What is God?

God According to Judaism

JudaismFor Jews, God is infinite and indivisible. He is considered to be the ultimate source of all things, both good and evil, and his true nature cannot be fully known or comprehended by mankind. He is incorporeal, and any anthropomorphized description of him is considered to be a poetic device used to explain his incomprehensible nature in simpler human terms.

A serious attempt to represent him in a physical form is forbidden by Judaism, which considers this act to be idolatry. Because of his multifaceted nature, the Judaic God is known by many names, but it is considered forbidden to speak his most important name, Yahweh, aloud. Therefore, the Judaic God is sometimes referred to as the Unutterable Name. Some Jews extend this practice to English translations as well, writing “G-d” instead of spelling out the whole word.

The Judaic God is omnipotent, omniscient and eternal. Because he is claimed to have created everything that exists, the Judaic God exists outside of the universe rather than as part of it. Importantly, the Jews do not characterize their God as all-loving or all-benevolent. Instead, they believe that he is both just and merciful, like a fair judge or king. They do, however, believe that God is aware of the thoughts and feelings of every person and genuinely cares about all of them.

For the Jewish people, God is not simply the God of Israel. He is the one and only deity and creator of the universe, which makes him the God of everyone on the planet regardless of whether they believe in or worship him. At the time of Judaism’s founding, these beliefs were quite unique: other religions at the time were polytheistic, and the idea of a single god was quite radical.

Judaism uses several sacred texts, many of which coincide with the books of the Christian Old Testament in the Bible. For Jews, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) make up “the law” and generally describe the rules a Jew should follow. These books are collectively referred to as the Torah. The scriptures in the Nevi’im and Ketuvim are predominately stories of history, prophecy or sacred poetry. Finally, the Talmud, or “oral Torah,” covers most of the same ground as the Torah but with the addition of rabbinical commentary.

Judaism at a Glance

  • God is the creator of the universe and all life.
  • God is personally invested in the lives of his followers.
  • God can develop personal relationships with individuals and communicate with them.
  • God is indivisible and cannot take physical form.
  • God is just and merciful but not necessarily all-loving.
  • Believers are rewarded for following the law of God.
  • Holy books are the Torah, the Nevi’im, the Ketuvim and the Talmud.

God According to Christianity

ChristianityHistorically, Christianity shares its roots with Judaism. In fact, Christianity could be considered to be a radical form of Judaism, although both Christians and Jews would likely chafe at the thought. Christian doctrine is written in the Bible, which is made up of the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is generally concurrent with the Jewish Torah and covers much of the same material. The New Testament describes the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ, who is the Christian messiah and supposed son of God.

By Christian doctrine, there is one God who exists outside of the physical universe and created everything. This is consistent with Judaism. Christians believe, however, that God is a trinity consisting of three aspects: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost. This directly conflicts with Judaism, which states that God is indivisible and cannot take human form.

The Christian portrayal of God also differs somewhat from the Jewish portrayal. Where Jews view God as a just and merciful judge, Christians believe in a God who is benevolent and loves all people. Individual depictions of God vary between Christian denominations, and some Christians reject the notion of the Trinity altogether. For example, some Christians may believe that the Holy Spirit is a living manifestation of God, while others believe that the term simply applies to the presence of God’s power.

The belief in Jesus is the primary factor setting Christianity apart from Judaism.

The term “Christian” refers directly to the following of Christ, and Christians believe that the messages delivered by Christ and written in the New Testament overshadow or supersede the holy laws followed by Jews. The death of Jesus is meant to be the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind. Therefore, instead of conforming to the laws laid out in the Torah, Christians need only to accept Jesus as their savior in order to be admitted into Heaven.

Globally, Christians account for the majority of religious people in the world. This is likely caused in part by the evangelical nature of Christianity, which differentiates it from other more insular religions. Whereas few people traditionally convert to Judaism from another religious background, Christianity accepts and encourages conversion.

Christianity at a Glance

  • God is all-powerful, omnipotent and benevolent.
  • God exists in three manifestations: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus Christ, the son of God, was sacrificed to compensate for the sins of mankind.
  • Believers are rewarded with eternal life in Heaven for accepting Jesus as their lord and savior.
  • Evangelism and proselytizing is encouraged.
  • Holy book is the Bible

God According to Islam

IslamMuslims believe in a single deity who is responsible for creating the universe and all life within it. Their god is known by several names, but the proper name for God is Allah, a word which has no plural and no gender. The name is meant to underline the most important aspect of the Islamic god, which is that he is both singular and unique. In this way, Islam greatly resembles the other major monotheistic religions of Christianity and Judaism.

In fact, it’s commonly accepted that Allah is the same deity as the Abrahamic god described in the Bible. However, Islam breaks away from its monotheistic fellows in its choice of religious texts. The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam, and it supplants all other texts. While Muslims may accept the notion of Jesus Christ as a prophet, for example, it rejects the concept of Christ’s divinity.

It also rejects the laws outlined in the Torah in favor of the messages in the Qur’an itself. According to Islam, the Qur’an is the literal word of God as transmitted directly to the prophet Muhammad. Any other religious texts may be incomplete or include errors, but Muslims are devout in their belief that the Qur’an is error-free. They also believe that everything a believer needs to know to lead a moral and righteous life is included in its pages.

Allah himself is described in various ways throughout the Qur’an. Aside from his proper name, Allah is known by 99 other “names,” which are mostly descriptive titles such as “The Exceedingly Merciful” or “The All-Knowing.” These titles variously work to describe the attributes commonly believed to be held by God: omniscience, omnipotence, mercy and wisdom.

As with Judaism and Christianity, Islam states that God created the world and is personally involved in the affairs of the humans who populate it. Allah is not, however, a purely kind and compassionate god. He is a deity who demands and rewards obedience while punishing wrongdoers.

Islam at a Glance

  • God is singular, unique and indivisible.
  • God has many names, each of which refer to a specific quality, but his proper name is Allah, and this word refers only to him.
  • Allah is all-knowing, all-powerful and personally involved in the affairs of humans.
  • Believers are rewarded for behavior that follows the rules laid out in the Qur’an and punished for wrongdoings.
  • Holy book is the Qur’an, which is said to be the literal word of Allah as transmitted to the prophet Muhammad.

God According to Hinduism

HinduismHinduism is the third most popular religion in the world, owing in no small part to the massive population of its home country of India. It’s considered one of the oldest religions in the world, with roots that predate the written word.

In fact, the term “Hindu” is relatively new and was applied post facto by British invaders. A preferred term among practitioners is “sanatana dharma,” or “the eternal balance/way/path.” Beliefs and practices can vary tremendously between believers, and some could argue that Hinduism is not a religion so much as a lifestyle.

Unlike the other major world religions previously discussed, Hinduism is not strictly monotheistic. Instead, Hindus worship a variety of individual deities who are all considered to be different manifestations of a single god. In this way, the semi-polytheistic tendencies of Hinduism most closely resemble the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity: one supreme being with multiple forms. Unlike Christians, however, Hindus believe in far more than three expressions of God.

In Hindu belief, God can exist as raw energy, an indwelling spirit or soul or as a personal and knowable individual form. Among these personal, knowable forms of God are the many gods and goddesses that populate Hindu mythology. It’s interesting to note that many of these deity descriptions are very similar to gods and goddesses that existed in pagan pantheons, including ancient Greece and Persia.

When compared to other modern religions, Hinduism is much more fluid and open to interpretations. Hindus believe that God is limitless and can be perceived in an infinite number of ways. In other words, there really is no “right” or “wrong” perception of God in Hindu; believers can have a private and individual relationship with God in any way they see fit. For example, an individual may choose to worship only a specific manifestation of God, such as Ganesh, or he might approach God in purely abstract terms.

Despite the massive variation in beliefs between Hindu people, a handful of core religious principles remain consistent among all Hindus: belief in reincarnation, belief in the soul’s ability to merge with God and practice of a balanced and ethically virtuous life. These beliefs coincide with many of the philosophies of Buddhism, a non-theistic religion popular throughout Asia, and indeed, both religions share common roots. There is no single holy book in Hinduism, but there are a number of documents that are believed to contain spiritual truths and religious importance. Among these are the Vedas, Puranas and Gita.

Hinduism at a Glance

  • One of the oldest religions and with unknown origins.
  • There is one God, but that deity can be understood in countless ways, including physical manifestations or philosophical concepts.
  • Each individual believer can decide how to worship God.
  • Worshipers believe in reincarnation, and the ultimate goal of worship is to unite the soul with God.
  • There are many holy documents but no single guiding scripture.

God According to Deism

DeismDeism is not an organized religion. Instead, it’s a philosophical approach to belief in God. Deism has existed for centuries, with ancient Greek philosophers like Plato being adherents to deistic beliefs. Deism has ebbed and waned in popularity since then, with many of America’s founding fathers subscribing to deistic beliefs as well.

According to Deism, God created the universe and established all of the natural laws that now govern its maintenance. In this view, God is an impersonal force that is ultimately responsible for everything that happens but has no personal engagement in the lives of individuals. This allows Deists to reconcile their belief in God with science.

Deism is considered a “natural” religion rather than a “revealed” religion like Christianity or Islam. This means that believers look toward God as a force of the universe rather than as an individual with consciousness who can be revealed to man.

Deism at a Glance

  • God created the universe and established its natural laws.
  • God is impersonal and not involved in the affairs of people.
  • Deism is not an organized religion but instead a general philosophy of belief.
  • There are no core religious texts or scriptures associated with Deism.

God According to Atheism

AtheismAtheism is not a religion. It is defined by a lack of belief in any deity. Atheists say that there is no evidence for the existence of a deity such as that described in any of the major religions and believe that such exorbitant claims as those made by religion demand similarly impressive proof. In the absence of that proof, there is no reason for belief.

“I am an atheist because there is no evidence for the existence of God. That should be all that needs to be said about it; no evidence, no belief.” – Dan Barker

Atheists can generally be classified in one of two ways: “strong” atheists, who believe that God does not exist, and “weak” atheists, who do not believe that God exists but don’t go as far as claiming certainty about God’s nonexistence. The latter are also sometimes referred to as agnostic atheists. Most atheists fall into this category and would consider changing their views if presented with compelling evidence. Since no such evidence has yet come to light, however, most agnostics can be fairly comfortable in their atheism.

For more information about atheism see:

Atheism at a Glance

  • Atheists believe in no gods or deities.
  • Many atheists look toward scientific explanation for natural phenomena.
  • “Strong” atheists believe that there is no God; “weak” atheists firmly believe that there is no evidence proving the existence of a deity.
  • Atheism is not a religion and has no other unifying system of beliefs.
  • Atheists hold no holy books or scriptures to be true and view all holy books as collections of myths or works of fiction.

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