THE SUPREME BEING IS PERFECT
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
god is not Great—How Religion Poisons Everything (sic), the title of Christopher Hitchen’s book, seems to admit, first of all, that God does exist, but suggests that the word should not be capitalized because “great” means “extremely large” or “big,” an attribute of the deity Hitchens denies at book-length. Now it might be said that this is merely a matter of semantics; but semantics is the study of meanings, and meanings mean everything to us.
Hitchens preferred not to be called an atheist or someone who denies the existence of God, but wanted to be identified as an antitheist, meaning that he was opposed to the one-god confessed by faithful monotheists, identified and dignified by a capitalized word, ‘God.’ Naturally, to oppose something is to admit its existence, at least for the sake of opposition, whether that existence is natural or supernatural, “real” or imaginary.
However, to be fair to the author, we must say that he opposes the meanness of the religions themselves rather than their gods. We use the plural form here even though the same proper noun, ‘God’, is used for a deity. We assume that, if the form of worship differs according to differences in dogmas that define the differences among churches, then the gods differ as well. When gods were idolized in the form of statues in ancient times, a god by the same name differed politically, according to its location in different warring cities; several cities fighting with one another invoked the same name for one of their gods, and a conquering city wound up with several statues, for example, of Pallas Athena, as trophies of their conquests.
Now the gods themselves may appear to be mean, or not very great at all, whenever they lose battles or engage in hateful or immoral practices. Yet let us allow that the gods invoked are not in themselves as they are ultimately intended to be by noble minds, the greatest of the great and the most perfect of all, but are more or less the projections of the human beings who invoke them hence bear not only the virtues of their worshippers but their vices as well.
That is, the fault is not in the gods conceived but in the persons conceiving them. Indeed, it is our opinion that Hitchens is more or less a misanthropist, and that his complaints if honestly made would not be with religious scriptures and political theologies, or the invocation of gods as diabolical assistants, but with the faults of human nature; the main fault being that, wherever some good may be found, there evil will lurk until man is perfected.
His Judeo-Christian culture moves him, even in his denial of that culture, to shout “Thou hypocrite!” and blame a miscreant for being a Jew or Christian or Muslim that adheres to self-contradictory texts—to illogical texts or those that do not conform to the perfect logos. But hypocrisy, or the difference between the high ideals we profess and the base deeds we do, is the underlying crisis or cross we all bear to one extent or another. Now some would say the crux made of good and evil traits compose the spokes of a hellish wheel; they would get off the wheel and lie down to do whatever pleases them. But others do their best to stand upright, with heads in the heaven and feet on the ground, and in the process the race progresses to its perfection.
The fact of the matter is that the highest definition humbly afford by humankind to gods unites them in the singular conception of greatness so great that it is greater than anything else that can be thought of or conceived. That is, this god is the greatest; that is to say that God is great. We mean that ‘God’ literally means “great,” and to say “God is not great” is oxymoronic, is absurd, is foolish.
It should go without saying that the mere name used for this greatest of all gods is not god-in-itself. For example, we believe that the term ‘god’ is Germanic and that it was first used in the Gothic bible. Some cavilers say that the use of this “pagan” term is blasphemous, while others attempt to trace it back to Buddhism’s patriarch, Gautama, or to the powerful horde, the Gad of the Hebrews, and so on, to prove the dignity of their respective cults or to show that there has always been one and only one god under different guises. But all that etymological foolishness is beside the point, the point being that the name of the Supreme Being is, for the time being and for very good reason, the biggest of all secrets.
Nothing yet known or conceived is perfect hence deserving of the title Perfect yet we all know something about our desire for perfection, to completely work things through until they are finished according to the ideal we may have in mind. Thus far history is a mistake, but we strive to perfect life nevertheless. We wish we were omnipotent and omniscient, that we had the absolute power see what is perfect and to be perfect, to be the supreme being, but we fall short as we inch along. That does not keep us from trying to perfect our lives and our goods in response to the knowledge we obtain of the impediments including our own mistakes. Since we are not perfect in ourselves, at least not yet, we invoke a higher power as a self-motivator and self-mover; the “Supreme Being.” It behooves most of us to think of this god as a perfect person, and to ask ourselves, “What would this Person do if faced with this problem?”
The point here is that “God” is great because “God” is perfect in all respects. That is what is meant by the word accordingly to the noblest conceptions. Actually, God cannot be perfectly conceived, is beyond all conception at present, so whatever definition is given is insufficient. Still our conceptions allude to perfection as The Perfect, and we should face the fact that the power of conception is the prerequisite of human judgment. We see that the god-concept has evolved over time; the process is from imperfection to perfection.
Whether this evolution in definition is a human construction or gradually corresponds to objective truth is unknown to me, for one. It would trouble me not to know that men and women invented gods in their own image and reworked them to become more perfect as they perfected themselves. Whether the perfect god is induced or deduced matters not to me as I behold the top-down and bottom-up triangles of David’s shield. If Jesus the Christ was perfect for his time but not for ours, let humankind resurrect a more perfect Christ or revise the scripture according to new scholarly findings or give birth to a brand new messiah or prophet or perfectly enlightened creature. The Essence or Supreme Being would still be perfect.
Perfection is great. “God” means not only “great” but the greatest of all. We may dismiss religions as imperfect or we may perfect them, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.