God created humans in God’s own image, and it has been said by many that we humans have returned the favor. We create God in our own image. Robert Banks, in his new book — the result of years and years of pondering and thinking, addresses the history of this very act: of humans remaking God in their own image. His book: And Man Created God: Is God a Human Invention?.
He has written a readable sketch of the history of remaking God, and it begins with the Hebrew prophets who saw this happening in false religions and then Banks skips over to the Greeks and Romans, who saw it among the populace who took the impersonal gods of the philosophers and made them too human, but the distinctive feature of this book is his focus on Feuerbach, Marx, Freud and Fromm — who in their own way have given to humans a hermeneutic that both casts a skeptical haze over belief in God and gives to humans a hermeneutic for detecting how we make God in our own image.
What is the one most important thing you’ve learned about how you (or humans) project onto God their own image of God?From Feuerbach: we learn that God is the product of human wishes; from Marx that God is a substitute for oppressive conditions; from Freud that God is a projection of human desires; and from Fromm that God is the symbol of human potential.
It’s too easy, Banks observes so well — and this is a major contribution of his study, to dismiss these people as atheists or unbelievers, and move on. Banks reminds us that they’re actually telling us something we are all doing, and so we can learn from them how to let God be the great iconoclast who shatters our images of God as we encounter God more fully and truthfully.
How can we do this? Banks has four suggestions:
First, we need to let the force that we have made God in our own image to shatter us and our own views of God. In other words, we need to be humiliated and discover some epistemic humility. We have to avoid seeing God as so different that we can’t know God, but we also have to take the clues that God gives so we can discern God and God’s ways. Echoes of God are present.
Second, we need to learn to see God through the lens of Jesus Christ. Jesus must shatter our views of God so that all is left standing is God incarnate. We need to avoid contemporizing Jesus so that he is one of us, and we need also to avoid replacing the Father with the Son. The God we learn in Jesus is the Trinity.
Third, we need to embrace the value of the social sciences that unmask our beliefs.
Fourth, God can only be fully known if we embrace also God as lived and demonstrated by God’s people and God’s world. We must risk relating to God in order to find God by faith. It means the ongoing interaction with God in the realities of our life.