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Paul K. Moser on God as a Title Not a Name

Paul K. MoserThe Severity of God: Religion and Philosophy Reconceived (Cambridge University Press: 2013), pp..

Setting the bar high, indeed as high as possible, we will approach the term “God” as a supreme title of personal perfection rather than a proper name. (We can always lower the bar if our overall evidence calls for this.) Likewise, some variants of monotheism suggest that the term “God” is a normative title requiring worthiness of worship. Given such a title, no mere potentate who dominated over all others will qualify as God. Something beyond domination is needed, because worthiness of worship is needed. Such worthiness is normative, not merely descriptive, and therefore does not support the false claim that “might makes right.” According to this view, “God” is not God’s name, because the term “God” is a normative title. A title can be meaningful but lack a titleholder. In talking about God, then, we can give a fair hearing to proponents of atheism and agnosticism without begging questions against them or otherwise dismissing them.

Something will be worthy of worship only if it is morally without defect, that is, morally perfect. Something (or, better, someone) will satisfy the title “God,” then, only if that thing (or one) is morally perfect, and this perfection must be inherent rather than borrowed. If humans could borrow moral perfection from God they still would fail to be worthy of worship. As a result, inquirers about God should attend to the character of a morally perfect agent whose perfection is inherent. Failure to do so would amount to failure to consider God as worthy of worship, and the latter failure is common among inquirers about the existence of God, particularly when their focus is on God as a first cause or a designer of the universe.

The normative title “God” offers a moral criterion to adjudicate candidates, however powerful they are. As suggested, God must merit being God on moral grounds. No big bad bully, therefore, will quality as being God just in virtue of strength, power, or even omnipotence. An impeccable moral standing is needed and this excludes all of the candidates who, however powerful, do evil to get their way. Being God does not allow for getting your way however you wish, because moral perfection must be preserved.