Our Gods Change as Our Needs Change
Change is inevitable.
Over time, our views and beliefs tend to change. I held strong opinions when I was in my twenties. As I moved into my thirties and started raising a family, my values shifted and so did my beliefs.
It’s logical that our perception of God has changed over the centuries. As people moved out of closed tribal societies into larger communities, they were exposed to different opinions and ways of thinking. They were subject to things that were out of their control, such as drought or slavery.
More recently, technology and the increased availability of information has had a different impact.
Attitudes and beliefs aren’t the same now as they were before the internet and we won’t be the same people once artificial intelligence is commonplace.
Our needs change. It makes sense to me that our beliefs about our God would also change.
Throughout history, our view of god has changed from tribal gods that might help an individual, to a father figure, to a vengeful god who must be obeyed.
Then we viewed god as a sort of senior partner and then eventually an all powerful being that gave people a sense of belonging and purpose.
I recently viewed the documentary “A History of God”, which is based on Karen Armstrong’s book. It’s a thoughtful look at the God at the heart of the world’s three great monotheistic religions.
The movie presents some interesting ideas to explain the concept that our view of our gods has changed with our needs.
In polytheistic times, people believed in many gods; each of them had a focus or area of expertise. You could appeal to them directly, without a third party to intervene on your behalf. These gods were approachable and very personal.
- Individuals were focused on satisfying basic needs, such as food and water. They would leave gifts or make a sacrifice to the harvest god or the water spirits.
In the time of Noah, God was a father figure who was searching for a special person who would believe in Him and follow his teachings. He found Noah and for a time satisfied his need for love and belonging.
- This God is ultimately petulant and is so unhappy with the rest of mankind that he destroys them all in a flood.
Then Abraham came along and God made a deal with him. He agreed to make Abraham the father of many nations if Abraham would teach that God was a single powerful being. Abraham agreed.
- That was the start of monotheism( belief that there is only one God for all people). Those that believed, belonged.
- People struggled to give up their old beliefs in their tribal gods. They wanted to be able to negotiate for their physical needs and safety.
- Then, during the Exodus, the people needed a strong God to keep them safe . They were happy to follow someone that was powerful and mysterious.
When the Hebrews settled in Israel. They were still struggling with the concept of pure monotheism. The prophet Elijah brought powerful miracles of droughts, fires and earthquakes to persuade them of the power of this God.
This new God seemed more mysterious and less approachable than ever before.
Things shifted back and forth between their longing for their tribal gods and their longing for safety and their need to belong to something larger than their tribes.
When the Babylonian army captured Israel and exiled the Israelites, the concept of a God for all man was beginning to become more accepted. At first the exiles felt they had lost God because they had lost their temple and no longer had a safe harbor. He was no longer satisfying their need for safety.
When people realized that God came with them during the exile, monotheism was strengthened. This strong God was satisfying their basic needs and so the concept of God changed.
Jesus introduced another shift in how God was viewed. He brought the idea that he was a Messiah who came to save mankind.
God is approachable, but through His Son, and He is more benevolent and loving because He has sent His Son to free mankind from their sins.
This new concept of God satisfied higher level needs of Love and Belonging. People felt they were a part of something really big.
Mohammad is believed by Islam to be the last prophet and he brings a final shift to an all powerful yet loving God.
Islam emphasizes the concept of a single Being with teachers to guide us. This view of God is unwavering; there is no partnership and to belong is the ultimate.
The concept of a single God for all man took a long time to become widely accepted.
Somehow, I thought it happened more quickly.
It makes sense that it was difficult for people to instantly leave their familiar and approachable polytheistic gods behind. As they experienced God’s miracles, their beliefs changed but it still took time.
The key driver for this change was the tempting concept of belonging to something larger and more powerful than ever before.
How Our Needs Change
Maslow was an American psychologist that created the theory that individuals have different levels of needs. He said that we focus on satisfying lower level needs before we look toward the higher levels.
Physiological and Safety needs are deficiency needs. Examples are food, water and physical safety.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
- Esteem and
- Self Actualization.
He states that the first four needs (P, S, L/B, E) are deficiency needs that must be met or the individual will be anxious. It follows that an anxious individual would need to believe in a powerful being to protect and provide for them.
Our view of God has shifted too.
In current times, many people reject the traditional view of an all powerful God figure. Instead, they may believe in no single powerful being; or they may believe in a personal being that resides within each of us and manifests as love.
There may be a parallel between a person’s standard of living and their concept of God.
A lower standard of living with lower social welfare systems may create a stronger need for prayer and the belief that there is an all powerful God that can affect a person’s daily life.
A higher standard of living allows people the power to fix most problems with money, which reduces the need to believe in a power outside of them.
Money satisfies most of our physiological, safety, esteem and belonging needs.
As our standard of living rises, we feel more powerful in our lives and there is less need for a strong powerful God to help us.
As a person starts to satisfy the basic needs, they work to fulfill higher needs.
In Western society, the deficiency needs are met for the most part. and individuals are free to find love, belonging and esteem.
Our needs are shifting toward Self Actualization, which is a different spiritual journey.
All of this suggests that our concept of God has always been a reflection of our changing needs over the centuries.
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