A Christian’s Concepts of God December 3, 2010

A Christian’s Concepts of God

David Hayward presents another holy trinity:

What does it mean…?

Go ahead. Interpret it as you wish… I’m really curious to hear what you come up with.

If you’re curious, David’s own interpretation is here.


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  • Jeremy

    current concepts make us feel all warm and happy but without progression (adding future concepts of god to the flames) the fire will stagnate. also the smoke (past concepts of god), can build up and choke us. if we don’t get rid of those old concepts of god it could kill us.

  • JoeBuddha

    Forest fire: The consequences of our concept of god. I get the point, although it seems a bit silly.

  • Reminds me of the Jesus actor from “Religulous”, and his explanation of the holy trinity as that of water: solid, liquid, gas. It still made no sense.

    All I see above are firewood, a person, fire, and smoke. None of it speaks to me of a god or any concept of it.

  • Claudia

    My interpretation before I check out his:

    Concepts of god are all temporary, destined to, as it were, go up in smoke. New religions or new takes on old religions (the wood) come along. For a time, they serve the needs of the religious (warming them like a fire. Also burning them like a fire, but I doubt that’s the artists take) but eventually they will all die, float away and be forgotten.

    [edit]: tee hee hee 😀

  • People have worshipped various gods in the past – it’s all been smoke and mirrors.

    Even as our understanding of the world increases, there will still be people in the future who cling to religion (and guns); like a log, they have no ability to change or willingness to learn new things. (Alternatively, “because their heads are made of wood.”)

    There are people now who would rather burn you at the stake than allow you to ignore their god.

  • “You have begun your healthy suspicion of the superiority of the intellect and the brain that manufactures it and authority which endorses or invalidates it.”
    Wordsalad is fun!

  • Will

    I think it has something to do with getting closer to the truth/source of what humans have historically experienced as a god. They used to see god as mysterious and ephemeral: smoke. Now they see god as comforting and helpful: fire. But ultimately god is neither smoke or fire, he is wood: the source or basis of the whole process and part of the natural order. Basically, that the human understanding of god is changing over time and getting closer to the truth.
    Not that I believe any of it, but that’s what I got out of the cartoon.

  • Scott

    I see it as religion’s struggle to maintain relevance. The smoke represents concepts which have outlived their usefulness to the religious (picture old Christian taboos against pork, shellfish, working on the Sabbath, etc.) The fire represents the current state of the religion…healthy and vibrant with the currently accepted concepts (among the practitioners of that religion; picture intelligent design, young earth creationism, etc.) And the wood represents the concepts not yet thought of by the church, I.e. adaptations necessary to retain some semblance of relevancy. Picture arguments espousing the idea that science and religion can coexist, condoms are okay in certain circumstances, etc. Thankfully, the woodpile is finite, and one day the fire will burn out.

  • What I see, in agreement with a few interpretations already explored in some comments, is that such a way of warming oneself is non-sustainable, finite in life. Christianity just seems to struggle for its own relevance, having long lost its purpose, providing comfort.

    Simply put, the future does not belong.

  • Actually… I suggest that this isn’t, imo, just the Christian concept of God, but all religions’ and non-religions’ concepts of God or concepts of anything, including the concept of “no-god”.

  • Richard Wade

    To me it means:
    1. Our future concepts of god are dwindling.
    2. Our present concepts of god can be comforting, but can easily get out of control and can destroy and kill.
    3. Continuing to believe in gods pollutes the environment and makes it hard to see things clearly.

  • I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean, but I guess it makes as much sense as most things about god.

  • HandyGeek

    My interpretation (though I’m sure just an unintended and perhaps contrived hidden meaning on my part) is that the ashes are probably the most useful thing in the process – once they are through smoldering, that is. The illustration ignores the smoldering ashes and that resembles the ignorance of dogma. But if we study the ashes (which would resemble dead religions in my view) we can actually learn that the fire was far more temporary than the lasting ashes which will help to fertilize the ground which produces far more trees than can be burned by the fire-bringers. Thus, the circle of life, nay, evolution itself wins. Religions do evolve and the illustration brings that to light. No pun intended. Hopefully, someday, religions won’t need to burn for humans to find comfort, warmth and light.

    Nature is far more interesting to me than this poor attempt to conceptualize something that need not exist at all.

  • Greg

    Our past concepts of god can’t support any weight. Our current concepts of god are likely to see us all burn. Finally, our future concepts of god will likely be stronger and more robust.

    Pretty sure that’s not it, but that’s the best I could come up with! 🙂

    Interestingly, I could come up with a better interpretation if the past and future were switched.

  • The thought of a future god should give us a woodie??

    If you have to explain it it’s not a good cartoon. Even the guy’s explanation for it comes across as tortured reasoning (albeit, the term “reasoning” is a tad generous.

    I would hope the next time the urge to draw overcomes him that he develop an idea first, then draw a cartoon to support it…not the other way around.

    “Free range pastor”? That guy is an insult to free range chickens.

  • It means Xtians have acknowledged that the term “god” is absolutely meaningless. They instead choose to worship fire.

  • Dave Wright

    My interpretation:
    Our past concept of God is irritating and makes us cry if we keep it around too much.

    Our present concept of God is warm and comforting, but a bit dangerous if we try to immerse outselves in it.

    In order to maintain our concept of God in the future hard, painful work is required.

    Alternative interpretation – your life will be better if you abandon God and switch to hydroelectric.

  • HandyGeek

    Much more eloquent than my blather. 🙂

    Alternative interpretation – your life will be better if you abandon God and switch to hydroelectric.

  • cheap shot dromedary hump.

  • Xena

    For a minute there, I was almost with commenter bob, 9:04 am on David’s comment wall. David was actually starting to sound vaguely agnostic.

    Then he quoted Mr. Pointless Existence, John Calvin.

    I can fathom why Xtians need an afterlife mythology, ritual, candles, chanting and all the rest. I can even commend some Xtians who help rather than harm, even if it’s only because their mythology tells them it’s right. But I don’t get Calvinists at all. Their views make no sense.

    Let’s see if I can remember my O Gods… Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent. If you think on that for a while, logical fallacies start to pop up all over the place. How can a god be outside of nature and all powerful, and yet be one mind with every human being, especially every human being who suffers? Why would any god who’s all that allow that? So one or more or all of the 4 god O’s or O gods, whatever you want to call them, won’t work. Even theologians admit this. There are various loopholes that the various schools of thought use to get around their fallacies.

    The Calvinists have the least cogent and least workable compromise, imo. Their god is all 4 O’s, which means he is and feels everything and everybody and every second, past, present and future, simultaneously. Therefore, he knows who’s going to do what and when. He knows who’s going to die and when. And he knows who’s going to hell. The game is rigged and fate is predestined, and even being superduper good won’t change god’s mind. Calvinists are expected to just shutup and accept that, and accept that humans are so lowly compared to god that they’ll never know what he is either. He’s omnibenevolent, but people just aren’t capable of understanding the plan that makes him so. Everything they think they know goes up in flames, and a very tiny number of randomly “chosen people” go to heaven.

    Like I said, I don’t see why anybody would let a belief system like that stay a part of their thinking. It makes less sense than spending 90% of your income on lottery tickets every week. I have no clue how those people can derive any kind of workable ethical framework from that metaphysical bent, either. But I suck at religious philosophy anyway.

    I believe that’s what David’s woodpile is about, but if there are better philosophers in the room, we’ll take whatever you can tell us.

    I loved the reference to Monty Python, btw.

  • I think good art purposefully leaves some ambiguity so the viewer can add meaning.
    That is also my understanding of what religion *should* be.
    Anyway, the following is my interpretation:
    If you look at God too close, He disappears (goes up in smoke).
    If you look at what other people have written (holy books), all you see is dead wood.
    Ultimately, it is all a transient experience all in the mind of the beholder (the fire).

  • To quote Calvin does not make one a Calvinist.

  • Don’t believe in God because only you can prevent forest fires?

  • I don’t agree with David’s views on the existence of a god, but I see no reason to be rude or uncivil to a kind, decent man and a respectful guest.
    Why waste an opportunity for intelligent discourse?

  • Xena

    I didn’t notice you lurking, nakedpastor. Welcome.

    I’ll give you that. Nietzsche gave us some rockin’ one-liners too, but I try to avoid associating myself with uberracists, if you know what I’m saying.

    If you’re not a Calvinist, can you give us a clearer sense of what your cartoon means?

  • I have no concept of gods. I don’t get it even with the explanation. I feel like the one in the room who gets to ask the stupid question: What is “god”?

  • Erp

    Hmm, I confess I follow David’s blog (and even signed up to his mailing list so I get his cartoons first thing in the morning). Haven’t bought his collection of cartoons yet.

    However, I think this cartoon can represent two connected ideas.

    1. the individual’s changing ideas through life (e.g., from believing in Santa Claus, to different beliefs about ‘God’ [personal, remote, vengeful, loving, impersonal, non-existent]).

    2. the dominant paradigms within a culture about ‘God’.

    Admittedly one has to feel for the individual whose current live concept of a god is that of one who has condemned him in particular to eternal damnation. I suspect that individual is not warming himself but being burnt (perhaps with others pushing him into the flames).

  • annette

    Wow, Dromedary Hump, what makes you the standard-bearer for what makes a good cartoon?

  • Denise

    This is my first post! (I haven’t read the artist’s explanation, but here’s how I see it.)

    I actually have a much simpler view of this cartoon:

    1. The view of god in the past was as thin, transparent, and intangible as smoke (only very few people were educated).
    2. The current view is a bit more tangible but still can’t be explained (Science is slowly burning away the mythology of all religions.)
    3. In the future, god will be tangible… because it will be replaced by science – the study of all things testable/ provable.

  • Deepak Shetty

    @Richard Wade
    I like your interpretation better than David’s!

  • Phoebe

    I’m going to guess what he meant first and then click on the link to his interpretation.

    I think maybe he means Wood is in a stable state, not really doing anything, but has a potential of some sort. So our future concepts of god have the potential to be good or bad. Fire is active and can either warm people or burn the crap out of them. I guess our current world religions kind of do that. Smoke, you can see but doesn’t bother you unless you’re breathing it. So the concept of Zeus or whatever, doesn’t really bother people because it’s done and over with.

    Ok…I was wrong. LOL

  • Funny to me how this cartoon received more questions than any other cartoon as to what it means. That’s why I broke my own rule and attempted an explanation on my site.

    First of all, I never went to cartoon school. I’m an amateur. But I’ve been an amateur for many years, and an amateur artist longer than that. However, I still must endeavor to communicate as clearly as possible something I’m trying to say. So I will again attempt a simple explanation in case it was a bad cartoon, as the hump suggested, or in case it has somehow contributed to a decent conversation that deserves support.

    Here I go:

    I suggest that whatever concept of god or not-god we have, we have it because it is what we’ve chosen. And I suggest we’ve chosen it because it comforts us. It suits us best. Hence the guy warming himself by the fire of his own comfortable concept of god… or not-god.

    I go on to say in the cartoon that our present concept of god or not-god will lose its appeal or usefulness, or that it will develop in such a way that it won’t even be recognizable anymore. In that way it “goes up in smoke”. Our concept has outlived its usefulness. This happens to all of us, atheists and non-atheists alike, if we care at all about developing our minds. IMO.

    Finally, if we can agree that this happens, then it would naturally follow that there is another concept waiting to become useful to us to replace the older concept that has gone up in smoke as well as the one presently comforting us.

    Well, that’s my poor stab at a poor cartoon. Thanks for listening.

    ps: I applaud Hemant for sustaining such an open milieu for reasoned discussion.

  • Xena

    Nothing poor about that, nakedpastor. Change is good.

    Thanks for stopping by.
    Peace.

  • jose

    (warning, kinda off topic)
    People resorting to God to feel safe and warm and happy make me sick. I think people should have something more than God to feel safe and confident. Something like a safety net and healthcare. People frequently resort to God when they have nothing else, when they’re so desperate with their situation here and now that they imagine a better life out of this world, because this world has failed them. When the medical treatments fail, when the bank has finally taken your house, when a landmine has blown your leg off in Nigeria: only at that point should people feel the necessity of some help from above.

    The fire in that drawing should represent society.

  • This is the most I’ve commented on one post here… ever. So please excuse me. On my blog someone pointed out that to say whatever we have chosen we’ve chosen because it is most comfortable for us is to undermine the pain some of us have gone through to get to where we are today. In other words, for many, to get to where they are today has been an excruciatingly painful process. I wrote in response to that:

    Yes, I agree. Okay. That’s not what I meant because my “developments” have been painful also. Excellent point. Perhaps a better way to say it is that whatever conclusions we come to, easy or not, it is because this is what makes most sense to us and seems most rational. Something like that.

  • @naked-pastor

    The concept of warming by the fire for comfort may apply to the religious but I don’t see it relating to me, an atheist.

    I don’t believe in “not-god” for comfort; there’s just no evidence.

    It’s like saying to an atheist: “You don’t believe in Hell because it’s a scary place and not believing in it is comforting.” To which I would respond, “No. I don’t believe in Hell because I don’t believe in Hell.”

    Not believing in god doesn’t have to be predicated on it being comforting.

  • wright1

    I tried interpreting the cartoon as-is, but to me it makes more sense if it’s reversed, or relabeled right-to-left.

    Then wood represents the past concepts of god (relevant for their time and place but now fixed and dead relative to the present), which fuel the present needs of believers. And because the present changes (like fire) moment-to-moment, past doctrine is continually reinterpreted to serve it better (as a burning log changes). The needs of the present also influence the makeup of the future to a degree, but the future is subject to so many variables that it is nebulous and insubstantial from the standpoint of the present.

  • tyler: I agree. I’m sorry I used that language. I didn’t mean comforting in a pejorative sense at all. I meant it universally. The core drive of the brain is the preservation of the organism. Naturally. So all the thoughts and concepts we embrace circle around this one primal concern: self-preservation. This is closer to what I meant.

  • Claudia

    [After gloating about getting it right without peeking]
    @NakedPastor, thanks so much for stopping by. One thing you may want to keep in mind is that atheist forums are generally going to be populated with people who don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about religion, something I supposed you guessed from some of the more…creative interpretations of the cartoon.
    Still, it has provoked discussion, which is great, as far as I’m concerned 🙂

  • claudia: i’m enjoying the exchange.

  • Sara

    This is what I thought when I first saw it:

    People’s accepted ideas about God (wood burning in the fire) that form the basis for their faith (the fire) always break down and are consumed at some point (creating the smoke). New ideas (the wood in a stack) must be continually added to replace the old ones, or the person’s faith will burn out.

    The person in such a situation may be fixated on faith (the fire) and the comfort it brings so much that they don’t see that all of the ideas they adopt (the wood) eventually burn out and prove false (the wood becomes smoke). A person desperate for faith must constantly adopt new ideas, because the time spent in analysis and testing of the ideas always erodes them; in order to keep faith, the person almost has to make up and or adopt new ideas, if only to sustain their faith.

    Ultimately, there is a limited amount of valid-sounding ideas (wood in the stack), so depending on how fast a person goes through ideas, they may run out of wood and lose their faith before they die,or they may have enough wood to support faith their entire lives.

    Still others decide faith is not worth compromising their intellectual integrity and allow the fire to go out. Such people are then cold, lacking the comfort faith gave them, but also, released from its fixation, are free to look for comfort elsewhere.

  • Vivian

    Far far far reach. But that sums up most of religion to me.

  • sara: perfect

  • Vystrix Nexoth

    Off-panel: an atheist poking their head out of the door of a nice warm house and calling “hey, come on in!”

  • jose
  • jose: pretty darn good!

  • cbob

    My initial interpretation came in light of debates where Christians say atheists aren’t criticizing the most sophisticated version of God. The wood is the interpretation that theologians have. Later, trickles down to the laiety who use it for comfort. Atheists criticize the fire, but the theists point to the large stack of wood they have in the shed.

  • I’m really sick of the nakedpastor cartoons which are almost always corny. Almost just scrolled past but I’m sorry, I just had to vent. I don’t give a flying fuck what he meant.

  • Bob

    As WOOD, beliefs are solid and reliable. You could build a house from that wood.

    As FIRE, beliefs are intangible. They can be bright and give off warmth, but you can’t touch it. Unchecked, that fire can also destroy things. It’s also always hungry: you constantly have to feed it so it continues to burn, but depending on the fuel you choose, it only burns to a certain size/brightness/warmth. If all you wanted was a little warmth and to roast a hot dog, you don’t start a forest fire.

    As SMOKE, belief leaves soot everywhere. You can’t breathe it or incorporate it into yourself – your body rejects it, and if you keep trying, it can kill you. When a burning building is extinguished, we always hear of smoke and water damage, and the parallel is still apt: the damage from the SMOKE came from the FIRE. The water could be the ice-cold force of reason: someone shows up to fight the fire, but they’re not just spraying water all over – they attack certain spots and seek to contain/minimize damage.

  • Concepts of god are all temporary, destined to, as it were, go up in smoke. New religions or new takes on old religions (the wood) come along. For a time, they serve the needs of the religious (warming them like a fire. Also burning them like a fire, but I doubt that’s the artists take) but eventually they will all die, float away and be forgotten.

    That was exactly my interpretation, too! 🙂

    I suggest that whatever concept of god or not-god we have, we have it because it is what we’ve chosen. And I suggest we’ve chosen it because it comforts us. It suits us best. Hence the guy warming himself by the fire of his own comfortable concept of god… or not-god.

    We’ve chosen it? Gosh, I would say it’s anything but chosen. It’s given to us from our society, and the nature of it depends 100% on the culture in which we are raised. I don’t think it has anything to do with comfort, either. The notion that one should find their particular god-concept comforting is rather recent, historically speaking. If you look back, most people were taught to fear their gods and try their best to appease them through worship, prayers, sacrifices, etc. The gods (including the biblical deity) were rarely supposed to be nice or comforting.

  • Smoke comes from fire, and fire comes from wood, other than that no idea.

  • Remus

    @NakedPastor
    I would just thank you for being such a sport about this. I know we can be pretty aggressive, especially with the mentioning of deities 😉

  • Charon

    My interpretation: God causes global warming, deforestation, and air pollution 😉

  • Silent Service

    God likes camping.

  • Xena

    Actually, nakedpastor has a point about comforting belief systems. The hard and soft sciences are constantly revising their models, and some paradigms are more difficult for scientific communities to dismantle than others as well. I study anthro, evopsych, philosophy of mind, etc. (That’s why my religious philosophy isn’t so great–those belief systems are bassackwards to my sciences and applied only as another tool to better understand human behaviour. It’s tough to memorize something you don’t believe in such tedious detail.)

    It was only a few short decades ago that blatantly racist ideas were accepted as science. The Nazis were not the only guilty parties. The the shape of Africans’ skulls was used as proof for centuries (since Immanuel Kant’s Anthropology )that they were somehow ‘inferior’ or ‘less evolved’ than Nordic, Slav and European populations were. We know now that the very concept of ‘race’ is fallacious.

    Primatologists and marine biologists are just now shattering anthropocentric preconceptions about animal perception, intelligence and communication. Animals from wolves to parrots to just about every other species are capable of so much more than previous generations ever thought possible. It’s amazing stuff to study. I love it.

    Who knows? Maybe someday, we’ll discover that plant life emotes and communicates as well. Would that put an interesting spin on nakedpastor’s cartoon or what?

  • Xena

    Oops. For some reason my editing job on paragraph 2 didn’t get saved. That should read: The shape of Africans’ skulls was used as proof for centuries…

  • Daniel

    In the center of the picture there is a person who warms itself by the fire. This can be interpreted in the following way.

    The person represents humanity. The fire represents benefit to humanity. The fire is also a natural process that follows a certain order (laws of nature). Humanity is confronted with two opposing concepts. There is the concept of god and there is reality. The concepts of god portrait a backwards chain of events that is in contrast with reality. Religion/faith puts smoke, fire and wood in chronological order, while in reality wood is the starting point, fire follows and smoke comes last.

    I think the artist wanted to express that religion/faith does not help humanity, because whether religion/faith insists that fire results from smoke or not does not matter. Reality remains unchanged. The fire was made from wood, not smoke.

    Ultimately, it is the understanding of reality that helps humanity. Moreover, religion is not only irrelevant to reality but can actually harm humanity. If the person in the picture followed the concept of god he may have never created fire. Following his faith, he would have tried to create fire from smoke. Not a good idea, especially in winter.

    PS: I like how the concepts of god are all situated at the top of the picture (heaven), while the rest is at the bottom (down to earth). Smoke being the exception. But you can’t blame the artist for upholding the laws of nature.