When I was a youngster, around 4 years old, I asked my father how God looked like. I don’t remember the exact answer he gave but I recall that he calmly said that no one knows how God looks like and therefore i shouldnt bother with such a question. I felt puzzled. I wanted an adult to reaffirm that the image in my head was indeed of God’s. I wanted to know if all shared the same picture of God. Today, I would suggest that perhaps I wanted to know if my God was everyone else’s, especially that we lived in a multi-religous society
Without giving much detail, my God was genderless with the softest and kindest face one could imagine. I took my father’s advice and carried this unspoken-of image with me throughout the years.
During that time, I found about the man in the moon. My mom explained the myth of a man who gathered sticks on a day he wasn’t supposed to and therefore was banished to the moon. I found it hard to believe because the face was almost always smiling at me. Wasn’t he angry at what was done to him? The man in the moon became an image or a symbol of a gendered God. Today, the face in the moon has become genderless.
In the introduction of the book The Fall of the Imam, Nawal El Saadawi’s had an interesting observation. People imagine God according to how religion is represented to them. She recalls of a girl who believed God resembled her uncle’s angry and mean face. Her uncle used to threaten her with God’s curses and eternal damnation if she wasn’t a “good girl”. Young Nawal couldn’t understand this because her God was loving and peaceful, just like her father.
Putting images to the side, it may be observed that people’s feeling towards God is linked to how religion is passed on to them. It is also shaped through their relationship with the authority figure they grew up with and whom they learned the basic principles of God/ religion from. Many people are terrified of God because punishment is what is emphasized on. They tend to avoid acts which may anger God out of fear of retribution. Their good deeds are of selfish reasons, to satisfy God and gain a spot in Heaven. They may also fear the authority figure they grow up with, i.e. one or both parents. While this may work for some, others escape religion because they cannot deal with an angry God and the feeling of helplessness of not being able to please an angry and demanding God. “Damned if I do… damned if I don’t” is their motto. Fear, anger and punishment carry negative emotions which in turn would affect a person’s views on life.
Other people grow up with a religion or belief that emphasizes on God’s nurture and loving side. Their good deeds might be motivated by wanting to please God and in the spirit of love and kindness, both as godly and positive attributes, towards others. Even if fear is attached, it almost never over weights love. This might also indicate that their relationship with their parent(s) is built on respect and adoration rather than fear and punishment. Their motto is “I do this because I want to … not because I must”.
Of course this is not built on scientific proof but a mere observation which might be wrong….