The God Thing
So many people talk about a god thing: god this, god that, god’s watching, god’ll get you for that. But what the hell is it? It’s usually referred to with masculine pronouns, so is it a man? If it is a man, is it married? If not, is it gay? Who are its friends? Does it have any hobbies?
Those who are into this god thing tend to say crazy things when trying to describe it. Ask one “where is god?” and he will likely reply “he is everywhere,” or “he is in your heart,” which I shouldn’t have to tell you are nonsense answers. If you ask the store clerk “where is the frozen food?” and she suggests elective surgery, how is that helpful?
This god thing, if its enthusiasts are to be believed, exists perhaps at some mysterious location, perhaps one nearby, perhaps far away, always has and always will. No rational explanation for why anyone should believe something this fantastic is ever supplied. Indeed, this is when waxing philosophies about faith usually start. And, oh, how they wax.
Florid literary meanderings aside, we have no empirical data on this god thing as an entity, as an individual. What data there are, all woven from the various available dogmas, in a practical sense focus on only two aspects: how it can do whatever it wants, and how it tends to display fairly simple emotions. We know its fury and we know its love, often at the same time, but never the conflicts of conscience, regret, sorrow, and introspection that come with maturity. Kind of like a little girl playing with her dollies—one minute, all is sweetness and light; the next, Mr. Flippy has committed some nebulous infraction and has to be punished for his insolence—this god thing never demonstrates any sophisticated reflection on any issue, merely smites the infidels when necessary. This by itself would be suspicious enough, but the god thing’s vengeance upon the humans is always wrought by other humans.
Well, almost always. Natural disasters are often attributed to the god thing. Because it can do anything it wants, so it goes, rather than soil itself by dealing personally with the lowly humans it will, as its enthusiasts will tell you, wreck their stuff with floods and earthquakes and such. Again, this is very suspicious. Not only are natural disasters fairly easily explained today via simple observations of nature, but they are also very indiscriminate. The god thing gets so upset at the humans’ infractions that its retribution will ruin the habitats of other species as well? Seems very petty. Sounds like what we’re actually talking about is just a big baby.
Behold the god thing: it is nothing more than a reflection of its enthusiasts’ psyches. While curious behavior is the norm among humans, pretending super-heroes and deities exist (super-heroes and deities that always look like humans, of course) is remarkable because it is enjoyed in nearly every corner of our little planet in many, many variations, by every different culture we have. Forgetting for the moment the extraordinarily lucrative nature of organized religion, what could have driven us to adopt such an odd practice with such enthusiasm?
People are justifiably frustrated and frightened by their powerlessness in this world. Other animals are stronger, faster, can swim better, see farther, and we are utterly outclassed by the forces of nature. So, to stave off our trembling fear, we dream up something with limitless powers and infinite this and endless that and pretend to have some control over it through organizational affiliations. Genius! We’ll give the people at the head of the organization funny costumes to wear and pretend publicly that they can actually talk to the purely made-up god thing while privately we pretend to talk to it ourselves. It really is all ours to do with as we see fit, which presents an opportunity with limitless potential for putting forward our own petty grievances with our neighbors who we dislike for many reasons, but mostly because we want their land and they remind us too much of ourselves.
Our god thing has no personality of its own, no hobbies, no interests. It has no real character of any sort, no favorite foods, no favorite jokes. Infinitely malleable, it cannot contradict a political alliance or motive because it does not exist. It is an empty vessel, a concept open to interpretation into which we petty, frightened, and insignificant humans, the militant ones, can pour all of our pathetic rage, humiliation, and fears, to be meted out against one another as we see fit, with prejudice. Or those peace loving among us can pour in our hopes and dreams and prayers of salvation without fear of denial or of being tricked, because no one is there.
It provides an instant justification for any act of selfishness we can dream up, and an easy explanation for all of our many failures: the will of the god thing explains everything. No one can deny its usefulness.
Not the least of its uses, the god thing provides an easy, if spurious, escape from nihilism. The void is terrifying primarily because it is our lack of understanding about the world around us that informs it. A fantastic answer may seem preferable when the truth is, perhaps, beyond our grasp. But it’s a tactical error if you want to play the long game.
No, we don’t understand why we’re here or where we’re going or what the point of it all is or even if a point exists, but we understand more today than we did yesterday. Having just begun to understand so much, let’s not hang up our track shoes so early in the race by embracing a worldview that we’ll have to apologize for later, particularly one that has played out so poorly over the previous centuries.
Throw down your gods.
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- August 18, 2006 / 6:20 am