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What does ‘God’ mean? Is God Knowable?

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What does ‘God’ mean?

To this question, there is a great plurality of philosophical, sociological, or ideological opinions about religion. The religions have various interpretations on the part of the philosophers and the “founding” theorists of the various human sciences.

Believers perspective

For believers, God is the Supreme Entity which gave its origin to the Universe and he would be the Being who commands the forces controlling the balance and the conservation of this universe. As for those who do not affirm their belief or their disbelief (ie the agnostics), they could say that God is unknowable. In any case, the concept of the divine is invoked to answer metaphysical questions.


God as hope because he would allow all the faithful to better accept life by considering it as a gift or a donation. This perhaps makes people happier, but perhaps above all more docile and helpful to the “society(ies)” of which they are a part, it is so according to Marx. Marx speaks of alienation through religion: “Religion is the opium of the people”.


Durkheim, for example, tries to show that the notion of god is a force created when individuals are brought together to communicate “in the same thought and in the same action”. “Once the individuals are assembled, a kind of electricity emerges from their coming together which quickly transports them to an extraordinary degree of exaltation”. Durkheim calls this energy “mana”. For society to become aware of this mana force, it must be projected onto an external, material object. As he says, “Religious force is only the feeling that the collectivity inspires in its members, but projected outside the consciousnesses that experience it, and objectified. To objectify himself, he fixes himself on an object which thus becomes sacred.” Thus, society becomes aware of itself, of its own unity, and a religion is born. Durkheim therefore sees in religion a social bond that unites men. Without this social bond, religion would not exist.

It is important to understand that the religious symbol only hypostasizes the strength of society, and the power of society flows through the sacred object. This force is real, Durkheim points out, and so even if the dogma or doctrine of religion is false, religious experience is grounded in a physical force, a kind of electricity that we cannot dismiss as mere illusion.

To this interpretative option of Durkheim, however, everyone can object to the problem of personal faith. However, Durkheim explains that religious faith is incorporated and interpreted by each individual. In this sense there is the common faith, a doctrine, or ideal, shared by all members of a society, and the individual faith, which is a mixture of the personality and experiences of the individual on the one hand, and of the collective, even ideal, faith of the other.


Feuerbach sees in religion above all a certain stage in the development of “generic humanity” and not only an expression of a particular society, an anthropological development at the peak of which the universality and power of philosophy and rational and objective knowledge, as opposed to belief. Religion is then conceived as a halt in the infantile development of a humanity.


This idea is also found in the more psychological conception of Freud, who says that religions are only a projection and a collective transposition of the figure of the father present and formative of the psyche of every child.

Is God knowable?

Classical philosophy, from the pre-Socratics to the disciples of Leibniz, has often been defined as the science of the religious, or the science of the absolute, therefore as theology. It was also called metaphysics, or first philosophy. It was so named because it was considered the root, source or foundation of all sciences.

In the 21st century, it is difficult to understand this pre-eminence of metaphysics in the eyes of many great classical philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hegel.

Many of us react in the following way: How could one believe that one could make science of a being that perhaps does not exist? We know well what we observe, we do not know God simply because we do not observe him. This principle was not considered convincing by the defenders of metaphysics. Their point of view was even the exact opposite. Phenomena, matter in motion, everything that we see, were considered by nature to be unknowable objects, quite simply because we knew them very little, or in any case not as well as today. On the other hand, god, ideas, principles, were considered as privileged objects of science (to be an object of science and to be an object do not have the same meaning), as if they were precisely the objects that our reason destines us to know. Also metaphysics was considered as a science much more certain, much less subject to doubt, than the sciences of observation.

Religions and science

The characteristic of scientific theories is to be predictive and refutable. As one cannot predict the behavior of the gods or prove their existence, the gods and doctrines such as creationism are not the domain of science. Nevertheless the religious fact is the subject of studies of many disciplines among the human sciences such as sociology, ethnology, semiology, social psychology. And these scientific, comparative, rational approaches study the existence of the gods as a recurring manifestation and an eminently human production, linked to environmental, historical and sociological contexts. This involves, for example, studying the conditions for the appearance of a religion and its deities with regard to the expected functions.

(Includes texts from Wikipedia, translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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