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Sunday, 22 July 2007

What 'gods' do we worship?

On my waythrough Nicholas Lash's series of lectures "Holiness, Speech and Silence: Reflections on the Question of God" I kept coming across passages that were provocative and challenging for both those who would call themselves Christians and those who don't.

"Incidentally, if 'gods'are now beings of a particular kind, then christians, Jews, Muslims and athiestsall have this, at least, in common: that none of them believe in gods. (p.10)"

Lash explains:

"For most of our history, then, 'gods' were what people worshipped. I do not mean that people worshipped things called 'gods'; I mean that the word 'god' simply signified whatever it is that someone worships. In other words, the word 'god' worked rather like the way in which the word 'treasure' still does. A treasure is what someone treasures, what someone highly values. And I can only find out what you value by asking you and by observing your behaviour. ... The point is that there is no class of objects known as 'treasures'. ... Valuing is a relationship: treasures are what we value.

Similarly, 'gods' are what people worship, have their hearts ultimately set on. I can only find out what you worship, what your gods are, by asking you and observing your behaviour. And these days it is almost certain that the gods you worship will not be named by you as gods. Most of us are polytheists, inconsistently and confusingly worshipping ourselves, our country, 'freedom', sex or money. There is no class of objects known as 'gods'. Worshipping is a relationship: gods are what we worship." (p.10)

'...those who write so carelessly about other people's 'gods' simply take for granted that the work 'god' names a natural kind, a class of entity. There are bananas, traffic lights, human beings and gods. Or perhpas not: on this account of how the word 'god' works, 'theists' are people who supples the class of gods to have at least one member; 'montheists' are those who maintain that the class has one, and only one, member; and 'atheists' are those who think that, in the real world the class of 'gods' is, like the class of 'unicorns', empty." (p.12)

Each religious tradition is then a school in which we can undergo the learning process of how to speak appropriately and how to worship appropriately, non-idolatrously, in relation to whatever it is that we regard as the mystery of life and the universe.
(Even that is to phrase the matter in a way that would not be agreed on by all traditions)

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