I learned a new word this week: igtheism. Wikipedia defines it as
…the view that any religious term or theological concept presented must be accompanied by a coherent definition…
So far, so good, right? A “coherent definition” just means a definition that does not contradict itself. This would seem to be a necessary place to start. But Wikipedia continues, and we start to see why igtheism might press our buttons:
… For example, if the term “God” does not refer to anything reasonably defined then there is no conceivable method to test against the existence of god. Therefore the term “God” has no literal significance and need not be debated or discussed.
So is our Western concept of God coherent?
Well, what is the Western concept of God? To start with the basics, the Bible says, “God is love.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that God cares for all his children as we care for ours? Evidently not; he allows horrible things to happen to many of them — things that he can easily prevent and that, if a human parent stood passively by and allowed to happen to his children, we would call evidence of criminal neglect.
I suggest that the word “love” in that sentence has no coherent definition, at least in the context of orthodox, Western religion. (If you can come up with one that takes into account God being omnipotent yet allowing most people to suffer in everlasting fire, you’re more clever than I am. Please leave a comment!)
Believers in the God of the Bible freely admit that their faith embraces paradoxes. After all, why should we expect our finite minds to comprehend an infinite God? As the Bible says,
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
Still, I would draw a contrast between unfathomable and incoherent. I can’t think of any verse in the Bible that boasts, “How incoherent Thou art!”
I think incoherence in religion has arisen because of a sort of arms race. In the beginning, gods were tribal in scope and had limited powers. They controlled the weather, prospered the crops, and helped in battle, but nobody claimed they were the supreme embodiment of Good. Even the Greek gods were capricious, licentious, and not very nice at all. If you could stay out of their way, you were doing well.
Over time, people wanted their gods to be better than everyone else’s. Naturally, a better, more powerful god is more compelling. Over the centuries, the gods that were said to have more superpowers won the battle for hearts and minds. Even within Christianity, the denominations that preach a more high-stakes message (e.g., evangelical denominations) are doing better than their more relaxed, main-line brethren.
As with other arms races, the people involved are so busy upping the ante that they don’t realize what they’re getting themselves into.
We exalt God higher and higher until he is “outside of time and space.” (This is a relatively recent upping of the ante. The Bible never makes this claim; it only claims that God is eternal, which is a completely different thing.) But we also want God to listen to our prayers, so we say he “changes his mind” over time (Exodus 32:14). Putting those two propositions together is incoherent, as far as I can tell.
We give God the superpower to know and control the future: “I [God] make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.'” (Isaiah 46:10.) However, we don’t want bad things to be God’s fault (after all, we have just said he is omnipotent) so, later in the same speech, we have him lament that things didn’t turn out as he had wished: “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:18.) If he knows the future and does all that he pleases how can he say, “If only…”? To me, that’s incoherent.
We escalate our view of the Bible until it is the Inerrant Word of God. Unfortunately, it consistently describes the Earth as flat. Inerrantly preaching a flat Earth? Sorry; that’s as incoherent as drawing a square circle.
What do you think? Has Western theology become incoherent?
For more on this subject, here’s the video that got me thinking about it:
Try ignosticism. It’s easier to say and, as far as I can tell, identical in definition.
Theology was coherent in the very beginning. God was simply put forth as the ultimate explanation of every otherwise unexplained phenomenon, from weather to the movement of the planets. Everything changed when Galileo made a telescope and found Venus to be in a gibbous phase, between half and full, which could only mean it was on the other side of the sun from the Earth. Every since that day theologists have fought a rearguard action to defend God’s position as the ultimate explanation for everything. Even the problem of evil is handwaved away by asserting God wants to maintain human free will. As a result, the edifice of theism now has more holes in it than Fort Sumter and has, in fact, already collapsed, though true believers refuse to acknowledge it.
Christianity and all abrahmic faiths are incoherent. The only time that theology seemed coherent is when we did not know much about the world. As we learned… well, you know how that turned out.
The definition of the three-letter word “God” is simply the four-letter word “fate”. Everybody is a theist because everybody believes in God because everybody believes in fate. So the only question is “Is this fate that we all believe in intelligent? Or not intelligent?”