Part of the series God: from Magic to Motivation
The word motivation appeared in written form in 1873, the same year Winchester made a rifle that was later given the nickname “The Gun that Won the West.” There was also a financial panic in that year followed by a depression. Banks failed, then businesses. People were under the illusion that things were fine until they had to face how fragile reality can be.
The Latin word motivus is usually cited as the most likely source, and it dates back even further. It generally is used to mean the same thing – what makes you do something or makes you move.
Technically speaking, the word God that we use today in the west never appeared in the original religious texts, of course. It’s an English word with roots in other languages, and in ancient ways of thinking.
According to some sources, the roots of our word God, and the words used in the ancient texts, could be from the Sanskrit hu or hamu, which meant to call upon, or to invoke, to implore. In other words, inspire action.
The word might have had some help from the ancient Persian Khoda, or possibly the Hindu khooda, which meant God. Khoda may be from the older Ahura, or Ahura Mazda, meaning Wise/Great Lord.
Some sources suggest the word Elohim may have come from something with the original meaning of power. I’m going to cherry pick with this next one, but YHWH might have a subtle enough nuance to it to mean something like an action that intimately reveals the nature of the one who is doing the acting.
Roughly then, we are talking about what has power over you, the “thing” that makes you do something, the action that reveals intention.
This isn’t very thorough research. I don’t know Sanskrit or any ancient language. I haven’t found anything yet in the ancient languages that comes closer to our present-day definition and use of motivation. Three hours of playing around with a search engine and cross-checking a few different sources. Maybe I found what I was looking for, a common problem in religion, language, research and information.
I wonder what our world would be like if Elohim and YHWH weren’t translated into Dios or Jove, but instead Motivus. Would the world be any different now?
I have so much to learn.
If motivus (what makes you act) could be the more common understanding for what we mean by a god (what has implications for your behaviour), maybe we could strip our ideas of (most of) the supernatural elements usually associated with the word. We could strip the assumption of authority that we give to our motivations. We could face up to, wrestle with, and even manage what really motivates us collectively and individually.
A fellow blogger uses the title Questionable Motives for his site. He is driven by gnu atheism and the desire to change people’s minds before we take the world over a brink from which we can’t return.
Samir Selmanovic has referred to religions as “God-management systems” (two posts where I use this phrase and comment). I’ve heard some people refer to their religion as a “movement” rather than a belief-system. Maybe it’s time to question what moves us, and practice personal motivation management. It might have helped avoid the international economic collapse of just a few years ago.
Instead of giving motives any authority, shouldn’t we constantly, consciously question motives – both our own and those of other people?
What do you think?
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I’d like to dig a little more and see if the hu in Sanskrit is related somehow to the hu in Ahura.
Sources and further links:
a slightly more thorough etymology from a more evangelical site (citing the further source the Catholic Encyclopedia, like the above site).