God Is Not God
Karen Armstrong, in her book The Case For God, quotes the Greek philosopher Aristotle as writing in Metaphysics, “The act of contemplation [theoria] is what is most pleasant and best. If, then, God is always in that good state in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in a better this compels it yet more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God’s self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. We say therefore that God is living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God.”
Reading Karen Armstrong, you’d think that Aristotle was writing about God, but actually, that’s not what Aristotle was writing about at all.
“God” is a proper noun. That’s why it’s capitalized. It refers to a specific deity. Yet, when Aristotle wrote Metaphysics, no one was worshipping any deity called “God”. “God” wasn’t a word used by the ancient Greeks at all. It’s a word that comes from germanic languages, referring to Germanic deities as a general class.
The word that Karen Armstrong translates as “God” is actually a phrase: “ho theos” (in Greek lettering, of course). “Ho theos” is translated into English not as the name of a deity, but as a referral to the realm of deity in general or as a reference to one particular deity without naming that deity. The ancient Greeks, in Aristotle’s time, despite some philosophers’ skepticism, worshipped multiple deities. In Metaphysics, Aristotle argues for “ho theos” as an impersonal cosmic source of creation. Aristotle’s use of the term “ho theos” does not refer to Yahweh, the prime deity of the Jews.
Neither can Aristotle’s ho theos be said to refer to Jesus Christ, or to any Christian deity or belief. Aristotle was writing hundreds of years before Christianity even came into existence.
Ho theos is a phrase that was centuries later appropriated by Greek Christians to refer to the Christian deity, but to suggest that Aristotle was referring to either Yahweh or to the germanic “god” concept is profoundly anachronistic. Aristotle was writing out of a native Greek tradition of philosophy. He wasn’t referring to German deities or to Jewish ideas.
Neither can it be said that the Yahweh deity of the ancient Jewish texts is “God”. The name “God” never appears in any of the original documents related to the Bible. The germanic deities aren’t in the Torah.
So, when Karen Armstrong is making the case for “God”, which god does she mean?
Yahweh is not God. Ho theos is not God. God is not God.