Anyone who knows the Bible, who has either read it or merely heard about it, knows the Genesis story of creation’s claim that God created human beings in its own image. This belief is problematic for several reasons. For one, it is not an idea unique to the Abrahamic religious traditions, as most of the known religions throughout human history have held the belief that god/s created humanity, granted via different means, in their own images. One such example is that of a Greek creation myth (note: the Jews, and subsequently early Christians, were highly influenced by Greek culture), in which Zeus instructs his two sons, Prometheus and Epimetheus to create humans and animals; Prometheus took the task of creating humans, whom he made in the images of the gods. Moreover, the Genesis account is not original to itself, as it has much in common with many Near East creation myths, such as the Babylonian creation story of Enuma Elish. And, for two, God appears to be extremely flawed and bizarrely human.
It is this latter point that I find most problematic. What is interesting and disconcerting about most of the creation stories is not only fact that they all claim that humans were created in the image of God/s, but that the way in which our deities behave(d) is very much like how humans behave. From the gods of the Aztecs to the God of the Zoroastrians, humanity’s deities, while not always human in appearance, have been ascribed a wide range of human emotions. They have been prone to love, hate, wrath, jealousy, vengeance, sadness, regret, and everything in between.
For the sake of time I will not discuss every emotion in detail and will, because of geography, focus upon the Abrahamic God. Now, let us examine a few of the attributes of this deity.
It is not unreasonable to assume that the deity that created the universe (assuming that deity is real) has a capacity for some form of emotional connection to its creation; however, love is often an erratic, unreasonable, and irrational emotion. It might be more logical to insist that the deity of creation possess a capacity for compassion, such as empathy, which unlike love is more rational. I say this because love is difficult to define, it is an intense feeling that often defies any tangible reason for existing. How often are we asked, “Why do you love whom you love?,” and our response is, “I don’t know…” as we then proceed to list various attributes that we like about the person. Empathy, which is not wholly unlike love, is easier to explain.
We feel empathetic toward other people because suffering bothers us, it bothers us because human beings have an innate biological drive, like all living things, to preserve our species, and because we know suffering first hand. We all know the feeling of hunger, thirst, physical pain of injury, and the sadness of loss. Since we know how these things feel, and we desire to not feel them for ourselves, we are able to empathize with others who feel them and thus are driven to compassion. We can think through the suffering we witness and come to the conclusion that: since hunger is unpleasant and we need food to survive, therefore I should ensure that my fellow tribes-person/citizen/human (the concept of whom we help is evolving as society does, but that’s a discussion for another time) has food to eat. Empathy essentially results from observation, experience, and sound deductive reasoning.
If a deity, like the Abrahamic God did indeed create the universe, and is indeed all knowing, then it should stand to reason that that deity knows (even if it does not understand) our need for food, water, shelter, companionship, and knows, by observation, the negative affect the lack of such things will cause us. Therefore, when we lack those things and suffer as a result, said deity would feel empathetic toward its creation. However, even this requires one to assume that God, if real, is similar to humans in any way.
This one in particular has always been one of the most problematic of all of God’s ascribed attributes. Even more so than love, jealousy is completely illogical. While we cannot adequately define love, we do at least understand why humans feel it. Love drives us to form human bonds and connections that improve our overall quality of life and encourages us to protect our family/tribe/society from undue harm. But jealousy, which is often erroneously seen as a byproduct of love, is blind and serves no purposes to the preservation of one’s self or loved ones. Jealousy drives us to do terrible things to others. When we are jealous of another’s possessions, we steal them; even worse, when we are jealous that a lover is with someone else, we fly into a fit of jealous rage, sometimes resulting in murder.
According to the Abrahamic tradition, God is capable of such fits of jealousy. In the Genesis story of Noah, for example, God, who is angry that humanity is not worshiping it, floods the world. In fact, in Exodus 20:4-5, God is said to have described itself as being “a jealous God.” This supposed aspect of God’s “personality,” drives it to do some downright awful things throughout the Bible, including threatening to wipe humanity “from the face of the earth.”
Again, if we are to believe that a deity exists that is capable of creating the universe, an act which requires a capacity of logic that exceeds human capabilities, then how can we also believe that the exact same deity is capable of such irrationality as jealousy?
This is, in my opinion, the worst of all of God’s ascribe “personality” traits. Vengeance is a highly irrational response to having been wronged. According to the Bible, God exacts vengeance upon anyone and everyone who it feels has wronged it in some way. In fact, vengeance and retribution are common themes throughout the Bible; culminating in the ultimate act of vengeance, the destruction of the world and all who did not conform to the Bible’s idea of goodness, who will suffer eternal torment in hell, as this passage from Isaiah states. In Genesis God floods the world and destroys the sister cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, killing every man, woman, and child. In the book of Numbers, God kills a group of rebellious Israelites for daring to question God’s choice for the Jewish promised land. Even the New Testament teaches that the wrath of God will one day befall humanity, such as in this verse from the gospel of John and this one from the book of Revelations.
So the question remains, why does God have human emotions? Why love, jealousy, or vengeance? Why attribute something as irrational and inexplicable as human emotions to a deity that supposedly created everything? It should stand to reason that if a deity existed that was capable of creating the entire universe and everything therein, a universe governed by the laws of physics, then that deity possess a capacity for logic and reason that surpasses anything of which the human mind is capable of producing or even conceiving. Love, for example, is a human emotion; therefore, at its core it is a chemical reaction to physical human interaction. It does not stand to reason that a deity that lacks any physical form, as the Abrahamic God supposedly lacks, could be capable of such feelings.
The “personality” traits that are ascribed to the Abrahamic God by its followers have been ascribed to various other deities throughout human history. For example, the White Buffalo Woman of the Plains tribes of North America, was not only human in appearance, she was described as being nurturing and protective, like a mother. Likewise, the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks were ascribed a wide range of human emotional traits, with each one possessing certain ones in more abundance than others, for example: Zeus was wrathful, lusty, and, at times, compassionate; Athena was wise, brave, and highly protective of those faithful to her.
Upon examination of the human attributes associated with various deities worshiped by humans, there seems to be good reason to assume that humanity, in an effort to understand the universe and its possible, if highly improbable, deity/deities, projects its own self images onto other beings. Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud called this “psychological projection.” And it makes sense. Not only have groups of people, via religious doctrine and practice, created humanesque deities, individuals also create their own ideas about God based upon their personal experiences. For example, one who was raised by a harsh and an authoritarian father figure is more likely to view God as being a harsh and an authoritarian figure than someone who was raised by a more compassionate and libertarian father. Similarly, someone who may have been abandoned by their father is more likely to view God as being aloof or non-existent than someone with a strong father-child bond. Even our political ideologies influence our perceptions of God; someone who is politically conservative is more likely to view God as being pro-capitalist and anti-socialism (“God helps those who help themselves”), while someone who is liberal is more likely to view God as favoring a socially egalitarian society in which people’s needs come first.
Given the tendency of humans, across time and distance, to not only ascribe human characteristics to their deities, but to also make assumptions about God that are based upon their own personal beliefs and life experiences, it is far more likely that people create God in our own image, not the other way around.