But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. Job 28:12-13
When we anthropomorphize something, we attribute human qualities to it and judge it based on human values, experiences, and understandings. Anthropomorphizing is a natural human trait, and there is nothing wrong with it per se. Where it leads us astray is when we are not conscious of doing it. In fact, as I write this I catch myself anthropomorphizing nearly every analogy I attempt to draw. When we confuse our own anthropomorphizing with ultimate Truth, however, we believe and act as if we were God – all-knowing and exclusive holders of Truth, instead of humbly acknowledging our rightful place as one part of the body of God. There are roughly 8.7 million known and unique species of life on earth today. Humans make up 1/8,700,000ths of them. We tend to see ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution because we believe we are in control of the planet, but we can only believe that by anthropomorphizing creation – seeing the entirety of creation through our biased human lens. When we say that climate change threatens the survival of the planet we are anthropomorphizing, and we are incorrect. The survival of a habitable environment for human beings is at risk, but other parts of creation will adapt and carry on, exactly as it was created to do.
It is common for my anthropomorphizing self to see a wilted plant and exclaim, “That plant is screaming for water!” Obviously, the plant is not literally screaming, which is a human and not a plant trait. It is, however, a typical human way of pointing out that a plant might need water. Rather, plants naturally wilt when they are dry to preserve moisture. It is how they were created. Is the plant in the sort of pain that would cause a human to scream? Probably not. If the plant is suffering, it is suffering in a way unique to its created nature that we cannot understand by anthropomorphizing its current state. Yes, we should probably water the plant if we can, but is it necessary to attribute human-like feelings to the plant? I suggest it is not only not necessary, but it can also limit our ability to understand, respect, and appreciate the unique nature of the plant. Plants, too, are created in the image of God, as is every other part of creation, including viruses, mosquitos, rocks, and the most annoying people we know. When we treat everything else in creation as though it experiences life as we experience life, we limit our understanding of and appreciation for the unfathomable diversity of the created world.
Likewise, when we anthropomorphize God, we mold a caricature of God from our image. Our most common portrayals of the nature of God are based largely on Zeus, the mythical ancient Greek God of thunder. Zeus was easily angered and retributive. Our most common picture of God is taken from Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel of an old, bearded, white man. Granted, the Bible refers to God mostly (although not exclusively) in the masculine gender since most societies in biblical times, as today, were patriarchal systems. That God looks like a human was the anthropomorphosis of a deity figure. That God was painted as a white male reflects the reigning supremacy of the time.
If, when we think of God, we picture an old, white man who is wise (in human ways) but aloof, distant, and unpredictable (also in human ways), we have anthropomorphized God. Too many of us expect our relationship with God to be a version of our relationship with one or both parents, typically with our father. And these images stay with us and solidify over the course of our lives unless and until they are significantly and consistently challenged, which most churches fail to do. Not only do they not challenge our imbedded images of God, but they perpetuate those images by referring to God in the masculine gender and by portraying God as a retributive task-master who will condemn us to eternal misery for disobedience. That god does not exist outside the realm of human imagination. That god is a creation of the anthropomorphosis of the God of creation. That god is created in our image and reflects our seldom-merciful human concepts of justice and judgment..
And this is a mark of churchianity – that the god we are taught to worship is an anthropomorphized god created in man’s image that loves and blesses only those who abide within their exclusive, man-made fictional narrative. Unfortunately, that god only recognizes and acknowledges a small portion of the Christ of God. That god, thankfully, is not an accurate representation of God.
This is the 50th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.