I found a new God! Based on some recent stats from Pew Research, I’m not alone. In fact, a new god is a pretty common thing these days.
Now, before I go into any more details, I should define what I mean by god.
We All Believe in Some Form of God
I use the term god rather loosely, so loosely in fact that, according to my definition, we all have at least one god. With that in mind, I define god as whatever bestows identity and purpose. Using that definition, let me offer three historic examples of radically different gods.
First, let’s go to ancient Greece where Zeus was the supreme god. This vision of god fits with how most people throughout history understand God. It involves a three-tiered universe where the deity is above in the heavens, people are here on earth, and then there is Hades, hell, or some other place of punishment. In this model, you don’t have much of an identity beyond existing for the pleasure of the gods, and your purpose is to please them enough that they don’t send you to hell. Thus humanity seeking to avoid Zeus’ lightning bolt.
As Greek culture developed, so did the culture’s concept of god. Around 600 years BCE, the philosopher Heraclitus taught about the Logos, a misunderstood entity that stood behind and beyond creation. This conception of god was far more mysterious. It is the logic behind an argument. The ground of being. The source behind all that is. Therefore, identity is found in unity with all things and purpose comes from living well in creation. In the Gospel According to John, the idea of the Logos becomes flesh in the person of Jesus.
Finally, let’s move forward 2,200 years to the French philosopher Rene Descartes. Descartes lived in an age of extreme doubt, so much so, that he questioned the validity and existence of everything he knew. His goal, to discern what he could actually know. Ultimately, he concluded his doubt served as evidence of his cognitive capabilities. This realization birthed his maxim, “I think therefore I am.” It was a history changing conclusion that launched the age of logic, reason, and the autonomous individual. Functionally, Descartes rationality served as god. His ability to think defined his identity. From that point forward, his purpose was to use his mental capabilities to expand his understanding of the world around him.
As you can see, with my definition, I’m pretty sure even the most ardent atheist could identify something as god … even if they would never describe it as such.
Americans Are Finding New Gods
As I said above, throughout history, the dominant conception of god is something along the lines of Zeus. While I’ve argued before that the God of the Bible defies common conceptions starting with the Genesis creation mythology, this doesn’t mean that Christians have often tried to force God into a Zeus-like role.
However, as more and more Americans reject the notion of heaven above and hell below, what many Christians sell as the God of the Bible is also falling out of vogue. People, especially younger people, are finding new gods.
Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of the US population with no religious affiliation grew from 16% to 23%. 35% of Millennials and about 50% of my home city of Denver are unaffiliated.
What’s even more striking, is that according to a 2016 Pew Research article, 78% of None’s grew up in a religious setting. In other words, 78% of people with no current religious affiliation left their parents’ deity and found themselves a new god.
I am far from alone.
A New God I Don’t Fear
In my prior post titled Hating God, I identified three different ways I’ve hated God. The first one was hating God through fear.
The god I confessed growing up was akin to Zeus. Distant, powerful, and angry. But seven years ago, I found myself in the midst of what, at the time, seemed like a theological crisis.
In the years since I’ve questioned everything I once assumed true. I’ve pressed into the Bible like never before. I blew up my epistemology and deconstructed my world. In this process, I encountered a new God.
This God is more like the Logos of Heraclitus as proclaimed by the Gospel According to John. Jesus is the Logos enfleshed. When I wonder what God is like, I look to Jesus. What I see in Jesus, is a God who loves and draws close in love. When I want to know what it’s like to be fully human, I look to Jesus. What I see in Jesus, is a vision of humanity that loves and draws close to others in love.
Consequentially, my identity begins and ends with the basic fact that despite what the bullies in my life and my church’s confession once declared, I am loved by the source of all things. Made in the divine image I have worth, and beauty, and significance. This is not a God to fear, this is a God who loves.
My purpose flows from this reality. I am here to reflect this divine love into the world.
Be loved. Be love. That’s who my new God invites me to be.