Any attempt at representation of God is as futile as efforts to picture an electron. The electron is inconceivable. So is God.
People of the Semitic faiths says that man was made in the image of God. The Hindus believe in a God without form and with form. Both Saguna (with form) and Nirguna (without form) are, however, equal in the eyes of the Hindus. To those who says that God cannot have a form, Vivekananda has a question: who is it that has taken all the forms that exist?
The Semitic gods are tribal gods. They are naturally fierce. Here, man is in absolute subjection to God. Which is why the Semitic gods are at a great distance. As against this, Hindus have gods who are both near and far.
Those who meditate have no need for the proximity of God. But the Bhaktas want their gods near them. And there is no God closer to man than Krishna.
Tagore says: ?God with us is not a distant God. He belongs to our homes as well as to our temples.?
But not all men have felt the need for a god. The Jain thinkers believe that man can attain divinity and that God is only the highest, noblest and fullest manifestation of all the powers that lie latent in the soul of man.
On why we want a form for God, Vivekananda says: ?We all believe that God is without form or shape, but as soon as we begin to think of Him, He acquires name and form.?
Tantrism says that external worship of the image of a deity is designed in some human situations. Shankara almost agrees with this.
Monotheism (one God) is intolerant of other forms. Whole civilisation?Persian, Greek, Egyptian, Aztec, Inca, Maya and others have been destroyed in the name of one God. It is based on Biblical exclusiveness?that there is no alternative to Christianity and that only through Jesus Christ one can attain salvation. The point is: others can make equally forceful claims.
Judaism banned the making of images. But the Catholic Church never accepted the Jewish arguments. In the Illustrated Old Testament, God is shown standing on clouds and directing the universe!
In the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican (holy of holies), we have the painting of God and Adam by Michael Angelo (1475-1560). The painting, called ?the Creation of Man? depicts God as an old man, with a powerful build, reaching out his hand to touch the extended hand of Adam.
Why should God created the universe? He could not have done it for His own sake, for he does not need anything for Himself. It is said that this is His sport (leela). God cannot have ?sport? at the expense of the suffering of His creation.
And if the idea is that God will overcome evil one day, this too is a cruel hope, for it means generations have to be sacrificed before God is able to overcome evil.
Over time, the absence of the long-dead Mahavira was keenly felt by his followers. They called for a visual representation of the Jain prophet. The Jains were thus the first to produce a visual representation for worship. Soon, Emperor Kanishka (lst c AD) ordered a Greek artist of his court to produce a statue of the Buddha. As the viharas multiplied, so did the images. When the Hindus saw how popular these images were, they too followed the example, although the Manu shastra was against image worship. Dr S Radhakrishnan says that man cannot think of God in the abstract.
The cross, symbol of Christianity, was introduced into Christian life in the 6th c AD. The church was reluctant to use it as a symbol because of its pagan association.
It is said that this spell was broken when the cross on which ?Jesus was crucified? was ?discovered? by a Roman empress in the Holy Lands.
Religions have blinded men. How? Freud says ?Religion is the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity.? It is a disease of the mind. Otherwise one can never understand how sensible men of reason put their blind faith on dogmas.
In spite of their best efforts, however, no religion has been able to convert the world to its way of thinking. Why? Because it is not in the nature of man. One sees God according to one's own nature. This is called ?Ishtam? (desire).
?Would to God?, says Vivekananda, ?that religions multiplied until everyone has his own religion, quite separate from all others.? But such a thing can happen only in a tolerant Hindu society.