God, Atheism and Buddhism

By Chris Ward

This essay explores what is meant by the word ‘God’ in Christianity and how Buddhism might relate to this. Without appreciating what the word means it is impossible to understand what ‘atheist’ refers to or the positions that Buddhism might take.

Even a relatively limited study of theological sources makes it clear that there is no agreement on the meaning of the word ‘God’. The history of Christianity is one of continuing attempts to articulate a meaning for ‘God’ – in tandem with the contradictory and oft repeated view that God is indescribable. This has involved rejecting or being atheistic towards certain definitions of ‘God’, or some qualities that are associated with ‘God’.

Contemporary theologians have raised ideas of ‘God’ that are in some sympathy with Buddhist approaches and there is general agreement between Buddhist, Christian, and atheistic sources that some concepts of ‘God’ are unhelpful and to be avoided; that language has to be used with great care when referring to complex and abstract qualities, and that there is a profoundly mysterious quality to our human experience of the universe.

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