Muhamad Ali and Wettstein ask: Who is God?

Howard Wettstein talks about who is God and what is s/he up to. This lecture was sponsored by the Center for Ideas and Society.
Howard Wettstein talks about who is God and what is s/he up to. This lecture was sponsored by the Center for Ideas and Society.

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, about 25 people gathered at 4 p.m. in CHASS Interdisciplinary Building South (INTS) 1128 to listen to Associate Professor of Religious Studies Muhamad Ali and Professor of Philosophy Howard Wettstein speak at a lecture that is part of the Dueling Disciplines series entitled, “Who is God and what is He/She up to?”

Ali began the lecture by describing how God is seen in Malaysia. Both Christians and Muslims use the term Allah, causing debate over whether or not the use of the name should be allowed by Christians.

In the year 2000, the breakdown of religion in Malaysia was 60.4 percent Muslim, 19.2 percent Buddhist, 9.1 percent Christian, 6.3 percent Hindu, 2.6 percent Confucian, Taoist and other Chinese faiths and the remaining holding tribal and folk religions, other religions, no religions or unknown religions.

Ali explained that even if people reject God’s existence, they tend to still talk about him. Ali describes God as a verb that creates feeling, which has no gender and should be referred to as an it. “Who is God depends on our personal knowledge and collection of experiences. So it really depends on us,” explained Ali. Ali continued by explaining how the concept of God could be shaped by languages and listed some of the various names given to God in different languages.

Next, Ali explained how the depiction of God can vary differently depending on what religion is being analyzed: “You have one God, but there are so many qualities, so many names.” Religions that involve worshipping God may have a single god or many gods. Depictions of God have also varied greatly, with some describing God as formless, omnipotent, having transcendental value or possessing human-like attributes.

Ali attempted to answer the question ‘What is He or She up to?’ by saying “God is always up to something. So when I see the scriptures, God is always up to something. He or She is all-hearing, all-knowing, all-seeing and He’s active.”

Wettstein began his part of the lecture by discussing his background of lecturing in Jerusalem and brought up the listing of names used to describe God. In Judaism, Wettstein’s personal religion, God’s name is not pronounceable in Hebrew. By taking out the vowels in God’s name one is left with only four consonants, YHVH.

“You get the feeling that from God’s point of view, he’s created this exquisite, amazing place that you can’t help but feel a great sense of privilege just being part of it,” Wettstein explained, in regards to human curiosity. “And at the same time, it doesn’t answer to our sense of what makes sense and what’s fair and animals eat each other and vultures feed … blood to the children and God helps them out.”

The next Dueling Disciplines lecture will take place during spring quarter on April 13 and is entitled “What is College For?”

 

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