AskDefine | Define gods

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  1. Plural of god

Usage notes

Note that using the plural form starting with a capital G, "Gods", may cause offense to monotheists.

Extensive Definition

God is the principal or sole deity in religions and other belief systems that worship one deity.
God is most often conceived of as the creator and overseer of the universe. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. The most common among these include omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, jealousy, and eternal and necessary existence. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal, a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the "greatest conceivable existent". Al-Ghazali, and Maimonides.
The capitalized form God was first used in Wulfila's Gothic translation of the New Testament, to represent the Greek Theos. In the English language, the capitalization continues to represent a distinction between monotheistic "God" and "gods" in polytheism. In spite of significant differences between religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, the Bahá'í Faith, and Judaism, the term "God" remains an English translation common to all. The name may signify any related or similar monotheistic deities, such as the early monotheism of Akhenaten and Zoroastrianism.

Names of God

Conceptions of God can vary widely, but the word God in English—and its counterparts in other languages, such as Latinate Deus, Greek Θεός, Slavic Bog, Sanskrit Ishvara, or Arabic Allah—are normally used for any and all conceptions. The same holds for Hebrew El, but in Judaism, God is also given a proper name, Yahweh, harking back to the religion's henotheistic origins. God may also be given a proper name in monotheistic currents of Hinduism which emphasize the personal nature of God, with early references to his name as Krishna-Vasudeva in Bhagavata or later Vishnu and Hari, or recently Shakti. In the Bible, when the word "Lord" is in all capitals, it signifies that the word represents the personal Hebrew name of god, Yahweh.
It is difficult to draw a line between proper names and epitheta of God, such as the names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament, the names of God in the Qur'an, and the various lists of thousand names of God and List of titles and names of Krishna in Vaishnavism.

Conceptions of God

The concept of monotheism sees a gradual development out of notions of henotheism and monolatrism. In the Ancient Near East, each city had a local patron deity, such as Shamash at Larsa or Sin at Ur. The first claims of global supremacy of a specific god date to the Late Bronze Age, with Akhenaten's Great Hymn to the Aten (connected to Judaism by Sigmund Freud in his Moses and Monotheism), and, depending on dating issues, Zoroaster's Gathas to Ahura Mazda. Currents of monism or monotheism emerge in Vedic India in the same period, with e.g. the Nasadiya Sukta. Philosophical monotheism and the associated concept of absolute good and evil emerges in Classical Antiquity, notably with Plato (c.f. Euthyphro dilemma), elaborated into the idea of The One in Neoplatonism.
According to The Oxford Companion To World Mythology (David Leeming, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 153), "The lack of cohesion among early Hebrews made monotheism - even monolatry, the exclusive worship of one god among many - an impossibility...And even then it can be argued that the firm establishment of monotheism in Judaism required the rabbinical or Talmudic process of the first century B.C.E. to the sixth century C.E.". In Islamic theology, a person who spontaneously "discovers" monotheism is called a ḥanīf, the original ḥanīf being Abraham.
Austrian anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt in the 1910s postulated an Urmonotheismus, "original" or "primitive monotheism", a thesis now widely rejected in comparative religion but still occasionally defended in creationist circles.

Monotheism and pantheism

Monotheists hold that there is only one god, and may claim that the one true god is worshiped in different religions under different names. The view that all theists actually worship the same god, whether they know it or not, is especially emphasized in Hinduism and Sikhism with more orthodox Vaishnava view being that Krishna as svayam bhagavan is a true form. Adherents of different religions, however, generally disagree as to how to best worship God and what is God's plan for mankind, if there is one. There are different approaches to reconciling the contradictory claims of monotheistic religions. One view is taken by exclusivists, who believe they are the chosen people or have exclusive access to absolute truth, generally through revelation or encounter with the Divine, which adherents of other religions do not. Another view is religious pluralism. A pluralist typically believes that his religion is the right one, but does not deny the partial truth of other religions. An example of a pluralist view in Christianity is supersessionism, i.e., the belief that one's religion is the fulfillment of previous religions. A third approach is relativistic inclusivism, where everybody is seen as equally right; an example in Christianity is universalism: the doctrine that salvation is eventually available for everyone. A fourth approach is syncretism, mixing different elements from different religion. An example of syncretism is the New Age movement.
Pantheism holds that God is the universe and the universe is God. Panentheism holds that God contains, but is not identical to, the Universe. The distinctions between the two are subtle, and some consider them unhelpful. It is also the view of the Liberal Catholic Church, Theosophy, Hinduism, Sikhism, some divisions of Buddhism, some divisions of Neopaganism and Taoism, along with many varying denominations and individuals within denominations. Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, paints a pantheistic/panentheistic view of God — which has wide acceptance in Hasidic Judaism, particularly from their founder The Baal Shem Tov — but only as an addition to the Jewish view of a personal god, not in the original pantheistic sense that denies or limits persona to God.

Dystheism and nontheism

Dystheism, related to theodicy is a form of theism which holds that God is either not wholly-good or is fully malevolent as a consequence of the problem of evil. One such example would be Satanism or the Devil. There is no known community of practicing dystheists.
Nontheism holds that the universe can be explained without any reference to the supernatural, or to a supernatural being. Some non-theists avoid the concept of God, whilst accepting that it is significant to many; other non-theists understand God as a symbol of human values and aspirations. Many schools of Buddhism may be considered non-theistic.

Scientific positions regarding God

Stephen Jay Gould proposed an approach dividing the world of philosophy into what he called "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA). In this view, questions of the supernatural, such as those relating to the existence and nature of God, are non-empirical and are the proper domain of theology. The methods of science should then be used to answer any empirical question about the natural world, and theology should be used to answer questions about ultimate meaning and moral value. In this view, the perceived lack of any empirical footprint from the magisterium of the supernatural onto natural events makes science the sole player in the natural world. Another view, advanced by Richard Dawkins, is that the existence of God is an empirical question, on the grounds that "a universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference." A third view is that of scientism or logical positivism: any question which cannot be defined cannot be answered by science and is therefore either nonsensical or is not worth asking, on the grounds that only empirically answerable questions make sense and are worth attention.

Distribution of belief in God

As of 2000, approximately 53% of the world's population identifies with one of the three Abrahamic religions (33% Christian, 20% Islam, <1% Judaism), 6% with Buddhism, 13% with Hinduism, 6% with traditional Chinese religion, 7% with various other religions, and less than 15% as non-religious. Most of these religious beliefs involve a god or gods.


  • BBC, Nigeria leads in religious belief
  • Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a Hindu Deity
  • Pickover, Cliff, The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience, Palgrave/St Martin's Press, 2001. ISBN 1-4039-6457-2
  • Collins, Francis, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Free Press, 2006. ISBN 0-7432-8639-1
  • Harris interactive, While Most Americans Believe in God, Only 36% Attend a Religious Service Once a Month or More Often
  • Miles, Jack, God: A Biography, Knopf, 1995, ISBN 0-679-74368-5 Book description.
  • Armstrong, Karen, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ballantine Books, 1994. ISBN 0-434-02456-2
  • National Geographic Family Reference Atlas of the World, National Geographic Society, 2002.
  • Pew research center, The 2004 Political Landscape Evenly Divided and Increasingly Polarized - Part 8: Religion in American Life
  • Sharp, Michael, The Book of Light: The Nature of God, the Structure of Consciousness, and the Universe Within You. Avatar Publications, 2005. ISBN 0-9738555-2-5. free as eBook
  • Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951). ISBN 0-226-80337-6
gods in Afrikaans: God
gods in Arabic: الله
gods in Aragonese: Dios
gods in Official Aramaic (700-300 BCE): ܐܠܗܐ
gods in Asturian: Dios
gods in Guarani: Ñandejára
gods in Aymara: Tatitu
gods in Bengali: ঈশ্বর
gods in Min Nan: Siōng-tè
gods in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Бог
gods in Bavarian: Gott
gods in Bosnian: Bog
gods in Breton: Doue
gods in Bulgarian: Бог
gods in Catalan: Déu
gods in Chuvash: Турă
gods in Czech: Bůh
gods in Welsh: Duw
gods in Danish: Gud
gods in German: Gott
gods in Estonian: Jumal
gods in Modern Greek (1453-): Θεός
gods in Spanish: Dios
gods in Esperanto: Dio
gods in Basque: Jainko
gods in Persian: خدا
gods in French: Dieu
gods in Western Frisian: God
gods in Friulian: Diu
gods in Scottish Gaelic: Dia
gods in Galician: Deus
gods in Gothic: 𐌲𐌿𐌸
gods in Hakka Chinese: Song-ti
gods in Korean: 하느님
gods in Hindi: ईश्वर
gods in Croatian: Bog
gods in Indonesian: Tuhan
gods in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Deo
gods in Zulu: UNkulunkulu
gods in Icelandic: Guð
gods in Italian: Dio
gods in Hebrew: אלוהים
gods in Javanese: Hyang
gods in Cornish: Dyw
gods in Swahili (macrolanguage): Mungu
gods in Kurdish: Xwedê
gods in Latin: Deus
gods in Latvian: Dievs
gods in Lithuanian: Dievas
gods in Lingala: Nzámbe
gods in Hungarian: Isten
gods in Macedonian: Бог
gods in Malayalam: ദൈവം
gods in Malay (macrolanguage): Tuhan
gods in Nauru: Gott
gods in Dutch: God
gods in Dutch Low Saxon: God
gods in Japanese: 神
gods in Norwegian: Gud
gods in Norwegian Nynorsk: Gud
gods in Narom: Dùu
gods in Uzbek: Xudo
gods in Pushto: الله
gods in Polish: Bóg
gods in Portuguese: Deus
gods in Romanian: Dumnezeu
gods in Quechua: Dyus
gods in Russian: Бог
gods in Albanian: Perëndia
gods in Sicilian: Diu
gods in Simple English: God
gods in Slovak: Boh
gods in Church Slavic: Богъ
gods in Slovenian: Bog
gods in Silesian: Bůg
gods in Serbian: Бог
gods in Finnish: Jumala
gods in Swedish: Gud
gods in Tagalog: Diyos
gods in Telugu: దేవుడు
gods in Vietnamese: Thiên Chúa
gods in Tok Pisin: Got
gods in Turkish: Tanrı
gods in Ukrainian: Бог
gods in Venetian: Dio
gods in Vlaams: God
gods in Yiddish: גאט
gods in Samogitian: Dievs
gods in Chinese: 上帝
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