The recipe for gods has always included certain infinite ingredients. Infinite power, infinite benevolence, and infinite knowledge are common attributes that compose each of nearly all of the extant gods. Early versions gods that did not have a liberal number of divine infinities assigned to their gods failed to survive. I would like to argue that such claims of divine infinities are the largest selling points of the gods. I’ll enumerate the reasons.
- Infinities are accessible by nearly every mind.
Well, not exactly the concepts of various infinities, but rather the cognitive threshold of the particular mind contemplating the concepts. When Anselm writes…
we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived,
…is he telling god that he can conceive of him, or actually telling god that he has been relegated to the ontological space beyond his own mental limitations? Even the most arrogant of believers rarely claims to be able to accurately perceive the essence of god.
This invoking of infinities is quite powerful since every mind has inherent limitations. Simply ask a mind to conceive of a love that is infinite, then tell that mind that any notion of love beyond their mental grasp is where god resides. The point at which the eyes cross is the approximate frontier of the divine.
However, to most minds, uninitiated to proper skepticism, this banging of the mind up against the threshold of inscrutability feels like something of epistemic substance, and they often emerge from their contemplation dogmatically claiming that these ephemeral notions of divine infinity are clear to all.
Ask any theist who dogmatically affirms god’s omnibenevolence to explain explain its essence and manifestations. They will eventually retreat behind the adage “who can understand the mind of god?” (It works well to also point out that even non-infinite human love allows parents to forgive their children without punishment, something strangely at odds with their omnibenevolent god’s meting out infinite torture for quite finite sins.)
- Infinities produce a convergence of mental states.
For reasons mentioned above, the concepts of divine infinity have no real content. We are instructed to imagine the sweetest sweet, and then told that omni-sweetness is a reality that lies just beyond our imaginations. Because we all reach the same wall of cognitive limitation, a sense of commonality emerges. While adherents to one particular god may disagree on many doctrines, it is the infinities that provide some cohesion.
- Infinities produce awe, fascination and security.
Super-heroes have always captured children’s acute attention. Super-powers are a staple of youthful imaginations, and have generated quite heated playground arguments over which super-hero would emerge victorious from a free-for-all. Imagining that a particular super-hero is on your side is quite comforting.
- Infinities insulate the god from criticism.
If a god is omniscient and omnibenevolent, who are we to point out perceived injustices? For the god in question, in his/her infinite wisdom and power that far surpasses our own, surely has a benevolent purpose behind any dark events. Is there anything that could happen in the world that could not be dismissed in this fashion?
All of the religions that thrive today still invoke a sufficient number of infinities quite successfully. It appears the the 2 most successful religions have also invoked an additional infinity just to shore up their winnings: infinite torture for sinners. Now that‘s a salient concept and a brilliant tactic. Let the human imagination conjure up the worst pain it can imagine, then claim even petty disobedience to your god will result in worse. This works best with children. I have several friends who have told me that it was this concept of infinite torture that drew them at a young age to their “loving” god. Do you think they’ll leave their faith anytime soon? It is doubtful. Especially since doubting to the point of honest inquiry is also disparaged and discouraged.
So there you have it: alleged divine infinities with both positive and negative implications that are certain to convince many gullible minds that an unsubstantiated “faith” in the existence of a particular god is the only proper warm and safe default mode that is abandoned only at great spiritual peril.
If you happen to be a promoter of such myths, let me appeal to any remaining sense of shame, and encourage you to repent.