(Disclaimer: For simplicity I used the masculine pronouns in referring to God, but, in order to not invoke His, Her, Its or Their disapproval, or that of readers who are rightfully sensitive to this issue, let me make clear my intended meaning is free of sexual bias.)
These days, image is everything. Just look at how an image obsessed president, who is essentially a criminal and has accomplished little or nothing of value in almost four years, has been able to maintain the positive regard of almost half the population.
Of course a positive image can, and should, arise from doing positive things. The problems come when you set out to do bad things and portray them as good and can convince people to believe they are good or if you have a lot of people who already support the bad things you are doing. Then you can enjoy a great image regardless of your actual worth.
This happens all the time in advertising. Take Tang. I don’t think it exists anymore. At least I sure hope it doesn’t. Tang was an artificially colored and flavored sweetened drink mix that had some vitamin C tossed in. Touted as a “modern” substitute for orange juice, its claim to fame was that it was consumed by astronauts, along with a lot of other dubious substances, in the early days of the space program. Trust me. You do not want to subsist on that diet. Another example is Pringles, a marketing triumph to be sure, that are to potato chips as pressboard is to real wood.
I’m told the first time the Judeo-Christian God was portrayed in human form, that classic image of Him as a big guy with a long white beard up in the clouds, was in Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the Sistine Ceiling. That painting could only be a product of Christian orthodoxy. Judaism prohibits pictorial or other artistic portrayals of God since Jews are prohibited from worshipping any graven image, even one that purports to be Jehovah Himself. In fact, the Jews even prohibit the utterance of God’s name. Who are we, say the Jews, to even imagine what the actual God looks like? Who are we to assume that the Supreme Being would be floating around the universe in the lame form of a human? Much better, I think, is the concept of God in Genesis as an undefined entity brooding over the face of the waters or as a bush that burned but was not consumed.
More important, who are we to think we are privy to His supposed eternal plan? Too many religious leaders have claimed such knowledge to justify their personal concepts of who, or what, God is and what He desires of us. They claim God speaks to them. What an obliging fellow God must be. He seems always to tell the privileged recipient exactly what they wish to hear. It is unnecessary to list, even if space allowed, even a fraction of the atrocities that have been committed or condoned through history under such pretenses. In the past the decimation of indigenous Americans was justified by “divine providence.” Today we are witness to some fundamentalist Christian leaders justifying the systemic abuse of people of color and the resulting white privilege as a “blessing,” bestowed by God on their, mostly white, followers. Perhaps, since the big, bearded white guy in the picture pokes his finger toward another white guy, it follows that life and all its blessings must have been reserved for those who were made “in His (white) image.”
The concept of having been created in God’s image, like many concepts derived from the Bible, when it’s taken literally, leads to a misguided impression that human beings, in all our imperfections, are essentially tiny versions of a “perfect” God. It’s not surprising that many argue it was we who created God in our own image. Maybe part of the reason evangelicals support Donald Trump is that, sadly, the Biblical portrayal of the biggest big shot in the universe, with His vanity, mega-maniacal demand for absolute obeisance, punishment of those who defy Him and endorsement of such activities as stoning, slaughtering and enslaving people, bears an uncanny similarity to that of the person now occupying the Oval Office. This is one of many examples of why literal interpretation of the scriptures is fraught with pitfalls and can be downright dangerous.
As I see it, God surely is overdue for an image makeover. When the Bible says we were created in God’s image, what I think it means is that we are imbued with similar, intangible capacities for goodness. Creativity, reason, a sense of right and wrong. The best of qualities that we believe are embodied in that incorporeal concept we refer to in shorthand as “God.” Only an entity that possesses and acts upon the positive aspects of these attributes, not a petty, vengeful one, is truly worthy of worship, and only those people who embody those, supposedly, God given positive traits are worthy of our respect and praise.
Too often today, as throughout history, the image of God is sullied by human behavior that purports to reflect His values and to carry out His will. Even to suggest there is such an entity as an anthropomorphized God possessed of all our faults, the image that so many carry around in their heads, is to insult the concept of God itself. Whatever it is that is “God” can surely not be much like us. If He actually were like us, He would have a very big image problem indeed.