This page includes quotations and comments (mostly positive) about belief in God. I will sometimes discuss these quotes in more detail in my blog, Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground. I’ll add new quotes occasionally. I am also collecting quotes about atheism and agnosticism, which challenge belief in God. These will be posted on other pages.
Several of the following passages are from Bridging the God Gap: Finding Common Ground Among Believers, Atheists and Agnostics. Most of these quotes deal with unusual concepts of God, but I’m also open to adding statements in favor of mainstream Abrahamic ideas of deity. (By Abrahamic religion I mean Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.) If you’d like to submit such a statement (up to 100 words), please include the author you are quoting, the source, and the page number. Thanks.
Is God a person?
Stephen Prothero has written a helpful book called, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — And Why Their Differences Matter. In several of these religions there is a long-running discussion (or even conflict) about whether we should think of God personally or impersonally. For example, at one time many Hindu teachers maintained that deity is impersonal. But this “philosophical Hinduism was functionally atheistic; while the gods existed, they were largely irrelevant to the task at hand. [Liberation] was something you achieved by yourself, not something handed to you from on high.” (P. 152) Today Hinduism emphasizes bhakti yoga, meaning loving devotion to one or more gods. For Hindus, “The notion that God is impersonal and ineffable is now confined to the rare philosopher.” (P. 153)
The influential Twentieth Century theologian Paul Tillich thought of God in impersonal terms. He wanted to go beyond the idea that God is a being alongside other beings, so he used phrases such as being-itself, ground of being, and ultimate concern. Even so, he realized that these non-personal terms lack emotional punch. Thus, according to Stanford University Chaplain Scotty McLennan, Tillich realized that “a neutral, objectifying term like ‘It’ for God cannot grasp the center of our personality as human beings. Although ‘It’ might be intellectually correct, the word doesn’t include the fullness of faith as a response of one’s whole personality: ‘[I]t cannot overcome our loneliness, anxiety, and despair,’ and ‘this is the reason that the symbol of the personal God is indispensable for living religion.’” (Scotty McLennan, Jesus Was a Liberal, p. 59)
Existence, and Beyond Existence
Tillich also stated that God does not exist. That may sound shocking, coming from a Christian theologian, but people talk about existence in several different ways. Some writers say that God is beyond all human concepts of existence or non-existence. In fact, Karen Armstrong makes the controversial claim that “Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians have insisted for centuries that God does not exist and that there is ‘nothing’ out there . . . .” (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God, p. xvi)
It could be that Tillich thought of deity as a deeper and more mysterious sort of reality than anything else we know. Perhaps God, while not existing as we understand existence, is more real than things such as rocks and people. Thus Mark Johnston maintains that Tillich’s Ground of Being has been misinterpreted “as fabulously abstract rather than the most concrete aspect of things . . .” (Saving God, p. 98).
On the other hand, Richard Dawkins criticizes theologians who “say something like this: ‘Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. . . . It doesn’t matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me.’”
“Well, if that’s what floats your canoe, you’ll be paddling it up a very lonely creek,” Dawkins continues. Most believers say God truly exists, “just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists.” (Richard Dawkins, quoted by Albert Mohler, http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/09/14/a-tale-of-two-atheists/)
Dawkins is evidently referring to Karen Armstrong, among others, and his comments might also apply to Tillich. But I’ve read a lot of Tillich and quite a bit of Armstrong, and I’m still not sure what either of them means by “existence.”
Some who think of God impersonally see God as part of nature. For example, William Murry mentions those who think of deity as “. . . the driving force of the natural world . . . the universal self in each person . . . the power for good in the world . . . ‘the spirit’ . . . the spirit of love” “or simply as mystery.” (Reason and Reverence, pp. 8-9, xvii)
Richard Dawkins mentions the idea that God is “the ultimate” or “our better nature” or even the whole universe. (The God Delusion, pp. 12-13) (He does not favor defining God in this way.) And Daniel Dennett has commented that “god” could be used as a name for human goodness. “It’s super, and it’s natural. It’s just not supernatural.” (Daniel Dennett, Part Thirteen of a debate about God between Dinesh D’Souza and Daniel Dennett, on YouTube)
God as a Symbol
One may also think of God as purely symbolic, as a concept rather than as something that may or may not be “real.” That may sound rather intellectual and abstract, but for some people this conceptual deity is extremely important. For example, Anthony Freeman views God as “the sum of all my values and ideals in life.” (God in Us, p. 19) And Don Cupitt writes that God is “the mythical embodiment of all that one is concerned with in the spiritual life. He is the religious demand and ideal, the pearl of great price and the enshriner of values. He is needed – but as a myth.” (Taking Leave of God, p. 166)
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