself. A manifestation of oneself and a self-revelation which doesn’t consist in the fact of seeing outside of oneself or of perceiving the exterior world, but in the fact of feeling and of feeling oneself, of experiencing in oneself its own inner and affective reality.

As Michel Henry says also in this same book, "God is that pure Revelation that reveals nothing other than itself. God reveals Himself. The Revelation of God is his self-revelation". God is in himself revelation, he is the primordial Revelation that extracts every thing to nothingness, a revelation which is the pathetic self-revelation and the absolute self-enjoyment of Life. As John says, God is love, because Life loves itself in an infinite and eternal love.

Michel Henry opposes to the notion of creation, which is the creation of the world, the notion of generation of Life, saying that the creation of the world consists in the opening of this exteriority horizon where every thing becomes visible whereas Life never stops to generate itself and to generate all the livings in its radical immanence, in its absolute phenomenological interiority that is without gap nor distance.

As we are living and by consequence generated continually by the infinite Life of God, as he never stops to give us life, and as we never cease of being born into the eternal present of life by the action in us of this absolute Life, God is for Christianity our Father and we are its beloved Sons, the Sons of the living God. This doesn’t mean that he has created us at the time of our conception or at the beginning of the world, but that he never stops to generate us permanently into Life that he is always at work in us in the least of our subjective impressions.

However, a layman might point out that this penetrates no closer to the heart of what God is, since throughout it merely substitutes 'know' for 'experience' (that is 'knowing by acquaintance or participation' as opposed to propositional knowing). Thus experience of Life is experience - and knowledge - of the divine. The nature of Life itself being difficult at best (given that Life, as a notional category, is that space within which all things we apprehend are apprehended, all things we do are done and all things we know are known; it is thus a container for everything), this passage tells us that we may only know one thing by reference to another thing whose essential nature we may never grasp. This is, perhaps, ultimately the point.

The Rosicrucian conception of God and the scheme of evolution

According to Max Heindel's Rosicrucian writings [1] about the scheme of evolution, and in Esoteric Christianity, in the beginning of a Day of Manifestation a certain collective Great Being, God, limits Himself to a certain portion of space, in which He elects to create a Solar System for the evolution of added self-consciousness.

THE ANCIENT OF DAYS,  illustrated by William Blake (1794)
THE ANCIENT OF DAYS, illustrated by William Blake (1794)

In God there are contained hosts of glorious Hierarchies and lesser beings of every grade of intelligence and stage of consciousness, from omniscience to an unconsciousness deeper than that of the deepest trance condition. During the current period of manifestation these various grades of beings are working to acquire more experience than they possessed at the beginning of this period of existence. Those who, in previous manifestations, have attained to the highest degree of development work on those who have not yet evolved any consciousness.

The period of time devoted to the attainment of self-consciousness and to the building of the vehicles through which the spirit in man manifests, is called "Involution". The succeeding period of existence, during which the individual human being develops self-consciousness into divine omniscience, is called "Evolution". Every evolving being has within him a "force" which makes evolution not to be a mere enfoldment of latent germinal possibilities but a process where each individual differ from that of every other. This force, called "Epigenesis", provides the element of originality and gives scope to the creative ability which the evolving being is to cultivate that he may become a God.

Heindel states that in the Solar system, God's Habitation, there are seven Worlds differentiated by God, within Himself, one after another [2]. These Worlds have each a different "measure" and rate of vibration and are not separated by space or distance, as is the earth from the other planets. They are states of matter, of varying density and vibration (as are the solids, liquids and gases of the physical Earth). These Worlds are not instantaneously created at the beginning of a day of Manifestation, nor do they last until the end. The evolutionary scheme is carried through five of these Worlds in seven great Periods of manifestation, during which the evolving virgin spirit becomes first human and, then, a God. The highest Worlds are created first, and as involution is to slowly carry the life into denser and denser matter for the building of forms, the finer Worlds gradually condense and new Worlds are differentiated within God to furnish the necessary links between Himself and the Worlds which have consolidated. In due time the point of greatest density, the nadir of materiality, is reached. From that point the life begins to ascend into higher Worlds, as evolution proceeds. That leaves the denser Worlds depopulated, one by one. When the purpose has been served for which a particular World was created, God ends its existence, which has become superfluous, by ceasing within Himself the particular activity which brought into being and sustained that World [3].

Rosicrucians teach that the, above referred, seven Worlds belong to the lowest of the seven "Cosmic Planes". The Worlds and Cosmic Planes are not one above another in space, but the seven Cosmic Planes inter-penetrate each other and all the seven Worlds. They are states of spirit-matter, permeating one another, so that God and the other great Beings pervade every part of their own realms and realms of greater density than their own, including our world: "in Him we live and move and have our being". Proceeding from the physical world to the inner worlds and up through the Cosmic Planes, God - the "Architect of the Solar System", the Source and goal of human existence - is found in the highest division of the seventh Cosmic Plane: this is His World. In order to trace the origin of the Architect of the Solar System, one must pass to the highest of the seven Cosmic Planes: the "Realm of the Supreme Being", Who emanated from the "Absolute". The Absolute is beyond comprehension and, as manifestation implies limitation, He may be best described as "Boundless Being": the "Root of Existence".

From the Absolute proceeds the Supreme Being, at the dawn of manifestation: this is The One, the "Great Architect of the Universe". The first aspect of the Supreme Being may be characterized as Power, from this proceeds the second aspect, the Word, and from both of these proceeds the third, aspect, Motion. From this threefold Supreme Being proceed the "seven Great Logoi". They contain within Themselves all the great Hierarchies which differentiate more and more as they diffuse through the various Cosmic Planes [4]. In the Highest World of the seventh Cosmic Plane dwells the God of the Solar Systems in the Universe. These great Beings are also threefold in manifestation, like The Supreme Being. Their three aspects are Will, Wisdom and Activity.

Notes and references

  1. ^  Heindel, Max, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, ISBN 0-911274-34-0, 1st ed 1909; Part II: Chapters V, VI.
  2. ^  Heindel, Max, Idem; Diagram 2: The Seven Worlds.
  3. ^  Heindel, Max, Idem; Diagram 8: The 777 Incarnations.
  4. ^  Heindel, Max, Idem; Diagram 6: The Supreme Being, the Cosmic Planes and God.

  • Pickover, Cliff, The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience, Palgrave/St Martin's Press, 2001.
  • Miles, Jack, God : A Biography, Knopf, 1995; Book description.
  • Armstrong, Karen, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ballantine Books, 1994.
  • Rotch, Mike, God, the Sheep, and Me... And Other Stories of Godly En(tendre)counters, Modern Christian Press, 2003.

See also

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