Did Man Create God In His Image?

John Christy
October 6, 2013
Man takes creative license in putting a face on a faceless being and while the face may be a reflection of man this does not make the face any less real.
Did Man Create God In His Image?
Audio Format: mp3

In the beginning God created man. Which God in reference, depends on a person’s religious belief. In Judaism and Christianity the God is Yahweh. For Islam, the same deity but of a different name, is Allah. In Greek mythology it is Prometheus and there are even those who believe the mysterious Annunaki were the first creators of man. There are many religious beliefs with an equal amount of claims as to the origination of man and most of these make an attempt at assigning a creator. Despite the differences in form and character there is a striking similarity when a human looks into the face of its creator. The creator tends to have personality, whether it is hostile, vengeful, compassionate, or playful. The creator tends to have emotion, whether it is anger, sympathy, hatred, or love. The creator tends to have intelligence, whether simplistic, devious, calculated, or perfect. All in all, the creator seems to regularly share common traits of the created person. In fact the creator is more often an identifiable person than it is an abstract force. Sigmund Freud believed that this was not a coincidence but rather a design that arose from an intelligent source. Freud has commented,

Man makes the forces of nature not simply in the image of men with whom he can associate as his equals…but he gives them the characteristics of the father, makes them into gods.[1]   

To Freud it was not that God created man in his image but in contrast it was man who created God in his own image. Freud bases his premise on the male dominant figure of God and his famed Oedipus complex that mankind suffers from. The ultimate conclusion Freud draws is therefore, that God does not exist outside of the imagination of man. God is a fictitious creation of man’s psyche. This theory would explain why it is we refer to God as a father and seek his pleasure while also fearing his punishment. Freud’s concept would also server to explain the rebellious struggle with a parental figure as seen in man’s desire to be independent from God. This article will examine the position of Freud, that man created God in his image, against the backdrop of religion. In addition I will present a counter argument that proposes, while man did create God in his image it is more rational and reasonable to believe in specific motives within reality that defends the existence of God.

The first point of examination is that when Freud’s theory is applied to religions other than monotheism it begins to break down. In Greek mythology, the gods are both male and female. Although Zeus is the supreme deity, many of the other female gods rival the male gods in power and authority. In many of the polytheistic religions the gods are genderless and abstract. Some religions worship the Mother goddess without regard at all for a male figure of higher authority. Quickly this theory begins to crumble when compared to religions outside of monotheism but even within monotheism there is reason to discredit Freud’s ultimate conclusion that God does not exist.

In the Judeo-Christianity, Yahweh is referred to as ‘Father’. This is the context in which Freud grew up and would learn his theology. In the relationship between man and God there may seem to be a great deal of support for Freud’s Oedipus complex. However, in Christian theology, God is humanized in the person of Jesus. As a human person, Jesus, the son, willingly humbles himself in suffering and pain, and his life is sacrificed to God the father for the sake of mankind. In this theology the son is not looking to conquer the father, like Oedipus, but rather the son submits to the father stating, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). On the surface, Freud’s theory can seem to be reminiscent of Christianity but when examined closely it too falls short. The question then remains of what we are to do with the strikingly similar attributes man has give to God?

There is no doubt that when referring to a god, specifically the Judeo-Christian God, that all the characteristics of man are reflected in this father-figure's nature. My position in this argument is that man created the image of God in the image of man. I am claiming that the image man conceives of God is an image created by man. This is not to say that man created God but only that the image in which man attributes to God is what man created. This is also not to say that man's concept of God is false. The image is what man is capable of understanding. Think of it this way, how can man conceptualize something he has no knowledge of. In philosophy this is referred to as the ontological argument for God’s existence and it is very appropriate to this point. Man can only intellectualize that in which he has the capacity of understanding. If you were asked to think of a color that you've never seen, what would that color be? This is an exercise in futility to which there is no outcome. Consider that science has revealed a range of colors outside of the visible spectrum that the human eye cannot perceive, we know that they exist yet we cannot describe them.  This is the reason we tend to anthropomorphize God because that is what we know. In our limited knowledge of the universe we fail at understanding the complexity of a being that transcends space and time. We cannot know that which we do not know and so it is not possible for us to define God in terms of who he is but it is possible for us to understand God by what he has done, his creation. Man has created an image of God but that in no way discredits the fact that God does remain. All this does is explain the way in which man attempts to comprehend God.

Freud makes a hasty conclusion that in examination is not only inaccurate to the philosophy of religion but also equally fallacious as a non sequitur. To claim that man thought of God and so God is false discredits the evidence as why man would think of such a thing in the first place. The ontological argument can present compelling evidence as to why man’s conception of God is proof for the existence of God but in no way can address the characteristics of what that God is. Man takes creative license in putting a face on a faceless being and while the face may be a reflection of man this does not make the face any less real.

[1] Freud, Sigmund (2011-03-07). The Future Of An Illusion (Kindle Locations 290-293). Wilder Publications. Kindle Edition.