What does it Mean to Believe in God?

Do you believe in god? What does that mean, really?

I was asked a question at a recent presentation, and the point of the question was that references to god may offend some people. I had been under the impression that my habit of not referring to god might offend people (although, truthfully, there is never anything to be offended about). So, when I refer to the energy of the Universe, the life force, the creator, the absolute, source of all creativity, I often also add: “or god, if you like.”

But some people do not believe in god. They are called atheists, but I don’t really know much about what they believe. I assume they believe we are just here, and there is no creator in charge.

There are many other people who believe in a god. The major monotheistic religions believe there is one god. Many religions believe there are many gods. Presumably the one god or even the many gods are believed to be distinct entities.

In the christian religions, god is a father, but with two other parts, a son and a holy spirit. This god, and the god of the old testament, seems to have a personality; he gets angry and turns some people into pillars of salt if they don’t obey him. If people do not obey the laws he purportedly gave them, then they can be separated from him forever. But he does love us very much and forgives our sins, and sent his son to save us.

There are many other beliefs people have, including agnostics, who believe that the ultimate life force is unknowable by man. I suppose this is distinct from believing that god is just like a grandfather.

The answer I gave at the presentation was something like this:

I think the question, do you believe in god? is very suspect. It begs the question, how do you define god. If god is a humanoid personality that has emotions, needs to be worshipped, and picks some groups of people over others as favorites, then I think the atheists have a point.

But, I said, how can anyone deny that there is life. There is a life force. It is in all of us. To paraphrase Descarte, “I am, therefore there is.” We know there is an energy of some sort. To deny that energy is to deny one’s own existence. If some people want to call that energy god, that makes sense. I choose to use a more neutral term, Universe, because it does not proclaim any unprovable features or characteristics about god. It simply proclaims there is a life force that is the essence of us all and of everything there is. It does not shirk from announcing, “I don’t know what it is.” It allows me to state unequivocally, “It is the ultimate, it is love and peace.”