Your “God” Luggage


The word “God” is an abstraction. As an abstraction it contains many components — often components unaware to the people who use the word “God”. Believers uniquely connect all these components of their God, bundle them together as a whole package and carry them around as luggage in their life. That luggage is then part of their identity.

As a believer goes through life, they can examine the items in their God luggage and rearrange them, remove items and/or put in new items. Because these items are hidden in their luggage, two believers may use the word “God” but really mean and feel very different things.

I have made this diagram to discuss briefly some of the common items packed in people’s God luggage. I wrote this imagining two different audiences — each using it in different ways.

  • For religious folks
    • Hopefully it will help believers to dialogue better with each other.
    • Perhaps it will help some believers to improve their religion.
  • For my religion-free readers
    • I hope it helps some atheists/agnostics to stop seeing religion as simply a set of wrong superstitious beliefs, but instead, to see that a believer’s God Luggage actually serves some useful, if not admirable, functions.
    • Help religion-free folks dialogue with religious folks by looking at shared values in life.
    • Help religion-free folks see that perhaps they have a package of items that serve similarly many of the function of religion – the good, the bad and the questionable.

The explanations of the component follow:

  1. Tribal Belonging
    The vast majority of religious people belong to the religion of their parents. They are born into their religion or one of the religions readily available to them in their community. Oddly enough, most believers feel they have chosen their faith, but then, must of us feel we are far more in control of our lives than is true. Anyway, as our religious community grows larger it gives us a sense of belonging, security, comfort and purpose. Being tied to others is drastically important.
  2. Stories: True and False
    Every tribe and community weaves itself together with stories — some true, some half-true and some false. We are taught our religion. But the truth of these stories matters little. Instead, it is the power of the stories to bonds their community together.
  3. Customs
    Stories are great, but taking actions based on these stories is what truly binds a community. The actions include rituals, holidays, foods, gestures, meetings and more.
  4. Comfort and Hope
    The tribe, the stories, the customs all offer comfort. They give a sense of “something bigger than us”. Believers call that feeling “God”. They usually do not understand how that “Bigger-than-Me” idea is really wrapped up in community. This is a sense of Earthy hope. But promises of eternal life are also hugely important. For many, hope that their loved ones aren’t gone permanently when they die is even more important than their own eternal life. But they are connected of course, because you can’t see your dead loved ones again unless you are going there too.
  5. Fear
    Fear (move away from) and Awe (move toward) are too simple common emotions to all of humanity. Religious experts are very clever at manipulating these emotions. Instilling fear of possible punishment in both this life and the next are inculcated in believers from childhood. And the way to avoid these punishments is through Rule or Magic.
  6. Rules
    Eat the right things, wear the right closes, go to temple, church, mosque or synagogue, pay tithe, confess, do the sacraments, pray… The list goes on. Some simplify it to “just believe” — that is a much more clever marketing scheme, but it comes with its caveats too.
  7. Magic
    Future promises can only go so far. Religions always promise believers benefits in this life for themselves and loved ones: safety, healing, happiness, success, the perfect spouse, right choices and more. Religions offer many magic methods to obtain these benefits: obeying customs, following the rules, praying and more. Religions can be very magically creative.
  8. Awe
    I use “awe” to cover a while range of motion that cause people to move towards something: amazement, love, excitement, passion and more. All religions use both fear and awe as motivators, but some use one more than the other. I am aware, of course, that there is negative awe — greed being a perfect example.
  9. Friend
    Most religions offer a personal God or guru or teacher or saint, which can act as a friend for the believer. Someone they can talk to, who can give them personal divine guidance or supply happiness or even perform magical blessings for them.

To Readers: What is in your God luggage? What items are least important to you? Let me know if you think I missed something or distorted something.

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Your “God” Luggage

  1. Could not one safely suppose it is presumption and bogus ‘abstraction’ for one who who is “religion-free” to pronounce that the one who does thinking, feeling, willing, and introspection concerning Divinity often include components they are unaware of within their conceptions of God? I would say you have this backwards. Precisely because it is your conception which is so abstracted.

  2. rautakyy

    I think I can recognize this. Even though I am an atheist in third generation from both sides of my family, I still carry some of this luggage. The very concept of what a “god” as a word means to me is heavily coloured by my cultural heritage. When I look at my roots, I can see the layers of ancient folk belief of my people, the centuries long strife between western and eastern Catholic churches, that sometimes turned into a bloody war in these parts, and the Lutheran Protentanism of the national culture surrounding me. It’s puritanistic history and the fairly tolerant modern version and at same time pervasive state church role in our culture. But also what I have learned from other people and other religious cultures of ancient and modern people around the globe.

  3. Hello Rautakyy,
    Can you see a secular version of your luggage too — politically, philosophical, tribal?

  4. Thriveni C

    I like your thought process…, what about religious intolerance, where should it be placed in the luggage?
    thanks for your wonderful blog

  5. Thanx Thriveni.
    First, we have to start with how various people define the expression “religious intolerance”. The first distinction could be personal vs institutional –> Does a country’s laws make only one (Islam) or no (Communism) religion as permissible and then it is a matter of degree — they kill those who disobey, they actively penalize those who disobey, they passively penalize those who disobey. The next distinction is “what counts as religion?” — for example, for some, their politics becomes their religion, for others, their culture.
    So, such abstract questions can lead to huge misunderstandings if we don’t address all that is packed in the abstraction. For just a “God” is an abstract piece of luggage, so is “Religious Intolerance” — it could be used very differently by many people.
    Consider a religion that allows polygamy using oppressive sexual roles. The believer, would consider it “religious intolerance” if those around him/her did not tolerate their preferences. Can you see the problems?

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