John Sanders on Anthropomorphisms


There is no special cognitive capacity for thinking about God. There is no evidence that the brain processes ideas differently when the subject is God rather than more mundane subjects like zebras, galaxies, or love.

Biblical writers used a wide array of metaphors or God—especially interpersonal ones: shepherd, king, father, mother, husband

But conceiving God in human terms is anthropomorphic—is this not childish?

The sixth century BCE Greek thinker, Xenophanes, railed against anthropomorphic deities saying, “If oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen.” Yet, his God sees and knows!

So, just what is meant by “anthropomorphism?”  Some have said it means the attribution of body parts such as hands and nostrils to God. Philo of Alexandria (first century CE) went further and held that the depictions of divine emotional states in the Hebrew Bible were not real since that would imply that God changed in some respect which would be an imperfection. The biblical portrayals of divine emotional states are for the benefit of “duller” folk who cannot understand what God is truly like.

Caputo ridicules the views of ordinary religious people who consider God a being who answers prayer but also views such as Philo’s that continue to think of God as a causal agent with a mind. “By ‘God,’ . . . I do not mean a being who is there, an entity trapped in being, even as a super-being up there, up above the world, who physically powers and causes it, who made it and occasionally intervenes upon its day-to-day activities to tweak things for the better in response to a steady stream of solicitations from down below . . . . That I consider an essentially magical view of the world.”

It seems to me that the “problem of anthropomorphism” is misplaced since we have no alternative but to use the only cognitive processes we have to think about God.


source: John Sanders, “How the Human Mind Thinks of God: A Cognitive Linguistic Analysis of Anthropomorphic God Concepts” (drjohnsanders).


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