Good God – Part 1

Even if syntactically correct, some questions and propositions are not well-formed. Chomsky famously illustrated this with a sentence — “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” — which though grammatically correct is meaningless. It is syntactically fine but devoid of any semantic content.

I think the question “Do you believe in god” to be an example of a question that is syntactically fine but is semantically pure nonsense. Why? Because the word “god” is imprecise and undefined in the general context. The most appropriate response to that question is “what do you mean by that?”

If the question is more specific, then the correct answer is “No, of course not!” That’s the proper response to a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim asking you if you believe in god.

The god of the Abrahamic religions is precisely defined: a supernatural entity who at some point in time created the world (a flat featureless plane), put stuff on and around it (stars, the sky, mountains, oceans, plants and animals) and included a nice garden in which he put only one man at first, realized that two are better than one, and so took a rib from the man to created a woman. All very simple, logical, and cut and dried.

Since the word god is precisely defined, one can reasonably answer that one does not believe that such an entity exists or could conceivably exist.

That account of the creation of the world makes for a nice children’s fable. It is an interesting story in which there’s intrigue, suspense and magic like in a Bollywood movie. There’s a talking snake in the garden and there’s a tree in it which bears a magical fruit that the man and woman were forbidden by the creator god to eat. But the snake (who created that snake, one wonders) persuades the woman to eat one of the fruits from that forbidden tree and then gives the man a bite from it. Then god finds out (the primal detective that he is) and punishes them by banishing them from the garden.

It all ends very badly for the couple because they committed a “sin.” The concept of sin is unique and original to the Abrahamic creeds. But that’s not the end of it. Everyone on earth is descended from that couple who committed that “original sin” and is forever cursed by that wonderful god to suffer for that sin.

How’s that for basic morality and common sense? Is it moral to punish another for a crime that someone else committed? It makes no sense but you’d search in vain looking for sense in the monotheist creeds. They are simply stupid and silly. More about that later.

Fables like the “Garden of Eden” are fine and good for primitive childish minds but they don’t satisfy the mature, civilized mind. A god that engineers the world into existence as if it were a machine, which he then sets it into motion, and dictates to its creatures that they worship him (their god’s preferred pronouns are he/him) ceaselessly is a rather silly sort of being. It’s a primitive’s conception of the world.

The Abrahamic god is, to quote Richard Dawkins from his The God Delusion book —

“arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Dawkins chose his words carefully and was accurate in his description of god. For the gory details of the justification of such characterization, read the Bible (which Christians call “The Old Testament”.)

“That god is genocidal?” you’d ask incredulously. Yes, he killed around 25 million people (give or take a few million according to the book that they worship) and of course innumerable animals on earth with his flooding and what not. [1]

And you’d ask, “How many did Satan, god’s arch enemy, kill?” Well, a grand total of 10 people. Well, Satan you evil stupid bastard, you need to get your act together if you’re going to compete with god in the mayhem, rape, plunder and murder department.

But I digress. Here I wish to explain why I think that the notions of “god” and “religion” are constructs that are unique to the Abrahamic faiths, and they have no counterparts in the dharmic creeds (namely, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.) Sikhism appears to have a god entity it inherited from the Islamic creed. But I will leave Sikhism alone since I don’t know much about it.

A disclaimer is in order here. I am not a scholar of the three religions and of the dharmas, though I do have a passing familiarity of them all. But you don’t have to be a scholar to understand the broad outlines of most subjects of interest — from rockets to genetics. You need to know the principles and you’d do just fine.

Even though I’m not a marine nor an auto engineer, I know how boats differ from cars. For all practical purposes, I can tell how they work, what they do and when to use which. Therefore in the following, I lay out in brief what I believe to be the core distinctions between the religions and the dharmas. First and foremost is that religions are god-centered; dharmas are not.

Religions have as their central pillar the notion of a god. That god entity created the world. Dharmas have no corresponding notion. The notion of god is entirely absent in the dharmas. There is no entity in charge of creating a world. That is my basic claim.

There is nothing like the Jewish Yahweh, the Christian God, or the Islamic Allah in the dharmas. Sure Hindus have entities such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and so on but they are cats of an entirely different breed. They are not gods, if by god is meant the Abrahamic god, and the dharmas are not religions if by religion one means the Abrahamic religions.

So, then, what gives me the confidence to go on in this essay if as I disclaimed above that I am no scholar of the religions or the dharmas. It’s simply this that I have investigated them to some degree over the years, motivated by my intense curiosity about how groups of people have significantly divergent views of the world, and how they differ in their explanations of what the world is and how it all works.

I was born a Hindu and continue to be one. Though we were not given explicit instructions on the dharmas, we learned the basics through osmosis, so to speak. The dharmas are characteristically vague and amorphous. You get to know a whole collection of stories about various devis and devtas.

(Note that I will eschew the use of “gods” and “religion” in connection with the dharmas, and instead stick to the original words — such as ishwar, bhagavan, dharma, karma, moksha, et cetera — instead of inaccurate translations that confuse rather than illuminate.)

Alright, word limit reached. I will continue this later. I’ve been meaning to write a response to Anirudh’s recent comment. This is the beginning.


[1] All The People God Kills In The Bible – Vocativ I recommend a quick read of that page. It’s as delightful as it is instructive.

Author: Atanu Dey


3 thoughts on “Good God – Part 1”

  1. Parts of what you are saying seem to be corroborated by the Wiki article here – where it says

    Hindu texts do not provide a single canonical account of the creation; they mention a range of theories of the creation of the world, some of which are apparently contradictory.

    but it also says the following at the very beginning of the same Wiki page

    Hindu cosmology is also intertwined with the idea of a creator who allows the world to exist and take shape.

    Sure there are multiple theories about creation, but all these theories have some concept of a creator( usually Brahma). This sounds very much like the God of the monotheistic religions.

    I concede that there is no concept of the original sin in Hinduism or the Hindu gods( Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara) do not come across as “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak” as Dawkins describes, though these same adjectives describe the god-king Indra pretty accurately in most stories.


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