The God I Believe In


To Be Presented on September 5, 2004

9:00 AM Sunday at the

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

By William S Jamison

The following are the notes I collected for this presentation:

I would like to argue that the smartest people should believe in God. Further, that by yielding belief in God to people who know less, they are being delinquent in their duty to the community. Even if what we define by God is of our own choosing, which I would dispute, the word “God” has traditionally stood for the highest value, our ultimate concern, our greatest good, our absolute truth. If the smartest people in a community abandon belief in God, they are abandoning their obligation to stand for what they think is our highest value, our ultimate concern, our greatest good, and our absolute truth. They are abandoning these things to those who know less and will not do as good a job teaching these things to others.

Videos shown to contrast different divine imagery included:

The Two Towers (scene 15 The White Rider) Gandalf is contrasted with Jesus in The Passion of the Christ (scene 29). A final contrast is made with scene 33 from The Life of Brian.

Most of the following notes never made it into the continuing discussion!

Many of us do not think that what people worship is God, but instead conclude that worship is an art or performance much like theater was for the Ancient Greeks. By participating, worshipers experience catharsis. William James describes religious practice as an experience that is psychologically therapeutic. The socially stabilizing effects are detailed in sociological studies. Using the movies as a comparison, we enjoy going for the entertainment, though it is also profitable to those whose art in movie making is what it is, not for arts sake alone or the beneficial effects, if any, it has on the viewers. They make millions in their competition for our business, all of which is very clearly applicable to religious institutions as well.


So to describe the God I believe in, in a society where the concept of God is very much conflated with the word “God” – or, in other words, to say that our word “God” has no object that is God, makes it seem impossible for there to be an object of my belief. After all, aren’t I just in love with my own use of the word “God”?


Don’t I just argue with others over what the word means because, following Nietzsche, I desire the power of having my ideas become their ideas? In this view, contestants over what the word “God” should mean are in nothing more than a political battle over whose point of view has most market appeal. So it is no surprise that in a free market like the US sharp competition for markets has resulted in a supermarket of choices for everyone’s taste, even as our Fellowship appeals to us more than other choices in town, and America is considered by some to be the most religious country in the world.

            In this sense, the person who believes in God, is a sucker falling under the power of a word Meister, or word smith.


I find it interesting by comparison how “When a primate vocalizes, listeners are provided with a range of potential acoustic information about the signaller's body size, reproductive status, individual identity, kinship and group membership.” ( Further, what are called “Copulation calls” “are produced immediately before, immediately after, or during copulation and can serve as auditory indicators of reproductive status.”

“The sound of dominance. Male primates can expend a considerable amount of time and energy in elaborate displays that involve repeated vocalizations. These displays generally serve two functions: to intimidate rivals and to attract mates. The acoustic structure and number of vocalizations can allow listeners to assess the health of the vocalizer. Like copulation calls, if the production of such vocalizations is more costly or difficult for individuals in poor condition than for those in good condition, they provide listeners with accurate information about the vocalizers' relative competitive abilities. Primates can use this information for mate selection (as discussed above for copulation calls) and to choose rival males that are worth fighting. Primates (especially males) spend much of their time vying for status in a dominance hierarchy. To limit the cost of potential competitions, males must accurately assess whether a physical confrontation is likely to have a favourable outcome; that is, whether they can win. As such, honest acoustic cues about another individual's size and status might help males to determine whom to fight and when.

Auditory cues might be even more important during contests between males from different groups, as these encounters typically require males to assess the probability of beating rivals without being able to see them.


Vocal exchanges and social structure. Primates in general seem to have an excellent ability to identify individuals on the basis of voice alone. Can they also understand the relationships between individuals on the basis of a vocal exchange, as they do in the visual domain.


There is also evidence that some species use auditory information alone to determine which individuals belong to different social groups.”


I thought the name “Copulation Call” uniquely appropriate to the use some preachers make of the word “God”.


But there is a fallacy (argumentium ad ignorantiam)  in thinking that not being able to know the object of belief means the object does not exist.  Even if existence is not viewed as a predicate and is merely equivalent to “is” or “equals” it is easy to say “God = God” and this is a necessary truth. A=A. further, if God = “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” and existence is viewed as a predicate then God exists. This does not demonstrate any other predicates are also applicable to God, so given that “God exists” is a necessary truth, -- so what? Tautologies may be great for political campaigns, but there is no information in them. They are necessarily true. Only a statement that can be either true or false is worth investigating to see whether it is true, or false.


So, if by “God exists” I only believe that my concept of God is a tautology, all that I have accomplished with it, is to bug people that don’t know precisely how little I mean by it.


So what other predicates would I want to apply to the word “God”?


(Pascal Boyer – rules on the word God.)


God as Self-conscious. Hegel


What would you want God to be like? Or like Freud, would you want God not to exist?


Believing that there is no object to our belief results in a tremendous failure in practice since it is not religious. (Religious as belief in God.) If there is no belief there is no success in communication with God. Masturbation might be fun for the performer but it is a silly recourse by comparison to intercourse with another. So does religious practice seem empty, a mere mental masturbation if there is no intercourse with another loving consciousness.


No wonder for so many the aversion to religious practice, say even participation in our 10:45 service vice our clearly not religious practice at 9:00. Those who came to feel God cheated them by not being really there are angry – not with God – but with themselves for being a patsy, and for those who, on purpose or not, made them a patsy. Maybe if there is a residual sense of God there is anger at God too, for God not being God.


So what God do I believe in since I refuse to give up hope that there are some useful predicates that can be attributed to God and that God exists?


This requires me to establish what is so great about God.


First, I want God to be a consciousness that I can talk to. Even more important, I want God to be self-conscious, as I think of myself. If there is one thing about myself I most want to protect and maintain it is my self-consciousness. So for me a great God would have to be self-conscious. I have to be able to communicate with God.


Second, just as I love to discourse with people I love more than with those I do not, God and I must have some likes and dislikes in common. These can’t be too much a like, since God must have at least the characteristics of those people I most admire and this means I have to have much to learn from God.

Some other resources:


PRIMATE BRAINS IN THE WILD: THE SENSORY BASES FOR SOCIAL INTERACTIONS Asif A. Ghazanfar & Laurie R. Santos Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5, 603-616 (2004)


The comic is always based on an experienced contradiction or incongruity. Christianity is blessed with many such incongruities: God in time, joy amid suffering, sin forgiven. Hence Christianity is the most humorous of all forms of religion (JP 2:252-53 [1682]; JP 2:255 [1689]). SK

What Kierkegaard means by the aesthetic is very close to what Augustine meant by the natural human condition and what Luther meant by natural man prior to the law. The three stages which Augustine described as human existence under nature, under law, and under grace, Luther delineated as natural, legal, and evangelical existence. Kierkegaard is appropriating this familiar sequence in his description of aesthetic, ethical, and religious existence.

Entering a church can be a significant experience: Amelie – death of mother.

The below is from:

Charles S. Chihara, A Structuralist Account of Mathematics, Oxford University Press, 2004, 320pp, $70.00 (hbk), ISBN 0199267537.

Reviewed by:

Colin McLarty
Case Western Reserve University

“Others would argue that if existence in mathematics means consistency, and set theory really is consistent, then sets really exist. See for example [2] and Chihara’s discussion of it. Richard Dedekind took consistency as the only limit on our ability to posit real existence in mathematics when he wrote: “We are of a god-like race and beyond any doubt have the power to create not only material things (railroads, telegraphs) but most especially things of the mind’‘ [9, vol. 3, p. 489].”


Subject: Strauss


Moses Maimonides GtoP

via Strauss in article "Strauss argued that the Guide contained a secret teaching, a metaphysics contrary in some respects to the literal teachings of the Bible, that must be concealed from the masses, who would be unable to comprehend why God, for example, must necessarily be devoid of attributes."


p. 68 in Harper's Magazine/ June 2004 Earl Shorris


“(The lengthy third chapter, on the mechanisms underlying our capacities both to attribute mental states to other people and to interpret and predict their behavior, forms the core of the book. It is an outstanding achievement. The model is an eclectic one, involving both simulation-like components and information-rich components (both theory-like and modular). There are various postulated mechanisms for detecting the perceptual states of other people, for detecting the desires of other people, and for detecting the beliefs of other people where they differ from one’s own. The Possible Worlds Box is utilized to) (I) construct a representation of the world as seen by the other, and then the subject’s own inferential mechanisms and planning mechanisms are utilized to figure out what else the target might believe, or to work out what he might do. And the whole process is orchestrated by a system called the ’Mind-reading coordinator’, which manages the interactions of the various different components. While most of the basic components are held to be innate, there remains, on the authors’ account, much work left for learning to do in the course of development.”

Nichols, Shaun and Stich, Stephen, Mindreading: an integrated account of pretence, self-awareness, and understanding of other minds, Oxford University Press, 2003, 237 pp., $24.95 (pbk), ISBN 0198236107.

Reviewed by:

Peter Carruthers
University of Maryland


“The story of Egypt might have been invented to point the moral that man does not necessarily begin with despotism because he is barbarous, but very often finds his way to despotism because he is civilised. He finds it because he is experienced; or, what is often much the same thing, because he is exhausted.”


“There is an amusing parallel example in the case of what is called feminism. In spite of all the pseudo-scientific gossip about marriage by capture and the cave-man beating the cave-woman with a club, it may be noted that as soon as feminism became a fashionable cry, it was insisted that human civilisation in its first stage had been a matriarchy. Apparently it was the cave-woman who carried the club.”


“A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.”


GKC Everlasting Man

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