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No, Seth Godin, Christians aren't asserting anthropomorphism but imago deism

No, Seth Godin, Christians aren't asserting anthropomorphism but imago deism

Seth Godin is a blogger, author, speaker and – to use a term with which I am not entirely comfortable – guru. People hang on his every word. So, what did Seth Godin say Tuesday?

We’ve been doing it for a long time.

“The Gods must be crazy.”

The easiest way for a human to deal with a complex system (an AI that plays Scrabble, the traffic, the weather) is to imagine that there’s a little man inside, someone a lot like us, pulling the levers, getting annoyed, becoming frustrated, seeking retribution or offering a prize.

If that works, keep doing it.

But it might be even more helpful to remember that there’s no homunculus, no narrative, no revenge. Merely a complex system, one we can understand a bit better if we test and measure and examine it closely.

Let’s look closely at Godin’s “Asserting Anthropomorphism” post. (emphasis added)

We’ve been doing it for a long time.

Who exactly are we and what exactly is it we’ve been doing? The we is intended to be comprehensive of everyone, over all cultures, over all time who does not (we find out later) see reality through the lens of scientism, where the universe is impersonal, devoid of the possibility of the supernatural – including God.

According to Godin, what we’ve been doing is asserting anthropomorphism.  It is not necessarily an anti-biblical word, but Godin certainly means it to be pejorative. Anthropomorphism is the projection of human characteristics onto God or gods. It is also one of the ways limited people have available to describe the attributes of One who is wholly other.

So, when the writers of the Bible describe God as snorting mad like a bull over egregious injustice – and they describe God’s nostrils as flaring – they are using an anthropomorphic literary tool. They are not saying God is a bull nor that God, who is Spirit, has an actual nose as we understand the term. However, God clearly has the ability to smell because God finds the aroma of some sacrifices more pleasing than others. We are like God in this way, not the other way around. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s continue to unpack Godin’s post.

“The Gods must be crazy.”

Interesting that Godin chooses to capitalize God and then suggest God is plural and yet assert the definitive nature of God through use of the only definite article available in the English language: the.  Seth Godin is a smart guy. He communicates, in writing, for a living. We can assume that everything he writes, he writes with intentionality for the purpose of communicating specific ideas and views. Godin writes with an economy of words. He has no throwaway words or punctuation. We can assume that the scare quotes, the definite article, the pluralization and the capitalization are all there for a reason.  

So, what might those reasons be? In capitalizing God, Godin captures theists in the wide net of those whose worldview he dismisses as anthropomorphism.  Those who believe in God, capital G, believe in a God with knowable specificity – not in a pantheon of gods. But when Godin makes the big G God plural, Godin equates those who believe in a God, One God (monotheists) with those who believe in gods of unknown number (polytheists, pantheists, etc). In one sentence, Godin finds a way to offend and dismiss the claims of all traditionally religious people at once.

Godin accomplishes something else in this vocalization of this imagined and projected internal voice. He asserts the authority of the individual over God.  It is the human being who here judges the judgement and character of God. Godin passes this off as anthropomorphism – asserting that the gods are crazy, just like us. But it is actually the most basic form of idolatry – that of the creature over the Creator.  It is an inversion and perversion of reality.

Godin continues:

The easiest way for a human to deal with a complex system (an AI that plays Scrabble, the traffic, the weather) is to imagine that there’s a little man inside, someone a lot like us, pulling the levers, getting annoyed, becoming frustrated, seeking retribution or offering a prize.

Let’s take this apart phrase by phrase.

Godin acknowledges the complexity of the system called life.  He also acknowledges the universal reality that people are trying to make sense of the world. From technology (AI that plays Scrabble), to relationships (traffic), to natural phenomena (weather), people are looking for an organizing, integrating principle.  However, Godin suggests that those who believe in an integrating reality that makes sense of otherwise disparate facts and experiences, is necessarily the product of the human imagination. He also says that’s the easy way out. 

Here Godin offers a straw man – little man inside, someone a lot like us, etc – in place of the substantial reality of the God who is, the God who speaks, the God who came, the One, holy God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, holy God.

The gods to whom Godin refers (pulling levers, getting annoyed, frustrated, seeking retribution or offering a prize) are not the true and living God. They are lesser gods of Greek mythology who continue to appear in superhero myths and animistic religions.  But with them, Godin dismisses God –

  • who is not pulling levers but made human beings like Himself in the full freedom of the will, with moral agency and creative ability – fully free to live under His sovereignty or in opposition to it;
  • who does not get annoyed but who does pour out righteous wrath against Sin – but does so upon His own Son, the Savior, Jesus the Christ;
  • who does not grow frustrated but continues to pursue human beings with grace upon grace;
  • who does not seek retribution but gives Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, in an act of restorative, redemptive self sacrifice; and
  • who does not offer a prize but does invite everyone into eternal fellowship with Himself, as His child, in His Kingdom, forevermore.

If the God of the Bible were an assertion of anthropomorphism as Godin suggests then wouldn’t God, as Godin states, be “someone a lot like us?”  Literally nothing could be further from the truth of reality. The God of the Bible is not like us – although we are like Him (imago dei).

Ask yourself: if we were to imagine a God in our own image would He be like the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible?  Yes and no. Yes, in that we are relational, moral, hopeful, justice-seeking, and loving. But the God of the Bible has an eternal perspective, an ever-redemptive pursuing and forgiving love, an abundance of grace, an deep reservoir of mercy, a global and intimately personal concern and He’s wholly perfect – holy.  In these ways, we are not substantively like Him. 

So, we deal with the complex system of life by accepting the reality revealed by the creator of the system, the giver and sustainer of life, who offers continual counsel by the indwelling presence of His own Holy Spirit.

To which Godin says:

If that works, keep doing it.

Wow. In very short course, Godin brushes aside every believer of every theistic faith with one dismissive sweep of the hand.  What then does he offer as an alternative? In a word: nihilism. Godin says:

But it might be even more helpful to remember that there’s no homunculus, no narrative, no revenge.

Look at the words he chooses: might be, more helpful, remember, and then a litany of that which (he says)are not. It’s a negative assertion, not a positive proposition of how to make sense of the word. He calls believers of every ilk nonsense but offers what instead of belief? Non belief. That’s not an answer, that’s a bottomless void. 

And as we look into the void, what would Seth Godin have us remember?

Memory and calling things to mind suggest we once knew them.  This gets us to a conversation about epistemology – how we know what we know. I might assert here that I know many things through revelation which Godin seems not to know. He can know them, but at present he is only open to receiving that which he can apprehend through rational sensory input. He’s missing much and yet feels obliged to dismiss what others remember – what we know to be true.  He asserts:

there’s no homunculus, no narrative, no revenge

By no homunulus he means there is no internal mini-me but he dismisses as well the possibility of the internal guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is then no godly moral compass, counselor in perplexity, companion in joy or suffering.  All there is, in Godin’s worldview, is the self. Alone. How and for whom is that more helpful?

He also asserts there is no narrative – by this he means no meta-narrative. No overarching story. No eternal struggle between so-called Good and so-called Evil. No echatological redemptive narrative (Christian, Jewish, Islamic worldview), no cyclical narrative (Eastern religious worldview) and no progressive narrative (Humanistic worldviews).  Where we’re headed is nowhere on no timeline with no hope-filled vision of the future. Again, how and for whom is that more helpful? 

Finally, Godin dismisses the hope of ultimate justice. When he says there is “no revenge” he may have in mind ideas about vengeful, capricious gods but here Godin also robs the oppressed of the hope of God making all things right even when so much is wrong here and now.  Again, how might this be, in Godin’s words, “more helpful”?

Godin concludes by describing his nihilistic understanding of cosmological reality as:

Merely a complex system, one we can understand a bit better if we test and measure and examine it closely.

Where is the hope in that? Godin’s rational exercise of testing, measuring and close examination offer no hope of comprehensive meaning but only “a bit better” understanding of what he acknowledges is “a complex system.”  How did the system of stars and universes and people and relationships and AI and traffic and weather come to be? Systems don’t just spontaneously emerge and organize themselves – especially with the kind of complexity and beauty we observe in the feather pattern of your average peacock.

Ultimately what Godin has to offer in his dismissal of God is nothing but simple rationalism.

How then might the Christian respond?

“Mr. Godin, as a Christian, I do not assert anthropomorphism, but I accept imago deism and the incarnation of God in human flesh as the climax of the redemptive narrative of all of history.”

When Godin easily dismisses ultimate truth by suggesting it is all a contrivance of the human imagination, we offer the possibility that our experience of the living God is authentic, real, substantial, tested, measured and closely examined.

One more thing, how do you respond to Godin’s assertion that accepting what the Bible says – and living accordingly – is easy? I wonder if he as has tested, measured and closely examined the truth claims and the way the Gospel makes sense of everything else.  

Far from Godin’s “little man inside, someone a lot like us, pulling the levers, getting annoyed, becoming frustrated, seeking retribution or offering a prize,” God is greater than any man’s imagining. He is not like us, but we are like Him – and more and more so every moment when we cooperate with His Holy Spirit with whom we are endowed.  By the Spirit’s work, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the God who made us and with whom we will live in redeemed relationship forevermore.

And yes, “we’ve been doing it a long time.” Actually, since the very beginning of time.

But the “it” we’ve doing is not anthropomorphism, it’s the reality of real life in the real presence of and in real relationship with the real and living God who is there and has spoken. Not idols of our own imaginings – internal or external – but the one true and living God.

One thing Godin gets right: each of us and all of us should test and measure and closely examine the claims of the Bible.  We should examine the reality of who God is, what God has communicated, and how then we must live in relationship to God, ourselves, others and the world in which He has sent us to live as expressions of the Gospel of His grace. That is the narrative Godin denies.

Where does Godin’s answer leave us? Nihilism. Nowhere. With no meaning. No future. No hope.  While he rightly dismisses anthropomorphism, he fails to accept the reality of God, in whose image we are made, in whose grace we are redeemed and to whose glory we live, now and forevermore.  

Oh, and yes, it helps. But more than that, its true Truth.

Originally posted at ReconnectWithCarmen.com.

Carmen LaBerge is president of Reformation Press, host of the "Connecting Faith with Carmen LaBerge" radio program, and author of Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation

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