Conceptions of God: FeserPosted: October 2, 2014
“Many secularists seem hell-bent (if you’ll pardon the expression) on pretending that religious people in general believe in a God so anthropomorphic that only a child or the most ignorant peasant could take the question of His existence seriously even for a moment.” [SNIP] ” To understand what serious religious thinkers do believe, we might usefully distinguish five gradations in one’s conception of God.
1) God is literally an old man white a white beard, a kind if stern wizard-like being with very human thoughts and motivations who lives in a place called Heaven, which is like the places we know except for being very far away and impossible to get to except through magical means.
2) God doesn’t really have a bodily form, and his thoughts and motivations are in many respects very different from ours. He is an immaterial object or substance which has existed forever, and (perhaps) pervades all space. Still, he is, somehow, a person like we are, only vastly more intelligent, powerful, and virtuous, and in particular without our physical and morel limitations. He made the world the way a carpenter builds a house, as an independent object that would carry on even if he were to “go away” from it, but he nevertheless may decide to intervene in its operations from time to time.
3) God is not an object or substance alongside other objects or substances in the world; rather, He is pure being or existence itself, utterly distinct from the world of time, space, and things, underlying and maintaining them in being at every moment, and part from whose ongoing conserving action they would be instantly annihilated. The world is not an independent object tin the sense of something that might carry on if God were to “go away”; it is more like the music produced by a musician, which exits only when he plays and vanishes the moment he stops. None of the concepts we apply to things in the world, in clouding to ourselves, apply to God in anything but the analogous sense. Hence, for example, we may say that God is “personal” insofar as He is not less than a person, the way an animal is less than a person. But God is not literally “a person” in the sense of being one individual thing among others who reasons, chooses, has moral obligations, etc. Such concepts make no sense when literally applied to God.
4) God as understood by someone who has had a mystical experience of the sort Aquinas had.
5) God as Aquinas knows Him now, i.e. as known in the beatific vision attained by the blessed after death.”
“Obviously, each grade represents an advance in sophistication over the previous one. Grade 1 represents a child’s conception of God, and perhaps that of some uneducated adults. Grade 2 represents the conception of some educated religious believers, of popular apologetics, and of arguments like Paley’s “Design argument”. Grade 3 is the conception of classical philosophical theology: of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and other such thinkers. Grades 4 and 5 are attainable only if granted supernaturally by God.”
pg 87-88 from The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. St Augustine’s Press, Indiana, 2008 by Edward Feser.