What is a god (small g)?


#1

In the It’s Official: Hindus Did Worship in Fatimathread we find this statement

[quote=GrzeszDeL]The Portugal News (May 22, 2004) story reporting this event quoted one of the Hindu participants explaining that the Virgin of Fatima is a goddess in her particular panoply of deities. In other words, the Hindus praying at Fatima were praying (in their own understanding) not to the Mother of God, but to a goddess. This is blasphemy.
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It got me wondering. What does this mean? What does GrzeszDeL mean by contrasting the Blessed Virgin with “goddess”? What is it that distinguishes angels and the Blessed Virgin such that we always refer to heavenly beings of other religions as “gods” and “goddesses” but refrain from using that term with respect to Christian heavenly beings.

Don’t answer “because there is only one God.” The concept of a god is very different from that of “God.” God is not a god. A god like Apollo is a finite, faulty, created being, as any thoughtful ancient Greek would admit. Although perhaps far above mortal humans, Apollo is infinitely removed from the Judeao-Christian concept of God. Some pagan “gods” are even mortal, e.g., the Norse gods perish at Ragnarok.

At first glance it seems that the only characteristics which qualify an entity to be referred to as a god (when discussing any *non-Christian *religion) is that (1) the entity be not bound by spatio-temporal limitations and (2) be capable of hearing “prayers.” (Please let’s not get stuck on trying define prayer also.)

For instance, in Chinese folk religion, under the supreme deity there is a vast heirarchy of beings commonly referred to in English descriptions as “gods.” But these gods in traditional Chinese belief are held to be humans elevated to various “jobs” in the heirarchy. What distinguishes this Chinese concept–rendered in English as “gods”–from our cult of saints?

Is it merely linguistic egotism? Like Christianity has “denominations” while all other religions have “sects”? Or, Christians have “churches” while all other religions have “temples”?


#2

I think a “god” is a Christian term. It is given to a being recognized as divine by a religion other than Christianity. The Left Behind authors (Jenkins and LaHaye) used “god” when people were assuming Antichrist to be the “god” that we Christians believe it to be. Also, we would use “god” rather than “God” if referring to polytheistic beings (i.e. Greek “gods”). For this case, though as well, “god” is lowercase because there are more than one. A capitalization would make one or the other greather than the others.


#3

[quote=luckyirishguy14]I think a “god” is a Christian term. It is given to a being recognized as divine by a religion other than Christianity.
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So you think that it is just a question of custom, as I suggest in the last paragraph of the OP? It is just customary that we only refer to heavenly beings as “gods” if they are of another religion, but that there is no real substantive difference between gods, heavenly saints, or angels?

Because it seems clear to me that if there were another religion that professed an ultimate Godhead identical to the Judeao-Christian God apart from a differing history of revelation, and if this religion also contained a female who had once lived on earth but subsequently is the object of prayer and the subject of apparitions and miracles, we wouldn’t think twice to refer to her as a goddess.

What is the objection to referring to Mary as a goddess?


#4

There is definite need to clarify the meaning of the word when speaking of the issue. As was said, in Chinese belief gods are often the same as what we call Saints. The historical figure Guan Yu, who was regarded as an honorable warrior, excellent strategist, and all-around great guy by the social standards is recognized as the “God of War”, and is prayed to in modern times (you can often see pictures and statues of him in Chinese stores and resturants, he’s a green-clad, red-skinned fellow with a halberd.)

God is, unfortunately, a very broad term with various meanings. I honestly don’t know what the Hindus mean by calling Mary a god, but it’s quite possible that they simply mean saint.


#5

Right. What someone from another culture means when they use the English word god is even more difficult to get at!

But I’m more interested in what a Catholic means who says “Mary is not a goddess.” :confused:

Angels, to take another example, are certainly “god-like” since men like the Apostle John have been tempted to worship them. That is, their presence evokes awe. They are also immortal, not bound by space and time, and capable of hearing prayers. In what sense then are angels not gods?


#6

At first glance, I would say that God is capitalized because it is a proper noun. A god, one of many would not be capitalized because it is a common noun. God is a proper name…just like John. We do not say the God…we say God.

But if your belief is that there are many gods, then you would use the common noun, as in John is one of many boys.

I think that when people say that Virgin Mary is not a goddess, they are saying that she has no powers on her own merit. Some people think, erroneously, that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary, and therefore, they think that the Catholics think she is a goddess.


#7

“god” was also used before to refer to exalted human beings (e.g. kings, judges) or heavenly beings (e.g. angels); the term “el” or “elohim” was also applied to them. See Psalm 45:6. “Your throne O God shall endure forever.” In the original ancient context, the “God” (or “god”, see NAB Revised 1991 Psalms, as much as I hate referring to them) actually refers to the Davidic king, possibly Solomon. We Christians apply it to Christ, bringing “God” to its full and proper meaning.

I think we need to distinguish from the context of whatever we’re reading as to whether “god” refers to:

a deity in a general, abstract sense

a false god (e.g. Baal)

a human ruler (e.g. Ps 45:6)

baptized Christians (Catechism #460; by this we mean we share in God’s divine nature so as for us to become his adopted children. We humans can’t adopt our pet dogs, can we?)

God Almighty


#8

*Edited note: please don’t respond to this post. I started a new thread specifically for this question about Marian devotion here *Let’s face it - we DO worship Mary

[quote=chimakuni]At first glance, I would say that God is capitalized because it is a proper noun. A god, one of many would not be capitalized because it is a common noun. God is a proper name…just like John. We do not say the God…we say God.
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Certainly. The categories “God” and “god” are quite distinct.

Some people think, erroneously, that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary, and therefore, they think that the Catholics think she is a goddess.

I’m afraid that yours is the error. Catholics do worship Mary. From the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Worship, Christian (bolds added by yours truly)

The word worship (Saxon weorthscipe, “honour”; from worth, meaning “value”, “dignity”, “price”, and the termination, ship; Lat. cultus) in its most general sense is homage paid to a person or a thing. In this sense we may speak of hero-worship, worship of the emperor, of demons, of the angels, even of [/font]relics, and especially of the Cross. This article will deal with [/font]Christian worship according to the following definition: homage paid to [/font]God, to [/font]Jesus Christ, to His saints, to the beings or even to the objects which have a special relation to [/font]God.

As the Blessed Virgin has a separate and absolutely supereminent rank among the saints, the worship paid to her is called hyperdulia (for the meaning and history of these terms see Suicer, Thesaurus ecclesiasticus, 1728).

It is certainly true that the worship we pay to God and that to Mary and saints are distinct, but they are both instances of worship according to any ordinary definition of the word. Saying that we don’t “worship” Mary is just a silly semantic game, rightly recognized as such by all non-Catholics and which I find an embarrassment. I’m glad to see that the authors of the Catholic Encyclopedia didn’t play that game.


#9

I am not sure about this, but it may be that a god or a diety is a being that is uncreated. I don’t mean non-contingent like God Himself. A created being is the product of an artificial act of some sort. A god or diety is somehow begotten or born from some other essence. For instance, in Greek mythology the gods could trace their lineage to Gaea, Mother Earth. They were offspring of the non-contingent, not Its creation, if that makes any sense.

Justin


#10

Guan Yu, Chinese god of war, was created though. In fact, he was born to a mortal mother and father, and lived a completely mortal life. It’s an extremely tricky word to toss around in cross-religious discussions. In the Catholic sense, gods are likely to be considered created beings that draw worship away from God, such as fallen angels or mythical beings.


#11

[quote=Racer X]In the It’s Official: Hindus Did Worship in Fatima thread we find this statement

It got me wondering. What does this mean? What does GrzeszDeL mean by contrasting the Blessed Virgin with “goddess”? What is it that distinguishes angels and the Blessed Virgin such that we always refer to heavenly beings of other religions as “gods” and “goddesses” but refrain from using that term with respect to Christian heavenly beings.

Don’t answer “because there is only one God.” The concept of a god is very different from that of “God.” God is not a god. A god like Apollo is a finite, faulty, created being, as any thoughtful ancient Greek would admit. Although perhaps far above mortal humans, Apollo is infinitely removed from the Judeao-Christian concept of God. Some pagan “gods” are even mortal, e.g., the Norse gods perish at Ragnarok.

At first glance it seems that the only characteristics which qualify an entity to be referred to as a god (when discussing any *non-Christian *religion) is that (1) the entity be not bound by spatio-temporal limitations and (2) be capable of hearing “prayers.” (Please let’s not get stuck on trying define prayer also.)

For instance, in Chinese folk religion, under the supreme deity there is a vast heirarchy of beings commonly referred to in English descriptions as “gods.” But these gods in traditional Chinese belief are held to be humans elevated to various “jobs” in the heirarchy. What distinguishes this Chinese concept–rendered in English as “gods”–from our cult of saints?

Is it merely linguistic egotism? Like Christianity has “denominations” while all other religions have “sects”? Or, Christians have “churches” while all other religions have “temples”?
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That is a very good question :smiley: - the Mesopotamian cult of the “personal god” reminds me of the concept of the guardian angel. And Mary would fit very comfortably into quite a few of the pre-Christian pantheons - she is after all, honoured in many of the same ways as the old goddesses. How about: a god is a being who belongs to the realm of the sacred ?

One thing that seems to be emphasised in visions from 2000 BC onward is the “otherness” of the god - they seem, when they appear to mortals, to be described in words which suggest that they are very great and glorious and awe-some and awe-inspiring: IOW, they are exceedingly holy. They are not even all human in form - Ningirsu, who tells the Mesopotamian ruler Gudea that he wants a temple built for him, visits him in a dream, appearing in semi-human, semi-animal form. But he does inspire very great awe. All the Mesopotamian gods were “clothed” in a terrifying splendour, which was “exuded” by their temples.

So: I reckon that the extreme and insufferable and unbearable “holiness” of a god, is what makes them gods - and it is not always an ethical holiness. Presumably the - to us - revolting gods of the Aztecs were extremely and terribly holy to their worshippers.

One thing about the God of Christians, is that it is simply meaningless to refer to “Gods” - one can refer to “gods”, but not to “Gods”. If, that is, one is thinking according to Christian theology.

Incidentally, it appears that gods are spatially limited - Poseidon was in Ethiopia, and absent from Olympus, when the gods decided to help Odysseus return home. He would not have agreed to this, because of his hatred of Odysseus. True, that is a poet speaking - but it is not clear whether or not there is some deeper message; almost certainly there is not. Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal implies that similar ideas were familiar in Palestine. So gods can be finite. ##


#12

Racer X: Yes, but that understanding of worship is an archaic use of the word. Today, when we say ‘worship’ we typically are referring only to that homage that is given to God. The complete and utter giving of one’s self to Him and total adoration. If we say to Protestants that we ‘worship’ Mary, they will only understand the distinction between latria and hyperdulia with great difficulty…as the Bible makes it clear to worship God alone (in the sense of the word as we use it today, this is how modern translations render the homage given only to God…as worship).


#13

I’d like to bring up another point. Gods of mythology lean upon their own power and understanding…saints and angels, and even the Holy Mother, rely upon God. Even our Blessed Mother is like a moon that reflects the glory of Christ. The saints and angels have no power nor glory but what Christ has given them. In this sense they are not gods in their own rights, but beings that reflect the glory of God.
As well, while they can hear our prayers, these prayers are only answered within God’s Will. Gods of mythology can do things of their own accord…saints and angels are dedicated servants of Christ. Even our Holy Mother is the Lord’s Handmaiden or servant(Lk 1:38), even as greatest of all creatures.


#14

What a god is and what not, is defined by the religion aknowledging that being. What all gods have in common is, that they are superhuman beings with vast powers.

What I really find amusing is: If you look at a religion from the outside, the perspective is different than from the inside. Christianity e.g. looks polytheistic from the outside, at least Satan has all the attributes of a god, if not the members of some higher ranks of angels as well. Christians do not name them gods, as for them there is only one god (named God).

The ancient Greeks would see Jesus as a demigod, i.e. a being with one parent usually a male god the other a woman (Is there a case in Greek mythology, where a goddess is the mother of a demigod? I cannot think of one right now.). That is incompatible with pure monotheism of course, hence the complicated Trinity construction.

As I said, that’s what it looks like from the outside, don’t take it too seriously.


#15

[quote=AnAtheist]What a god is and what not, is defined by the religion aknowledging that being. What all gods have in common is, that they are superhuman beings with vast powers.

What I really find amusing is: If you look at a religion from the outside, the perspective is different than from the inside. Christianity e.g. looks polytheistic from the outside, at least Satan has all the attributes of a god, if not the members of some higher ranks of angels as well. Christians do not name them gods, as for them there is only one god (named God).

The ancient Greeks would see Jesus as a demigod, i.e. a being with one parent usually a male god the other a woman (Is there a case in Greek mythology, where a goddess is the mother of a demigod? I cannot think of one right now.). That is incompatible with pure monotheism of course, hence the complicated Trinity construction.
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Alkmene mother of Herakles by Zeus, perhaps ? The mortal part of Herakles is burned away when he does on Mopunt Oeta, after putting on the poisoned shirt of Nessus. His divine part is taken up to Olympus, so that only an eidolon of him is present in Hades. Alkmene remains mortal, like her husband.

Gilgamesh is “two-thirds god, and one-third man” - so he dies, according to the Gilgamesh epic. the odd thing is, that the epic is about a hero who did receive divine honours. Historically, he does seem to have been a real person. His mother in the poem is the goddess Ninsun - which may mean that he was of unknown parentage, and was a foundling, or, that he was dedicated to her in infancy: both Israel and Mesopotamia knew of “oblates”, children offered to temples to be brought up - like Samuel in the OT. ##

As I said, that’s what it looks like from the outside, don’t take it too seriously.


#16

[quote=AnAtheist]What a god is and what not, is defined by the religion aknowledging that being. What all gods have in common is, that they are superhuman beings with vast powers.

What I really find amusing is: If you look at a religion from the outside, the perspective is different than from the inside. Christianity e.g. looks polytheistic from the outside, at least Satan has all the attributes of a god, if not the members of some higher ranks of angels as well. Christians do not name them gods, as for them there is only one god (named God).

The ancient Greeks would see Jesus as a demigod, i.e. a being with one parent usually a male god the other a woman (Is there a case in Greek mythology, where a goddess is the mother of a demigod? I cannot think of one right now.). That is incompatible with pure monotheism of course, hence the complicated Trinity construction.

As I said, that’s what it looks like from the outside, don’t take it too seriously.
[/quote]

God with big “G” or small “g”, both function as GOD in our life if we put Him/it as number one, the highest priority that we adore and worship, a place where we put our Hope and Trust.

Christianity however use big “G” to show The God that create Heaven and Earth, the One that has no cause but the cause of all things, the Owner of all authority and the sole supreme power over all things. This Super God that we supposedly worship is identified only by knowing His only begotten Son (Jesus Christ).
So God that we supposedly worship is not a being whose existance depends on religion settings, because He exist before all things.

This supreme God speaks to men and ask man to worship Him and Him alone. But it is up to each man to choose which “god” he chose to worship in his life. Suppose a man choose to worship gods other than God, these gods with small “g” then exists (in his life). So its true that some gods are made by men, that is when they choose to worship it/them. So these gods’ existance depends on their worshippers. But there is one God that doesn’t depend on men, but on the contrary, all things depend on Him.

For an example a christian man put his hope only on his money, and his number one motivation in life is also money, and he also believe in his heart that money can save him from anything. Now this man, although christian, he is not God worshipper. He is worshipping his money, and therefore money is his god. But it does not mean that the true God cease to be God because this man does not worship Him, for even the man’s life and money comes from The God with big “G”.

Suppose another christian man believe that his deeds saves his soul. He depends on himself all of his life, and he also think that God needs to be “guarded” against “errors”, and therefore he decide to “fire” all other thoughts those disagrees with his own thoughts against his own idea about God. This man is not God worshipper, because his gods are himself and his own thoughts and his own deeds.

Suppose another man think that observing the law saves his soul. So this man tries hard to observe the law all of his life. He is not God worshipper, but only a slave of the law. Because he put his trust and hope on observing the law. Therefore the law is his god.


#17

A god is any person, place or thing, worshipped, honored and revered more than the One True God. In the first commandment to Moses ( and his people ) The Lord said " … thou shalt have no other gods before me. " The first commandment also forbid God’s people from making any graven ( carved ) image of him or any false gods.


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