In this series, we first set out an important argument from Christian theology and apologetics about Jesus. In the second installment, we simplified the argument in two ways, and pointed out that to have valid argument, we need to avoid equivocal terms.
It is important now that we push the “pause” button on our christological interests and theological agendas, and think carefully about the terms “god” and “divine”.
I’ve tried to analyze the meaning of “god” and related terms in western languages. (I’m not sure how this compares, e.g. to the Japanese term kami.) What I’ve come up with is this: “X is a god” (or “X is divine”) means “X is a provident being which must be honored”. I claim this is what all the (primary, non-metaphorical) usages of “god” and “divine” (and related terms in other languages) have in common. This analysis is deliberately vague: there are five dimensions along which “X is a provident being which must be honored” can vary. (I’m deliberately leaving out some unusual options below, but I think the listed ones are all the important ones.)
over some limited area or kind of area (e.g. ocean, forest, mountain, country, the whole planet)
over some aspect of human life and concern (e.g. crop growth, fertility, war)
over the whole cosmos
real or imagined (may still be real) or merely imagined
wholly non-physical / spiritual
both physical and non-physical (i.e. a god composed of body and soul)
neither physical nor non-physical (ineffable)
legal – its being honored is legally required
prudential – it is imprudent not to honor it
moral – it is morally fitting that it be honored; it deserves to be honored
sincere expression of praise
reverent and sincere participation in ceremonial observance
loving devotion, outwardly expressed
people in, or interested in things in the god’s domain (e.g. the ocean, crop growth, healing, fertility)
some sociological subset of humans: people of nation X, tribe Y, family Z, etc.
every other being
One confusing thing about god-talk is that in many contexts, esp. in the social sciences or religious studies, the speaker is talking about what other people believe. e.g. “Their main god was Jupiter” – Here the speaker is talking about the ancient Romans – he isn’t himself asserting that Jupiter is a provident being which ought to be honored by someone. Rather, he’s talking about what the Romans thought. But this sort of god-talk, it seems to me, sort of piggybacks on the straightforward usage I’m analyzing here. Also to be set aside is non-literal god-talk. e.g. “Michael Jordan is a divine basketball player.”