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Anthropomorphism

ANTHROPOMORPHISM and ANTHROPOPATHISM (Gk. anthrōpos, “man,” + morphē, “form,” and pathos, “passion, suffering”): Terms designating views of God which represent him as possessed of a human form or members, human attributes, or human passions. Such views arise from the natural tendency or necessity of man to conceive of higher beings by analogy with himself, and are incidental to all religions at a certain stage of their development. Many passages of the Bible easily lend themselves to an anthropomorphic interpretation. The Audians of the fourth and fifth centuries taught that all references to God’s hands, ears, eyes, etc., are to be interpreted literally. Some philosophers believe the conception of God as a personal spirit to be anthropomorphic. Scholars who accept the compilatory theory of the origin of the Pentateuch consider anthropomorphism a marked characteristic of the Elohist, usually cited as E. Others maintain that the Scriptures, rightly interpreted, lend no support to such views. See Comparative Religion, VI., 1, a, § 3.

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Anthropomorphism is inseparable from any conception of supernatural powers or God. This fact has received two interpretations. (1) Religion never outgrows the essential characteristics of its origin, whether this is conceived of as mythological (Comte), animistic (Tylor), or through dreams (Spencer). In the lower stages of religion, the gods are only larger men. According to Feuerbach, following Xenophanes and Lucretius (De rerum natura, v. 121), man creates God in his own image (cf. Feuerbach, Wesen des Christenthums, chap. 1, § 2). In the progress from polytheism to monotheism, the human qualities are indefinitely enlarged, concentrated, and united in one being, but the being is still human. Between the mode of human intelligence and omniscience, the human will and omnipotence, between human goodness and divine perfection, between personality and the Infinite is not only an immeasurable but an irreconcilable difference. The result for thought is either that there is no God (Comte), or, if such a being exists, we are compelled to distrust all anthropomorphic notions and take refuge in the Unknown and the Unknowable (Spencer, First Principles, New York, 1892, pp. 108-123). The latter alternative leaves room for the religious sentiments, but only in the form of awe. To rid the idea of God of every trace of anthropomorphism, however, simply abolishes the idea itself. (2) According to the second view—which is met with under many variations—religious ideas are not only incurably anthropomorphic, but they share this property with all other ideas. They contain objective truth, even if this is lacking in scientific accuracy of expression. Either rational and moral qualities are to be ascribed to God, on the ground that these are essential to the perfection of personality (S. Harris, The Self-Revelation of God, New York, 1887, pp. 433-440), or, since they are derived from the human consciousness and the region of the finite, they may be interpreted only analogically and symbolically; e.g., force, cause, energy, the eternal, the infinite, the power not ourselves that makes for righteousness, even personality and fatherhood have a real meaning for religious feeling and thought, although their full significance transcends both definition and comprehension. The Scriptures, which are marked by definite stages of anthropomorphic representations of God, contain a corrective for an undue reliance on this mode of conception.

(C. A. Beckwith).

Bibliography: John Fiske, Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, part 1, chap. vii., part 3, chap ii., Boston, 1891; idem, Idea of God, pp. 111-118, Boston, 1886; F. Paulsen, Einleitung in die Philosophie, pp. 275-281, Berlin, 1895, Eng. transl., pp. 252-256, New York, 1898.

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