What is the Name of God?

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También en español In his 1953 sci-fi story, The Nine Billion Names of God, Arthur C. Clarke imagined a Tibetan monastery where monks labored ceaselessly to list every permutation of letters in their alphabet and thus to list every possible name of god, fulfilling their destiny and bringing about the end of the universe. With the help of a computer (in 1953!) they finish the job in three months instead of 15,000 years, after which…

Ten emanations of deity

Humanity has long been preoccupied with knowing the name of god. Priests, magicians, and other charlatans tell the gullible that knowledge of the name gives power. For priests, it gives the power to tell the faithful to believe the priests are uniquely able to speak to god on their behalf, both to solicit the boons of providence and atone for past transgressions. For magicians, it gives the power to summon and direct divine forces and influences, as if, by knowing the name, one could forge god’s signature on an order to a company of angels. And, just to make sure the rubes don’t figure out the scam, the unholy are forever barred from ever uttering the name on penalty of eternal damnation. Isn’t it odd that so many people have blindly accepted this kind of bulshyte?

The ancient cultures of the levant had many gods with many names—El Shaddai, El Elyon, Yahweh, Elohim, El, and more—all of which finally collapsed into the tetragrammaton, YHVH, in Romanized Hebrew. With no vowels, like most written semitic languages, the letters merely indicate a spoken word already known to the reader. More to the point, with so many possible vowel substitutions, nobody has any idea (unless informed by an oral tradition) of how to correctly pronounce the word. And, of course, be it prayer or magic, everybody knows that god won’t pay attention if you don’t get the inflection of his name exactly right. Of course, YHVH is pretty much the way you’d write Yahweh if you left out the vowels, except it’s an improved form and you can’t be sure the old vowels really work to get the old guy’s attention anymore. In the meantime, the variant Jehovah or Jehovih has been accepted widely in fundamentalist, evangelical, pentecostal, and some other really batshit crazy cults.

Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, features a singular omni-cubed deity presiding over a legendary cosmic horde that somehow takes care of whatever happens on earth (and maybe elsewhere if there is an elsewhere). Although this idea is usually called God, that is a presumptive description, not a personal name. Cults that have a Christian origin frequently use the term Father, which derives from Jesus’ use of the term during his ministry, as recorded in the Christian gospels, as well as the prior beliefs of the Jews. And Christians further identify Jesus with the Father, since Jesus is said to be the Son of God. And he was called Yehshweh or Joshua, written as YHShVH. And of course mystical significance is attributed to the appearance of the Sh, symbolic of the spirit, in descent at the precise midpoint of the YHVH. Wow!

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury

To name God, we must define God. Unless we know who or what we are talking about, have identified him or it, there’s no point in asking for a name. Around 1070, Anselm of Canterbury framed the idea of God as “that than which a greater cannot be thought” in his famous Ontological Proof of the existence of God. While most philosophers today accept the validity of the proof, with some qualifications, it clearly does not prove the existence of God, unless you accept Anselm’s definition, which is basically that of an omni-cubed deity that is totally all-pervasive and totally involved in the dynamic upholding of everything we perceive as finite reality as well as (probably) a great deal more. Thus, if this presumptive deity is to treat all creation equally, we will not find this God personally intervening in the affairs of individuals, except by providence. In effect, although one may choose to believe in the existence and power of the omni-cubed deity, one is forced to admit that there is no objective way to directly and unambiguously observe that God’s existence in Real Life.

Suppose we clarify Anselm’s term “greatest” to be “perfectest.”Ahhh, we are not allowed to compare perfections (at least not in conventional English language). Rather, we say things are imperfect, partially perfected, or completely perfect as a first approximation to the relativity of perfection. So we might say God is “that which is absolutely perfect in all respects.” But Anselm’s simple logic doesn’t make sense here, because our ability to imagine such a thing is questionable and perfection is an absolute reality outside space and time towards which the finite universe is evolving. We can only utter a sound offered as a name, but we cannot properly describe or conceive of such perfection. The absolute deity is, from the viewpoint of time and space, irrevocably committed to upholding the causal consistency and realizing the inevitable destiny of the finite universe as it evolves towards final perfection.

Venus, god of Love

So, in reality, we see the possibility of two concepts of complete deity. First is the absolute deity outside the finite universe who is committed completely to keeping the framework of finite reality intact and ongoing, along with a lot of other universe activities. Second is the supreme force of destiny manifested by its influence over space-time affairs and its interactions with volitional beings of its own creation and evolution.

The first, absolute deity, is thus the existential foundation of all that can be and is. Uniform in power throughout space and time, this first deity gives all that there is to the realization and support of a universe populated with potentially deified identities. If we seek to name such a power, a stable form that gives meaning and consistency to our universe experience, we would have to call it “Love.” And if you stop thinking “God” with all the craziness your culture has attached to that word, and think “Love” instead, you will soon be developing a healthier viewpoint and attitude. In the final analysis, Love is the desire to do good to others, and Love is the best name for God that we have.


The second, finite deity, is thus the source of the evolution-driving force of destiny that bends finite sequential linear factual causation to the arc of destiny’s fulfillment. Love inspires action, but action cannot be satisfied unless good is actually being done. It is necessarily the work of this second, finite deity to arrange orderly evolution of the universe towards a goal of finite perfection, akin to the absolute perfection of Love, but evolved in time from initial existence to final perfection. If we name such a power, a dynamic influence that shapes our Love-inspired actions to maximize the accomplishment of good, we would call it “Truth.” And, if you stop thinking “what do I do now” with all the confusion of everyday life and act in the spirit of “Truth” instead, you will soon be developing an easier, more orderly, and much more effective approach to life. We have called this god “Truth,” the guidance of will in the application of action to the doing of good and the realization of beauty. We will explore this concept more fully in our next post, “What is the Word of God?”

When you think about what kind of God might mean something to yourself, remember that the omni-cubed existential absolute and perfect deity is unnoticeable unless one seeks to find a cause to explain the existence of the universe. We affirm that such a God is known to us through recognition of Love as the upholding structure of reality. On the other hand, the active, evolving, self-perfecting deity manifest as the force of destiny acting in time and space we can observe as we draw on Truth to direct our actions of will in the doing of good. Truth is the name of the active, saving deity that saves us from the uncertainties of right and loving action in seeking to do good and make beauty.