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Beliefs About God's Personality Are Powerful Predictors


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I thought of posting this in the News and Current Events. But - it's not the entire article that intrigues me. I was looking for some statistics on religious violence tonight and found an article in the Washington Post. The whole article is interesting - but the following paragraphs were most interesting and worth posting here - for discussion.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...6091100459.html

Among the most innovative aspects of the Baylor survey, say scholars who know about it, are questions about how Americans describe God's personality. Respondents were offered 26 attributes ranging from "absolute" to "wrathful," and were asked whether God is directly involved in and angered by their lives and what happens in the world.

 

The researchers separated God's attributes into four categories: wrathful, involved, benevolent and uninvolved. They found that the largest category of people -- 31 percent -- was made up of those who said they believe God is both wrathful and highly involved in human affairs.

 

Beliefs about God's personality are powerful predictors, according to the survey. Those who considered God engaged and punishing were likely to have lower incomes and less education, to come from the South and to be white evangelicals or black Protestants. Those who believed God to be distant and nonjudgmental were more likely to support increased business regulation, environmental protection and the even distribution of wealth.

 

I - myself - have felt (for many years) that the way we think about God, the human condition, and the human relationship to said God is reflected in the way we treat other human beings and the natural world. So, this survey does not surprises me. But, it's the first time I've seen my suspicions statistically validated.

 

I look forward to everyone's thoughts on this.

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Beliefs about God's personality are powerful predictors, according to the survey. Those who considered God engaged and punishing were likely to have lower incomes and less education, to come from the South and to be white evangelicals or black Protestants.

 

:)Open Minded... thanks for sharing this article. However, I am curious about their profiles being accurate.

 

It doesn't totally surprise me, because one aspect is if someone thinks there is a powerful entity specifically controlling everything, that leaves no room for self empowerment and facilitates helplessness.

 

Then again, maybe these are already oppressed people who have chosen to hang onto something, giving them hope to conquer their present situations. Many of these profiled people have been at the bottom of our country's version of the cast system, while some principles of religion have helped many unite and attempt to conquer their present situations. Hence, Martin Luther King, who has been celebrated all weekend in Orlando.

 

So can we surmise from the article... that either beliefs in a divine entity controlling everything, is causing a sense of helplessness; or that those who are struggling more than the average person, is seeking something to help raise them out of their vulnerability? Which or what do you think it is?

 

I would still guess the belief in fundamentalist literal interpretations isn't ultimately helping anyone in either predicament. :twitch:

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It's no surprise to me; all throughout human history, it is clear that people invent the gods that they feel are necessary for themselves. Their environments influence this alot, and people imbue their gods with the attributes and characteristics they themselves have and/or would to see in themselves.

 

In the beginning, instead of being made in God's image, we made all the gods in our own images, and continue to do so today.

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I - myself - have felt (for many years) that the way we think about God, the human condition, and the human relationship to said God is reflected in the way we treat other human beings and the natural world. So, this survey does not surprises me. But, it's the first time I've seen my suspicions statistically validated.

Don't forget he also reflects how people feel the world treats them. Isn't God a wishbone? We heap our hopes or frustrations at the world on him. He is the God of vengeance to those who feel powerless in the world. He is salvation to those who feel enslaved, which salvation for them comes at the devastation of their enemies.

 

But this follows an interesting thought I've been aware of, even in regards to myself and others on this site, that we can engage in these sorts of discussions and considerations because we have the luxury of leisure afforded to us by wealth. If we were dirt poor our whole lives, how philosophical would we be? What would our worldviews look like? I seriously doubt they would look like what we have now.

 

Hunger tends to preoccupy one's mind with a much different, simpler worldview, and consequently someone's God symbol they use is going to be far more reflective of this. You speak of a God of infinite peace, but would you even be open to that if you were set upon daily by the elements and rival warring tribes? I tend to think that God would become an empowering belief with a very different face for the individual in those circumstances, one which reflected all the emotions that go with that sort of existence.

 

God is relative. Forgive my satire, but a personal god is a "Gumby God". His one consistent quality is that he is shapeable by his creators into whatever pose they need him to assume. This created God that reflects their views then creates others in His own image, so that he becomes their symbol of their truth for their culture. This God is then taught to others and their own children, which then shapes the worldviews of all those in that culture. It's the rare individual who can break the cycle without first breaking free from the culture of thought.

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So can we surmise from the article... that either beliefs in a divine entity controlling everything, is causing a sense of helplessness; or that those who are struggling more than the average person, is seeking something to help raise them out of their vulnerability? Which or what do you think it is?

Good points Amanda. I'm not sure which line of thought I'd go with.

 

Probably a 3rd option that the factors you address are symbiotic, mutually impacting each other - if you will.

 

Like Antlerman - I do believe those more educated and in wealthier situations have the luxery of thinking about and processing these things.

 

Also - humanity has an awful history of creating gods in their own image. It really bothered me that the survey did not ask people about a belief in a God with NO personality traits. I mean - good grief - it's the 21st Century - have we not learned what anthropomorphism is? There are those who believe in a God with NO EGO - hence NO personality traits. It bothers me that this wasn't addressed in the survey. Not because there would have been any measurable percentages of people saying they believed in a God without Ego, but because (as a culture) we need to start talking about these things.

 

We need to address the concrete reality that:

  • humans do create gods in their image.
  • The gods we create give us permission to treat other humans and the natural world in all sorts of horrid and violent ways.
  • That there are many humans who try very hard NOT to assign human "personality" traits to God - and that this too impacts concrete action in the world.

I would still guess the belief in fundamentalist literal interpretations isn't ultimately helping anyone in either predicament. :twitch:
No, literalist beliefs feed the persecution many people already feel in life. Instead of lifting people above themselves to higher ground, literalist beliefs tell people that the persecution they feel in life is somehow "holy" and will be rewarded.

 

I'm not operating under any niave belief that beliefs about God will mature and grow overnight. But - it was nice to see that someone had thought to ask these questions and make connections between beliefs about God and actions in the world.

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Beliefs about God's personality are powerful predictors, according to the survey. Those who considered God engaged and punishing were likely to have lower incomes and less education, to come from the South and to be white evangelicals or black Protestants. Those who believed God to be distant and nonjudgmental were more likely to support increased business regulation, environmental protection and the even distribution of wealth.
[/color]

 

I look forward to everyone's thoughts on this.

 

The other thing this story appears to show is that people tend to replace their belief in the God of the Bible with the God of the Government. People that have a more distant view of God, are more likely to see government as a benevolent force dispensing mercy on the poor. Unfortunately, that is a dangerous belief as it tends to lead to socialism and ultimately to totalitarianism.

 

Darrell

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It's no surprise to me; all throughout human history, it is clear that people invent the gods that they feel are necessary for themselves. Their environments influence this alot, and people imbue their gods with the attributes and characteristics they themselves have and/or would to see in themselves.

 

In the beginning, instead of being made in God's image, we made all the gods in our own images, and continue to do so today.

 

Amazing how people know so much about a god who never appeared to them or has a definite lack of presence in today's world! Why doesen't he appear now and perform miracles to firm our belief? I now believe that the only gods are in one's head.

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Also - humanity has an awful history of creating gods in their own image. It really bothered me that the survey did not ask people about a belief in a God with NO personality traits. I mean - good grief - it's the 21st Century - have we not learned what anthropomorphism is? There are those who believe in a God with NO EGO - hence NO personality traits. It bothers me that this wasn't addressed in the survey. Not because there would have been any measurable percentages of people saying they believed in a God without Ego, but because (as a culture) we need to start talking about these things.

 

We need to address the concrete reality that:

  • humans do create gods in their image.
  • The gods we create give us permission to treat other humans and the natural world in all sorts of horrid and violent ways.
  • That there are many humans who try very hard NOT to assign human "personality" traits to God - and that this too impacts concrete action in the world.

I think this is interesting OM. It makes think that you hold that all ego is somehow bad or undesirable. I'm not sure that I believe that. If God is often a personification of our ideals then must it be true that our ideal selves are devoid of ego? What happens then to the righteous indignation that people like King and Gandhi must have felt?

 

So while I think that ego can often be a hinderance, I also think it can be good, necessary, and even beneficial. It seems to me that even the desire to protect and guard others can often stem from our own ego. If we identify with someone and perhaps even love them then we are moved to action when something threatens their well being. How dare someone threaten MY loved ones! Even here is the residue of ego.

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Amazing how people know so much about a god who never appeared to them or has a definite lack of presence in today's world! Why doesen't he appear now and perform miracles to firm our belief? I now believe that the only gods are in one's head.

 

Precisely. We make them in our own images, and that is one of the few constants I've observed about religion.

 

Hopefully, people will either drop theism altogether or else just make up better gods. We were on a pretty good track for both of those before the Perversion Conversion of Europe :vent:

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I think this is interesting OM. It makes think that you hold that all ego is somehow bad or undesirable. I'm not sure that I believe that.
No, I do not believe ego is somehow bad or undesirable. I believe ego is relative. We have ego because we perceive ourselves, and the ones we love, relative to other human beings. We perceive ourselves and the ones we love relative to the environment we're in.

 

If God is often a personification of our ideals then must it be true that our ideal selves are devoid of ego?
For, me, believing in God is NOT believing god is a personification of our ideals. For me, on a subjective level, God IS.

 

What happens then to the righteous indignation that people like King and Gandhi must have felt?
I agree with you. But, I would remind you that King and Gandhi taught their followers about a form of love that transcended ego as we know it. They taught love for one's enemies - which must transcend ego as most humans are familiar with it.

 

http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_k...aticreading.htm

Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The "turn the other cheek" philosophy and the "love your enemies" philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict, a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was. Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/publica...ur_Enemies.html
Now first let us deal with this question, which is the practical question: How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And I’m sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self....

 

A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and everytime you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points.

 

Martin's belief that we must love our enemies and his instructions on how to love our enemy requires moving beyond the relative ego.

 

So while I think that ego can often be a hinderance, I also think it can be good, necessary, and even beneficial. It seems to me that even the desire to protect and guard others can often stem from our own ego. If we identify with someone and perhaps even love them then we are moved to action when something threatens their well being. How dare someone threaten MY loved ones! Even here is the residue of ego.
I agree, but again, ego is relative. I am able to say, "MY loved ones" because of relativity. With relativity there is "mine" and "yours".

 

The thing for me - is that when I think of God - I think of "God IS". That's it, "GOD IS".

 

There is a point at which there is no such thing as relativity. If God encumpasses all that is - then what is there that is relative to that?

 

Love IS

Wisdom IS

 

I know this is a completely subjective opinion. But - to me - Love and Wisdom just are - Love and Wisdom are a living presence within the very fabric of a living universe. That is why I use the word "God".

 

But, at this level, the level of something (for purposes of this discussion - Love and Wisdom) pervading the entire fabric of the universe - then nothing is relative to it. These things just are - there is no discrimination on the part of Love and Wisdom - either for good or evil. Good and evil are relative - Love and Wisdom exist as living presence in and through and "beyond" (for lack of a better word - I don't mean spacially "beyond" maybe "before" or "first cause"). Since Love and Wisdom are (in my very subjective opinion) the very core of existence and make up the entirety of existence - then there can be NOTHING relative to it - hence no ego.

 

That probably doesn't make a lot of sense - but I can think of no other way to describe why I feel God has no ego. :scratch:

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That probably doesn't make a lot of sense - but I can think of no other way to describe why I feel God has no ego. :scratch:

I'm trying to understand you OM, but you are quite unlike any Christian that I have met. As you have pointed out so many Christians seem to engage in a blatant anthropomorphism of God. In fact, it seems to me that's exactly what Jesus (Christ) was supposed to be. God becoming man. God taking on persona and becoming personal.

 

I get the impression that God for you is more akin to a kind of "force". The name of this force being love and wisdom. (I vote that understanding be placed in there also making it love, understanding, and wisdom. Good things come in threes. :) I have a difficult time trying to de-personify love and wisdom.

 

If you take it upon yourself to go on an anti-anthropomorphic spree then I think you are likely to have your hands full. I think many believe in a God who can become angry and anger is associated with things like persona and ego.

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I'm trying to understand you OM, but you are quite unlike any Christian that I have met. As you have pointed out so many Christians seem to engage in a blatant anthropomorphism of God. In fact, it seems to me that's exactly what Jesus (Christ) was supposed to be. God becoming man. God taking on persona and becoming personal.
This may seem entirely unrelated - but bear with me. :)

 

It is common knowledge that the Buddha's real name was Siddhārtha Gautama. He is known as Buddha because Buddha means "the enlightened one". The Buddha's followers looked at him and in him they saw "the enlightened one", so they gave him the title "Buddha".

 

In the same way, Jesus was called the Word (Logos - Wisdom of God) made flesh. He was called many other things as well, but the first verses of John are the reason I call myself a Christian. I don't deny that many have used these passages to teach that Jesus was "God becoming man". But, that is not necessarily the only way to view those passages. Within early Christianity there was much diversity of thought on how to view Jesus. None of the "I am" sayings exist in the earliest gospels (either within the Bible or gospels that did not make it into the Bible).

 

And honestly - when the author of John begins his gospel pointing to the LOGOS or Word(Wisdom of God) as enfleshed in Jesus - then it is entirely reasonable to look at the I AM sayings as pointing to the Wisdom of God within Jesus - as revealed by Jesus, etc..

 

At one point in John's gospel Jesus says, of himself, "before Abraham was, I am." Now everyone - even the most literalist Christian - knows Jesus did not physically walk the earth before Abraham. Again, the author of John was pointing to something he saw WITHIN Jesus. So, to me, when I see the I am passages of John I read them in context of the author's point of view. I believe the author was pointing to something (WISDOM) within Jesus when he attributed these words to Jesus.

 

Christ is also referred to as the Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end.

 

I get the impression that God for you is more akin to a kind of "force". The name of this force being love and wisdom. (I vote that understanding be placed in there also making it love, understanding, and wisdom. Good things come in threes. :)
Yes, I would say you are somewhat right. Have you ever heard of negative theology?

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_theology

In Negative theology, it is accepted that
the Divine is ineffable
- that is,
human beings cannot describe the essence of God - and therefore ALL descriptions if attempted will be false
:

 

Neither existence nor nonexistence as we understand it applies to God, i.e., God is beyond existing or not existing. (One cannot say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; nor can we say that God is nonexistent.)
  • God is divinely simple. (One should not claim that god is one, or three, or any type of being. All that can be said is, whatever God is, is not multiple independent beings)

  • God is not ignorant. (One should not say that God is wise since that word arrogantly implies we know what wise means on a divine scale, whereas we only know what wise means to a man.)

  • Likewise, God is not evil. (To say that God can be described by the word 'good' limits God to what good means to human beings.)

  • God is not a creation (but beyond this we do not know how God comes to be)

  • God is not conceptually definable in terms of space and location.

  • God is not conceptually confinable to assumptions based on time.

Even though the
via negativa essentially rejects theological understanding as a path to God
,
some have sought to make it into an intellectual exercise, by describing God only in terms of what God is not
. One problem noted with this approach, is that there seems to be no fixed basis on deciding what God is not.

 

Since I herald from the Christian contemplative tradition - this way of looking at God is as close as I am willing to go in "defining" God. There are those - within literalist camps - who do try and take this way of viewing God and turn it into mental gymnastics.

 

But, in the contemplative tradition of Christianity, the whole point of negative theology is to let go of the need to define God. The ego needs to define God - there comes a point where it is necessary to leave this need behind and - as Father Keating says - "open oneself to God as God is".

 

As an individual - I arrive at the conclusion that God has no ego - by negative theology - "what God is NOT". But, even that statement is definition to some degree. And at some point on the path - I must be willing to even let go of that understanding of God. ALL definitions of God fall short - and ALL definitions of God are limited by the humans putting forth the definition.

I have a difficult time trying to de-personify love and wisdom.
Yes - because humans experience love and wisdom in such personal and intimate ways - it is difficult to set these things outside of personal experience. But - here's a question - do you think animals experience love and wisdom in their own way? Do you limit the experience of love and wisdom to humans?

 

If you broaden your understanding of love and wisdom to allow for the experience within the animal kingdom - then think about the possibility that love and wisdom are something to be experienced rather than something generated within an individual human being.

 

If you take it upon yourself to go on an anti-anthropomorphic spree then I think you are likely to have your hands full. I think many believe in a God who can become angry and anger is associated with things like persona and ego.
You are right - of course. And I don't intend to go on an "anti-anthropomorphic spree" anytime soon. :)

 

But, do you see that "negative theology" is one way of avoiding this trap?

 

Do you see that because most Christians participate in anthropomorphising God, then the perception has become that ALL Christians anthropomorphise God?

 

And that understanding or viewing God through negative theology is not given enough credit. There is a long history of negative theology and contemplative worship within Christianity.

 

And yet, the people who put together the survey never even thought to ask about understanding God as having NO ego, no personality, etc... :shrug: .

 

I don't fault them, most people are not even aware of this type of Christianity. And to some degree - we've only ourselves to blame. But, the media is partly responsible as well. If the Dalai Lama comes to town for a visit there is tons of media coverage (and there should be). But, on the same tolken, if the leaders of the Christian contemplative movement come to town there is NO media coverage. The media - by and large - ignores the event.

 

And I am speaking from first hand experience here. I live in a large metro area and am directly involved in interfaith dialog. A major Tibetan Buddhist center is within 30 miles of my home. This metro area has hosted both the Dalai Lama and Father Thomas Keating. The Dalai Lama is expected to visit again next year. The media goes gaga over the Dalai Lama and yet when a Christian contemplative leader visits - there is no acknowledgement at all.

 

Don't get me wrong - the interfaith group I'm involved in is already making plans to go to the Dalai Lama event. He is a very wise man and deserves all the media coverage he receives. He is actively working towards peace in the world and peace between the world religions. But so are some of the Christian contemplative leaders. And it will take all these people (and more) to really impact the peace movement. That is the whole point. When we see so much religious violence in the world - the media should be focusing on all the peace makers. Instead when it comes to Christianity they focus on a pope making provokative statements about Islam. (sigh)

 

And that is what the general public sees of Christianity. :(

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The other thing this story appears to show is that people tend to replace their belief in the God of the Bible with the God of the Government. People that have a more distant view of God, are more likely to see government as a benevolent force dispensing mercy on the poor. Unfortunately, that is a dangerous belief as it tends to lead to socialism and ultimately to totalitarianism.

 

As an atheist as well as an anarchist, I'm not so sure I agree with that. My faith went down the shitter along with any political affirmations that I had.

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So, to me, when I see the I am passages of John I read them in context of the author's point of view. I believe the author was pointing to something (WISDOM) within Jesus when he attributed these words to Jesus.

I get the sense that you’re saying Jesus had wisdom and he was therefore in alignment with the spirit or force which is God. And being in alignment or harmony with God he was, in some sense, indistinguishable from God.

 

As an individual - I arrive at the conclusion that God has no ego - by negative theology - "what God is NOT". But, even that statement is definition to some degree. And at some point on the path - I must be willing to even let go of that understanding of God. ALL definitions of God fall short - and ALL definitions of God are limited by the humans putting forth the definition.

I suspect that had you been an influence in my early years OM then I might have held on to my belief in Christianity a little longer. I’m not sure that I ever entertained the idea of trying to stop understanding God and just be with God. But my concept of God did alter over the years. As a child, Jesus was God, an anthropomorphic God. In the later stages God was more of an all pervasive spirit that infused the natural world and gave it form and purpose.

 

But - here's a question - do you think animals experience love and wisdom in their own way? Do you limit the experience of love and wisdom to humans?

I suspect love and all that it entails is not unique among humans. Likewise, I suspect that all living things possess their intrinsic wisdom.

 

Do you see that because most Christians participate in anthropomorphising God, then the perception has become that ALL Christians anthropomorphise God?

Yes, I can see how that perception would arise. Perhaps if “spirit” was as close to the mouths of Christians as “Jesus” then that perception would be different. Or perhaps if they were as inclined to dissolve as to become angry then it would be different. When my father for instance reads passages of the Bible which contain words attributed to God, he is likely to do so with a pointed finger and an edge of vengeance. Clearly for him one of God’s favored emotions is anger.

 

You strike me as both intelligent and kind OM. I have the good pleasure of being friends with the daughter of my favorite biologist. I met her while looking for one of his books that was published posthumously. You remind me of her in many ways. I think if more Christians were like you then Christianity would be far more palatable.

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I get the sense that you’re saying Jesus had wisdom and he was therefore in alignment with the spirit or force which is God. And being in alignment or harmony with God he was, in some sense, indistinguishable from God.
Yes - I do view Jesus this way. Although I will add that I revere and - yes - worship him. Not in the sense of some anthropomorphic man/diety floating around in the heavens somewhere. Again - I connect with Jesus in a very real sense. I don't try to explain the why's . It's pointless in my mind. When people start trying to explain their deepest, subjective feelings and beliefs in finite and concrete terms they belittle the experience they are trying to convey. I accept that my experiences are subjective and real at the same time. To me, that is not a conflict - the fact that I can't say to another individual, "look - see what I see". It just simply is what it is.

 

I suspect that had you been an influence in my early years OM then I might have held on to my belief in Christianity a little longer. I’m not sure that I ever entertained the idea of trying to stop understanding God and just be with God. But my concept of God did alter over the years. As a child, Jesus was God, an anthropomorphic God. In the later stages God was more of an all pervasive spirit that infused the natural world and gave it form and purpose.
Actually, I think more Christians would connect with God as "all pervasive spirit that infused the natural world and gave it form and purpose" then most people realize. I don't think most mainstream Christians view God as a super-man like being sitting on a throne in heaven, nor do they see Jesus as someone floating around in the stratosphere. But, that doesn't stop Jesus from being God to them, either.

 

But - here's a question - do you think animals experience love and wisdom in their own way? Do you limit the experience of love and wisdom to humans?
I suspect love and all that it entails is not unique among humans. Likewise, I suspect that all living things possess their intrinsic wisdom.
Following the line of thought that love and wisdom are not confined to the human realm, I would say that Love and Wisdom are experienced rather than generated by the one expressing or receiving Love and Wisdom.

 

To me, love and wisdom are not locally generated by humans. Rather love and wisdom are within the core fabric of the universe and we participate in the experience of love and wisdom.

 

Do you see that because most Christians participate in anthropomorphising God, then the perception has become that ALL Christians anthropomorphise God?
Yes, I can see how that perception would arise. Perhaps if “spirit” was as close to the mouths of Christians as “Jesus” then that perception would be different. Or perhaps if they were as inclined to dissolve as to become angry then it would be different. When my father for instance reads passages of the Bible which contain words attributed to God, he is likely to do so with a pointed finger and an edge of vengeance. Clearly for him one of God’s favored emotions is anger.
Yes - too often this is the case. (Sigh)

 

You strike me as both intelligent and kind OM. I have the good pleasure of being friends with the daughter of my favorite biologist. I met her while looking for one of his books that was published posthumously. You remind me of her in many ways. I think if more Christians were like you then Christianity would be far more palatable.
Thank you L_R. I really mean that, thank you. I am blushing. :HappyCry:
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