Humanity as Made in the Image of God in St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius (sometimes Athanasios) was a fourth century bishop of Alexandria and the removal of his relics was listed as noting on the Orthodox calendar yesterday.  Recently, I had referenced him in the talk I recently gave at the Science and Religion Lunch Seminar at NDSU.  Specifically, I utilized him when discussing what it means to be made in the image of God.

When seeking to understand Christian teaching on this, St. Athanasios provides us with some key points (which are found in many, many writings we have from the other fathers of the church as well).  First, God is beyond being.  God is beyond our creation.  This also means to understand him, we are reliant upon revelation and tradition.  Second, God is good, which is to say he wanted an ordered creation.  This was in contrast to Gnostics (see the Church History Series 1) who believed, generally, that the material world was made (or at least shaped) by an evil being.  Third, humanity was to connect to God through the mind and instinctively tries to do so, often finding false gods or worshipping false gods.

This last point is sometimes difficult for us to process in light of something called the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR).  CSR advocates often argue for the evolutionary development of our “god-faculty” and claim that for that reason, we believe in God (or any gods or goddesses or fairies or any such things).   As Christians, we should not object to the research surrounding a “god-faculty.”  All have minds intended to commune with God and all seek God instinctively, even if that instinct is directed in different ways or is denied later in life.  As Orthodox, especially, we should acknowledge that such a faculty exists.  That is, after all, something we’ve been saying for some time now.

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