is the name used to signify God
in many modern non-theistic spiritual path
s. It is used by deists
, and panendeists
, and some pantheists
. Use of the word Deus, which is Latin
for God, in place of the word or name "God," comes from the desire to explain the religious concepts from which these newer faith
s grow without piling on all the old baggage
of the idea of God -- a name typically associated with the Bible
and with the anthropomorphic
expositor of anger
as found in the religious texts of the Christian
ish, and Muslim
In much of history
, the name, Deus, was in fact used by Christian philosophers to relate various Christian concepts. For example, Dei is an inflection
of Deus in Latin and used in Roman Catholic
organization names, such as Opus Dei
and Agnus Dei
, meaning, respectively, "work
of God" and "lamb
of God." The name, Amadeus
means "For love of God." However, by and large the meaning of Deus has been forgotten in modern society, clearing the name for use as an uncluttered religious or ultra-religious concept. It has been noted, as a curiousity
, that the religious concepts which the Deus is used in relation to -- deism
especially -- are concepts which deny the active involvement of God in the world
To determine anything as to “God,” the concept must first be defined. Even people who weekly share a church pew or kneel side-by-side on a prayer mat are likely to have very different mental images of their gods, and different understandings of the characteristics, motivations and desires of such creatures. Verily, at extreme ends of theological debates, some describe their god, any god, as simply being indescribable — utterly lacking in any characteristics, logical motivations, or rational desires to which human beings could possibly relate.
Here we shall define “God” without reference to such preference, instead simply noting what logic allows us to suppose our Creator to have, in actuality, done. As we shall see, this is in the fairest estimation limited to the creation of our Universe and the rules which govern it. And so the “God” of our enquiry is, simply put, an entity with both the power and the intellect required to create our entire Universe as we know it, and to set forth the aforementioned rules, with the presumption that the rules have brought into being precisely the type of Universe which they were intended to bring into being — including an inherent “fuzziness,” an uncertainty as to the outcome of events in our Universe.
And so, henceforth we shall, in identifying the Creator of our Universe, endeavour to avoid any hint of allegiance towards the preconceived theological construct most frequently touted under the name “God.” The great philosopher (and astronomer) Carl Sagan unsurprisingly related one of the more common post-lecture questions, ‘Do you believe in God?’ He writes:
Because the word ‘God’ means many things to many people, I frequently reply by asking what the questioner means by ‘God.’ To my surprise, this response is often considered puzzling or unexpected: ‘Oh, you know, God. Everyone knows who God is.’ Or ‘Well, kind of a force that is stronger than we are and that exists everywhere in the universe.’
As Sagan explains, such a response may be quizzical:
There are a number of such forces. One of them is called gravity, but it is not often identified with God. And not everyone does know what is meant by ‘God.’
At last, Sagan compares this concept to the typical rendition of God as “an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow.” Sagan alludes to an additional problem with the conventional conceptions of God is the assignment of gender to this entity. Many theists are adamant in their insistence that God is a “He,” a father figure, who must be assigned the masculine role. Theists might even insist that a reference to God as an “It” instead of a “He” is tantamount to a denial of the existence of God altogether, or is at least a denial of the characteristics which they either believe to be necessary aspects of a God, or revealed aspects of their particular version of God.
This predisposition to address God as though it were a male being with a full set of masculine genitalia dangling between its legs (never mind the problem of treating God as though it has legs), an engorged prostate somewhere in its posterior, and testosterone coursing through its veins, is simply an odd and anthropomorphic remnant of the very human trait of sexism. To refer to God as a “He” simply cuts off half of the characteristics nature assigns by gender, especially the life-creative characteristics which are the fundament of motherhood. A God which was a “She” would be more realistic and more complete; one which could be referred to as “S/He” would be even more so, but such an appellation would be needlessly grammatically troublesome.
In order to avoid raising exactly these sorts of images, we shall toss the name “God” into the trashbin of theological history, and shall instead refer to an entity with the delineated characteristics identified above by a specialised term derived in the Eighteenth Century, “the Deus.” The word, “Deus,” has an ancient origin, and in actuality is certainly much older than the English word, “God.” The word is common in Latin texts dating back thousands of years, and the language itself goes as far back as the Eight or Ninth Century B.C.
This term as a substitute for other designations of the Creator was preferred by Deists in the Eighteenth Century, and was similarly used by some Pantheists. The Dutch-Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza “devoted the entire first book of his Ethics
to a consideration of substance, or, as he alternately termed it ‘Deus sive Natura’ (‘God, in other words, Nature’).” Armstrong notes the use of the term in relation to Deism, stating of this philosophy that having
…turned its back on the myth of revelation, and on such traditional “mysteries” as the Trinity, which had for so long held people in the thrall of superstition… declared its allegiance to the impersonal “Deus” which man could discover by his own efforts.
In expounding upon the philosophy of Sir Isaac Newton, who “concluded that the primal force which had set the infinite and intricate system in motion was dominatio (dominion),” Armstrong notes as well that “Edward Pococke, the first professor of Arabic at Oxford, had told Newton that the Latin deus derived from the Arabic du (Lord).”
Pococke’s etymological basis is debatable. The Latin words deus and divus, and the Greek διϝος (diwos, meaning divine), are now most strongly believed to be descended from a Proto-Indo-European *deiwos or *deyw-o-, meaning “divine,” as well, and constituting the same root as the name of Dyeus, the chief god of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European pantheon which preceded the Greek Ζευς, who we call Zeus.
This same word, by the way, forms the root of the Vedic word deva. Speakers of Portuguese might be a bit bemused by this effort to distinguish between God and the Deus, because “Deus” remains the Portuguese word for God as well. Even Biblical literature finds the use of the term from time to time — it is the word chosen by Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (now better recalled as Saint Jerome) in translating the Hebrew אלהים (Elohim) into Latin text.
But Deus remains a term obscure enough to offer a safe contrast (to English-speakers at least) with the God often set forth in theistic texts. To the extent that it is necessary to reference a theistic textual entity against which we might contrast the Deus, we shall specify that it is the “God of the Bible,” or, if necessary, the “God of the Torah” or the “God of the Koran,” or the “God of the Vedas,” and so forth. And so, we shall avoid any confusion as to which “God” we mean.
On a side note, many people will be inclined to mispronounce this term as though it ought to rhyme with goose. In actuality, “Deus” is spoken as two syllables, roughly pronounced as de-yus, with the first syllable being roughly the same as the “de” in destiny or deluge. Because “Deism” is derived from “Deus,” the proper pronunciation of the words is connected. People may be equally inclined to mispronounce Deism and Pandeism as though they ought to rhyme with Theism and Pantheism, but the “de” in each of these is the emphasis of the word, and the same as that in “Deus.”
This work, by the way, will hardly be the first to discard the name of “God” in order to arrive at a discourse unfettered by the preconceptions built into history. This approach is exemplified by a mysterious Greek Christian who wrote in the Sixth Century under the purloined pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite, known alternately as Denys or “Pseudo-Denys” (due to his successful effort to maintain anonymity through the assumption of the name of an historical predecessor).
Karen Armstrong tells us that “Denys”:
…did not like to use the word “God” at all — probably because it had acquired such inadequate and anthropomorphic connotations… He agreed with the Cappadocians that all our words and concepts for God were inadequate and must not be taken as an accurate description of a reality which lies beyond our ken. Even the word “God” itself was faulty, since God was “above God,” a mystery beyond being.”
Denys preferred to use the term theurgy, a primarily liturgical device originated by a Fifth Century philosopher named Proclus. Martin Buber, in his own theological work, refused to discard the word “God” for lack of a better word to identify the concept, but felt as well that “those who do reject the word ‘God’ must be respected, since so many appalling things have been done in its name.”
As a last aside, common use of the English word “God” truly traces only as far back as the Ninth Century! It is a simple linguistic canard that the word, “God,” is a shortened form of the word “good”. The earliest written form of the Germanic word “god” found thus far comes from a Sixth Century Christian tome, the Codex Argenteus. This book includes the word in its transcription of a 4th century translation of the New Testament by a bishop named Ulfilas (ca. 310 — 383) into the Gothic language. “God” actually comes from the Old High German got, received from the Old Norman goth and/or guth. This in turn derives from the Proto-Germanic *ǥuđa, an inflection of *ǥuđan, itself from a Proto-Indo-European root, *ǵhuto-, describing an invoked thing, from an even more ancient root, *ǵhau-, to call or to invoke.
By adopting the Deus as our appellation for the deity, we return to a name with roots at least a thousand years more ancient than the English word “God.” In doing so, we shall see that perhaps we return as well to an ancient truth which has been buried beneath ages of religious hierarchicalism, and lost in the modern concept of God.