UCTAA churchlight

Site Search via Google

Discussion 1 to Meditation 671
Can we agree on a definition of God for discussion?

To add to this discussion (or any other,) please use the Contact form.

The question that could arise out of Meditation 671 is whether it is possible for those of differing religious beliefs to discuss God. If agreement is not possible on a definition of a god, then how is discussion possible?

Suppose I were to discuss Zeus with a Christian. I think that we would have little trouble with the definition in the Encarta dictionary (1999, St Martins Press)

Zeus: In Greek mythology, the god of the sky, ruler of the Olympian gods, and spiritual father of gods and mortals.

No problem. That definition does not disturb any of our default assumptions about Zeus.

But suppose another person entered the discussion, someone who chose to actually believe in the ancient Greek pantheon. (Yes, such people do exist, rare as they may be.) She will reject the definition. For her, Zeus is not part of mythology, but a real element of her religion. A definition of Zeus as mythological defines her gods into non-existence. Quite rightly she would object.

I would think it quite reasonable in discussing Zeus with this person to drop the reference to mythology, and go with Webster's (1979, William Collins):

Zeus: The supreme deity of the ancient Greeks, son of Chronus and Rhea and husband of Hera.

Or the two definitions could be combined, just dropping the reference to mythology. This change does not stop me from considering Zeus mythological, not require me to accept the reality of Zeus. It imposes nothing about the truth of Zeus's existence on either side.

So how do we discuss god with a Christian? How is the Christian god defined?

Most major Christian denominations accept the Nicene Creed. So if a Christian wants to talk about his god, then clarify it with him. "Are you talking about God as described in the Nicene Creed?"[1]

If that's the case, then I think issues can be discussed fairly. It covers the major elements of the Christian deity, and it describes their god, not as what God is, but as what Christians believe God to be. (It opens with "we believe," the "we" referring to those who accept the creed.) And as this god is now defined as a matter of belief, the definition forces nothing on those who do not believe.

These issues can be discussed. It is just a matter of not imposing an unacceptable precondition to the discussion.


  1. Nicene Creed

    We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

    And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.