I can’t say that I know what God is with any assurance. I have an empirical bent. But I am quite convinced of the utility and even fundamental necessity of religion and of the idea of God to successful human societies.
One notion that I have heard from Dr. Jordan Peterson is the idea of God as being a sort of meta-entity. There is a video (that I can’t find) where he states this, and says something like “and you can make a deal with that thing” (or something similar). If you know it, please link me.
I was reading the Heidelberg Catechism today:
Q & A 4
Q. What does God’s law require of us?
A. Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22:37-40:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’1
This is the greatest and first commandment.
“And a second is like it:
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’2
“On these two commandments hang
all the law and the prophets.”
So, the two important aspects of God’s law, according the the Heidelberg Catechism is complete commitment to God and community (neighbors). It’s interesting that these two are primary, God and community. This seems to fit with this notion of God as meta-personality with whom a deal can be struck.
Think now on the Last Supper, where Jesus said that the wine was his blood and the bread his body. Why? Because of animal sacrifice. The Greeks, previously, and the Jews and Romans, contemporaneously, practiced animal sacrifice. Often, to atone for some sin, an animal sacrifice would be offered to appease God. I’ve recently re-read the Iliad, which depicts animal sacrifice, and in this ritual the meat is given to the community to share. Previously, I had assumed the flesh was not consumed. I was wrong.
FEAST AFTER SACRIFICE
At this point, the sacrificial ritual would become a feast for gods and humans alike. The animal would be cooked over open flames on the altar and the pieces distributed. To the gods went the long bones with some fat and spices (and sometimes wine) — those would continue to be burned so that the smoke would rise up to the gods and goddesses above. Sometimes the smoke would be “read” for omens. To the humans went the meat and other tastier parts of the animal – indeed, it was normal for the ancient Greeks to only eat meat during a sacrificial ritual.
Everything had to be eaten there in that area rather than taken home and it had to be eaten within a certain amount of time, usually by evening. This was a communal affair – not only were all of the members of the community there, eating together and bonding socially, but it was believed that the gods were participating directly as well. A crucial point worth keeping in mind here is that the Greeks did none of this while prostrating themselves on the ground as was the case in other ancient cultures. Instead, the Greeks worshiped their gods while standing up — not quite as equals, but more equal and more similar than one normally encounters.
Now, understanding this ritual consumption of the sacrificed animal, the Last Supper makes sense. Jesus was to be the sacrificial lamb, his blood shed to atone for the sins of mankind and his body feeding them, much as a the blood of the fatted calf could atone for a man or group’s sins.
Isn’t it interesting that the sacrifice fed the group? If we honor the conglomeration of everyone in the community who is not ourselves as we honor God, feeding them fat and meat as a ritual to atone for some transgression while dedicating the blood to God, then it stands to reason that our concept of God and our concept of the community are inter-related. This lends credence to the idea that we treat this meta-personality as God.
Now, I’m not asserting that this meta-personality model is true. I’m asserting that this ritual of animal sacrifice is a good way to bond a community together, to take care of them, and to atone for transgressions. I think it’s obvious that the group does stand in judgement of the individual and can choose to help or punish an individual, and it is wise for individuals to curry favor with the group. This would explain the meaning and purpose of animal sacrifice, which would then explain the metaphor of the Last Supper and why it resonated among people who practiced animal sacrifice. Just because we humans function this way, does not mean that there is not an all powerful creator God, it just means that humans follow rational incentives in the creation of their religious rituals.
You’ll notice that ‘getting right with God’ inevitably means atoning to the community for transgressions. And God’s laws inevitably lead to harmony in the community. Feeding the community is a great way to obtain the forgiveness of the community, in addition to making them healthier and stronger and more united as a group.